All Trainers Are NOT Created Equal

Many people who have personal trainers feel that theirs is the very best.  I have never met anyone who doesn’t rave about his or her trainer, especially if he/she has been working with them for a substantial period of time. Part of the training experience is the camaraderie and trust formed between the trainer and his client, and the majority of people are very loyal.

However, putting friendship and personality aside, only a handful of personal trainers are truly competent and knowledgeable. As a result, many people get injured and sometimes the client doesn’t even realize that their trainer is responsible. Many injuries are repetitive injuries, which are injuries that occur gradually over time due to frequent, repeated, unsafe movements.

The client may not even know that they are being injured! For example, one morning a person can wake up with his knee bothering him and he is unable to walk without pain. He may not remember doing anything the day before to cause the injury; in fact, this injury may have been happening gradually over a period of time. Therefore, a client may be ignorant to what is causing his ailment. Injuries may be caused by improper form, unsafe exercises, or lack of knowledge about anatomy and how the body works. Clients need to be able to evaluation their trainers objectively; you cannot assume that all gyms are hiring qualified, competent trainers.

Intensive training &/or education is not currently required to become a personal trainer. All that is required is a certification that is accredited that the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCAA); for example, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), NFPT (National Federation of Personal Trainers and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). Most gyms require that their trainers are certified, but NOT all do! Make sure that your trainer is certified and that he attends seminars and takes continuing education courses to stay current.

The body is a complex machine and it is important that a trainer understands proper mechanics to avoid injury, especially if the client has pre-existing conditions. A trainer should perform an initial evaluation and obtain a health history so to target weak areas and avoid aggravating an injury or condition that is already present. The evaluation should include testing flexibility, balance, core strength, muscle strength and endurance, as well as proprioception. Your trainer should be able to explain why he is choosing certain exercises and how they benefit you. He or she should also be knowledgeable in functional training, which is training for daily activities or a specific goal. Additionally, your trainer should be able to use the initial assessment to design a tailor-made workout program for each individual. There is no one-size-fits-all in personal training.

There are many benefits to using a personal trainer rather than working out on your own. Choose wisely, because not all trainers are created equal. Do your due diligence and do your research to ensure you get the results that you want.

What is Functional Training?

There are many different opinions on which exercises are best to do. “What type of training should I be doing?” is a big question along with “Do I perform slow or fast reps?”, “Do I use a bench or a physio-ball?”, or “Do I do one body part at a time?” The answer is that everyone should be training according to their own personal goals. There isn’t one specific routine that will work for every person. Performing a typical gym program of random exercises, three sets of ten, with one-minute rest between each has benefits but will not be the most efficient way to attain your goals or address your specific needs. Training primarily with machines without the use of free weights is inefficient because you are moving resistance along a fixed axis, and not freely in space as the body normally would. Machines have value while integrated properly but are often misused. They have limited functional strength transfer to real life situations in most cases and can actually create poor motor patterns in some people.

Functional training is defined as movements or exercises that improve a person’s ability to complete their daily activities or to achieve a specific goal. It is not a series of exercises deemed functional by some manual. Doing movements in the gym that strengthen the muscles involved in the movements you wish to improve outside the gym is a good start. This does not mean you can simply add weight to the exact movement you wish to enhance. There is research that has proven doing this can actually be detrimental to some athletic movements. When a baseball player adds weight to his bat, that actually can slow his bat speed down because the added resistance changes the forces on the joint and disrupts mechanics. All exercises have some functional value when applied correctly however, this value is determined by the benefit outside of the gym. Every exercise has a functional limitation and it is up to the trainer to understand what that limitation is. A good program will focus on weak areas as well as the specific goals of the client. It is important to understand how to progress someone from simple smaller targeted movements to more complex multi joint movements. Training someone functionally can range from having a tennis player lunge to a chop or a bodybuilder do a slow curl for bigger biceps; its all about the goal.  Keep in mind that doing complex movements before a client is ready will do more harm than good.

In order to build appropriate muscle strength, joint integrity, balance and flexibility in all planes of motion, it is essential that the body is exercised in a functional manner. It is crucial to include multi-joint and multi-planar exercises, as this recruits the body’s stabilizers to synergistically facilitate movement. Doing this ensures that the nervous system is working properly and that all  parts of the body are used in the appropriate manner, with the correct muscles firing at the right time. This is not to say you shouldn’t include some so called non functional exercises, including a machine or old school exercise can be beneficial, safe and fun when applied correctly. To create a functional program, a trainer must set realistic goals and understand the client’s weaknesses, daily activities and limitations.

