The Cause Of, And Solution To, Back Pain

There are too many myths about what causes back pain, and far too many treatments for back pain to ignore (most of which are a waste of time and money).

Today I wanted to give a more in-depth look at causes and solutions to lower back pain. I have previously written about this in a more general sense, but I really feel like this topic deserves more attention. There are too many myths about what causes back pain, and far too many treatments for back pain to ignore (most of which are a waste of time and money). So let’s dive into some surprising factors causing pain, and some practical tips on how to deal with it!
Why Do I Hurt?!?!
I’ll start by saying that 80% of people will experience an episode of back pain during their lifetime. So it’s good to know you’re not alone in wondering what’s going on with your back. But the reason behind your back pain is surprisingly complicated. Aside from acute sprains and strains, the exact diagnosis of the root cause of the problem is often never made, or made incorrectly.
Imaging
We know that using techniques such as X-ray and MRI are often ineffective at catching the true problem (1). This is because most people, HEALTHY pain free people, already have some form of disc or spine degeneration (2). This simple fact can be very misleading when doctors are trying to interpret radiographic findings. The only exception to this rule seems to be for SI joint dysfunction, but even that has some major issues (3). Ultimately, this means that there is no evidence that back pain is caused by a bone or joint in the back being out of place, some change in spinal alignment, or your pelvis being out of alignment. . But on the bright side, we know that more pain does not always mean more damage! Here are two great podcasts going over in detail what types of examinations are often used, and which ones actually workONE TWO.
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Back Pain Exacerbates Itself
Often times pain can make someone afraid to move. This is called kinesiophobia and when it comes to back pain it can be terribly detrimental. This is because movement is key to preventing pain and getting your back better! We know that bending and lifting is not a problem, but rather that muscular fatigue during these tasks can be what causes back pain (4). And we know that stress and a lack of sleep can also cause low back pain (5,6). And if you read my previous post on back pain, you will know that sitting too long can cause back pain. So I hope by now you can see how back pain can make itself worse over time, and that it may not be caused by any physical issue that you may already have to begin with.
What To Do About That Back
DON’TS
Because there is generally no specific cause of back pain, there really is no specific way to treat it. However, we do have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t work. Let’s start with what’s on everyone’s minds… the core. Core training, is often the go to fix for back pain because one would think that a stable back/spine is what’s needed to fix a back problem. But as we know the spine is often not the problem so core training (e.g. targeted core training or Pilates) is not the solution (7). We also know that surgery,  orthotics, or focusing on “perfect posture”are not helpful as well. Finally, alternative methods such as massagetrigger point therapyglucosamine, and back crackin don’t work either (8)
DO’S
One great way to address the pain is by not freaking out and going to your doctor right away. The majority of people who experience back pain have their problems go away within 2-6 weeks of it’s onset. Even the dreaded disc herniation goes away on it’s own over time. Exercise your whole body to see the greatest benefits for both back pain and general health. Aside from making sure you have a strong tooshie (gluteus medius), there is no specific form of exercise that works the best but it seems that total body strength training does the trick (9). If you’re not up for that, then WALK!!! Walking has been shown to be just as effective, and walking backwards may even be a better way to go (10).
The key in all of this is to make sure you get a lot of exercise. Because when it comes down to it, it’s the quantity NOT the quality of exercise that you get that will solve your issues (10).
References
1. Chou, R., Qaseem, A., Snow, V., Casey, D., J. Thomas Cross, J., Shekelle, P.. . American Pain Society Low Back Pain Guidelines Panel. (2007). Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain: A joint clinical practice guideline from the american college of physicians and the american pain society. Annals of Internal Medicine, 147(7), 478.
2. Brinjikji, W., Luetmer, P. H., Comstock, B., Bresnahan, B. W., Chen, L. E., Deyo, R. A.. . Jarvik, J. G. (2015). Systematic literature review of imaging features of spinal degeneration in asymptomatic populations. AJNR. American Journal of Neuroradiology, 36(4), 811-816. doi:10.3174/ajnr.A4173
3. Laslett, M. (2008). Evidence-based diagnosis and treatment of the painful sacroiliac joint. The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 16(3), 142-152. doi:10.1179/jmt.2008.16.3.142
4. Seyed Hoseinpoor, T., Kahrizi, S., Mobini, B., & Naji, M. (2015). A comparison of abdominal muscle thickness changes after a lifting task in subjects with and without chronic low-back pain. Human Factors: The Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 57(2), 208-217. doi:10.1177/0018720814544213
5. Truchon, M., Côté, D., Schmouth, M., Leblond, J., Fillion, L., & Dionne, C. (2010). Validation of an adaptation of the stress process model for predicting low back pain related long-term disability outcomes: A cohort study. Spine, 35(13), 1307. doi:10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181c03d06
6. Alsaadi, S. M., McAuley, J. H., Hush, J. M., Lo, S., Lin, C. C., Williams, C. M., & Maher, C. G. (2014). Poor sleep quality is strongly associated with subsequent pain intensity in patients with acute low back pain: Sleep quality and pain intensity. Arthritis & Rheumatology, 66(5), 1388-1394. doi:10.1002/art.38329
7. Wang, X., Zheng, J., Yu, Z., Bi, X., Lou, S., Liu, J.. . Chen, P. (2012). A meta-analysis of core stability exercise versus general exercise for chronic low back pain. PloS One, 7(12), e52082.
8. Hegedus, E. J., Goode, A., Butler, R. J., & Slaven, E. (2011). The neurophysiological effects of a single session of spinal joint mobilization: Does the effect last? The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 19(3), 143-151. doi:10.1179/2042618611Y.0000000003
9. Cooper, N. A., Scavo, K. M., Strickland, K. J., Tipayamongkol, N., Nicholson, J. D., Bewyer, D. C., & Sluka, K. A. (2016). Prevalence of gluteus medius weakness in people with chronic low back pain compared to healthy controls. European Spine Journal, 25(4), 1258-1265. doi:10.1007/s00586-015-4027-6
10. Ferreira, M. L., Smeets, R. J. E. M., Kamper, S. J., Ferreira, P. H., & Machado, L. A. C. (2010). Can we explain heterogeneity among randomized clinical trials of exercise for chronic back pain? A meta-regression analysis of randomized controlled trials. Physical Therapy, 90(10), 1383-1403. doi:10.2522/ptj.20090332
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Working Out To Justify Junk Food

