Monday, December 22, 2008

Ho, Ho, Ho...?

Jennifer and I braved the traffic and the crowds at the mall for a little last minute shopping today, and I realized a few things:

1. I hate the mall
2. I hate crowds (see #1)
3. Online shopping is definitely the way to go (see #1 & #2)
4. There are a lot of overweight and out of shape people in this world, and they all congregate at mall food courts.

From my observations, the mall Santa was actually looking pretty slim and fit compared to some of the people that I saw today, and it was honestly pretty sad. At a time of the year where people are thinking of which gifts to buy for their loved ones, no one seemed to understand that the most important gift wasn't one that they were going to find on a sale rack.

In another week, thousands and thousands of people will be making New Year's resolutions to "lose weight" and get in shape. Unfortunately, most of them will fail after a few short weeks and fall back on the poor habits and lifestyles that they swore to change at the drop of the New Year's ball.

So why not change things this year? Instead of promising yourself that you're going to go to the gym (just like you did last year, and the year before, and the year before that...), why not give your health as a "gift" to someone else? Promise your spouse that you will faithfully exercise 2-3 mornings every week. Promise your children that you will go to your favorite bootcamp every Thursday after work. Tell your parents that this year, along with the tie and scarf tucked away under the tree, you're going to give them the most important gift that any parent could want: a healthier, happier child. Hold yourself accountable not only to yourself, but to the people that you care about the most...because they care about you too, and want you to be the best that you can possibly be.

This year, make it a holiday season to remember. Show the special people in your life just how much you care about them by letting them know that you "get it." What better gift could there ever be than to ensure that you will be happier, healthier and active for a long time to come, not just for yourself but for the people that love you, too?

...And stay away from the malls. Trust me on that one.

Happy holidays, everyone. Be safe and be healthy...and the happiness will follow.

-Jonathan

Monday, December 15, 2008

How About a Quickie?

...Post, that is.

Ok, I'll admit it: being too much of a perfectionist at times can be, well, problematic. That's why, when I'm low on time and don't feel like I'll be able to write up a good blog post, I'll let the blog, um, well, languish.

Kevin calls me out on a weekly basis about this, and I have to admit: he has a point. So here's a little something that I recently ran across on a forum that I thought was just about perfect. If this doesn't get you excited to lift, you need to have your heart examined!

Have you ever done deadlifts? I mean, have you gone into the gym thinking like. "ok today is deadlift day!"? No?

I do.

I think that there is no other exercise like it in the world. I fear it, hate it, and love it. I look forward to deadlifts like a child looks for candy. It is a drug and I am hooked. Tonight I go forth to do battle with it.

I feel nervous, like I was before my first real kiss. I will be singularly focused tonight to get a certain weight for 1 rep. This is the key for future deadlift workouts. I feel that this exercise could in fact have its own day if I could find the time. I must hit this weight, there is no question I am ready for it, just a question if my mental state will be strong enough to get it done.

I picture it now as I sit here waiting for the time to go lift to appear. The bar is loaded 4 plates on each side, it is resting on the floor. I see a face from a nightmare on the bar, it appears to be laughing at me, mocking me, taunting me to try to lift it. I walk over, squat down and set my hands. I breath deeply eyes not really in the present, mind tightening down to a narrow laser sharpened beam of utter concentration.

I take another breath, and lift it off the floor. I struggle, feeling the bar scrap my shins bloody. I feel the titanic strain on my arms, grip, shoulder, all over as the bar clears my knees. I stand up and pull the shoulders back, sweat running in a flood down my face, veins bulging on my neck. I lock it out and lower it to the floor.

It is done! The battle is over and I have beaten the demon, it no longer taunts me but rather sulks away to wait till next week. It never really is defeated, just beaten back for a time. I wipe my brow, my whole body is afire with a righteous blaze of accomplishment. Then, I realize that next time...next time is fast approaching for battle. I must stand ready each time to defeat the deadlift.

Good stuff!

-Jonathan

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sex, Lies and Photoshop

What if I told you that Micheal Jordan never really made all of those incredible shots, or that Jerry Rice never actually caught all of those amazing throws from Joe Montana? Imagine if almost everything that you have seen in pictures and t.v. were...lies!

A month ago, I wrote about how the pictures and images of our favorite athletes and models that we see in magazines and even on television are distorted and manipulated through various methods, including water depletion, lighting, tanning and even drugs. However, there was one enormously important piece of the image-manipulation puzzle that I left out: photoshop. Here's an amazing demonstration that I found from diet.com that shows how every image that we see in magazines and advertisements can be instantly "improved" with nothing more than a left-click of your computer mouse:



Not only is this a fascinating expose into just how simple and commonplace image manipulation is in everything that we are shown through popular media, it gives us a glimpse into how easily it can be to become dissatisfied and discouraged with our own bodies and the hard work that goes into creating them when we aspire to look like an airbrushed and photoshopped lie.

Altering an image may not be as simple (or as silly) as drawing muscles on yourself with a magic marker (I really am a sucker for a woman with an accent), but the fact is that drawing cartoonish muscles on doctored photos is much more common than you might realize. If you don't recognize this fact every time you reach for the latest issue of your favorite fitness magazine, you'll find yourself in a never-ending cycle of frustration trying to accomplish a promise that was never based in truth.

But don't worry: I swear that none of the before-and-after pictures on my website have been doctored! That was all hard work and effort, not MacBook.

-Jonathan

Friday, November 14, 2008

Incredible Success

I just wanted to add a video that I came across while researching yesterday's presentation. It's of a young woman's journey through rehabilitating a T12 ASIA C spinal cord injury:




An inury at T12 will involve her entire lower body from the waist down, including hip and knee flexors and extensors, the hip abductors and the hip adductors. The grading of her injury as "ASIA C" means that, fortunately, there is some preserved muscle control and strength of these lower body muscles, although there will be deficits in at least half of the muscles that you and I will take for granted every time we walk, sit down in a chair, or even simply stand still and maintain our balance.

Rechelle's example of hard work and dedication is both inspiring and humbling at the same time. Be grateful not only for the ability to improve yourself, but for examples like Rechelle that show us that with enough effort and dedication, anything is truly possible.

-Jonathan

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Achieving Your Goals

Obviously, I've been quite busy this month (and if you've been listening to the FitCast, you know why!). Today, however, all of the work that I've been putting in, not only this past month but the past 34 months, will finally pay off.

Today I will be attending my final scheduled lecture in graduate school.

I'm not quite finished with school entirely, of course: we've got research presentations and submissions for publication taking place in January, as well as our final two clinical rotations which will take us through March of '09. But this is still a major milestone, and it feels terrific!

Achieving predetermined goals is an excellent way to maintain our motivation and focus, not only in school but in the gym as well. In order for these goals to be effective, they need to be realistic and achievable, which unfortunately hasn't always been the case with many of the individuals that I have consulted in the past.

While "I want to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks" might sound like a great goal to set before a family reunion, or "I want to increase my bench press by 50 pounds before Spring Break" might be every male college sophomore's sure-fire plan to not get sand kicked in his face in Cancun, they may not be. The problem is in the achievability of those goals. There are a number of factors that will play into accomplishing these weight loss or strength gains within a given time-frame, and it can be devestating not to achieve those goals, especially when you did everything right.

