Thursday, April 28, 2016

Clearing up “Muscle Confusion:” Understanding Muscle Fiber Differences and Training for Results

Clearing up “Muscle Confusion:” Understanding Muscle Fiber Differences and Training for Results
“Muscle Confusion,” the term gets tossed around as if it is some sort of scientifically proven concept that guarantees magical results, whether those results be fat loss or muscle gain. Muscle confusion is key right? Wrong, skeletal muscles are not the brain; skeletal muscles are incapable of thought, rationalizations, and problem-solving. Confusion of the skeletal muscles is a physiological impossibility. The only confusion going on here is the attempt to sound knowledgeable without having an educated understanding of muscle physiology and response to exercise stimulation should influence designing a training program.

There is more to creating an effective exercise program than just getting sweaty and out of breath. The information about to be discussed, from a scientific understanding of human physiology and exercise, is a very simplistic view. Any undergraduate student in a kinesiology or exercise science program could readily explain the science. Understanding the science allows for the art of proper and practical application within program design. A program is designed and executed with a purpose. A properly designed program will make a person better, not create confusion.

To avoid confusion, the discussion will cover the two primary types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch and fast-twitch. The discussion will cover basic anatomical differences, the different systems, providing energy to the muscle fibers, and the necessary ways to stimulate the muscles to maximize fitness levels and build a better, healthier body. After all, if it does not make the body better, why bother?
Before getting into the specifics of the muscle fibers, a quick point needs to be made the chemical substrate Adenosine Triphospate (ATP). It is the driver of all actions within all 430 of skeletal muscles in the human body. Regardless of what type of muscle fiber is working or for how long, it requires ATP for movement. The different energy systems that work within the different fiber types all working to replenish the levels of ATP to allow for continued movement. Many of the calories that are eaten and diverted into the muscles are put to work creating more ATP to fuel continued movement.

Type One Muscle Fibers, aka, slow-switch muscle fibers are excellent at resisting fatigue. This a result of having high numbers mitochondria and dense capillary concentration in comparison with Fast-Twitch fibers. Slow-twitch fibers are fueled by the oxidative system for the breakdown and utilization of ATP. The oxidative system is slowest at using ATP. In practical application, this meanest that Type One muscle fibers are great for endurance-based activities. If the exercise lasts longer than two minutes for cardiovascular exercise or for more than 20 repetitions in a strength-training exercise, slow-twitch fibers are the primary drivers of movement and the muscle fibers being improved with the training stimulus.

The Type Two, aka, Fast-Twitch fibers are capable of developing higher levels of force and higher velocities of movement. In short, fast-twitch fibers work at higher intensities, both with heavier weights and faster speeds. These can be broken into two subgroups: Fast-Twitch B and Fast-Twitch A fibers.

Fast-Twitch B Fibers work on the opposite end of the exercise spectrum from slow-twitch fibers. The fast glycolytic energy system fuels these fibers for very high intensity, short duration activities. These muscle fibers have the fewest mitochondria, lowest, capillary density, and low aerobic enzyme activity making it the first and fastest energy system to be utilized, but also the slowest to recover. This why a sprint only lasts a few seconds while it is possible to walk for hours. For these fibers to be utilized, physical activity must be so intense that it lasts 10 seconds or less. Strength-training for less than 6 repetitions, sprinting, and plyometric exercises train the Fast-Twitch B fibers.

Fast-Twitch A fibers bridge the gap between Slow-Twitch Fibers and Fast-Twitch B fibers. The A fibers can be thought of as the medium intensity fibers. Being fuelled by the oxidative glycolytic energy system, the mitochondria levels and aerobic enzyme activity falls in between that of the slow-twitch and fast twitch B fibers. The A fibers are performing the work in cardiovascular exercise that lasts from 10 seconds up to two minutes, think intervals, and in strength training done for 7-19 repetitions.

So, with a basic understanding of the muscle fibers, how should this influence the design and emphasis of a training program? It would be easy if these different types of muscle fibers existed in equal amounts; a program could then be designed to spend an equal amount of time training each muscle fiber type for a well-balance, physically capable and health body. They do not. The slow-twitch fibers comprise roughly 45% of the total skeletal muscle within the body; Fast Twitch B, 20% and Fast Twitch A, 35%.

Assuming that we are talking about the average person who simply wants to be healthy and look good, without training for a high level of sport-specific performance, a training program should break up its time along the same lines. As an example, let’s assume a person has time to train one hour a day, five days per week. This translates into 300 minutes of exercise per week.