A trainer must be able to identify postural distortions and include exercises that correct them. More importantly, they have to educate the client on what movements or activities to avoid or modify during their day. It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it. The ability to identify a postural distortion is dependent on the trainer’s understanding of anatomy, motor patterns and muscle function. A trainer must also be able to identify when muscles are over active and firing out of sequence, or not firing at all. Synergistic dominance is common in most postural dysfunctions. In general, if the agonist is tight then the antagonist is weak, thus creating increased stress on the joint. This can result in patterns of repetitive stress, ultimately leading to accelerated joint degeneration .

Core stability, flexibility and balance are key factors when designing a functional exercise routine. It is important to maintain posture while being able to move all joints in a full range of motion. Training with free weights, and challenging the surrounding environment promotes balance and stability, which is necessary if you expect to see benefits outside of the gym. Keep in mind, it is more important to be able to control your own body weight and concentrate on form, balance and core endurance, than to move heavy weights.

A functional core routine consists of dynamic movements, isometric exercises and challenges the center of gravity. To completely train the core, you must also include dynamic stabilization, isometric and proprioceptive movements, not just for the mid section, but for the entire trunk. Medicine balls, balance boards, foam rollers and physio-balls are great tools for core training, and should be integrated into every program. It is a fact that training on the physioball (challenged environment) is superior to traditional floor exercises. As a person ages, balance and stability become compromised. If balance and stability are not addressed, they will consistently degrade. A weak core contributes to poor stability, and inhibits proper limb movements, causing muscle imbalances in the kinetic chain. This is why falls are common in the geriatric population. Many back and hip injuries are related to weak core muscles. There are many small muscles in the core that the general population knows little about or addresses during exercise. In most spinal injuries,  MRI images show atrophy in these small muscles. In order to maintain a healthy spine, these little muscles need to be trained. Without stability, even the strongest person can not effectively propel a force into the environment.

Flexibility is a very important facet of any exercise program, but is often overlooked.  Lack of flexibility in the right places appears to be the root of many problems. The body’s movements are hampered when flexibility and posture are distorted. Active, dynamic, static and PNF stretching are key factors and should all be included in any training program. When a muscle is tight, it limits the muscle’s ability to contract properly, causing inefficient movements and risk of injury. Without flexibility, the body’s movement becomes limited, and good results are difficult to achieve.

Traditional weight lifting is a thing of the past, and has been proven to produce limited results compared to a functional program. The only way to enhance movement is to mimic the movement in the gym until it becomes autonomous in every day life. Before initiating any exercise program, one should always consult a physician, as well as a qualified fitness professional. This insures that they are addressing their specific needs and goals.

 

FAQ:

Q) Should I do slow repetitions or fast?

A) You base the speed of the repetition on the speed of the required activity. The body needs to be trained at the same or a higher velocity during exercise to benefit a particular activity. A sprinter doesn’t jog to increase their speed. In my opinion slow training is good for form training, rehabilitation and hypertrophy.

Q) My friend works out at the local gym and mostly uses machines. He has been doing the same routine forever and has gotten good results. Is this program good for me?

A) NO! Any exercise program will produce results whether it is done right or wrong if you stick to it. Unfortunately when exercise is done incorrectly the harmful affects may not be noticed until the damage is done. By exercising functionally you will systematically attain your goals and insure that your time in the gym is spent safely and efficiently. Just because someone looks good does not mean they are an expert.

Q) Can functional training benefit anyone?

A) Yes. Functional workouts are beneficial for any athletic level or age group. By training functionally your time in the gym is spent more efficiently. When you train in this fashion you will see drastic improvement in overall health and performance not just appearance.

Q) Shouldn’t I do cardio and lose weight before I start a functional program?

A) NO! You should have a functional training program that concentrates on raising and lowering your heart rate. The program should first use body weight exercises then advance to free weights. This promotes lean muscle mass, skeletal integrity and healthy cardiac function. Muscle mass accelerates fat loss.

Q) My friend tells me to do 3-5 sets 10-12 reps to failure with 1 minute rest intervals.

A) This is what everyone who thinks of the gym envisions. Unless you are a body builder this is not a good program. If you train in a functional fashion you burn more calories and get more benefit from your sessions outside of the gym.

Q) Aren’t aerobic classes and the treadmill enough?

A) NO! A weight training program that includes balance, core stability strength and cardiac conditioning builds lean muscle mass. When you build muscle you burn more calories at rest and during daily activities. Which would mean, by adding resistance to your program you actually will burn more calories doing the same aerobic class or distance on the treadmill?