It can be all to easy to justify a bad habit with a good one. To quote a client “Great workout. Now I can eat that bacon cheese burger later!”

Today I wanted to discuss a common, mind boggling, issue. To quote a client “Great workout. Now I can eat that bacon cheese burger later!” If you have fallen into this trap before I don’t blame you. It can be all to easy to justify a bad habit with a good one. But there are far too many things wrong with this line of thinking to cover it all in one email. So I am going to talk about it purely from a caloric/math point of view with today’s information coming from Suppversity
 
Issue #1
It’s commonly thought that to lose a pound of fat you need to burn 3,500kcal. This concept is fundamentally flawed. Learn more about whyhere
Issue #2
Working harder and doing more repetitions does not always bring greater results when looking at the scale. Learn more about why here.
Issue #3
Exercising more is not going to increase your appetite. So no excuses. Learn more about why here.
 
So what does all of this mean?
 Well basically when we are looking at weight loss, justifying your dietary decisions based on your exercise program is a poor choice. In fact exercise only makes up a small portion of you daily caloric expenditure as compared to the calories you burn just to stay alive. So at its core, the thought that the 300kcal that you burned during your gym session justifies the 800kcal bacon cheese burger (or insert you favorite junk food here), is fundamentally flawed. Now let me be clear here. It’s okay to live life and eat junk once in a while. But to regularly eat garbage because you exercised is a very poor way to go about achieving you goals. It may even make the scale move in the wrong direction.
 
What to do next.
Stick to your healthy eating habits. Don’t deviate away from being a healthy individual because you had a hard day pumping iron. Instead, you should stay consistent with your dietary goals even if you think you “deserve” more. The dark side (fast/junk food) will always be tempting, but achieving you ultimate goal will be so much more satisfying in the end. Finally, you need to stick with an exercise program you like, and try to incorporate both strength cardio training into your program.
 
For more information you can click on the links above or follow the link to the main article bellow. If you need help figuring out what the best course of action is for you, I am always here to help 🙂

Shaking Things Up: A Guide To Periodization (AKA Muscle Confusion)

If you do the same workout all the time, you shouldn’t expect to reach greater exercise outcomes.