If a person wants visible results this is a reasonable time commitment. Less time will improve health but not the reflection in the mirror.

45% of 300 is 135. So to adequately train the slow-twitch fibers a person would need to spend 135 minutes doing endurance based training, preferably cardiovascular exercise. That equates to two hours and fifteen minutes of steady-pace cardio per week. 35% of 300 is 105. So 105 minutes should be spent training the Fast Twitch A fibers using medium intensity exercise. The Fast Twitch B fibers should be emphasized in 20% of training which would translate into 60 minutes of high intensity sprinting or strength training per week.

Five Hours (300 minutes) of Exercise Per Week
Muscle Fiber Type
Energy System
Recovery Ratio
Time Per Week
Slow Twitch (Type I)
Oxidative System
Anything done longer than two minutes or 20 reps
135 minutes
Fast Twitch B (Type IIB)
Fast Glycolytic
1-10 second or less than 6 reps
1: 4-5
60 minutes
Fast Twitch A (Type IIA)
Oxidative Glycolytic
10 seconds-two minutes or 7-19 reps
1: 2-3
105 minutes

The simplest approach to properly balancing training is to pick one primary goal for the workout. This is especially important for high intensity exercise. For the beginner following this example, training one hour a day, five days per week, it would be best to dedicate one full 60 minute workout to high intensity training with the Fast Twitch B fibers than to try and mix it in with the other days. Two 60 minute workouts could be dedicated to training the Slow Twitch fibers while spending one 60 minute workout training the Fast Twitch A fibers. One workout would be split between the remaining training time dedicated to the Fast Twitch A fibers and Slow Twitch fibers.  See the table below for a sample outline of a training week.

Fiber Type
Fast Twitch B
60 minutes of sprinting and heavy strength training 1-6 reps
Slow Twitch
60 minutes of steady pace cardiovascular exercise
Fast Twitch A
60 minutes 7-19 reps strength training
Slow Twitch
60 minutes of steady pace cardiovascular exercise
Fast Twitch A/Slow Twitch
45 minutes of 30 second-2 minute intervals and 15 minutes of steady pace cardiovascular exercise

Variation is training stimulus is necessary in order to maximize the fitness potential of the human body. However, it should never be confusing. Variations in training should always be deliberate, methodical, practical, and performed with passion. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Carry the Burden

When in doubt, just get really, really strong. It tends to cure most problems in training and in life.-Jim Wendler

If you are not familiar with Jim Wendler, he is a powerlifting coach who created and popularized the 5/3/1 program for strength training as an intense way to get incredibly strong. I have done the program and it is incredibly effective at improving strength. But consistently training with heavy loads on barbells is not for everyone. For some people deadlifts, squats and upper body pressing exercises are just is not their thing. Nothing wrong with that, however, in real life there is are daily requirements and tasks that simply require some level of physical strength: carrying a child, groceries, loading up the roof rack on a vehicle. At some point, picking up a heavy object and moving it is unavoidable, whether or not a person wants be a powerlifter.
Carrying loads is a natural requirement. Parents, if you cannot pick up your young child when the kid wants to be held, the child is not too heavy; you are too weak. It is a sad display when a child loses affection because the parent to unfit to give it. Metaphorically and physically, life requires the capacity to carry burdens. Get to work and get stronger by training with loaded carries.
Loaded carry exercises have several physical benefits beyond sharing loving affection with children. When performed properly loaded carries are incredible for improving posture, total body coordination, moving under load, grip strength, and ultimately confidence. From an aesthetic standpoint loaded carries are fantastic for building the muscles of upper back and shoulders. Any skinny runt of a kid can have a six pack. People with eating disorders can make their abs show and any person willing to be ridiculously strict with their diet can achieve abs in a healthy way. But if a person wants to look like a strong, fit person; if a person wants to make it clear that fitness is important without having to say a word, it is time to focus on developing the traps, rhomboids, and shoulders to develop that linebacker look. Loaded carry exercises are one of the best and simplest ways pack on a lot of muscle while drastically improving strength.
Success in training with loaded carries begins and ends with proper posture. Just because it can be picked up and carried does not mean that the exercise was performed beneficially. If the exercise cannot be performed with proper posture than the weight is too heavy for the individual’s strength level.

