Saturday, August 8, 2015

Q and A

I get asked a lot of questions on a daily basis so I figured I’d start answering some of the more common ones here.

Q. What is the best diet for losing weight?

A. Obviously nutrition is a vast topic and I’m sorry to say that there is no one size fits all diet. However, I’m currently finishing up the Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification and really like the way they try and simplify things. Below is a link to a nice infographic that outlines a starting point based on your body type (somatotype). Here are the three main body types as described by precision nutrition:

Endomorphs - individuals characterized by a larger bone structure with higher amounts of total body mass. Endomorphs are not as efficient at burning off excess calories as other somatotypes. This profile leads to a greater propensity to store energy - both in lean as well as fat compartments. It also leads to a lower carbohydrate tolerance (and need).

Mesomorphs - individuals characterized by a medium sized bone structure and athletic build holding a significant amount of lean mass. This profile leads to a propensity for muscle gain and the maintenance of a low body fat.

Ectomorphs - individuals characterized by smaller bone structures and typically thinner limbs. This profile is linked to a fast metabolic rate and a higher carbohydrate tolerance (and need).

You can see by these basic descriptions that the trend toward a "low carb" diet isn't going to work for everyone and in fact may hinder certain people from performing and feeling their best. Below is the infographic outlining an eating strategy for each somatotype. A couple of things; first, remember that this is just a starting point and that you should adjust your intake from here based on personal results. Second, ignore any supplement or nutrient timing information since we're discussing general eating habits here.

You'll notice that endomorphic types tend to do better on a lower carbohydrate diet, which is popular now, while ectomorphic types actually do better on a higher carb, lower fat type diet more popular a few decades ago. A prime example of why you shouldn't follow the latest "thing" because nothing is truly one size fits all.

Lastly, to reiterate something most have heard plenty by now but worth repeating, try and stay away from highly processed carbs which tend to be full of preservatives and sugars while also being low in nutritional value.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Core - part deux


I’ve written about the “core” or “trunk” or whatever else you like to call the area between the shoulders and hips before. I’ve discussed the many muscles that crisscross this area and how many contribute to our ability to stabilize ourselves against gravity and external loads.

While it’s fun to get all geeky and talk about the interconnectedness of our bodies or how the fascia weaves continuously through and around our muscles it may be more helpful to just simplify what is needed. Because back pain is such a common affliction and the core can play a huge role in alleviating this issue let’s cut to the chase.

To protect against injury we need to be able to create adequate “stiffness” around the spine. Because we are three-dimensional beings this means the front, sides and back have to all be up to the task. While it’s almost too simplified, a very basic way to see where you’re at is to do a few plank varieties for time. Starting with the side plank, which many find the most difficult, you should be able to hold this position for at least 40 seconds. 

Side Plank

In the standard front plank you are shooting for at least 60 seconds. 


Additionally, for beginners, I will often administer a glute bridge test as well to see where the posterior chain is at. With the glute bridge I am also looking for 60 seconds and hoping it’s the easiest of the bunch.

Glute Bridge

The reason the aforementioned tests are almost too simple is because they leave out other stabilizing abilities our core has, namely: anti-rotation. In addition to leaving this plane of motion out I am also a big fan of chops, lifts and loaded carries, which will tax the core musculature as well. However, because these are done in a vertical position they tax the core in a different and arguably more functional way. This is because vertical is where we spend a lot of our time especially when we’re under load, i.e. carrying and moving stuff around.
Pallof Press - great for anti-rotation training

Chopping exercise

Cable lift

Farmer Carry - all around great exercise

So in closing; definitely get good at doing planks and such, which is basically learning how to create stiffness around the spine. However, don’t forget we are (hopefully) active beings and expanding our stabilizing abilities to the vertical position including chopping, carrying and the rotational plane is ideal. 


Saturday, October 19, 2013

No Sleep/No Recovery

Do you sleep enough? There is a good chance the answer is “no” because the average American gets between 5 and 7 hours a night.

Lets start with the basics, stats you may already know but like many of us simply don’t adhere to. For optimal health and recovery we should be getting 7 - 9 hours of sleep a night. I know, it seems pretty optimistic and maybe even unrealistic for many, but getting over that 7 hour threshold is important and you can really feel the difference.