For athletes, this is a normal aspect of sport. Top-level athletes have their entire training schedule built around peaking at the exact time for an exact event during their training cycle: for Micheal Phelps, that might be every 4 years at the Olympics; for Eli Manning it might be the playoffs every January. For the rest of us that don't make a living from our on-field (or in-pool) performance, it doesn't always make sense for us to base our goals on the same parameters.

Build your goals around the things that you can control throughout your day, such as committing yourself to going to the gym 3x/week, or sticking to your diet for a week without cheats, or going to sleep every night by 11 p.m. and not staying up late. These are realistic and achievable goals that, when adhered to and accomplished, will help you towards achieveing the bigger goals: losing 10 pounds so that your Aunt Edna doesn't raise her eyebrow at you when you reach for seconds at dinner!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to finish my last presentation for class, due this afternoon. I'm going to miss grad school...but I won't miss writing papers!

-Jonathan

Monday, October 13, 2008

Weighing in on Rapid Weight Loss

Q: I was watching Ms. and Mr. Olympia last night on a webcast. I heard that Jay Cutler lost 15 lbs in one evening....how?!!! I know water pills can do some, but really? How healthy could that be? - Y.R.

A: Hey Y.R., thanks for the interesting question. Although rapid weight loss such as Cutler's isn't a good idea, the fact is that it's a fairly common practice in a number of sports. The rapid drop in weight is known as "making weight," and athletes such as wrestlers, boxers, mixed martial artists and Olympic Weightlifters, among others, will normally lose weight quickly and then gain it back almost as quickly before their events as a tool to gain a competitive edge.

Making weight stems from the use of weight classes, such as those used in boxing, which separates fighters into 17 different classes and weight divisions. In contrast, the UFC, which is the premiere Mixed Martial Arts promotion, uses five distinct weight divisions, although there are nine official divisions according to the state athletic commissions where MMA is sanctioned. In order to compete, an athlete must weigh no more than the pre-determined upper limit (normally within a pound) of the given weight class that the competition is set to occur.

In theory, this improves the competition and safety of sports where a larger athlete would have a distinct advantage over a smaller athlete. However, there is a loophole: by qualifying for a lower weight class through rapid water loss and dehydration techniques and then regaining some or all of that weight by the time of the competition, the athlete can enjoy an exceptional advantage over his/her opponent.

The recent EliteXC: Heat MMA weigh-ins. Noted female fighter
Gina Carano had difficulty making weight


While this certainly presents itself as a potentially dangerous practice for an athlete about to compete in a vigorous and demanding sport, when done under the supervision of a knowledgeable coach and doctor, the risks to the athlete's health can be minimized (but not eliminated). Obviously, the more weight that must be dropped, the more dangerous cutting weight can be. As you might expect, there have been a number of attempts to curb this practice, especially with younger athletes.

However, Jay Cutler certainly didn't drop his weight in order to make a weight limit. Although bodybuilding also has weight classes, Jay's reasons were more directly related to his performance on the stage: by dropping as much water weight as possible, a bodybuilder will appear to be leaner with more visible definition, helping his/her chances in the contest.
Quick: somebody get this man a Gatorade!

There's something else to consider about Jay's single-day 15 pound water loss, too: when you weigh about 300 pounds in an off-season, 250 in-season, 15 pounds is still around 5 - 6% of your weight, so it's not as startling of a drop as it may seem. Drops of 5-6% still would not qualify as being "healthy,' of course, but it's not the same as a 185 pound mixed martial artist attempting to make the 170 pound Welterweight class (although between the option of facing either Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva or Welterweight Champion Georges St.-Pierre, I'm not sure that either is a very good option for your long-term health!)

However, this still raises a good point, and one that I think that a lot of people miss out on: Bodybuilding is about attaining a certain look, nothing else. Not health, not performance at a sport, and not even strength...just large, proportionate muscles at a low body-fat level. Which means that, just like any athlete in any sport, some things that bodybuilders do will be healthy while other things will be anything but healthy.

Unfortunately, I think this point escapes many of the people that not only enter the sport of bodybuilding, but for those that try to "look like a bodybuilder" without understanding just what goes into that process or in turn what the process might do to his/her body. Especially for women, attaining such low levels of body-fat is impossible to maintain for long periods of time without serious health consequences including detrimental effects on a female's hormonal/menstrual cycles. The pictures that you see in magazines and from the stage are quite literally "snapshots" of that individual at the peak of their weight loss and physical appearance. Unfortunately, many of the fans of the sport who aspire to look like their favorite fitness model(s) year-round don't understand how difficult this can actually be without causing serious health issues.

I have worked with and consulted a number of individuals who have competed in the sport of bodybuilding/fitness, as well as individuals that have simply wanted to look like they did. I have always been careful to try and make them aware of the difficulties that may be ahead of them and the reality of what they think that they are seeing when they thumb through their favorite magazines.
It's pretty amazing what extreme dieting, good lighting, hair and makeup,
tanning, plastic surgery, and steroids can do for your physique!

The fact is that bodybuilding can often be a very difficult and unhealthy lifestyle (certainly healthier, by most standards, than sitting on a coach eating donuts, of course, but still with its own risks nonetheless), and the majority of people with "real" jobs and "real" lives will find themselves having a very difficult time achieving these "unreal" physique goals. Just like facing a boxer that cut weight to make a fight and who now outweighs you by 15 pounds, you might find that you are at a distinct disadvantage when trying to step into this ring. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't aspire to look better and to be healthier, but always be aware of what that actually means...and looks like!

Thanks for the letter, Y.R., and for reminding us that seeing
isn't always believing!

-Jonathan

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The FitCast Insider

I just wanted to let everyone know that Kevin decided to re-release The FitCast Insider for a limited time, at $30 off of the original price...sweet!

If you haven’t heard of The FitCast Insider, it is a set of 19 audio interviews as well as a high quality version of the tremendously popular Dan John Squat and Olympic Lift video. It's an awesome compilation of interviews and information ranging from weight loss tips, nutrition, rehab/performance enhancement and strength training.

You get 1 Gigabyte of fitness and nutrition information for less than the cost of a single personal training session with information that would make any typical personal trainer's head spin right out of his underarmour dry-fit t-shirt!

-Jonathan

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bigger, Stronger, Blogger*

If you haven't listened to this week's episode of The FitCast (Bigger, Stronger, Faster*), you missed a fantastic interview with the Chris Bell, the writer and director of the documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster*
Simply put, I was able to see the movie, and it was fantastic. Steroids are, of course, currently a hot-button topic and has seen an increase in media and cultural interest recently. Chris forces us to look at ourselves as a "culture on steroids" and challenges us to see that even as we damn the use of performance enhancing drugs in the media and in polite conversation, we applaud it and encourage its use in our society. This deleted scene, featuring among others current Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, demonstrates this perfectly:


Have a listen to the interview and then do yourself a favor and get a hold of the dvd to watch it for yourself. The movie looks at more than just a drug or even a "drug-culture," but rather at America as a "culture on drugs." In fact, even as I write this, I am guilty of being part of the culture as well, have already used drugs today: two Tylenol Cold multi-symptom tablets to help me with a stuffed nose and sore throat that I woke up with this morning. I also used protein powder in my morning breakfast shake, took a handful of fish-oil tablets and of course a multi-vitamin, along with the caffeine in my tea.