Today I wanted to go over workout periodization. This used to be known as muscle confusion, but I really hate that term. That’s because our muscles don’t have brains, and as research rock star Brad Schoenfeld puts it “Periodization is a concept, not a defined training model. It’s simply a way to manipulate training variables (load, volume, frequency, etc) over time to optimize a given fitness outcome while reducing the potential for plateau/overtraining. As such, there are an almost endless number of ways to structure a periodized routine to achieve individual goals.” This means if you do the same workout all the time, you shouldn’t expect to reach greater exercise outcomes. So let’s dive into how to shake things up!
Toolbox
One of the first steps that you can take is knowing different exercises. This means growing your toolbox of exercises! If you just go to the gym and hop on the same machines all the time, you can expect to only get better at what those machines offer. I have written about how to structure a basic exercise routine, and there are plenty of great resources online describing how to exercise. But the bottom line here is that you need to branch out and explore the gym for new ways to get strong.
Basic Breakdown
As mentioned before, shaking things up means changing the load (weight lifted), volume (weight x reps), and frequency (how often you target a muscle group). Whether you know it or not, your goal in shaking things up is to build more muscle. More muscle means more strength, more stability, greater sports performance, and general life performance. In the end this means by shaking things up through proper periodization you are enhancing your longevity. You won’t become huge by lifting weights (unless you put a LOT of effort in), but muscle growth is the ultimate goal for everyone in one way or another!
 
Perfecting Your Periodization
Depending on what your exact goals are, training experience, and current fitness levels, your periodization scheme will vary somewhat. However, here are some recommendations that everyone should follow (1):
All muscle groups should be worked out, including legs, back, abs, chest, shoulders and arms.
Do one set of 8-12 reps for each exercise.
2 hours and 30 minutes each week (total of 150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. That’s the 30 minutes a day Monday through Friday recommendation we’re all so familiar with.
Or, 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. That’s about 20 minutes of exercise 3-4 times a week.
Or, a combination of the above that gives you an equivalent result. For example, you can walk briskly for 30 min twice during the week and then jog for 20 min on two other days.
Boring recommendations, but they are a minimum for a reason. If you really want to see improvements, you should try a few different strategies. One great way to see a performance boost is to change up your rep ranges. For instance, lift near-max weight for two to four reps on the first workout day, moderate weight for 8 to 12 reps on the second day, and lightweight for 20 to 30 reps on the third day. By training in this alternating fashion you can see greater strength and muscle growth benefits (2)! To make your workouts easier to track, you can also alternate weights on a weekly or even monthly basis to see similar benefits.
Timing Is Everything
Changing things up is necessary, but there is more to consider. Two big factors are when to change, and when to rest! Rest is important because there is a benefit to instituting regular deload period, where a week of reduced frequency, volume, and/or intensity every month or so to facilitate recuperation and regeneration. But we do know that training a minimum of 2 days a week is needed to maximize muscle growth (3). Check out the table below for a great example of how to schedule your workouts (4).
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Changing your sets, reps, and frequency schemes will bring you results. So if you haven’t figured it out yet, tracking your workouts is extremely important. None of this information will be very useful if you don’t know how much volume you’re lifting per muscle group. So get yourself an exercise journal, or create an Excel spreadsheet to see the gains and avoid injury. Because even though you may have the secret to the building big arms, you won’t be able to know if you’re doing it right unless you write it down!

A Healthy Body Begins With Happy Feet

The foot and ankle complex provides a base of support for all of our upright movement, so why don’t more people do exercises to strengthen such an important part of their body?!?!

Today I wanted to address how your feet influence the movements of your entire body. Your feet play a critical role in many movements beyond just walking, running, and jumping. The foot and ankle complex (FAC) provides a base of support for all of our upright movement, and if the muscles within the FAC become imbalanced it can set off a chain of negative reactions. So why don’t more people do exercises to strengthen such an important part of their body?!?! Well, today I am going to lay out what what the FAC is good for, and how to best go about achieving arch strength and happy feet.
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FAC Facts and FAQs
 