There are five different carrying exercises that everyone should master. The basic set up a posture requirements remain the same. The major difference between the exercises is the position of the weight in relation to the body throughout the carry. There are two primary ways to perform a loaded carry; for time or distance. Pick a weight and carry it for a specific amount of time. This can vary from 30 seconds up to 3 minutes. With distance, minimum distance should be 20 yards and could be along as 400 yards.
1.       Farmer’s Walk is performed holding a dumb bell or kettle bell in each hand. The arms are kept straight at the sides with the hands level with the hips. The strength goal with this exercise is too be able to carry a combined weight equal to the individual’s body weight.

2.       Suitcase Carry is similar to the Farmer’s Walk in that is uses the same body positioning. The major difference is that with the suitcase carry weight is only being held in one hand. A one-handed carry is an excellent way to train core stability and strength; it forces the opposite side of the abdominals to work hard to keep the body in an upright posture. The strength goal with this exercise is to carry half of bodyweight

3.       Overhead Carry is performed using a barbell or a weight plate and extending the arms straight overhead. It is important to ensure that the elbows in line with the ears when performing an overhead loaded carry as this is the safest position for the neck and shoulders. If an individual lacks the mobility in the shoulder to align the elbows with the ears this exercise should be avoided and work should be done to improve shoulder mobility.  Assuming healthy shoulder mobility is present, the emphasis of moving the weight to an overhead position does an excellent job of strengthening the entire back and improving posture. It is impossible to do this exercise in a position of poor posture. If any pain is experienced anywhere along the spine while performing this exercise it is an indicator of an underlying posture problem that needs to be addressed. Stop doing this particular exercise and fix the posture problem before resuming.

4.       Waiter’s Carry is like the suit case carry in that weight is only carried in one hand. However, the position of the weight is changed so that the arm is extended overheard. Doing this adds to the core stability of the suitcase carry by strengthening the stability of the upper back and shoulder. An excellent strength goal for this exercise is one quarter of body. Due to the potential higher risk of injury to the shoulder with this exercise, it is not recommended for people who have had a history of rotator cuff problems.

5.       Trap Bar Carry is the pinnacle of super strength when it comes loaded carry exercises. The trap bar is a bar not commonly featured in most commercial gyms. However, if you happen to have one, it is unmistakable. This diamond shape bar also a person to stand in the middle of it. It is commonly used for a variation of deadlifting. What makes the Trap Bar an effective tool for carrying exercises is that it allows far more weight to be carried than the hands could hold using Dumb Bells or Kettle Bells. Basically, if you can deadlift it with this bar, you can carry it, even if for a short distance of 20 yards or less. The technique on this is simple; load up the bar and deadlift it into a standing position and start walking. The strength goal for this is 1 ½ times body weight.

Few exercises combine total body strength training, conditioning, endurance, and posture improvement into a simple process. Loaded carries do all of this while creating significant calorie burning. Sometimes life feels heavy; be prepared by training to carry burdens.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Why I love Carbs

Carbs: most people have a love/hate relationship with this misunderstood source of nutrients. High performance athletes love carbs for the easily accessible energy carbohydrates provide. But for the overweight and/or obese person, carbs can feel like a like a curse from hell. So which approach is right? The answer is…it depends. Whether or not carbs are good for a person is dependent on multiple factors: amount consumed per day, the source of the carbs, and the reason for consuming them. Carbs have been so demonized by the fitness industry that some people are afraid of touching a banana, much less actually eating one. However, once the health benefits and proper usage of carbs is understood, carbs are no longer a four-letter word. They become one more weapon in the arsenal of good health.

The reason for consuming carbs is straight forward: carbs are more easily and quickly digested by the body, making them more readily available to provide energy for the body. Energy is kind of important if the body is going to move. The more movement that occurs and the more intense the movement; the more energy is needed to support the activity. For this reason, athletes drink Gatorade instead of stopping to eat a steak with peanut butter in middle of competition. Those can be a healthy food options but the body does readily digest and make use of protein and fats during exercise. No fuel, no performance. For this reason, sports drinks are appropriate for athletes during competition or practice; the couch potato, not so much.

The source of carbs, I would argue, is more important than how many are consumed. A person can eat three bananas before consuming the same amount of sugar that is in a donut. With the added bonus of the naturally occurring B vitamins and potassium, two nutrients most people inadequately consume, in bananas. Vegetables contain more Vitamin C than ice cream; oatmeal has more fiber than a candy bar; rice will sustain a person while chips will cause a crash. The simple way to distinguish a healthy source of carbs versus unhealthy is the farm test. Carbs should look like they came off of a farm, not out of a factory.