So the question that Chris ultimately asks is an important one: if we are a culture and society where supplements and drugs are woven into the fabric of our existence, where do we draw the lines between acceptable and unacceptable substances? In fact, am I, in this sense, being hypocritical by using a powerful stimulant (caffeine), dietary supplements (whey, vitamins, fish oil) and even an assortment of drugs (Acetaminophen, Dextromethorphan and Phenylephrine, the active ingredients in Tylenol) while at the same time deciding that steroids are not only a "bad thing" but in the past being guilty of passing judgment on those that choose to use them?

While we may feel that there is a big difference between a Tylenol and a steroid, ultimately it's not the differences between the two drugs but the similarities that bind them that is so important in understanding the current issues with performance enhancing substances, whether they help us to compete in sport, stay awake for an early morning meeting, or help us to suppress the discomfort of the common cold. It is our society that produces these issues and not the other way around, and ultimately we as a society must take a hard look at who we are as a people and not just at the people themselves who use these substances.

I hope that you'll agree that it was an excellent interview! Tony, Leigh and I will be returning this weekend for the round-table discussion with all-new listener questions and discussions. We're working on some cool new segments for future episodes, so I hope that you'll continue to enjoy listening!

-Jonathan

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Dysfunctional Definitions

Q: I just listened to the Fit Cast episode with you (and glad to know you will be a regular contributor, you were great) and was wondering how to find a therapist that can help with imbalances. I'm most certain I have more than your average bear (I've had ACL replacement on both knees - when I squat, my right foot turns out almost 45 degrees, but my knees and thighs are parallel. That's imbalance, right? ;)

Anyway, what are some good resources to find a good pro? My therapist for recovery was great, but she's not that kind of trainer.

A: Hey AT, thanks for the question. It was a busy couple of weeks (funny how that keeps happening in your last semester of grad school...go figure!), but I definitely wanted to respond to your excellent question!

Unfortunately, most often a physical therapist is chosen by a patient not because of his/her qualifications or experience but whether or not that therapist accepts the patient's insurance and how close the office is to the patient. Finding a qualified and expert physical therapist (just like finding a great trainer, physician, massage therapist, etc) can be difficult depending on your location and/or your particular needs, but there are definitely some things that you can look for to help.

There are unfortunately very few resources on the internet which actually rate physical therapists, such as Angie's List. However, Angie's List is also a pay site, requiring either a monthly or annual fee for access. If you're willing to pay for it, you might find this service helpful.

Other than that, it's pretty similar to finding any good health-care professional: look at their credentials and experience!

Although it's not a requirement of practice, it's not a bad idea to seek out a physical therapist that chooses to enrich his/her knowledge by earning additional credentials beyond their degree. Of course, a good place to start would be looking for the Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist credential, the CSCS. Other credentials include the Sports Certified Specialist (SCS) and the Orthopedic Certified Specialist (OCS), which indicate a therapist that has achieved advanced clinical knowledge and skills, being recognized by the American Physical Therapy Association as a board certified expert.
Of course, Certified Athletic Trainers (ATC) can also be a great option, and a number of physical therapists have their ATC as well. Other credentials following a PT's name that indicate expertise in manual therapy, such as CMPT or MPT (Certified Manual Physical Therapist) or the prestigious FAAOMPT (a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists) are also good indicators of a highly experienced and expert practitioner.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't also mention Active Release Techniques (ART) here as well. Although I would not consider ART to be a complete system of treatment by itself, it is a very effective complimentary skillset when used properly as an adjunct treatment. An experienced therapist that has this credential is often very good at properly diagnosing and treating dysfunctions.

After narrowing your search, take a look at who the therapist has worked with (athletic populations in performance enhancement would be my first choice) and how long he/she has been practicing in orthopedics/sports rehabilitation. Experience goes a long way, of course, but make sure that you're getting a therapist with the the right kind of experience.

Finally, a word on education: at this point in PT training, there are a number of different degrees that a PT might have earned. You may find therapists that practice with an undergraduate degree in physical therapy, a Master's degree (MS or MSPT), or the Entry-Level Doctorate (DPT). In addition, there are a number of Terminal Degrees that a therapist may have earned as well, including the EdD., ScD., and of course the PhD. While it might be tempting to simply assume that a PT with the most educational letters behind his/her name is also going to be the best therapist, this might not always be the case. The terminal degrees are research-related and therefore do not necessarily translate into better clinical skills, and the difference between a DPT and a therapist with his/her Masters or even Bachelor's degree isn't as great as you might expect, either. The major difference between these entry-level degrees is primarily the amount of time in school, with the DPT student taking an expanded curriculum when compared to the other degrees. However, this doesn't mean that the DPT is a better clinician, which is even
acknowledged by the American Physical Therapy Association itself.

In this case, I would recommend experience and additional qualifications over simply the type of education when looking at a PT's abilities. As an aside, the DPT is now the standard entry-level degree of all new physical therapists, and most programs have already switched over from the MSPT to the DPT, so as the profession of physical therapy continues to move forwards, there will be fewer therapists that are practicing without the DPT (at this point, bachelors programs no longer exist by themselves, although there are some programs that offer undergrads the option of entering an accelerated 4+2 year bachelor/doctorate degree).

Now that you (hopefully) understand physical therapy a little better, let's take a look at what you're describing as your problem: a turned-out foot when squatting. This isn't actually an imbalance. It's a potential dysfunction or movement impairment. That means that there is a departure from what would be considered the standard, or normal, position or motion of part of the body during an activity. This is not, however, an imbalance by itself.

An imbalance refers to the interaction between either opposing muscle groups (such as the quadriceps on the front of your leg and the hamstrings on the back of your leg) or muscles that work together as synergists, such as the actual muscles that make up the hamstrings: the
semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris muscles. When the natural relationships between muscles are changed and one or more muscles become weaker or shorter than the other(s), this is called an imbalance. For example, the normal and healthy strength ratio between the quadriceps and the hamstrings has been examined quite a number of times in the literature, such as in this study from the journal Physical Therapy. Most of these studies find a natural strength ratio somewhere around 2:1 quadriceps:hamstrings, depending on the study and the methods.
As you might expect, these two concepts are, of course, related. Our current model for the cause of chronic injury/pain is based on muscle dysfunctions and imbalances. If we take the example of the 2:1 strength ratio and change it to make the quadriceps much stronger than the hamstrings, for instance (perhaps 2.5:1 or 3:1), this will change the forces occurring at the knee and the way that we move, which can lead to chronic issues. However, the terms imbalance and dysfunction do not describe the same concept, but rather two aspects possibly having an effect on the same overall issue.

The truth is, the reason that your foot turns out even if your legs and knees appear to be lined properly could be happening for a number of reasons, some of which would be structural (meaning that the actual alignment of the bones and joints are to blame) while others could be functional (meaning that there are adaptations to your muscle lengths, strength and movement that causes this to occur). To make it a little more complicated, there is very rarely any single cause for a problem, and it is far more likely that you are dealing with both issues to some degree: there may be muscle strength and length issues that have resulted in structural changes (imbalance leading to dysfunction), or you may have structural issues that have contributed to changes in your muscles that are contributing further to the problem (dysfunction leading to specific imbalances).