Q) Should I stretch before or after exercise or an event?

A) Evidence demonstrates that static stretching before an activity is not beneficial to prevent injury. If you want to avoid injury you need to be flexible by stretching regularly and not just before activity. Active and dynamic stretches with a short warm up mimicking activity before, P.N.F and static stretching at the end help remove waste from the muscles.

Q) Why have none of my doctors told me to stretch and exercise to alleviate pain?

A) Unfortunately we live in a society of doctors that prescribe meds for everything imaginable. Everyone wants immediate gratification (pill) not a long term solution (exercise). The fact is most people would ignore the doctors’ request to stretch and exercise then seek a new doctor for a simpler solution. Most minor health problems can be eliminated by moderate exercising but people choose to take meds because they are lazy.

Q) I injured my knee and my doctor told me to rest it for a while. Do I?

A) This is the worst thing you can do. Pampering an injury for extended periods causes muscle atrophy and decreased blood flow. All injuries should be functionally rehabilitated under careful supervision.

Q) Should I cut carbs out of my diet?

A) NO! Cut high glycemic carbs out only. Carbohydrates are essential for cellular function. Eating carbs that do not spike insulin levels is healthy and effective for weight loss.

Q) My doctor told me to walk to get some exercise for my aches. Is walking enough?

A) NO WAY. If walking were enough basically everyone would be healthy we all walk. If you have pain chances are there is a biomechanical issue. My first suggestion would be to stretch. More walking will only aggravate the issue. You need to correct the imbalance first not just walk more.

 

References

1: Cosio-Lima LM, Reynolds KL, Winter C, Paolone V, Jones MT. Effects of physioball and conventional floor exercises on early phase adaptations in back and abdominal core stability and balance in women. J Strength Cond. Res.2003 Nov;17(4):721-5

2: Hides, J. A., Richardson, C. A., and Jull, G. A. Magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasonography of the lumbar multifidus muscle. Comparison of two different modalities. Spine 20:54-8; 1995

3: Hides, J. A., Stokes, M. J., Saide, M., Jull, G. A., and Cooper, D. H. Evidence of lumbar multifidus muscle wasting ipsilateral to symptoms in patients with acute/subacute low back pain. Spine 19:165-72; 1994

4: Kiyoshi Yoshihara, MD; Yasumasa Shirai, MD; Yoshihito Nakayama, MD; Shinji Uesaka, MD. Histochemical Changes in the Multifidus Muscle in Patients With Lumbar Intervertebral Disc Herniation. Spine 2001;26:622-626

5: Julie A. Hides, PhD; Carolyn A. Richardson, PhD; Gwendolen A. Jull, MPhty Multifidus Muscle Recovery Is Not Automatic After Resolution of Acute, First-Episode Low Back Pain. Spine 1996;21:2763-2769

6: Etty Griffin LY. Neuromuscular training and injury prevention in sports.
Clin Orthop.2003 Apr;(409):53-60

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The Negative Effects of Gatorade

Gatorade has long been a popular sports drink, especially for kids, and is marketed as an electrolyte replacement drink for athletes.  Electrolytes are substances that contain free ions and conduct electricity1.  In the human body, electrolytes are responsible for regulating nerve and muscle function, blood pH, hydration, blood pressure, and damaged tissue repair1.  Some examples of electrolytes that are in our bodies are sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride1.  The levels of electrolytes in our blood change when water levels in our body change.  When we sweat, we lose mostly sodium and potassium, which must be replaced in order to maintain the proper balance in our bodies1.  According to ACSM, two pounds of sweat contains an average of 800mg of sodium (ranges between 200-1600mg) and 200mg of potassium (ranges between 120—600mg)2.

Gatorade has three different lines of sports drinks: G2, Gatorade Protein Recover, and Gatorade Thirst Quencher.  All Gatorade products have a list of ingredients that are difficult to pronounce, with many of these ingredients being forms of sugar or artificial sweeteners.  In fact, sugar is the second ingredient after water which means that Gatorade products are comprised mostly of sugar and water.  In fact, Gatorade Thirst Quencher has a whopping 14g of sugar, coming mostly from sucrose syrup and glucose-fructose syrup. “The American Heart Association recommends that no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance come from added sugars.  For most American women, this is no more than 100 calories per day and no more than 150 per day for men (or about 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men)3.”   This is about 24g of sugar for women and 36g of sugar for men.

Excessive sugar in the diet can be very bad for your health. It is important to try to limit the amount of added sugar in your diet.  Sugar that is naturally occurring in fruit and milk is perfectly fine however it is the added sugars that need to be decreased.  Consumers need to beware because sugars are hidden in many different kinds of foods, such as salad dressings and crackers4.