Low carb diets have long been the go to fat loss recommendation from fitness professionals and doctors alike. It may be an appropriate method for some people: diabetics, inactive overweight and obese people, and sugar addicts may benefit from following a low-carb nutrition program. This is assuming that a person want to lose weight without strenuously exercising. For the person wanting high performance and endurance, a low carb approach is a mistake. The harder the training the more carbs needed.
So how does a person determine an appropriate amount carbohydrate intake? I would suggest basing needs on body weight; consuming one gram of carbohydrates per pound of body weight would be moderate carb consumption. This would be appropriate for someone that has a job being on his or her feet all day but does not exercise. A low carb diet would be consuming less than one gram of carbs per pound of body weight. This would be for the diabetic or obese person who does not exercise. Consuming up to two grams of carbs per pound of weight would be a moderately high carb diet. Consuming more than two grams per pound of weight per day would be a high carb diet. Only people who exercise regularly are the only ones who should toy with a moderately high or high carbohydrate diet.
Grams PerPound of Bodyweight Per Day
Appropriate Circumstances
Diabetic, Obese, Non Exerciser
Daily Activity, Non Exerciser
Daily Activity, Exercises 2-3x/week less than an hour
Daily Activity, Exercise 4-5x/week for an hour
Daily Activity, Exercises 5+/week for more than an hour

Beyond basic nutrition, carbs serve a few lesser known, but just as important functions regarding health. Carbohydrates play a vital role in proper thyroid function. The thyroid regulates almost all of the hormones within the human body. It needs carbohydrates to properly manage the creation and circulation of healthy hormone levels. One of the dangers of following a long term low carbohydrate diet, particularly for women, is a disruption in healthy hormone levels. This can disrupt everything from metabolism, to sleep cycles, body temperature, and for women, menstrual cycles. If and when a low carb diet program is employed, it should be done with a short-term approach with a specific end date in mind. Typically lasting eight weeks or less.
The word hydrate is a part of carbohydrate. Carbs love water; they are more easily digested, and put to better use within the body in the presence of adequate hydration. In the body, carbs are converted to glucose and stored. When stored in the muscles, carbs are stored as glycogen, the primary source of fuel for the muscles. High carbohydrate stores within the muscles make them appear bigger and fuller because of the water drawn into the muscle when the glycogen is stored.
Despite the evils of insulin in the presence of diabetes; it does play a healthy role in the body. It is responsible for storing nutrients, particularly glycogen within the muscles. Carbohydrates, the healthy ones from the farm, help insulin function properly and promote health in the body. The junk carbs that come from boxes, bags, and wrappers cause insulin to function improperly, potentially resulting in diabetes. No one ever developed diabetes eating apples.
Perhaps the most important function of carbs, from a fitness stand point is the avoidance of gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis occurs when glycogen levels within the muscles have gotten too low, usually from a combination of high activity and inadequate carb intake. The muscles need something to fuel increased demands for activity. Through gluconeogenesis, the body breaks down protein from the muscle tissue and converts it into glycogen to be used as fuel for the activity. This state often results from a prolonged low carb diet combined with attempts to maintain intense exercise. It may cause weight loss, however, if the weight loss is coming from muscle tissue instead of body fat, health has not improved and performance will most definitely decrease. Gluconeogenesis is the reason low carb diets are not for high performance athletes.

When a person understands how and where the sources of healthy carbs should be consumed, learns to consume carbs in appropriate amounts, and consumes them for the right reasons; the health benefits will be reaped. That is why I love carbs. Carbs are not evil, avoiding carbs to be healthy is unnecessary. Put in the effort to learn to eat the right carbs in the right amounts for the right reason and you can learn to love them too.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Why We Exercise: the Thought Processes of Those Who Make it a Lifestyle

 At some point every person who has ever attempted to make exercise a part of his or her lifestyle reaches the point of considering whether to continue the journey or quit. Over the past several years of being a personal trainer I have come to see many common qualities within the thought process of those who choose to continue the journey. My personal weight loss journey spans sixteen years and having lost over 100 lbs. Sixteen years is a long time and I have no intentions of quitting. Ever. It is my opinion that everyone who has a story similar to mine has, at some point in their personal journey, come to some personal realizations. The collective mindset of we who exercise may look different in outcome but the thought processes remain the same.

The most common complaint that I received from clients or people in general, is that eating healthy and exercising regularly is hard. And they are right; it is hard to choose vegetables and fruit instead fries and ice cream. It is hard to get out of bed for a 5 am workout. A person who wants to deadlift twice his body weight will have to work hard to get there. So will someone who wants to run a marathon. Exercise is not easy. If it feels that way it’s being done wrong. Other things are hard. It is hard having your knees hurt every time you take a step. Getting out of breath going up stairs is not fun. Suffering from a slipped disc in the lower back because of excess body fat is not an easy thing. The reality is that everyone will deal with hard; there is no escaping it. The question is what kind of hard do you want? People who successfully live a life of good health and fitness have accepted this reality: hard must be dealt with in some manner. The great thing about having a choice means that a person can choose differently. Which hard have you chosen?