Usually, dysfunctional movements such as the kind that you're describing can be improved if not entirely corrected, but understanding what is actually contributing to the problem is just as important as being able to identify the problem in the first place. For example, I would take a guess and suggest that what is actually occurring when you are squatting is probably a relatively common issue such as an over-pronation of your right foot. This can be caused by a number of issues including structural changes in the foot itself due to muscle weakness and/or shortness in the hip extensors, leading to changes in the kinetic chain from the ankle up to the low back and even beyond.

In this example, muscle weakness and subsequent poor dynamic control of the knee leads to compensatory strategies in the lower leg, foot and ankle. Normally, the biceps femoris muscle acts as a strong lateral stabilizer of the knee, preventing your leg from falling inwards (adducting) during a squatting motion. In your case, there are a number of reasons that would lead me to suspect that this might not actually be happening. Although I don't know how you actually injured both of your ACLs, muscle weakness in the hip extensors such as the biceps femoris can be one of the causes for such injuries, especially in non-contact ACL injuries. I'm also assuming that your ACL injuries were in fact non-contact (meaning no direct trauma to the knee itself) since bilateral ACL ruptures would be a pretty rare thing...even for a football player! Non-contact ACL tears occur 2-4x more in female athletes than they do in males, based on the sport and activity, which also leads to my assumption concerning the mechanism of your injuries.

If there is a weakness of your lateral (outside) hamstrings, the biceps femoris specifically, we would normally expect to see a dynamic valgus where the knees fall inwards towards one another. However, in order to prevent this, your particular strategy may be to laterally rotate your tibia (turn the shin/lower leg outwards), resulting in an improvement in the biomechanical ability of the biceps femoris muscle to exert force and maintain the position of your knee, disguising the actual weakness that exists. Because of this, there would be an increased pressure on the outside of the foot (the little toe and the "fifth ray"). This is not how we would normally walk or place pressure on our feet, so in order to balance out the contact forces of the foot your body has responded by pronating your right foot, allowing contact to once again be placed closer towards the inside of the foot (big toe and "first ray").
Of course, I could be completely wrong, too! But by putting the details together like my attempt above, coupled with a complete physical examination and evaluation of movement, a good therapist will be able to "read" the signs of your body and correct the issue.

Thanks for the great question, and thanks for listening to me ramble on the FitCast! I'm glad that you like it.

-Jonathan

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thoughts

1. Having any knee pain associated with arthritis? According to a new study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, you might want to consider physical therapy before electing to undergo arthroscopic surgery.

The study evaluated 178 patients over a two-year span with mild to severe arthritis, half of which underwent surgery followed by treatment with physical and medical therapy, while the other half received physical therapy and medical care without first receiving surgery. After two years, the investigators found no difference between the two groups. In other words, physical therapy alone was equally as effective as was surgery + physical therapy for these patients in terms of pain levels, physical function and quality of life.

2. There is more to health and fitness than just what's on the outside. Exercising just what you can see in the mirror is only a small part of a becoming a total and complete individual. Always remember that true strength comes from within. As you strive to improve your form and function, don't forget that it's equally as important to challenge yourself personally. Learning how to better relax your mind and alleviate stress has been shown to help in decreasing physical pain and headaches, improve immune system function, and help to feel more energetic with better recovery from exercise. For some quick tips on how you can decrease stress with simple relaxation techniques, check out this link.

3. Speaking of improving your inner-peace and harmony, there's no better and more meaningful way to do this than to adopt a pet in need. Anyone that knows me knows just how much I love animals, and I couldn't imagine a day without my best friends.

Jessica Biel loves dogs...you should too

Even if you are unable to take an animal in need into your home, please give anything that you can in order to help with the supply of food, veterinary medicine and care for those that are still waiting for adoption.

4. Cassandra is funny. She's really smart too...have a look at the link to find out one reason why. Then stand up and stretch!

5. By the way, owning a pet may help to improve your physical activity and fitness as well as your overall mental health. You know, in case you were thinking about adopting a pet in need...

Jessica Alba loves dogs too. You love Jessica Alba. Do the math...

6. Today was the anniversary of 9/11. Please hug someone that you love, and never forget.


Be well everyone, and have a safe and healthy weekend.

-Jonathan

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Zen and the Art of Running

Q: I'd like to ask a question about your two posts on running - what do you think of the Chi Running technique?

A: That's an interesting question...mostly because I had never heard of ChiRunning before! I train people to perform better with improved technique and explosiveness, but I'm not exactly a world-class runner myself. If I had been meant to run, I would have been blessed with longer legs!

For those of you that have never heard of this technique before either, you can familiarize yourself with it by visiting the ChiRunning website or by reading this synopsis of the technique that I personally found to be very helpful in understanding what ChiRunning is all about.

Because I've never seen or tried this form of running before, I unfortunately can't give you a complete, informed opinion on it; however, there are a few things that stood out for me:

1. There's no such thing as "injury free." Of course, I realize that it is an exaggeration as part of a larger ad copy, but I think that it's still worth taking note of. A technique or kind of workout may reduce the likelihood of an injury occurring, or it might help in reducing the impact of an injury once it happens, but there is nothing that can guarantee that an injury won't happen...not even falling asleep! So if you're hoping that ChiRunning will be your answer to ending any pains, aches or difficulty with running...it might. But then again, it might not. In any case, I'd always be skeptical of such a claim.

2. Proponents of the method also claim that ChiRunning will improve your runs by teaching core muscle integration, enhanced running posture and forward lean, muscle relaxation and better breathing. These are all good things, if these claims are true . Again, I have never tried ChiRunning, so I can't tell you if this is actually accomplished by people that use the method. But these are all aspects of good running technique.

3.
Speaking of its proponents: in my web-searches for information on ChiRunning, I was able to find lots of interviews of its founder, Danny Dreyer, as well as his personal articles describing the method, but very few first-hand accounts of anyone other than coach Dreyer actually using this technique (other than the testimonials found on the website)! This doesn't necessarily mean that no one is really using ChiRunning (maybe I just didn't search the right places, after all), but I would be curious to hear accounts from "real" people vs. articles written by its "inventor" before ultimately casting my vote for or against it.

4. I don't know if ChiRunning lends itself well to sprint techniques, or if it's better suited for long-distance running (Danny Dreyer is an ultra-marathon runner, which also seems to be the focus of the technique: long, steady-state running). If not, I would say that for individuals that are using running as part of their overall weight-loss approach, it will therefore be limited (perhaps still valuable, but not always usable). Also, without using a complete hip extension or full running stride, there would be at least a potential for muscle imbalances including the hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors without additional training to correct for this possibility.

Having said all of that, I studied a number of martial arts in the past, including Tai Chi Chuan and Pa Kua Chang (which are both internal styles of Chinese Kung Fu). There are very few activities, in my experience, that compare to these forms of martial arts in terms of improving your balance, focus, movement and overall well-being. Personally, I would always be interested in learning more about a technique that claims to base its methods on Tai Chi. So if you feel that ChiRunning could help you in your fitness pursuits, give it a try and see for yourself!

