Saturday, January 23, 2010

Better Programming for the Long-Haul

“A complete training program has to include movement preparation, flexibility work, injury prevention work, core work, cardiovascular work, strength training, and recovery/regeneration. Most programs cover, at best, two of those.

A lot of training programs only cover the strength training portion. Be well rounded; address everything.” -Alwyn Cosgrove

When most people walk into a gym, they either go straight to the bench press or squat rack (if they're more of a strength athlete or bodybuilder), or hop right on the treadmill (if they're an endurance athlete or doing their “cardio” for fat loss, which I don't recommend but that's a topic for another post). I find that the primary reason behind this is either:
  • a) they don't understand balanced programming
  • b) they do understand balanced programming (intellectually) but are not thinking long-term enough to realize that only covering one or two aspects of training will lead to lower quality training sessions in the future, and, ultimately, injury.
How many of you suffer or have suffered from a shoulder injury (or some kind of shoulder pain), low back problems, or pain in your knee/leg? If you haven't yet, then you most likely will as time progresses (whether or not you exercise). Balancing your training program will help increase the quality of your current workouts, as well as set you up for greater long-term success. The longer you can avoid pain and injury, the longer you'll be able to maintain a training program to enhance quality of life.

So, how can we upgrade our training programs to ensure better short-term training, as well as long-term training? Be sure to include these:

1) Soft Tissue Work: This helps to focus on the quality of the muscle tissue. Use a foam roller (for the larger muscles ex. quads, IT band, etc.) or tennis/lacrosse ball (for more focused areas ex. glute medius/maximus, posterior shoulder capsule) to clear up knots and adhesions that develop in connective tissues. You'll begin to feel like a million bucks as you loosen up needed areas.

2) Dynamic Stretching/Movement Prep: Dynamic stretching will help lubricate joints, increase skeletal muscle blood flow, raise your core temperature, and prepare your body for the workout ahead. This also gives you a great chance to “feel” out your body and see where you may be hurting that day, or if you feel you should exert more/less effort depending on your body's feedback.

3) Corrective/Injury Prevention Work: Certain muscles that should be working properly in your body most likely aren't. Because of the inherent nature of most of our lives, we “deactivate” various muscles that are much needed to support both stabilization and motion during training. Long bouts of sitting (at a desk, in the car, etc.) lead to shortened hip flexors and weakened/inactive glutes. Glutes are the powerhouse of the body so we need to get them firing! Most shoulder issues originate at the scapulae (shoulder blade) so we need to utilize exercises engaging the serratus anterior (the muscle that helps stabilize your shoulder blade against your rib cage). This is nowhere close to an all-inclusive list, but the point is that we need to re-activate the muscles that need to be working efficiently during training.

4) Strength Training: Most people get this part. Whether your goal is fat loss, muscle gain, or training for a sport, strength training needs to be integral part of your program.

5) Cardiovascular Work: This does NOT mean a 60-minute session on an elliptical or treadmill (although in a few specific scenarios it is appropriate). Complexes, weight circuits, bodyweight circuits, and many other forms of high-intensity training will shed fat stores and increase your work capacity much better than going for a long jog. It takes much less time to do it too. And remember, “cardio” simply means you using your heart to supply nutrients and oxygen to the working muscles. It doesn't have to imply an aerobic session.

6) Flexibility Work: Certain muscles will be stiff after your training session. Spend some time to stretch these out.

7) Recovery/Regeneration: This includes a variety of both activity and inactivity to speed up your recovery. Soft-tissue work outside of the gym, getting plenty of sleep, and flooding your body with nutrients will do wonders to your progress.

From my personal experience, once I started to add all of the above to my training program (and lifestyle), I noticed dramatic improvements both in performance as well as those “nagging pains” that were bugging me. It's not an end-all-cure-all, but I guarantee you'll move better, grow stronger, and reach any goal that you may have more effectively. And keep in mind, the better you take care of your body now, the less you'll have to do later. Taking 15-20 extra minutes each training session to ensure optimal physical function is much cheaper than a doctor's bill or visit to the physical therapist.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Boost Up Your Metabolism and Conditioning!