Motivation powerfully influences of choice. But there is a difference in the motivation of people who consistently live making healthy choices for a lifetime versus those who are on and off, or off entirely, is choosing to live healthy. The people are on and off tend to view being healthy as being a certain size or seeing a certain number on the scale while this may be helpful to an extent of the primary motivation for exercise is to look a certain way, be a certain size or weight, are extrinsically motivated. There definition of health comes from what they perceive as what others think about their appearance. Health is dictated by society’s standard of beauty and health. Why allow the opinions of others to dictate your sense of health and self-worth? Intrinsically motivated people, however, tend to make exercise a life-long commitment. The difference in the mindset is that instead of being influenced by and competing with external factors, the intrinsically motivated person is only competing against his or her self. The secret of success in staying motivated is realizing that being better than yesterday is the goal. Do something today that makes yesterday obsolete and tomorrow easier; living in the moment to make today better than yesterday is the only way to make motivation permanent.

In contrast, a lifetime of fitness is about external rewards not internal ones. Yes, there is an incredible sense of confidence and accomplishment that comes from staying the course in fitness. That is an important part of building a healthy mindset. However, most people who have a successful fitness journey find their greatest reward in inspiring others to press on in the own journey and to accomplish things that low levels of fitness may have once prevented. This goes beyond a healthier weight or size. It moves towards new opportunities. That is the greatest external reward to have the opportunity to attempt anything without fear of being held back.

When a person begins to see new opportunity as a reward his view of work changes; freedom is found in the hard work, not in avoiding it. The work, in and of itself, becomes a part of the reward. I happened to be an avid hunter. In September I spent ten days in Alberta, Canada elk hunting. My hunt met with success on the first evening; nine hours into the ten day hunt. Not every hunt is successful so quickly. Beyond the feeling of accomplishment and pride in the providing of free range, organic meat for my family, one of the most joyful moments of the experience was when I strapped on a pack loaded with the two front quarters of the elk and hiked it out of the valley back to the vehicle. The physical work was equivalent to climbing Pinnacle Mountain while carrying 125lbs in a pack. As physically grueling as that work felt, I loved it. The work was not done that night by moonlight at 10:30 pm. The work was done over the previous four months preparing for that moment. That night was the reward for the work. Those kinds of experiences would have been far more difficult, if not impossible, 100lbs ago.

The final aspect in the mindset of those who exercise comes from finding freedom in the work; over time, more enthusiasm in the process than the results. There is nothing wrong with wanting results from an exercise program. Results that improve body composition and overall fitness should absolutely be some of the objectives of exercise. However, those results only come to those who develop more enthusiasm in the journey than the destination. The secret of this is realizing that once the destination is reached; it is time to pick a new one and move into a new journey with new challenges. Passion for the journey is the only way to make the arrival a reality.

The mindset of those who pursue a lifetime of exercise and fitness seek to become different; in body and mind. The body will only achieve what the mind can believe. Enthusiasm creates freedom in the work. The reward of freedom is enjoyment for the process and renewed motivation. It is a choice, a hard choice. Choose the hard with which you are willing to live.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Fitness Facts for Females

All too often when women approach exercise with simply losing weight or getting to a smaller size. Outside of highly competitive female athletes women have a tendency to misunderstand or under appreciate how the female body is capable of performing. More importantly, women typically get stuck in a rut with an approach to exercise and fitness, and miss out on opportunities for improved health and fitness. Women tend to make a few mistakes in fitness training and I have covered those here. The upside to all of this is that, more so than men, women are willing to be open-minded, learn and apply.I have also talked about the specifics on my ideas about women and strength training so this will not dive too deeply into that topic.  So here are few things about the female body and exercise that women should consider in regards to exercise.

Based upon recent research[i] women tend to have more durable nervous systems than men. This study published in August of 2015 tested both women and men after completing a 110 kilometer ultra-trail running race. After completing the race men and women were tested to see who retained the most efficient control of muscular strength and efficiency in movement. Women came out on top in both categories. What does this mean for a woman who exercises? The first take away is this: if a woman and a man perform the same workout; the longer that workout lasts, the less the woman will be affected by fatigue. The woman, not the man will retain better quality of movement and well as faster recovery during breaks. A woman needs shorter rest periods and displays better control of movements the longer the training lasts. Better efficiency and faster recovery would indicate that a woman has the ability to train longer and harder than a man doing the same workout.