Those that get less than 5 hours of sleep a night are 2.5 times more likely to have diabetes and are at 45% higher risk for heart attack. Sleep deprivation also makes seemingly simple tasks harder. Focus and creativity may be stunted, your thought process can be slower and learning new things can be more difficult. Lets not forget another big issue with lack of sleep, poor recovery.

If you exercise, which you should be, you need adequate sleep to realize all of the gains you are striving for by training hard. Our time in the gym is the catalyst for getting bigger, stronger, and better conditioned, but the time post workout is when your body is really making changes. Outside of simply functioning better, sleep is a vital part of becoming better.

Bottom line - if you do this: 

Then make sure to also do enough of this:


Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Order of Things

Gray Cook is one of those professionals in the fitness industry that continually seems to challenge my understanding of things and get me thinking about the “why”. Why are we training what we’re training in the manner we’re training it? There ought to be a reason and you should know what it is. One  topic that really stuck with me the first time I read it years ago is the idea that mobility should come before stability.

You’ll often hear that we should be stable first and, until I was forced to actually think about it, I would have agreed with this statement. It makes sense to want to be stable, but in terms of order look at it this way: as an infant we are super mobile and have to learn to stabilize all of that mobility in order to crawl, then cruise, then walk. So while our bodies obviously develop and change, taking some of this insane mobility with it, we should (barring injury) still possess full range of joint motion. 

Cook laid it out as “mobility before stability and stability before movement”. So he isn’t going against having stability early; he just adds the prerequisite of mobility first. Certain strength exercises especially compound lifts require adequate mobility to set up; once we start to perform said lift then stability is needed. To set up properly for a deadlift you have to have the hip and ankle mobility to get into the right position first. Without this you see compensations, which sets people up for injury because they are starting a resisted movement from a bad position mechanically.

If your hips lack mobility your body will find a way if forced to... even if it looks like this

 However, these types of compensations apply to movements outside the weight room as well. Over-pronation of the foot is not an uncommon compensation and can be the result of restricted ankle range of motion. If ankle dorsiflexion (bringing the toes up toward the shin) is restricted, the body compensates by pronating which is the combination of foot eversion (foot rolling toward the big toe while lifting the lateral side), foot abduction (foot turning out away from midline) and ankle dorsiflexion (toe moving up toward the shin). The lack of proper ankle mobility causes the body to compensate, which it will, to continue movement. 

All of this is to say that a proper exercise program should be training mobility, stability, strength and power. However, order does matter and starting with strength and power before adequate mobility and stability is a mistake that can easily lead to dysfunction and injury. As one’s training age advances and background adaptations, neuromuscular and connective, have improved along with joint mobility and stability, then strength and power can be consciously pursued.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Alleviating Low Back Pain

While a hugely vast topic, we can focus on some of the prime offenders that cause low back pain. Outside of specific injury, much of the low back pain or tension people experience is caused by soft tissue and fascia. I’ve talked about the lower crossed syndrome in previous posts and how that imbalance can create low back pain, but today we’ll deal with the posterior musculature.

Thoracolumbar fascia (diamond shaped, low back center)

At the base of the back is a large, multi-layered area of fascia called the thoracolumbar fascia. This is an attachment point for many muscles like the lats, glutes and transverse abdominus to highlight just a few major ones. You’ll notice that this means there are back muscles coming into the fascia superiorly, leg/hip muscles coming in inferiorly and core muscles coming around laterally from the front. Basically this area is a primary connector of the upper and lower body and therefore gets a lot of use. As you can imagine this means that excessive tension in any of these muscles can have an adverse affect on how the low back feels. This is where stretching and foam rolling for the back and hips comes into play.

Don't forget the lats when foam rolling

Starting at the top, when rolling the back out on a foam roller (like I’m sure you’re already doing right?) spend a little time tipping to one side of the back and giving it 10 – 15 good passes before going to the other side. This will target the lats, which can not only cause tension but also limit overhead range of motion. Side note: If you stand with your back against a wall and can’t rotate your arms all the way up overhead and touch, you’re presenting limited range of motion and this is a good place to start.

Using a lacrosse ball for myofascial release of the glutes...
...and the hip external rotators. If this is extremely painful start leaning up against a wall so you can moderate the pressure better.

