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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


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!


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!