One negative consequence of excessive sugar intake is weight gain and obesity.  Sugar is very calorie dense, and as stated before, it is added to numerous foods and drinks4. Additionally, eating a lot of sugary foods displaces more nutritious foods in the diet. These foods don’t provide the same satiety as healthful foods and therefore, cause overeating4.  A second issue with added sugars is that they increase the risk for higher triglycerides, lower HDL, and higher HDL, which contribute to an increased risk of coronary heart disease4. Lastly, sugar contributes to tooth decay4.

The G2 line of Gatorade has fewer calories and less sugar but it does contain sugar alcohols.  Sugar alcohols are a type of reduced-calorie sweetener5 that provides fewer calories than regular sugar.  They do increase blood sugar levels but less dramatically than that of regular sugar5.  On a positive note, they do not cause tooth decay. Sugar alcohols can have some negative GI side effects though, such as bloating and diarrhea6

Another huge problem with Gatorade is the amount of food additives and colorings added to the products.  For example, one additive is monopotassium phosphate, which is not only used as a food additive, but also a as a fertilizer and fungicide7.  It is a bit scary to be ingesting an ingredient used to fertilize plants.  Additionally, some flavors of Gatorade contain brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a food additive used as an emulsifier in drinks with citrus flavoring10.  Bromine – part of BVO – is an element found in flame retardants9!  Some research shows that it may build up in the body leading to thyroid problems, memory loss, and skin and nerve problems9.  It has been banned in Japan and Europe10.  In January 2013, Pepsico announced they had plans to remove BVO from Gatorade; however, there are no current plans to remove it from Mountain Dew10.

Gatorade is also filled with many food coloring, such as blue 1 and red 40.  Many studies have showed a link between children and hyperactivity due to food additives11.  In fact, 35 years of research has shown that many children with ADHD show significant improvement in their symptoms when they eliminate artificial food colors from their diet12.

Many popular athletes endorse Gatorade and some may actually use it to replace electrolytes during sporting events and training.  Gatorade isn’t completely bad; it does replace sodium and potassium and help restore electrolyte balance and hydration status.  Athletes are paid to endorse products, but many do not do their due diligence to find better and healthier alternatives.

A Better Alternative:

If you are looking for an electrolyte replacement drink, there are better alternatives available.  Thorne Performance, a line of supplements geared towards athletes and their needs, has created, Catalyte, an electrolyte and energy restoration complex.  Catalyte is all-natural and does not contain calories, sugar, additives, or caffeine. It is also gluten and soy free.  Catalyte comes in a lemon lime flavor and the product is easy to mix.  In fact, the Catalyte powder formula contains vitamins and minerals that, when mixed with pure water, makes a tasty electrolyte supplement that helps repair and rebuild muscle.

References:

  1. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/153188.php
  2. sportsmd.com/SportsMD_Articles/id/395.aspx
  3. http://www.rivercityraces.com/files/user/Electrolyte_Replacement.pdf
  4. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Frequently-Asked-Questions-About-Sugar_UCM_306725_Article.jsp
  5. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/sugar-alcohols.html
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_alcohol
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopotassium_phosphate
  8. http://www.myhealthnewsdaily.com/2323-sugar-bad.html
  9. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bvo/AN02200
  10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brominated_vegetable_oil
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22864801
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21127082

The Importance of Being Flexible

Flexibility is underrated in both the fitness industry and in life, in general. A person’s flexibility refers to the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion. It is important to attain a full range of motion to perform activities of daily living and to reduce the stress on muscles, which in turn decreases injury rates.

Flexibility is joint-specific, since each joint has a potential range of motion. Static flexibility refers to the range of motion that can be attained while not in motion; dynamic flexibility refers to the range of motion that can be attained during movement. Dynamic flexibility is important to athletes because range of motion is limited by the amount of time it takes for a muscle to lengthen, which affects athletic ability. The more a joint can flex, the better the athlete can improve sport-specific skills.

Greater flexibility of the muscle(s) around the joint translates into better posture, reduced risk of injury, and less muscle tension and soreness. We need to be flexible in order to perform every day activities, from sitting to standing, and from lifting items to turning the body in different directions. Joints become stiffer as people age. When our muscles are sedentary and inflexible, our bodies create poor posture habits and movements that reduce the mobility of joints and compromise body positions. Flexibility helps prevent this loss of mobility.