The FAC is extremely complex because there are dozens of bones and hundreds of muscles, tendons, fascial components, and ligaments at play. All of these components come together within the FAC to provide stationary support while standing and dynamic spring while moving. So I will do my best to keep it simple, but please forgive me if my inner nerd comes out and I use too much technical jargon. When it comes to movement of the FAC, one major concern is the interaction between the arch of the foot and dorsiflexion of the foot (taking your foot off the gas motion). A lack of dorsiflexion in the ankle can be the caused by several factors, but frequently involves decreased strength of the tibialis anterior muscle (1). The decrease in shin muscle strength can then lead to flat feet, increased plantar flexion (pressing the foot down on the gas) during squatting motions and gait (walking). All in all, the arch can be placed under great amount of stress during the load acceptance phase of gate, if your foot is weak and there is limited dorsi flexion. That’s because during this phase of the walking/running cycle the shin and ankle muscles assist the arch in energy absorption (2). If the ankle is unable to properly dorsiflex, a huge amount of stress will be placed on the foots spring ligament, plantar fascia, and intrinsic muscles which can lower the arch. This lowered arch in turn causes tibial (shin) rotation, hip internal rotation, slight hip flexion, and hip adduction creating a valgus (knock knee) stress (3,4). So what does this mean for you? Well to sum it all up, when we don’t pay attention to the FAC we are more likely to have stiff hips, lower back paintight calves, weak feet, weak ankles, altered gait, plantar fasciitishallux valgus (a.k.a. bunions), patellofemoral pain, increased susceptibility to medial collateral ligament (MCL) injuries, and an increased likelihood of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears.
There are also some other surprising aspects of foot strength that I’m betting most of you didn’t even think about. Having proper FAC strength means you have developed some proprioception (foot eye coordination in this case). In turn, this means you know where your body is at in space. This is extremely important if you think about it because it’s the same as knowing where my fingers are as I type each letter of this post. I don’t need to look down for each letter, I just know how to move my hands. So, if you practice strengthening your FAC you will know where your lower body is during each step you take. This leads to better performance for athletesenhancements in the standing and walking positions, and the ever crucial prevention of falls for seniors (5).
 
Foot Fitness
 
So I’m going to start this section by being a negative Nancy. To have healthy feet you SHOULD NOT use arch supports or supportive shoes. No, this does not mean you should take out those stinky old things you have put in your shoes for years and start walking around. What I mean is that the arch support is to the feet, what the weight lifting belt is to the back. Yes they are both supportive, but if you don’t let those underlying muscles develop you will end up with some limp noodles for muscles. So instead of opting for the all or nothing path, star weaning yourself off of the arch support and into regular shoes. Or if you’re ready for it, start weaning yourself onto more minimalist shoes. It’s really all about a gradual progression into a more barefoot environment… unless your feet stink like mine ;). You wouldn’t go from lifting 10 lbs dumbbells to benching  225 lbs, so don’t jump too quickly on the minimalist bandwagon especially if you have high arches to begin with (6).  
 
Okay, I know that if you have read this far you might be a little frightened of your weak feet. But I promise you that you don’t have to do that much to whip them into shape! This is because even though you use them all day long, the interaction between your nerves and your muscles may be the real underlying issue. So to re-learn your own feet, there are a few simple steps you need to take. Use your time wisely by standing on one foot as often as you can. This can be done while you wash dishes, make phone calls, eat Ramen noodles, or other things that people who aren’t poor college students do. You can also practice flexing your toes while you’re sitting down. This can be done by simple scrunching your toes together while at your desk, or by picking up objects and putting them into a container while you’re seated (7). Additional exercises include standing on one foot, bunny hops, walk heel to toemedial (inside) calf raises, resisted ankle inversion exercises, single-leg kettlebell swap, foam rolling the biceps femoris (outside hamstring) and plantar fascia, and walking in a straight line with one foot in front of the other. Finally, you should take care of your hips. The interaction between the hips and the ankles goes both ways. So stiff hips can mean stiff ankles and visa versa.
Resources
1. Chizewski M., & Chiu L. Contribution of calcaneal and leg segment rotations to ankle joint dorsiflexion in a weight-bearing task. Gait & Posture, 3685-89. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2012.01.007
2. Spaich, E. G., Andersen, O. K., & Arendt-Nielsen, L. (2004). Tibialis Anterior and Soleus Withdrawal Reflexes Elicited by Electrical Stimulation of the Sole of the Foot during Gait. Neuromodulation, 7(2), 126-132. doi:10.1111/j.1094-7159.2004.04016.x
3. Hollman, J. H., Kolbeck, K. E., Hitchcock, J. L., Koverman, J. W., & Krause, D. A. (2006). Correlations Between Hip Strength and Static Foot and Knee Posture. Journal Of Sport Rehabilitation, 15(1), 12.
4. Simon, L., Christian, B., Peter, M., Richard, T., Roger, W., & Dylan, M. (n.d). The effect of anti-pronation foot orthoses on hip and knee kinematics and muscle activity during a functional step-up task in healthy individuals: A laboratory study. Clinical Biomechanics, doi:10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2013.11.015
5. Hashimoto T, Sakuraba K. Strength Training for the Intrinsic Flexor Muscles of the Foot: Effects on Muscle Strength, the Foot Arch, and Dynamic Parameters Before and After the Training. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2014;26(3):373-376. doi:10.1589/jpts.26.373.
6. McKeon, P. O., Hertel, J., Bramble, D., & Davis, I. (2014). The foot core system: a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function. British journal of sports medicine, bjsports-2013.
7.Siddiqi A., Kumar D., Arjunan S. Age-related motor unit remodeling in the Tibialis Anterior Proceedings of the Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, EMBS, Volumes 2015-November, 4 November 2015, Pages 6090-6093