Posted above is the end of a training session I recorded toward the end of last Fall. These are called "Bastardo's", which are burpees with a tuck jump at the top. I performed them Tabata style (alternating periods of 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest), although you could also do them in a circuit with other exercises, or see how many you can do in a designated period of time (ex. 60 seconds). If you are a beginner, I recommend using a work:rest ratio of 10s:20s (10 seconds work/20 seconds rest) to begin with, moving to 15s:15s and finally 20s:10s as shown in the video. I did this for 4 minutes, but you could also begin with 2 minutes and work your way up. I often like to add something like this throughout the week to keep my conditioning levels (as well as fat stores) in check.

Bear in mind, these are absolutely brutal, and much more difficult than they look (you'll notice toward the end I can hardly bring my knees high). The first time I tried this I got 57 total, and in the video above I finished with 83 (this was the fifth time I tried these, so improvement comes quickly). However, you'll notice rapid improvements in your conditioning, and these will elevate your metabolism more than any type of aerobic exercise you'll do in a group class or on the elliptical! Also, they beauty of this is that it only takes 4 minutes to complete, and the post-effects will be much greater than spending 20-30 minutes jogging (the higher the intensity of the exercise, the greater your metabolism will be elevated during the 24-48 hours following the training session). Give it a shot!

Bringing in the New Year

As I was in the grocery store the other day, I noticed most of the magazine covers gracing the shelves contained some type of promise, that usually claimed something like this:
  • 30 Weight Loss Secrets Inside!
  • Add 5 Pounds of Muscle Today!
  • Washboard Abs in 2 Weeks!
  • Fat Loss made EASY!
  • Your dream body in 28 Days!
Now, it is not abnormal for magazines with these types of claims to appear year round. However, it particularly hit me this time as I realized that most people tend to specifically focus on body transformation at the turn of the new year.
"This year I'm going to remain consistent in the weight room."
"This time I'm actually going to eat healthy for a year straight."
Statements such as this are certain to be floating around New Years' cocktail parties, or inside people's heads as they write out their New Years' resolutions. Not to mention, any gym I have worked at, or been a member of, always experiences an influx of people signing up with the certainty that "this year" they will be consistent.

Now, I certainly don't mean to make light of resolutions made by many at the onset of a new year. I have made them myself in years past, and I know that most people truly believe they can change. However, what I do want to make clear is that changing the way we behave, especially with regards to body transformation (be it fat loss, muscle gain, or both), is NOT EASY. Many people spend copious amounts of time and resources searching for the one secret they can apply to achieve the goal of their dreams. Unfortunately, there is NO SECRET.

Now, are the basic principles of fat loss and muscle gain a lot more simple than most of the "internet experts" or magazines (ex. always promising the "latest and greatest" information) make them out to be? Sure. But it's not easy. It takes a lot of hard effort, time, and consistency. What I hope to convey to people I work with and those I converse with is that body transformation is not the easy (or quick) process that the media tries to tell us.

This is not news to most of us, but we live in a fast-paced society which makes it increasingly difficult to have patience with goals that take time. With the internet providing immediate access to information, and microwaves popping out meals for us in a matter of minutes, we begin to subconsciously believe that there must be a quick-fix to everything. The reality is:

Good Sleep + Hard Work + Consistency + Time = Results

(I believe that sleep impacts all of the other variables, which is why I placed it first) Now, I understand that many of us need guidance in these areas. My hope is to provide weekly (at minimum) updates on how to effectively channel our hard work in order to see (and feel!) results. Whether reaching for increased performance on the playing field, or achieving a desired body transformation, all it really comes down to is "Eat clean, and move around more". My job is to communicate this in a way that gives people practical, and effective, ways of doing so.