Stretching helps to reduce soreness after exercise and gradually elongates the muscle through its full range of motion, which improves muscular balance and resting posture. Additionally, stretching promotes muscular relaxation, which increases flexibility in the hamstrings, hip flexors, and quads. This decreases the likelihood of both sporadic and chronic back pain. Stretching also increases blood flow and nutrients to soft tissue, increasing joint synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints and improves greater range of motion and decreased joint pain and degeneration.

Stretching can be part of a workout or a workout all by itself. As a rule of thumb, before a workout, dynamic stretching should be done. Static stretching should be reserved for after a workout. When stretching, always be gentle and never jerk the muscle into position. Instead, smoothly move the muscle into position to safely lengthen the muscle tissue. Mild discomfort is normal during stretching, but there should never be any pain. Pain is an indication that the muscle is being overstretched or has been excessively stretched. Find 5-10 minutes per day to stretch to reduce stress and improve your health. Your body will thank you for it!

Breathe Easy

Breathing is the most basic movement pattern but it is often done incorrectly.  This causes tremendous consequences, in terms of our musculoskeletal health. If we think about how often we breathe, it is easy to see how incorrect patterns can lead to big problems. Faulty breathing patterns and the impact that they have are often overlooked. This is because it is such a subtle and involuntary movement that we typically do not think about it!

It is common to think of breathing only in terms of respiration, which is obviously essential to sustaining life. However, the effects go beyond the basic respiratory function. There has been much research demonstrating a link between breathing pattern disorders and low back pain, neck pain, shoulder imbalances, TMJ pain, poor motor control and posture.

Posture and breathing are directly related. One cannot be addressed without the other. Breathing pattern disorders usually develop as we begin to develop poor postural patterns very early in life. Watching an infant is a great way to see proper breathing, as they have not yet learned to do it the wrong way.

The diaphragm, which is the main muscle responsible for breathing, can be seen as an essential component of the core function. If we think of the trunk as a cylinder or column, with muscles and fascia wrapping around as a belt, the diaphragm acts a lid, while the pelvic floor muscles make up the floor. Often when working the core, we often focus on the abdominal muscles and do not consider the importance of the diaphragm. If breathing is not correct, one cannot have full core stability.

An easy way to assess your breathing is to stand in front of a mirror placing one hand on the upper part of the chest and one hand over the abdomen. Take a deep breath and notice the movement of the hands. If the hand on the chest elevates, this indicates incorrect breathing, or thoracic breathing.

The correct pattern is when inhaling, the abdomen expands, pushing the hand over the abdomen forward, or outward. The hand on the chest should not move much. This is known as diaphragmatic breathing, and properly engages the diaphragm.

Thoracic breathing engages muscles of the chest, upper back and neck as the primary breathing muscles. Over time, these muscles will develop tension from overloading and doing more work than they are designed to do. While these muscles are overworking, the diaphragm is under-working, contributing to core weakness and the long list of consequences that result.

Awareness of breathing pattern disorders through the simple test above is an important step. To begin working on correcting the pattern, try the following. Lay supine (on your back) and prop your legs up on a cushion, or support, so that the hips and knees are both at 90 degree angles. If you cannot do that, simply laying on the back with knees bent will also work. Place one hand on the abdomen and the other on the chest and breathe normally trying pull the breath into the abdomen. With each inhalation, the goal is expand the abdomen lifting the hand. The ribcage will also expand a bit laterally, but should not elevate. Try to stay as relaxed as possible while doing this and don’t worry about taking deep breaths. Breathe easily and normally. Do this for a few minutes three to four times a day.

This will start to groove the movement pattern and reprogram the system. Gradually, you will begin notice when breathing is being done incorrectly and will be able to easily switch to diaphragmatic breathing. It is more difficult to do this while upright, which is why the supine position is the best way to start the training process. It is very important to work on posture simultaneously in order to achieve the best, long lasting results. It is very difficult to breathe correctly with poor posture.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is a process. It will not change overnight. It takes a lot of work and consistency to retrain a system that has been in place for so long. Remember how often you breathe and for how long it has been done incorrectly! Do not get frustrated if you feel like you are getting nowhere. Keep working on it. If you feel you need more help, consider seeking the help of a professional who has experience with this. Many chiropractors, acupuncturists, trainers, physical therapists, massage therapists and other types of body workers can be very helpful.

There are many other health benefits to proper breathing, in addition to musculoskeletal health. One can write volumes on breathing in terms of musculoskeletal, biochemical, respiratory, mental/emotional, endocrine, neurological and spiritual health. Many types of meditation and relaxation exercise focus on the breath. It is synonymous with life. So contribute a few easy minutes a day to your breathing, and ultimately your health. It is a worthy cause.