Next we’ll focus on the lower half. Foam rolling, or better yet using a lacrosse ball, on the glutes and hip external rotators can really do amazing things. The glutes obviously get a tremendous amount of use and can therefore get pretty “junky” if you don’t give them some attention. With the lacrosse ball I generally spend a minimum of 30 seconds in each area searching for "hot spots" and really working the affected areas. If you're using a foam roller the same 10 - 15 passes is a good place to start, but you may want to add more in the long run. The lacrosse ball, while definitely more intense, can get into the muscle better and really loosen the hips and glutes up so give it a chance even if it's tough at first.

Interestingly, the glutes and lats have a common line of pull through the thoracolumbar fascia meaning they work together, especially during locomotion. This is why the left arm pulls back at the same time the right leg does when running. The left lat pulls the left arm back while the right glute pulls the right leg back, drawing a diagonal line of pull through the thoracolumbar fascia. 

The common line of pull between the lats and glutes.

While these techniques can really work wonders we must remember that loosening tight tissue is only half the battle; strengthening weak areas is a must for lasting improvement. 


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Coconut Oil for the Skin

Looking for a quick and easy way to cut your exposure to synthetic chemicals? Try using coconut oil instead of lotion.

The lotion I recently replaced contained 11 ingredients, the first being water, four others needing to be looked up because I had no idea what they were, and three of those showing moderate concerns about toxicity by the environmental working group. So not the worst product out there, because I already care about stuff like that, however, improvements could still be made. 
Coconut oil contains one ingredient plain and simple.

Bonus: for a weekend treat try popping some popcorn in coconut oil. It gives the popped kernels a nice buttery flavor, eliminating the need for actual butter, just salt and enjoy. Doing it this way also means you're not using pre-packaged popcorn thus eliminating the chemicals used to line the bags and make the butter flavor.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Energy System Training

I’ve been doing some study on energy system development and recently came across a video that really impressed me. For starters it is presented by a really smart guy, Eric Oetter, but it's also backed up by scientific data; especially one, the Tabata study, that often gets used to promote high intensity work not aerobic training. Here I’ll offer some of the highlights of the video and a link to a written version of the presentation if you care to read it in its entirety.

One of the first takeaways was that the lactic and alactic energy systems (anaerobic systems that produce short, explosive power) have the ability to be improved upon by about 30% each. The aerobic system, on the other hand, can see up to a 240% improvement. This is why so many “average” people can train for and actually complete a marathon, but very few can post competitive 100M sprint times.

Next was how many negatives there are to focusing primarily on anaerobic type training. Please note that I didn't say high intensity work is bad in general, but because it’s extremely sympathetic nervous system driven, heavy use of anaerobic training can cause a host of negative adaptations especially coupled with the stressors of modern life. People can become “stuck” in a sympathetic state where their body never really gets into recovery mode. They just end up in a continual “fight or flight” state creating a negative feedback loop which is generally not good for ones health.

One of the main adaptations to continual lactic type training is a thickening of the myocardium of the left ventricle. In other words body building for the heart, which allows a stronger contraction but limited ability to stretch. This means the stroke volume, amount of blood pumped out at each contraction, isn’t increased so the only way to get more blood to the body as exercise intensity increases is by increasing pump speed. Focusing on an aerobic base first causes an overall larger left ventricle so the heart has a larger capacity. This means a higher stroke volume or more blood ejected on each contraction, which equates to a lower overall heart rate. This is good because a resting heart rate above 60 beats per minute usually equates to someone more or less stuck in a sympathetic state, a continual fight or flight mode, which is not a good thing. If you are someone with limited capacity for exercise duration you may want to check your resting heart rate, if it’s above 60 you would probably benefit greatly from increased aerobic training.

Left ventricle hypertrophy creates a stronger contraction, but limited ability to stretch and take in more blood.

Lastly, and most interestingly to me, the Tabata study was used to back up the idea that one should focus on building a good aerobic base rather than doing super high intensity work all the time. The Tabata study showed that the participants who performed the high intensity protocol saw an increase of about 23% in anaerobic capacity over the first four weeks. They realized another 5% increase over the subsequent two weeks, totaling a 28% increase in about 6 weeks. The part that is so fascinating is that if the body has the capacity to improve the anaerobic systems by about 30% total and it only took 6 weeks to see a 28% increase, there really isn’t a need to continue doing high intensity work past this point. 

The take-home is basically that when mapping out a training program, aerobic work should come first, followed by alactic work, and lastly the high intensity stuff about six – eight weeks from competition. Or, if you don't have a specific competition date, don't neglect training at lower intensities to realize aerobic based training adaptations.