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.


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


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!


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.


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.


Jonathan - 1
Tony - 0


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!


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."

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

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.