Making Cardio CVEasy

The benefits of increasing your CVE are too great to ignore so I wanted to share some thoughts on how to spice up your routine!

Today I’m talking cardio. More specifically I wanted to talk about cardiovascular endurance (CVE). This topic was spurred on by a meme that I saw earlier in the week essentially saying that people who only come to the gym to walk on the treadmill are wasting their time and money. To be clear, I think that cardio of any sort should be a part of a complete workout program and not the entirety of your gym experience. However, the benefits of increasing your CVE are too great to ignore so I wanted to share some thoughts on how to spice up your routine!
 
The First Step
The first thing you should do is assess where you are physically. This can be done several ways. You can see a fitness professional (like myself), you can track your workouts, you can take a ballpark guess, or you can just say “hey I’m a couch potato… I know exactly where I’m at physically” and go from there. What you will want to know overall is how to take your CVE to the next level without injuring yourself. Side note, the phrase “no pain no gain” is… dumb, silly, nonsense, asinine, dippy (I love my thesaurus).
 
Step Two
Assess what you need. That old pair of Chuck Tailors in the closet probably aren’t the best idea if you want to start a running program. So before you dust off the old bike, goggles, or roller blades on the way to a work out, make sure they are in good condition. Trust me when I say that investing $100 in your equipment is the BEST thing you can do for increasing your CVE. There’s nothing worse than a couple of forced weeks off due to injury.
 
Step Three
Look into activities that you already enjoy. There’s no reason to go running if you hate being on your feet. Make things easier on yourself by identifying things that you already kind of like doing and try them first. This will decrease the chances of you quitting early and increase the likelihood of you seeing actual gains. And always remember to gradually increase your workload. 
 
Step Four
Put one foot in front of the other (I love puns). You need to make it happen. Just knowing that 22 minutes of walking a day will decrease your risk of heart disease, cancer, and increase your overall longevity should be enough. But as a pragmatist I know that we all need help on days that we feel out of it. This is why I am such a fan of exercising in groups or with a partner to keep you accountable. 
 
Pro Tips
 – The fastest and easiest way to get in shape quick is high intensity interval training (HIIT). However, it is extremely difficult to do HIIT properly alone. There are definitely some great strategies to employ if you must do HIIT alone as your source of CVE training. You can also do a small group class like the awesome new GRIT classes that will be starting at the end of October (if you would like more information just let me know).
 – Not ready for HIIT? No problem! Running is a cheap and easy way to get increase your CVE. Check out this link for a fantastic review about everything you need to know to get started with running. While you’re at it you should also consider joining me at our Run Club every Saturday morning at 8am! (Note that we will be running an organized 5k as a group on 10/10/2015. Join by signing up here!!!)
 – Coming off of an injury and can’t do what you want? Check out this link for some ideas about how to modify your activities.
 – Never stop improving. Whether you’re just getting off of the couch and walking for 20m a day or starting a new butt kicking HIIT work out, it’s important to always strive to hit the next level. Even if it takes you years to get there, setting goals is an extremely important and effective way to stay in shape.  
 – Keep it all in perspective. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was this guy. We spend all of our lives getting to the point we currently are currently at. It take time to get in shape. So don’t reward yourself for exercising, and don’t expect immediate returns on your fitness investment. Stay the course and you will become an inspiration!