Skinny for the Summer

To get that ideal “beach body,” you need to eat right AND exercise. One cannot exist without the other. Rather than obsess over crazy workouts or counting calories, the most important change you can make to promote weight loss is to alter your environment and your habits in order to make weight loss and health second nature. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, “the key to changing habits is to understand how change really occurs. And for the most part, it occurs by design, not by accident or wishful thinking. It occurs by transforming the unconscious choices we make every day, shifting them so that the automatic, easy, default choices become healthy choices, not deadly ones.”

The old adage, “you are what you eat,” is key when discussing diet. While the amount of food is important, the types of foods we eat are just as important.  Sugar is toxic and it is very important to limit foods with extra sugar in order to see weight loss.  Many people have food cravings and find change to be extremely difficult.  As stated before, in order to change your eating habits, you must change your environment. Do not keep candy, chips, and sugary items in your house. Place fruits and nuts within easy reach. Make fruit more accessible by cutting it up and displaying it. Do not go to the sections of the grocery store where you may be tempted to buy unhealthy items. Similarly, try to avoid restaurants or shops where you have a weakness for their unhealthy choices. Serve meals in portions, put away leftovers, and use smaller plates so you can  eat less. Find new recipes online and keep condiments handy in the house to flavor food. Also, plan your food and snacks in advance so you never have to “cheat” and so you are never left hungry and have to grab something unhealthy. Change is possible if you have a plan!

Similarly, you need to have a plan for exercise. Make sure to set aside time to go to the gym and workout. Make it a priority and schedule it into your calendar. Exercise should be easy, so find your obstacles to working out and create a solution to them!  Also remember that cardio is not enough to change your body; resistance training is necessary to boost your metabolism, increase muscle mass, and burn fat. Work with a personal trainer to learn how to safely exercise and have him make you a routine to follow. Change your current habits and start your routine to see results!

It is all about having the motivation, ability, and a trigger to change. We live in an unhealthy world, so we need to create our own healthy environment and design it to make it easy to do the right thing. That is how we create health and it is the key to success in weight loss and transformation of mind and body.

Proprioception

Proprioception is defined as the body’s ability to sense stimuli with regard to position, motion and equilibrium. It is the sense of the orientation of one’s limbs in space; the ability to know where a body part is without looking at it.  Therefore, the body is able to sense the position of its parts, analyze it, and react with proper movement. Without proprioception, we would have to constantly watch our feet while we were walking.

Balance and proprioception are not the same things. The sense of balance originates from the fluids in the inner ear. Proprioception is provided by proprioceptors, which are sensory receptors. These nerves are located inside the body and transmit information from the muscles, joints, tendons and skin to the central nervous system.

Proprioceptors control balance, coordination and agility, and by training proprioception, we can improve balance, coordination and agility. Balance is a basic skill needed in practically every activity.  The key to efficiency is changing your center of gravity to match your moves. Agility is what allows us to move gracefully without wasting motion.  It allows our joints to move through the full range of motion smoothly and confidently. Proprioception also reduces the risk of injury. For example, ankle sprains are a fairly commonly injury for athletes.  These are often caused by a lack of balance or proprioception.  Even if a runner has strong lower limbs and good endurance and flexibility, slight deviations in the terrain during running require adjustments in balance. If the athlete has not trained the neuromuscular system to react appropriately when running on uneven ground or when they have a misstep, they may be injured.

Just like any other motor activity, proprioceptive ability can be trained. Any new motor skill that involves precise movement of our arms and legs– from baseball to painting to skiing – involves training our proprioceptive sense. And just like any new skill or exercise, it requires a progression during training. Start with simple exercises and make them more complex as the individual improves.

Proprioception can be tested by standing on one leg for 30 seconds with both eyes open and then standing on one leg with both eyes closed. Beginners should start with static balance activities and advance to agility and coordination activities. Balance exercises should start on the floor and progress to unstable surfaces, such as stability trainers or wobble boards. On the stability trainer, you can perform lunges, mini-squats, etc and progress to using a resistance band and then further progress to one leg. Wobble boards are good for static balance training and can be made more difficult by using a weighted ball. Be sure to exercise caution when using unstable surfaces.

After mastering balance, you can move on to more advanced proprioception for agility and coordination. Activities used to improve agility and coordination including pivoting, twisting, jumping and cutting. Progress jumping from two legs to one leg.