-Jonathan

Sunday, September 7, 2008

This Week's FitCast

I've been a little behind with the blog this week, but the good news is that I did get a chance to sit in on this week's FitCast along with my friends Kevin Larrabee, Leigh Peele and Tony Gentilcore.

We discussed High-Frutcose Corn Syrup, Fish Oil, and new advances in ART treatments. Enjoy it!

-Jonathan

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

This and That

Just a few random thoughts:

1. There are currently two large-scale studies investigating the effectiveness of stretching. The investigators hope to evaluate how a standard stretching routine will influence performance, injury rates, and how the study participants feel from stretching.

With just a casual and quick review of the article, a number of major flaws stood out to me: both studies appear to be so general that it's hard to believe that any significant findings and real-world, usable data could possibly come out of it. This is because both programs chose to use a general stretching program for all study participants, regardless, it would seem, of the actual presentation or individual needs of the participants. A more useful approach, for example, might be in using a stretching routine
that involves the hip flexors used by participants that present with an anterior pelvic tilting, or with limitations in hip extension, such as this research paper published in the Journal of Physical Therapy.

The stretching protocols, by nature of the study methods, are also performed without supervision by the researchers and therefore cannot guarantee that the protocol was even performed properly by any and all participants, also casting a significant amount of doubt on the validity of the information collected (which is also self-reported, and therefore also subject to scrutiny and questionable reliability.) This is a also a glaring weakness of the study design.

The studies may have been a good idea on paper, but their obvious weaknesses would appear to make them almost useless. Good research is the cornerstone of our decision making and practice choices as coaches, therapists, and health professionals. But bad research is just, well, bad.

2. I hear people talk about exercises that focus on the "upper abs" or that some exercise targets the "lower abs", but why no love for the middle abs? I mean, if everyone's after a six-pack, there's 2 abs in the middle that need work too, right?

Of course, if that sounds dumb to you, talking about separating the rectus abdominus into upper and lower "parts" should sound pretty silly, too.

3. You like me! You really like me!

4. Expert Village sucks.

5. Tomorrow is the first day of classes, but this time will be a little different. It's my last semester of grad school! It's hard to believe that it's been nearly three years since I started. Time really does fly sometimes...so don't forget to stop and appreciate your journey, no matter how focused you might be on the destination.

-Jonathan

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ramblings and Rants

The FitCast is all finished and already up on the website! I hope that you enjoy it...it's always a blast hanging out with Kevin. We discussed a number of topics, including beta-alanine, the P90X and CrossFit programs, and protein powders. Have a listen!

-Jonathan

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The FitCast 2: The Next Chapter

I'll be returning to the The FitCast this Sunday where, along with Kevin and the rest of the crew, will be answering listener questions, waxing philosophical (and hopefully poetic) on all things fitness-related, and if I learned anything from the first time that I was a guest on The FitCast, having a great time!

If you have any questions or comments that you'd like for us to answer for you, feel free to leave us a message and we'll do our best to fit it into the show!

-Jonathan

Friday, August 22, 2008

Anatomy of an Injury: When Pain isn't the Problem

I woke up last Saturday with a sharp pain in the middle of my back. After four days of Jennifer digging her elbow into my left lower trapezius to work out an enormous knot, I had nothing to show for it but a slight bruise and a stiff, painful, and very persistent spot of tension in the muscle. So instead, I performed a quick ART release to the upper trap, and a day later I'm feeling 100% better.

Huh?

When a strain persists even after treating the area of the muscle tension, chances are that the strain is a result of something else, and not a direct trauma to the tissue itself. In my case, Jen and I had just made the trip up to Boston to visit with her brother and his family, and 4 hours in the car doing little more than sitting probably affected my posture in subtle ways. Because treatment to my lower trap, where I was feeling the pain, wasn't actually resulting in any long-term relief, I looked in other directions.

Normally, the first place that I would look would be for an underactive synergist (muscles that would assist in the actions of the lower trap). However, I didn't injure myself from a sport or exercise...I injured myself from driving and then sleeping wrong! I can't believe that I just admitted that. Anyway, another possible place to investigate could be in an overactive antagonist (muscles that opposes the actions of the lower trap). There is one muscle, in particular, that can do both: the upper trapezius.

The upper trap will work in combination with the serratus anterior and lower trap to produce upward rotation of the scapula/shoulder blade (the action that occurs to your shoulder blade when you raise your hand overhead). The upper trap will also oppose the lower trap's ability to depress (lower) the scapula by elevating it. If the fibers of the upper trap were stiff (from driving with an elevated shoulder for 4 hours, for instance), this would do three very important things: first, it would keep the shoulder blade in an elevated, lifted position, causing the lower trap to be weaker and over-excited as the body attempted to re-stabilize the normal position of the shoulder blade. Secondly, it would also weaken the upper trap's ability to assist in upward rotation, leaving more of the burden on an already weakened lower trap. Lastly, my ability to stabilize the shoulder blade during any motion would be severely compromised as two very important muscles would be weak and ineffective in resisting unwanted movement of the scapula.

Sure enough, when I examined the muscle texture of my upper trap close to the neck, there was a second palpable mass of tension (technically, called a "trigger point"). As might be expected, there was also increased tension in my levator scap, an antagonist muscle in not only scapular elevation but in downward rotation of the shoulder blade as well (therefore directly opposing two of the lower trap's three actions: scapular rotation, depression and retraction).

After clearing the muscles with a few ART treatments, my shoulders were finally able to relax, and my lower trap returned to its normal resting length and alleviated the pain. A little bit of soreness from four days of tensing the muscle was all that was left.

When we feel persistent aches and pains in our muscles, our body is trying to tell us something. Often enough, the pain or discomfort that we feel is only a sign that something is going wrong. Like a detective in a mystery novel, a therapist should be able to follow the clues and discover the true cause of the problem and correct it so that it is permanently addressed.

-Jonathan

Monday, August 4, 2008

Happy National Chest & Biceps Day!

If you've ever held a membership at a commercial gym, you're already familiar with the weekly pilgrimage of the North-American gym-jock towards the weight room as he endeavors to squeeze just one more rep out of his bodybuilder approved Monday workout. Yep, it's that time of the week again: Chest & Biceps day!

If not for the infuriating monopolizing of every bench in the gym and every dumbbell on the rack, and the large crowds of young males shouting words of encouragement ringing in your ears and interrupting your workout, it'd probably be pretty harmless. It'd at least be pretty funny to watch.

So what to do when every Tom, Dick and...actually, just Dick, is taking up every other piece of equipment in your weight room? Squat! Besides the occasional misguided bodybuilder wanna-be curling in the squat rack (latest issue of Muscle & Fitness on the ground next to him) to deal with, the rack will always be free! You can be certain that whether your goal is to get big and strong (I promise you, there's no rack curls going on in that gym!) or lean and fit (hmmm...she's wearing pink, too), squats need to be part of your workouts!

And no, these aren't squats...they just suck. Hmmm, I wonder if this "expert" is an example of what I talked about here? I'm thinking yes...

Worst-case scenario: even if there's just no room to work, just ask if you can work-in and share whatever equipment you need. On National Chest & Biceps Day, there's plenty of down-time that you can take advantage of between their sets of biceps curls during the obligatory mirror posing!