Closely tied to this is another study that came out in March of 2015[ii]. This study found that over the course of a marathon women were less likely to slow running pace more so than men. In other words, it would seem that women have better endurance than men. This does not mean that a woman would run a marathon faster than a man but it does mean that fatigue is less likely to force her to slow down; this conclusion drawn after analyzing race results from 14 marathons with 91,929 athletes competing. Women, it would seem, have to the potential to be more durable than men.

Switching gears to a more medical outlook on the effects of exercise on a woman’s body, gestational diabetes, one of the key health concerns for pregnant women, is avoidable or the effects can be reduced if a woman regularly stayed active during the pregnancy.[iii]  Avoiding Gestational Diabetes goes a long way to improving both the health of the mother and the baby during the pregnancy and after birth. Stay active and both baby and mother will be better for it.
Creatine is a supplement that has made a lot noise in the last fifteen years as being a safe, nonsteriod strength enhancing supplement. Most women shy away from it out of fear that it will make them “bulky like a man.” However, there is new research suggesting that postmenopausal women should pay attention to. A recent study found that postmenopausal women that supplemented with creatine for 12 months while strength training three days per week had dense bones than women who followed the same training program without creatine supplementation.[iv] Osteoporosis is one of the major health concerns for a postmenopausal woman and this study would suggest that creatine may have the potential to prevent or possibly aid in the treatment of Osteoporosis. That is just my two cents on creatine’s potential; more study is needed to verify this.

The final point is something that would seem to make sense without research but validation through research is always reassuring. One Hundred and Forty middle-aged women were divided into three groups: non-exercising, aerobic exercising, and strength-training.[v] This study wanted to determine whether strength-training or aerobic based exercise led to a higher metabolic rate. The women in all three groups were all placed on the same restricted diet, eliminating nutrition as a component in the weight loss. Unsurprisingly, the two groups of women that exercised lost more weight than those who did not. The big finding in this study was the women who strength-trained had a faster metabolic rate, after weight loss, than the women who used cardio as the form of training. A faster metabolic rate makes it harder to regain lost body fat; more muscle equals faster metabolism. Want to permanently lose weight? Get stronger.

It is important to note, that these advantages that women may have when it comes to health and fitness, are completing dependent on regularly engaging in exercise. No advantage exists for those who do not. Great health and high levels of fitness come to those women willing to work the hardest.

[i] Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Are Females More Resistant to Extreme Neuromuscular Fatigue. 47 (8) August 2015 pages 1372-1382.
[ii] Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Men are more likely than Women to Slow in the Marathon. 47 (3) March 2015 pages 607-616.
[iii] Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Exercise is Associated with a Reduction in Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. 47 (8) August 2015 pages 1698-1704.
[iv] Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Effects of Creatine and Resistance Training on Bone Health in Postmenopausal Women. 47 (8) August 2015 pages 1587-1595.
[v] Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Exercise Training and Energy Expenditure following Weight Loss. 47 (9) September 2015 pages 1950-1955

Friday, August 14, 2015

Five Movements to do Every Day

“We do not quit playing because we grow old. We grow old because we quit playing.”- George Bernard Shaw

To paraphrase that: we do not quit moving because we grow old. We grow because we quit moving. Movement of the human body is an essential part of life; necessary for completing everyday tasks, work, athletics, and yes, to play. Movement is so vital to life that as humans we instinctively empathize with those who have lost, through accident or disease, the ability engage in normal movement of the body. Without proper movement, much of the human experience may be missed or lost. In a society that is increasingly sedentary (lacking in bodily movement), physical immobility is perhaps the most dangerous and most avoidable away to prevent premature aging; getting old before growing old.

Growing old is what happens when a person has a birthday; getting old is what happens when the body falls apart from a lack of care and physical activity. Hear YE! Hear YE!  I will proclaim that struggling to get out of a chair in the golden years is a choice; not an unavoidable fact of old age. If lack of movement is the problem than the solution is self-evident; move more! Better yet, focus on moving in specific ways that will improve mobility and strength, even if the grave seems closer than the crib. Here are five movements that can be mastered at any age; resulting in healthier, less painful or pain-free movement and better mobility. Do this every day and no one, regardless of how many years have passed, will have to help you out of chair or hold your hand on the stairs.