Weekly Workout Structure

Ways to structure your workout routine, variables to consider, and how to plan for those pesky, yet inevitable, life barriers.

While there may be more than one way to skin a cat, there are more than 1,000 ways to get in shape. No matter what your fitness goal is, there are loads of variables to take into account when we talk about exercise. So today I wanted to talk about ways to structure your workout routine, variables to consider, and how to plan for those pesky, yet inevitable, life barriers. For me, the crux of today’s topic really stems from a trip that I will be taking this week which will interrupt my regular exercise routine. I was briefly panicked by the thought of how much clothing I will need, the quality of the hotel gym, and planning around what I normally do. Then a sudden calm came over me as I realized that… it really doesn’t matter! Here’s why.
The Basics
For me, I want to train to be lean and have some muscular definition. Think Brad Pitt in fight club. So my exercise routine is intense, but not the best for maximizing muscle gain. Here’s my regular exercise routine; Monday – full body strength training barbell based exercises Tuesday– LISS training = running about 1 hour Wednesday – full body strength training dumbbell based exercises Thursday – HIIT I practice for the Grit class I teach as well as row/other high intensity stuff  Friday – full body strength training machine based exercises Saturday – Run club = 3 mile-ish run.
Does that mean your weeks worth of exercise should look like mine? NOPE! There are lots of reasons why not, but in short, I have worked up to this level of fitness and intensity. However, while you’re free to skin your fitness cat the way you like, all routines will in some way revolve around the FITT principle. FITT is an acronym standing for Frequency Intensity Time and Type. Each one of these components can be broken down into sub categories that would keep me at my computer for days. But instead of majoring in the minutia I will make sure go lay out the big rocks of each component.
Frequency is how often you perform the targeted health-related physical activity, and is by far the most crucial aspect of any workout routine. Consistency is king for all components of health. However, it is possible to over train so you need to find your own personal sweet spot. I will go over recommendations in detail in the “type” section, but what you need to know is that you should be doing some form of physical activity at least 5 days per week. 
Intensity is how hard you exercise during a physical activity period (measured in different ways, depending on the related health-related component). This component can not only make or break your chances of hitting your goals, but it can also make or break your body and mind. You need to record how intense your workouts are on some level. Whether it’s through writing down sets/reps/weight, heart rate, perceived excretion, mileage, or other forms of documentation. Because you can’t make adjustments without having some form of data on your own workouts.
 
Time is not only the length of the physical activity, but also the rest breaks. The former can be best described as time-under-tension (TUT)which refers to how long the muscle is under strain/resisting weight during each set (30s – 60s), duration of a stretch (30s > twice a week), or time spent doing aerobic activity (30m > per day). The latter is the amount of time recovering between set, between workouts, or between specific muscle groups. All of these factors can be manipulated for different goals but essentially if you want to get big and strong rest for 2-3m between sets. If you want to get lean, rest for only a few seconds.
 