Have a good workout!

-Jonathan

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Alternative Fuel Sources

Q: Hi Jonathan! I noticed a co-worker eating three pieces of fruit while dressed in sweats and holding a bottle of water. I quickly and correctly deduced that she had just been exercising and asked her about her choice of food. She said that her trainer told her to carb up both before AND after exercising (and to do it within half an hour after exercising). I thought you were supposed to have carbs first, then the protein?

What kind of foods should she eat both before and after, how soon, and if protein is involved, what kinds (cheese, milk, meat, fish, etc)? My co-worker is trying to lose weight and get in better shape. Thanks!

A: There is so much information, mis-information and different "rules" concerning nutrition, it's enough to make your head spin!

Although there is still a great deal of controversy concerning how much protein is really needed for muscle growth, the more practical and logical approach is that protein should be eaten throughout the day, and there really shouldn't be any meals that do not have a portion of protein in them. For instance, if you need 200 grams of protein per day and you eat 5 times a day, you should be shooting for roughly 40 grams of protein/meal.

While cheese is certainly a source of protein as you suggested, this may not be the best choice for a post-workout protein source because most cheeses are going to be higher in fat than protein, other than cottage cheese. However, given the high bioavailability of the milk proteins found in cheese (the measure of the how easily and efficiently the protein is delivered, or the ability of the body to digest and use the amino acids in the protein), a glass of milk or even chocolate milk can both be excellent choices for post-workout "meals."

There has been a great deal of interest in pre-workout nutrition in recent years, and a growing amount of evidence that supplementation with amino acids (the basic building blocks of protein) before your workouts can help to improve performance. Of course, coaches and athletes alike have known this for years, but it's nice that there is finally evidence to support the practice! In these studies, participants normally ingest a mixture of carbohydrates and proteins before engaging in exercise. Even if you choose not to follow the study methods exactly, a more "normal" meal of protein plus carbohydrates and healthy fats would still be a better choice for pre-workout "fuel" than simply ingesting carbs alone. There is also evidence that suggests that both carbohydrates as well as fats are effective at reducing protein catabolism which is a normal byproduct of exercising (and something that, if reduced, can improve muscle retention). Adding protein and/or fat to a carbohydrate-heavy meal improves blood-sugar response over longer time periods, which will allow for longer lasting energy levels.

Of course, it will also depend on goals: for an endurance athlete, more carbs and total calories throughout the day might be in order (For instance, Michael Phelps, a multiple Olympic gold-medal winner and multiple world-record holder in swimming, consumes over 10,000-12,000 calories per day during his heaviest training periods, with a huge portion of that coming in carbs. At 6'4", he's only 15-20 pounds heavier than I am, yet I eat somewhere around 1/3rd of his intake because the energy requirements of my workouts aren't even close to those of an Olympic swimmer!). On the other hand, for someone trying to lose weight and body fat, carbohydrates in the diet are best absorbed immediately after a strenuous workout because of exercise-induced changes in carbohydrate tolerance.

Timing, to some extent, is relative to the individual and the size of the meals. Some people have difficulty working out within an hour of eating and will feel nauseous from it, while others (like me) can eat something while walking through the gym doors without issue. In general, you should experiment with nutrient timing with your pre-workout meals to determine your individual best response. Depending on the form (liquid vs. whole foods) digestion can occur in a range of a 10-20 minutes to 2-3 hours. Usually 1-2 hours beforehand is a good place to start. As mentioned above, ingesting a protein + carbohydrate meal as soon as possible after your workout has repeatedly been shown to be the best strategy.

Of course, all of this is honestly only the tip of the nutritional iceberg! That's why when I have questions about nutrition, I turn to my friends Cassandra and Mike to sort through the food confusion and give me the best information available...I prefer biomechanics and exercise anyway!

-Jonathan

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Keeping Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

It would be hard enough to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle if the only person that you had to worry about was yourself. The fact is, this is rarely the case. Every person that you interact with during your day has the potential to either be a positive influence or a negative one.

For instance, your mother might happen to compete in Ironmen events...or your dad might be a benchwarmer in the Coney Island Hot Dog Eating contest. Your brother might have been the starting quarterback at his college...or the first drafter in his Fantasy Football league on Yahoo Sports. Your significant other's idea of a perfect date could be rockclimbing and a Cliff Bar, or sitting on a stool in a bar where the bartender's name is Cliff.

It's a simple concept: you are either moving closer to your goals, or you're moving further away from them. Our day is filled with people that have the ability to push us in either direction...So which way are you heading?

By relying on your positive influences when you're not feeling motivated or when you're having trouble sticking to your plans, you can create a strong support system to help you to lift your spirits and keep yourself "in check." That doesn't mean that you need to drop any and all friends and family that might not be a perfect cheerleader for your team of one, but it is important to recognize the people in your life that are more likely to sabatoge your efforts than to help them.

-Jonathan

Friday, July 25, 2008

Tribute to a Tigger

You just have to decide if you’re a Tigger or an Eeyore.
~Randy Pausch

Professor Randy Pausch, PhD, passed away today. He was 47 years old.

It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.
~Randy Pausch

Made famous by his "Last Lecture" at Carnegie Melon University, Dr. Pausch inspired millions with his heartfelt, honest and inspiring strength in the face of overwhelming odds. If you have never watched Dr. Pausch's "Last Lecture," or if you would just like to watch it again (and you really should), please take a moment to enjoy it now:



We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.
~Randy Pausch

Like so many others, even though I never had the honor of meeting Dr. Pausch, I was immediately touched by his story, inspired by his fortitude, and now, finally, grieve in his passing. But to truly honor the man, we must exemplify his lessons: to always find the joy and pleasure in the things that we do, to appreciate the time that we have...and to always be a Tigger.

Don’t complain. Just work harder. That’s a picture of Jackie Robinson. It was in his contract not to complain, even when the fans spit on him.
~Randy Pausch

Fight for what you believe in, push yourself to achieve each and every one of your goals, and always remember that no matter how hard you're working, there's always room to work harder. When you believe in something, there are no limits to what you can achieve.

The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.
~Randy Pausch


-Jonathan

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Running Right, Part 2: Get Activated!

Following up my last post, did you take a critical look at the joggers in your gym today? I did. Even though I always have a quick look around the gym to see what people are doing (and doing wrong), what I saw today, quite frankly, was something that I had never seen before...and it was scary!

So what happened? Today I saw a young girl, probably 19 or 20, running with such poor hip and ankle control that she was actually hitting her knees together as she ran! Every time that her foot hit the treadmill, the muscles in her hips were so weak that she wasn't able to stabilize her leg, and her knee rotated inwards with such force that it would knock against her other leg as she ran. Remember my comments on hip control and dynamic knee valgus? This is exactly what I saw today, but far, far worse. I honestly don't think that I've ever seen such an extreme example of weakness and poor conditioning before. It really was frightening, and without improving her strength, muscle coordination, function and activation, she's unfortunately an ACL tear waiting to happen.

Incidentally, she was also wearing pink. I'll assume that was purely coincidental.