It is important to use correct technique when performing proprioceptive exercises. Reduce the intensity or level of activity if you cannot perform the exercise with proper technique. In order to reduce the risk of injury, perform these exercises before you are too fatigued. It is important to consider age and body weight when engaging in proprioceptive exercises. Performed correctly, this type of core stabilization or stability training is an invaluable tool to enhance overall fitness.

Skip the Sit-Up!

For many years, fitness professionals have used the sit-up as the exercise of choice for the core. It is important to train core muscles, which include the muscles around your trunk and pelvis, for both balance, stability, and strength.  Additionally, a tight core makes you look thinner, since generally you will have tight abs and a slimmer waistline! While most experts agree that a strong core is crucial to any exercise routine, there is some discrepancy on the best way to achieve this goal.  Those educated in the field contend that the sit-up is outdated and shouldn’t be used to exercise because it presents too great a risk of back injury.

According to Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics, sit-ups can place hundreds of pounds of compressive force on the spine. McGill has published many studies and written over 200 scientific papers and found that repeatedly performing sit-ups and flexing can squeeze the discs in the spine. This may potentially lead to herniated discs, which press on the nerve and cause pain.

Old school sit-ups can be damaging to your lower back because the sit-up recruits and overuses the hip flexor muscles. When you perform a sit-up, you push your spine into the floor and use your hip flexor muscles to lift you up. Hip flexors that are too strong or too tight can pull on the lower back and create discomfort by compressing the lumbar discs and creating back spasms and lower back pain. For example, the psoas, one of the hip flexor muscles, runs from the upper thigh to the lower back, and when it is contracted, it causes the pelvis to shift into an anterior position, forward and down. This position may cause discomfort plus it may increases pressure on the disks. When the feet are anchored down, this exacerbates the problem. Additionally, many people contract the neck when performing sit-ups, causing neck strain.

The Canadian Armed Forces has recognized the negative repercussion of the sit-up and recently banned it from its fitness test. Many military experts in the US are trying to cut it from the Navy and Armed Forces as well. In fact, a commander at the navy was quote as saying that sit-ups don’t prepare us for daily life activities. Core strength is needed to pull, push, carry and lift, and the sit-up is not an effective way to stabilize the abs to perform these daily motions.

Instead of a traditional sit-up, McGill recommends a modified curl-up that he created where the hands palm down are positioned under the low back to lessen the pressure on the spine. The back should not be flattened on the ground, and the shoulders barely leave the floor. The crunch up should be slight in order to work the abdominal muscles; you do not have to crunch up very much. Additionally, it is possible to do a modified sit-up or crunch on a stability ball, but this not recommended for everyone, and a personal trainer should evaluate you to determine your individual level and physical limitations.

Another good core exercise is the plank because it recruits more muscles on the front, sides and back of the body instead of just a few target muscles like the sit-up does. Most of our activities of daily living, in addition to sports and recreational activities, require muscles to work together instead of in isolation like the sit-up. Using patterns of movement that are dynamic will help strengthen the entire set of core muscles used everyday.

Other research also supports the fact that the sit-up is not the best exercise for abdominal strength. According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports, researchers found that exercises on a swiss medicine ball were more effective than the traditional bent knee sit-ups/crunches.

The sit-up has continued to remain popular because the general population believes they cannot have tight, toned abs without them in their routine. However, powerlifters and weightlifters develop amazing abdominal muscles without the sit-up and use only total-body lifts, such as squats, power cleans and deadlifts. Dr. Stuart McGill further states that toned abdominals are not about crunches; it is about lower body fat. So even if you do not have any back or neck pain from sit-up, why take the risk of damaging your spine and potentially causing back pain in the future? Great abs are possible without the sit-up, so cut them out of your routine!

Exercise As You Age

As we get older, we are finding it harder to adhere to a healthy, active lifestyle. This is especially true for those in Corporate America . Anyone, from the receptionist answering phones to the CEO closing 7 figure deals, can have terrible eating habits, less time to exercise, and more stress than they are meant to endure. These environmental stresses speed up the aging process and contribute to the deterioration of the body. Throw in a crazy travel schedule and bad sleeping habits, and you have your average American. It is because of these stressors that 1 in 3 Americans is considered obese and struggles with weight issues.

Our lack of activity is actually killing us, and the older we get the more important exercise becomes. So, why do people refuse to exercise? There are too many reasons to list, but often I hear, “I don’t know where to start.”  In a sea of misinformation and in an unregulated fitness industry, it is almost impossible to know where to begin. The gym can be a dangerous place if you do not know how to use the equipment or where to begin. As an expert witness, I have seen improper form and misuse of equipment that leaves me speechless. My advice to those confused about what to do is to start by finding a reputable professional, who has an accredited certification and who can list doctors as references.