Type or specificity, refers to the specific physical activity chosen to improve a component of health-related fitness. No matter what your goals are you should be training for strength (all muscle groups at least 2 x a week), aerobic fitness (2 hours and 30 minutes each week), and a form of balance and stability (daily). Throwing HIIT is a great idea because it will get you lean quickly and with shorter workout duration, but be careful. It’s easy to go overboard with HIIT and end up being “burned out” though over training or even hurting yourself.
Making Your Customized Exercise Program
To make your very own customized exercise program, you will need to start with a few basic self recognition tasks. Take a good look at your goals and ask yourself if what you need to work on. You may need to start with learning proper technique, asking your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for strenuous exercise, or maybe recognizing that you’re not working intensely enough. This step is best done with a fitness professional to guide you. However, if you feel you’re ready for some strength training (which most people don’t do even though they need it), here is a simple template to follow.
Because there are thousands of exercises to choose from, differentiating set and rep ranges, tempo selection, and dozens of other variable to choose from, I will just keep it simple. You want to focus on general body movements and place them in a sensible order to avoid injury and ensure progress. So here are the motions you want to consider and a few examples:
Upper Body Push – Barbell Press (Decline, Flat, Incline, Overhead) • Dumbbell Press (Decline, Flat, Incline, Overhead) • Single Arm/Alternating Press • Floor Press (Barbell or Dumbbells) • Pushup 
Upper Body Pull – Pullups/Chinups (weighted, bodyweight or assisted) • Lat Pulldown • Bent Over/Pendlay Row • Single-Arm Row (dumbbell or cable) • Chest-supported Row Note – I would advise choosing one vertical and one horizontal pull for the sake of evenly hitting all of your back muscles
Lower Body Push (Knees Bend) – Back/Front Squat • Safety/Cambered/Speciality Bar Squat (if your gym has these) • Box Squat • Paused Squat • Split Squat (Front or Rear Foot Elevated) • Walking Lunges • Leg Press/Hack Squat 
Lower Body Pull (Hips Extend) – Conventional and Sumo Deadlifts • Hip Thrust/Glute Bridge Variations • Single-Leg Deadlift/Romanian Deadlift • Two-Legged Romanian Deadlift • Reverse Lunge • Kettlebell Swing • Back Extension • Glute Ham Raise/Nordic Curls 
Beach Muscles – Upper Back Isolation (face pulls, pull-aparts, rear delt flys, YTWs) • Bicep/Tricep Isolation • Calf Isolation • Core/Abdominal Work
There are a few ways to structure your workout program based on how many times you plan on going to the gym. The most important part here is planning enough rest between each gym session. So if you plan to exercise on Monday Wednesday Friday like me, you can be confident there there is adequate recovery time in there. But if you’re going to strength train 4 days per week, well it will take some wise exercise choices. For the examples below, scattering in beach muscle exercises at your discretion is recommend to be done at the end of each workout. Leaving the gym with a good pump always feels awesome.
2-Day/Week
Upper Body Day  Push/Pull
Lower Body Day  Bend/Extend
or
Upper/Lower Day 1  Push/Extend
Upper/Lower Day 2  Pull/Bend
4-Day/Week
Lower Body Day 1  Extend
Upper Body Day 1  Push
Lower Body Day 2  Bend
Upper Body Day 2  Pull
Using a simple template to track your workouts is a great way to go. Simply write up your plan for the month, take it to the gym, and you’re on the way to muscle city. See below for an easy to use program design. You can use the exercise example seen above, but I encourage you to explore the gym and learn new exercises to love!

Day 1

Exercise

Sets

reps

weight

Lower Body Push Variation 1

4

4-6

Pull Variation 1

4

4-6

Lower Body Pull Variation 2

3

8-12

Press Variation 2

3

8-12

Beach Movment

3

8-12

Day 2

Exercise

Sets

reps

weight

Lower Body Pull Variation 1

4

4-6

Press Variation 1

4

4-6

Lower Body Push Variation 2

3

8-12

Pull Variation 2

3

8-12

Beach Movement

3

8-12

Summary
While there are a million different ways to go about exercise, there are also a million different excuses. Even if you’re busy, there will always time to exercise and improve your health. When you’re stressed it’s hard to breathe and your joints can feel stiff as a board, but there are ways to feel better and loosen up. If you feel the effects of jet lag and don’t feel like working out, there are ways around it. And even if you know you will struggle to find ways to complete your regular routine while on the road… well the occasional rest can do you right while you figure new ways to skin a cat 🙂

Take Control of you LBProbems

From young athletes, to chair bound adults, to golden year seniors, almost everyone will experience lower back pain at some point in their life. For this reason I decided to break down LBP into what it is and what to do about it!

Today I am talking about the dreaded lower back pain (LBP). From young athletes, to chair bound adults, to golden year seniors, almost everyone will experience lower back pain at some point in their life. For this reason I decided to break down LBP into what it is and what to do about it!
 