While I could give a list of exercises to perform to improve muscle coordination, activity and strength, the fact is that by now you already know them: squats, bridges, lunges, deadlifts, etc. The problem isn't solved by some "exercise secrets," it's solved with careful attention to exactly how you move. Exercise by itself is a good thing, but exercise done properly is the right thing.

Never take for granted that you're doing something correctly, whether it's in the gym or outside the gym: challenge yourself to move better with more control, purpose and fluidity of motion. Always check your movement...better yet, have someone qualified check it for you.

As I saw first-hand today, even something as simple as running isn't always so simple after all!

-Jonathan

Monday, July 21, 2008

Running Right

"We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort."
-Jesse Owens

Running is a natural movement. It's one of the most basic and easiest ways to exercise, and besides a good pair of running sneakers, you don't need anything but the ground. A good, hard run helps to burn calories, improve cardiovascular function, increase your coordination and balance, and it can even be a fantastic stress reliever after a hard day at the office.

The problem is, not many people do it properly with good form and good muscle activation. Case in point: The next time that you go to the gym, take a moment to watch the "Afternoon Crew " sweating it out on the treadmills. Specifically, watch the movements of their legs and hips: I doubt that you'll see anyone producing a full hip extension during their run, where the "power leg" is extended behind the hips at a 45 degree angle, propelling the runner forwards with a stiff core and good thoracic rotation, like this:

Instead, you're more likely to see a very leisurely jog without any power in the stride and a stiff thoracic spine (upper back) while running, like in the example below (matching pink outfit and pink headband optional, of course):


This can be caused by a number of things: shortness or stiffness in the hip flexors, usually from a combination of a sedentary job/lifestyle where sitting is the main activity, weakness in the glutes and hamstrings (the other result of sitting too much), or even from the leisurely pace of most hour-long treadmill marathons itself (where the additional effort of a full stride isn't needed, and is typically avoided).

All of this can add up to what you see above: a lack of hip extension and power during the running stride, which can easily lead to a further weakening of the glutes and hamstrings, which can in-turn eventually lead to a number of back, hip, knee and/or ankle orthopedic issues. In the picture, our pink-armored gym warrior is using knee flexion in compensation for hip extension because she already has weakness in her glutes. You should actually be able to see this by evaluating the muscle bulk in her quads vs. the rather flat looking back of the thigh/hamstrings and glutes.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and Miss Pink Hot-Pants is happily jogging along that road. Running can be a great form of exercise, but poor running is going to end up getting you nowhere fast. When you engage in an activity, whether that's running, weight lifting, sports, etc, make sure that you are actually doing it correctly! Consulting with a qualified coach to evaluate your running form and help you to improve your mechanics can make all of the difference in the world...and your hips, knees and back will thank you for it!

By the way, the black-and-white picture above (the 1st picture) is of Wilma Rudolph. She was diagnosed with Polio at the age of four years old and walked with braces until she was 12. Wilma endured not only the early struggles of her condition, but the daily suffering of segregation in her home state of Tennessee during her youth as well. Despite these obstacles, Wilma persevered and went on to represent her country in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games, winning a Bronze medal in '56 and three Gold medals in '60. She was named the winner of the James E. Sullivan award for top amateur athlete in the United States following her miraculous achievements.

Wilma Rudolph has inspired countless female athletes of every color, heritage and condition looking to fulfill a dream and to fight for what they believe in. Running can change your health, but sometimes, in that rare instance, running can also change the world.

Do something special today, everyone.

-Jonathan

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Functional Training" and other Jedi Mind Tricks

I was wrong, and I'm not too proud to admit it: there are some things that make less sense than a single leg deadlift and overhead fly with a leg lift while holding pink dumbbells, and it looks a little something like this (kids, don't try this at home):



Thanks to my brother from another mother (or something like that) Tony Gentilcore for sending that over. He said that he was going to use it in a "random thoughts" blog post himself, but I beat him to it.

HA!!!

Jonathan - 1
Tony - 0

-Jonathan

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Beautiful (and Strong) Mind

Reader Kelly S. recently sent me a link to a great list of 50 Ways to Maximize Your Brain Fitness that I thought many of you might enjoy.

Remember: a healthy and strong body needs to be complimented with an equally healthy and strong mind. Have a look at the list and see how many different suggestions that you can add into your day to improve your brain power, even as you improve your muscle power!

Thanks for the link, Kelly!

-Jonathan

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Balancing Act

Wow, has it really been two months since my last post? Time sure does fly when you're busy!

Luckily, I have a good excuse: I was completing my clinical rotation in orthopedics this summer, and as you might expect, it was pretty involved! Unfortunately, I found little time to answer an excellent comment left in a previous post…hopefully, my response below will have been worth the wait:

Q:Hi Jon

I understand what you're saying about the principle of specificity, and I agree that way too many people do way too much training on unstable surfaces... but wasn't that pink dumbbell guy doing some balance/core stability work?

A less difficult version of this exercise is shown over at SparkPeople and it says "This is a very good balance exercise and works your core stabilizer muscles as well as your leg muscles."

http://www.sparkpeople.com/myspark/ex/exercises.asp?ID=18

I would be interested in your thoughts.

A: Well, yes and no! Basically, we’re really looking at the same issue: the specificity of the exercise. While the people that recommend those kinds of exercises with some abstract claim of improving balance and “core strength” (more on that “SparkPeople” example in a moment), once again we have to look at how that improvement might actually be utilized (or in most cases, not utilized).

In clinic, therapists use balance exercises in an attempt to correct a specific group of balance disorders, which is referred to as vestibular rehabilitation (referring to rehabilitation of the centers that control balance in the brain/body). This type of training is designed to correct a condition that is caused by peripheral or central vestibular disorders. For those patient populations, unstable surface training helps the individual to properly interpret vestibular information and to develop more appropriate strategies in maintaining balance.

A mistake that an unfortunately vast majority of trainers and coaches make (and all of the so-called “functional” proponents) is that if a technique works to improve balance in one specific condition for one particular population, it must work for other conditions and other populations, too.

It doesn’t.

That’s because for normal populations, poor balance has to do primarily with decreased muscle coordination, strength/endurance as well as possibly poor joint proprioception, and NOT because of a true vestibular condition. There is a big difference between vestibular patients that may experience dizziness, blurred vision, disorientation and/or lightheadedness in addition to a feeling of loss of balance vs. someone that's simply a bit clumsy.

Once again, this is an issue of specificity: what is the problem that we are trying to correct or improve, why is it occurring, and how do we best address it? Using balance training methods developed for patients with clinical deficits in vestibular function and applying it to a normal, healthy individual is like trying to learn how to Waltz by taking tap-dancing lessons: just because they’re both forms of dancing, it doesn't mean that they're anything alike. So if you find yourself tripping over your own feet, don’t stand on a Bosu or attempt one-legged squats: learn how to walk on solid ground without tripping by using agility/coordination drills and good old-fashioned strength training!

Now here’s the funny part about the SparkPeople example: if you look carefully, even though it’s a crude 5-frame demo, you can easily see that the individual who is demonstrating the exercise that claims to produce “good balance…and works your core stabilizer muscles as well as your leg muscles” actually has significant weaknesses in both balance as well as core and leg strength!