1.       Hip-Hinge: have trouble bending over or a weak low back? Hip-Hinge when bending over to pick things up or to push a heavy object out of the way. Doing so places the spine in a safe position, engages the glutes (the most powerful pushing muscles in the body), and increases mobility throughout the hip muscles of the hips. Mastering this movement is essential to properly executing exercises like Kettle Bell Swings and Deadlifts. The Hip-Hinge helps to avoid the dangerous rounded upper back position that leads to many exercise related injuries.
The picture on the left is the correct position for the hip hinge
2.       Squat: Next to incorrectly hip-hinging, poor squatting technique leads to many exercise-related injuries. Completely losing the ability to squat contributes to all kinds of lower back and hip pain. The main culprit for losing the ability to properly squat is prolonged periods of sitting. If you want to learn how to squat with proper form click here.

3.       Shoulder Retraction: The vast majority of people have poor posture as a result of sitting too much. As a result, the muscles of the upper back often grow weak resulting in a rounded-shoulder and head excessively forward position, resulting in neck pain. Retracting the shoulders; pulling the shoulders backwards to strengthen the muscles in the upper back. In the long run this will correct poor posture and possibly alleviate some pain. The best way do this is with the band pull a part.
Shoulder Retraction is essentially pinching the shoulder blades together

4.       Overhead reach: Pull anything off of a high shelf recently? How about putting on a T-Shirt? If these movements seem difficult or painful there is restricted movement in the shoulder. There could be several reasons for this: poor posture, a tear in the rotator cuff muscles, or simply weakness from a lack of use. Whatever the cause, maintaining a full range of movement throughout the shoulder should be the highest priority for maintaining mobility in the upper body. The mobility and strength of the shoulder determines where the arms and hands can go to reach out and grab an object.
Full range of motion would allow the arms to get into the position on the left
5.       Trunk Rotation: When sitting down and needing to turn to reach an object is the entire body turned or can the feet, legs, and hips remain in place while turning the upper body in the necessary direction? If a person is unable to perform the latter, then there is a restriction in the ability to rotate the trunk. This can occur due to weakness in the abdominals, lower back, and hips. Movement may be restricted as a result of injury or lower back surgery. If no injury currently exists, the inability to properly rotate the trunk may one day result injury requiring surgery. Usually the low back is the area injured as a result of poor trunk mobility. To improve this remain seated and practice rotating the upper body only while keeping the hips, legs, and feet aligned in the opposite direction.

Baring a traumatic injury, mobility is lost due inadequate amounts of physical activity. Maintaining mobility does not require intensive training or using incredibly heavy weights. Keeping and improving mobility is a simple as simply moving more and moving in the right way. Stay mobile in these movement patterns and requiring help to get out of a chair, pick an item up off the ground, or, from overhead will be someone else’s problem, not yours.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Six Tips to Road Trip in Good Health

Some of my fondest childhood memories involve road trips taken in the family car. Whether visiting extended family or simply sight-seeing, a road trip will often lead to wonderful opportunities for family time, exploration, and adventure. It can also lead to blown diets, stiff joints, boredom, stress and mental fatigue. But with proper planning and a little flexibility these negatives aspects of a road trip can be minimized or completely eliminated.

My wife and I, along with our four-year-old son, recently put these tips to the test as we made a round trip drive from Little Rock, Arkansas to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. A trip that saw us drive 4400 miles through Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana across the Canadian Border to Calgary. That was just the drive there. After spending a week visiting my parents we made the return drive, this time going through Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and finally home to Little Rock. The journey to Calgary took two and a half days; we left Little Rock on a Tuesday afternoon around 2pm (after I had gone to work at 5 am to leave early) and arrived in Omaha, Nebraska at midnight. We were the road by six am and drove all the way to Cody, Wyoming, just outside of Yellowstone National Park, again arriving at midnight. This was after stopping by Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota earlier in the day. That’s right, Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone in the same day. After spending most of Thursday touring through Yellowstone we arrived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada at 1:30 am Friday morning. Without the stops at Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore the return trip was a little shorter, leaving Calgary at 6 am on a Friday, driving to Denver arriving at 1am. We hit the road at 7am and made it home to Little Rock at midnight Saturday night.

Sound a little crazy? We have a few methods for stemming the madness, six to be exact:

1.       Plan the stops: on a road trip, nothing will derail a diet program or reduce the quality breathable air inside the car quite like gas station food. For the sake of speed and efficiency to get back on the road ASAP, we timed our meals with stops for gas. The trick is to use a smart phone to locate a gas station that either has a decently healthy restaurant attached, or, nearby. That same phone will allow a person to view the menu and nutritional information ahead of arrival. Going into the restaurant prepared to order will not only save time, with the right meal choices it can help save that waist line. My family and I were able to eat at Chick-Fil-A, Arby’s, Dairy Queen, and Quiznos without worrying about blowing our diets.