Recovering from injury can take longer as we get older. For this reason, err on the side of caution when starting a program. Regardless of age the most common injuries occur in the lower back and shoulders. Very often, these injuries are simply a result of poor exercise form or performing the wrong exercise. Starting out at a high intensity and doing complex exercises may seem like the best avenue for fast results, but more often than not, it results in injury. It is crucial to take a person’s daily activities and orthopedic issues into account before prescribing exercise. For example, if you sit all day and have lower back pain or discomfort, sit-ups and leg raises may actually make your condition worse. Planks, chops and deadbugs are safer and more effective exercises for the core. In addition, some machines are not designed properly and can contribute to injury. For instance, some seated leg presses can stress the lower back and cause pain and/or injury. For the lower body, it is safer to start with a ball squat or step-up instead of using a machine, so as not to disrupt natural movement patterns.

As we age, we lose muscle mass and flexibility and our overall balance degrades. Posture is a major problem, especially for those in Corporate America, because they sit for so many hours, often without taking a break.  It is important to create a solid foundation for an active lifestyle and focus on exercises that attain personal goals. Performing balance exercises, stretching and correcting postural distortions are critical to participation in daily activities. Without these exercises, the likelihood of daily pain and injury is markedly increased. Stretching and core strengthening will eliminate most of common everyday aches and pains.

Balance, mobility, postural training, and circuit training with weights at a 50-60% intensity are a great start for the older, sedentary population. It might sound easy but if you haven’t been exercising for a long time, it will be very challenging. It is important to remember that we are all individuals with different strength and weaknesses, so what may be easy for one person may be impossible for another person. Do not just copy exercises that surround you in the gym! Remember that you are a unique individual and your workout needs to be tailored to your specific needs. A majority of older clients who were not athletes or workout buffs in their youth have no interest in looking like a fitness model or a bulging Adonis on the beach. They just want to feel better and live longer. More than half the battle is the training consistency, not the training intensity. If a client does a low to moderate level workout and follows a fairly healthy diet, he/she will feel better and have health benefits, even if he/she is only exercising a couple of days per week. The bottom line is that some exercise is better than no exercise.

I have worked with many older clients. In fact, my oldest client was 90 years old. In my experience, I found that many exercise programs do not include enough flexibility training and intensity is often too high. Many professionals believe that you must train at a high intensity to get any substantial results. There is plenty of reputable research that shows higher levels of intensity can be a better use of time compared to low to moderate levels of exercise. The majority of these professionals will insist that regardless of your age, you need to build your workouts up to intensities beyond 80-90%. While there is truth to the science behind this theory, the experts fail to explain that working out at lower levels is still extremely beneficial. They don’t take into account that at higher intensities, not only is injury risk is increased but a majority of older individuals are not interested in exercising at that level. As a result, they will never stick to that sort of program. Others cannot train at that level because of orthopedic injuries or some other health limitations. If a client’s goal is to eliminate back pain, to increase balance and to be able to play with their grandchildren, plyometrics and intense sprinting is probably unnecessary. They will get more benefit from full body circuit training with active rests and with sets that include therapeutic exercises and stretching. When we look long-term, consistency is king because the most consistent person regardless of intensity will reap the most rewards of exercise.

The fact is low to moderate intensity workouts will produce significant results and keep your client healthy and pain free. If a person is capable of more and wants to work up to a high intensity program, I am not against it and agree that it works for some people. I believe the average person does not have an athletic history and is frequently deconditioned. In my personal experience, it seems that the people who need low intensity exercise the most often believe it is a waste of time to work out if they aren’t “dying” during a workout, and therefore they won’t engage in lower intensity training. The truth is that most Americans just need to move and do low-level exercises to remove stress and to keep them healthy.  For some people, exercise is a stress outlet, it helps them stay healthy, and it keeps their eating habits on track.  Lower intensity exercise is also important for those who need to recover from their active lifestyle. For example, clients playing 2 hrs. per day 4-5 times per week or those who are avid runners training 25 miles per week should focus their training on flexibility, recovery and exercising when they are in the gym. The goal should be to increase efficiency and to increase the longevity of participation in that activity.

My advice it to focus on the fundamentals and to get the client moving better and feeling good. Once you achieve this, then you and the client can decide what is next. Individualize the workouts and encourage them to meet their individual goals. Start with a solid foundation, and if high intensity is their goal, gradually build up to those type of workouts at a pace that works for the client physically and mentally.