Taking a closer look, you will see his leg swing inwards towards the other knee as he attempts to balance himself as he squats: this is a clear indication of poor knee control stemming from weaknesses in his pelvis/hips, thighs, hamstrings and/or calves. And he’s standing on solid ground! Just imagine what he would look like if he decided that he needed to improve his balance and de-stabilize himself further by performing his exercise on a Bosu: It would be a disaster! Such an obvious weakness means that while he can figure out how to balance himself on one leg, he has actually done nothing to improve his strength, reduce his risk of potential injury at the knee or to improve his overall quality of movement because of his compensation patterns.

In fact, according to a recent Olympic Committee statement concerning non-contact ACL ruptures in females:

"(A)lmost 80% of ACL injuries are non-contact in nature. Injuries often occur when landing
from a jump, cutting or decelerating. A combination of anterior tibial translation and lower
extremity valgus are probably important components of the mechanism of injury in these
athletes."

A dynamic knee valgus occurs when the knee moves towards the midline but the shin moves away from the midline (hip adduction). Now, let’s look again at his knee and hip when he squats: His knee buckles inwards, and his pelvis moves out to the right, increasing the angle between the hip and the knee, which is exactly what is described in the paper. Because our bodies are smart, we are more likely to work around a weakness or improper movement rather than spontaneously correcting weaknesses and poor movement patterns (which is why having access to a knowledgeable trainer, coach or therapist can be so important for injury prevention through appropriate corrective exercise to spot and fix these weaknesses).

In our example’s quest to improve his balance and conditioning, he’s likely made pre-existing muscle/postural weaknesses even weaker by feeding into his natural compensatory patterns of movement, making himself more at risk for serious ACL injury! Can he balance on one leg? Yeah...sorta. Does he do it correctly with good motor control and strength? Absolutely not. And that is a recipe for future chronic injury.

And this really proves my point: exercise without specificity of function or without regard to addressing true dynamic weakness doesn’t help to improve anything other than getting better at that particular exercise...and not even necessarily with proper movement patterns, either! It’s like building an aircraft carrier in the middle of the desert: what’s the point? Yeah, it might represent a challenge, but you could have used the time and effort wasted on a useless motor skill towards something equally as challenging but far more practical and useable.

…Like learning how to properly squat and deadlift, which, according to this recent study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, found that “...activity of the trunk muscles during (squats) and (deadlifts) is greater or equal to that which is produced during the stability ball exercises. It appears that stability ball exercises may not provide a sufficient stimulus for increasing muscular strength or hypertrophy; consequently, the role of stability ball exercises in strength and conditioning programs is questioned.

So in regard to that second part from the SparkPeople website claiming that their example exercise "works your core stabilizer muscles...?" It might to a point, but it looks like squats and deadlifts do more for core strength and conditioning than stability exercises do, too.

Go figure.

-Jonathan

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Hero

I don't usually have much time to watch t.v., but I do try and leave room in my schedule to sit down and enjoy a few of my favorite shows every week. Recently, I've been catching up (through the miracle of netflix) with the show Heroes.

Heroes is a really interesting show. It's about people with "superpowers" but it's not exactly like a comic-book. In it, the characters are trying to understand their "gifts" and how to use them. One of the major characters is a Japanese man named...Hiro (pretty clever). He's basically a nerd, and he reads comic books. When he discovers that he can manipulate time (traveling forward, backward, or just stopping it altogether), he ponders what his destiny is. After all, if you've been given an extraordinary gift, he reasons, you're probably meant to use it to help others.

Lately I've been thinking of my own "gifts" and powers. I can't fly (although when I was 6 years-old I tried to off of the second step of the porch), and I can't see through walls (although I repeatedly tried to in high school through the girl's locker room walls...it didn't work either), but I do help people. I help people to get healthier and to feel better. My superpower is that I'm a healer.

But if that sounds impressive, you should hear about another superhero that I know: she's really powerful! She's got so many powers, it can be hard to keep track of: she's got super strength to lift me up whenever I might feel down. She's telepathic and can read minds, because she always knew when I wasn't telling the truth. She's a healer, too, and could always make any pain go away. She's got mind control and gets me to do the right thing with nothing more than a look. And she's got super-human brains, too, and continues to teach me so much about life, regardless of the situation.

No matter how much I may lift in the gym, it's mom that always taught me that true strength comes from within...and that may be her greatest superpower of them all.

Happy Mother's Day, mom. And happy Mother's Day to all of the other mothers that are the real-life superheroes to their children and families every day.

-Jonathan

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Consumption Junction: What's Your Function?

Just like "Jumbo Shrimp" and "Government Organization," the term "Functional Training" as it's used in most gyms and fitness magazines is an oxymoron. You may disagree, but there is nothing even remotely functional about a single leg deadlift and overhead fly with a leg lift while holding pink dumbbells! And unless you plan on playing tennis while standing on a mini-trampoline, using one during training probably doesn't make much sense, either.

In fact, this study clearly demonstrated that training on an unstable surface might actually decrease your performance in sports and athletics (when compared to training on a stable surface). If you look closely, you'll notice that Eric Cressey was the lead author of the study (it was his Master's thesis at UConn), and I'm pretty sure that he knows a thing or two about training for performance...just not about choosing teams to root for.

This will make more sense if you understand the Principle of Specificity. Specificity states that in order to become better at a task, you must practice that specific task. For instance, if you want to become a better free-throw shooter in basketball, you have to specifically practice free-throw shooting! If you decide that you want to practice your free-throws while standing on a Bosu, then you'll only become better at shooting free throws while standing on a Bosu. This is easy to see if you consider how we learn from a neuromuscular standpoint, which I wrote about in this post.

Instead of throwing together some random circus training and calling it "functional," you should instead think like a coach and consider what your particular needs and activities are. In other words, what is your particular "function," and how can your training actually help you to accomplish this? Just as importantly, what can you do in the gym to help you to counteract the potential negative impacts of what you do every day, keeping you healthy and functioning optimally?

For instance, if I'm working with one of my Rugby teams, they will probably perform Olympic weightlifting as part of their workouts to develop power and explosive force which they can use on the field. If I am training a secretary, I will make sure to include plenty of rowing and scapular retraction exercises as well as core postural training in order to undo the affects of sitting at a computer for 8 or more hours each day. If I am training a firefighter, I will utilize exercises that duplicate the job tasks of a firefighter with activities such as sandbag carries and even sledgehammer side-swings into a tire (think about carrying a person from a burning building or breaking open a burning door with an axe).

...And if I should ever find myself in the position of training a Professional Bosu Basketball League player...well, that's when I'll take the Bosu out of the aerobics studio and incorporate it into my programming!

Don't get me wrong: there's nothing inherently bad about unstable surface training...you just need to understand why you would choose to use that form of training. Hopefully, you now recognize that any exercise can be labeled as "functional" depending on what specific activity need it addresses, and not just because someone happens to be doing a handstand on a stability ball while he/she is exercising.

Depending on your goals (weight loss, muscle gain, athletic performance, etc), you can adjust your sets and reps to produce the results that you're looking for (you can have a look at my Men's Fitness article Long Term Fitness for how to adjust your workouts for your particular needs). But always choose your exercises according to your specific tasks and individual needs.

In other words: make functional training actually functional!

-Jonathan