2.       Take Healthy Snacks for the Car: again, one of the keys to eating healthy is to have options available before actually becoming hungry. Making a choice before feeling the need to eat eliminates the opportunity to make a poor choice. We tend to choose simple things like trail mix, fruit, yogurt, and protein bars. An individual serving of one of these options between meals is an excellent way control caloric intake and avoid the typical vacation weight gain. For my family, it is important to eat healthy while on the road because all bets are off once we arrive at my mom’s kitchen.

3.       Differentiate between boredom and hunger: a mental obstacle to eating healthy is struggling to not eat for entertainment. Few things will create a feeling of boredom quite like sixteen hours days in the car. It is easy to reach for something to eat at a way to break up the monotony of driving. A simple way to do this is to only snack during a specific time window. This will avoid boredom eating.  We had our snacks 3 ½ to 4 hours after breakfast and lunch. Planning curbs the hunger while alleviating the boredom.

4.       Stay mentally active: During the driving days of a road trip physical activity will be limited; make up for it by staying mentally active. My wife and I listened to a lot of podcasts covering a variety of activities and interests: marriage, parenting, hunting, Christian living. Then we did something remarkable; we talked about what we had heard. Conversation will relieve boredom and pass time quickly. On top of this, my wife spent a couple hours every day playing games with our son and teaching him to read. Road trips are an excellent time to learn about a topic that there may not be time for during life at home. Playing games is another way to pass the time. One of our family favorites is “spot the animal.” It is simple, look for animals on the side of the road we do not get to see at home. Playing this game through South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado. We saw three Buffalo, twenty Elk, roughly thirty Mule Deer, and over 100 Antelope.

5.       Get active during stops: Road trips are filled with numerous stops; gas, bathrooms, food, sleep at night. Most of the time these stops are short and getting back on the road quickly is the priority. However, planning one deliberate stop per day of an hour or so to get out and move around is an excellent way to feel relief from the monotony of the miles. We made two deliberate stops on our way. We stopped at Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone. At Rushmore we walked through the exhibits and walkways while viewing the monument. In all, we spent a little more than ninety minutes walking around and enjoying the sights. Is a ninety minute walk going to miraculously shed ten pounds? No, but it will do wonders to reduce the stiffness and soreness that often accompanies long days of sitting in a vehicle. The day in Yellowstone began at six am and we left the part around  four in the afternoon during that time we got out an walked down trails at different views of waterfalls, mountains, and of course Old Faithful. Nothing terribly strenuous but at the same staying active and enjoying the beauty of nature.

6.       Work as a team: this tip is about staying emotionally healthy on the road. One of the benefits of a family road trip is the opportunity to work together. As I already mentioned, my wife and I worked together to plan out stops for gas and meals. She also served as a navigator when the directions got confusing. On our return trip we had planned to spend the night in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Arriving in Cheyenne at 11:30 pm we learned that the Wyoming Frontier Days festival was happening and that hotels were booked up for miles. Think State Fair multiplied by one hundred. Apparently it is one of the biggest Country Festivals in America and we unknowingly drove right into the middle of it. We continued down the road, I let her know what towns we were coming to while she called ahead trying to find a hotel room. We finally found a hotel room on the outskirts of Denver, 80 miles further than where we had planned on staying that night. We went to bed at 1:30 am, two hours later than anticipated. This situation could have easily turned into a minor problem into an argument for the ages. There are three steps to successful team work on the road: 1) Identify the problem, 2) Identify your personal role in correcting the problem, 3) Provide information to help fix the problem without being critical of the other person’s action. Our problem was simple: no hotel rooms available. Solution: Keep driving until you find one. No other choice in this circumstance. Identify roles: I kept driving, my wife called ahead while trying to comfort our half-asleep son who was crying because the hotel would not let us stay. The hardest part is keeping emotions in check in the face of bad news; in our case my wife and I had a constant back and forth about where we were and nothing being available. In situations like this; share information, not frustration. This is team building and emotional strengthening, any other action is adding to the problem, not helping to fix it.

Road trips are an amazing opportunity to see new areas and experience new things. Doing so without being detrimental to all aspects of health is possible. The key is to plan ahead, take opportunities to avoid stress, and work together in the face of adversity.