The Major Malfunctions
There are dozens of reasons why someone would have LBP. Even different illnesses can cause it. So to avoid writing a whole book I’m going to cover the biggies. 
In young athletes, the problem is often in the bones of the spine. In fact 47% will have a spondylolysis fracture with only 11% of LBP being caused by disc issue in this population. This differs from the adult population where 48% of LBP is disc related. So in young athletes the problem is often caused by repetitive extension and torsion of the spine, where as in adults the issue is typically due to sitting posture. Take a look at the picture bellow to see how changing your body position affects the load on you spine
 
Inline image 1
 
So clearly much of the problem has to do with… well… you! Do you sit too long? Do you sit with crap posture? Do you move well? All of these questions are important ones to ask yourself. But the good news is that you’re in control!
 
What To Do About It
Before I go into detail about exercises and stretches to help, I will tell you that you need to see a doctor if you experience any of the following issues:
Do you feel any tingling or numbness?
● Do you have any loss of sensation?
● Do you have any loss of motor control, such as an inability to raise your arm over your head?
● Do you have or have you ever had a loss of bowel or bladder function?
● Do you have severe immobility or an inability to walk?
Answered no to all of the above? wonderful, please read on at your leisure. In fact stand up, walk around, then sit back down and read on. Because Tip 1 is to start by sitting for no more than 30 minutes at a time. It’s the most simple and easiest way to help control that back pain. Now that you’re sitting Tip 2 is to now get into a proper sitting posture. So feet flat, chest up, core contracted, and eyes straight ahead. And finally Tip 3 breath from your belly. Not only will this help relieve stress (another cause of LBP) but it will engage that protective core musculature.
The Exercises
Here’s the problem with recommending exercises. Everyone has different needs!!!! Not everyone is going to be weak in the same areas. Not everyone is going to need stretching of the same muscles. For instance, if your back rounds out like a turtle when you sit down, you may need to stretch your hamstrings. However, if your back arches when you do a squat or sit down then that’s the opposite of what you want to do! So please come see me if you want some specifics on what to do to help correct your posture. In the meantime, you can try some of these exercises which are generally safe and effective for most people.
1. The Glute bridge. A simple and easy exercise that you can do anywhere. It activates the tooshie as well as the wonderful core muscles.

2. The hip flexor stretch. A wonderful pairing to the glute bridge is a stretch of the hip flexors. This stretch will allow the butts and guts do their jobs.

3. The plank. Abdominal bracing is all the rage this fall. So make the plank a part of your workout wardrobe.

4. Leg swings. This will help mobilize the hips so you can use your booty!

5. The fire hydrant. This exercise uses your mobilized hips to further strengthen them glutes.
When it comes to back health there is a lot to take into account.To be honest I have barely scratched the surface on this topic, but I feel like this post has gone on long enough as it is. So sit up straight, work on glute and core strength, and get out of that chair! 

There’s One Oar Two Benefits to This Exercise!

This piece of equipment is far too underutilized even though it has oodles of benefits for noodle arms (or nearly any other weak body parts).

Today’s post is all about the row machine! This piece of equipment is far too underutilized even though it has oodles of benefits for noodle arms (or nearly any other weak body parts). It gets you strong, utilizes the whole body, crushes calories, and best of all… you get to sit! So let’s dive into the wonders of rowing.

What Could Be Better?

There’s almost an innumerable amount of benefits to rowing. How could one machine be low impact, strengthening, and cardio all in one? Well, here’s how:

Rowing uses around 86% of the body’s muscles including the upper back, arms, legs, and, yes, even core, which means more calories burned, great heart health, and tremendous bang for your buck.

Depending on how you us it, you can develop power (short pieces), endurance (long pieces), and strength endurance (middle distance pieces).

It has great crossover effect, which means it can be used to develop aptitude in other exercises such as the squat, dead lift, or other weighted rowing motions.

Also, it’s super safe due to minimal impact loading, so it is safe for those with a history of ankle, knee, or hip injuries.

 

What to Know Before You Go Row

There are three key things to know about the row machine for those beginners out there. They are 1) the Damper setting 2) Flex Foot position, and 3) Performance Monitor adjustment. The damper setting affects wind resistance and subsequently the speed of the stroke: the lower the setting, the less wind resistance and faster the stroke. So basically, the harder you pull, the more resistance will be felt with each stroke – making the workout more challenging. Depending on your goal, you will need to play with different settings, record results and “tweak” as needed. The flex foot is where the feet are fixated, and it needs to be adjusted according to foot size. Just make sure that the anchor strap is secured directly over the ball of the foot for optimal performance. The performance monitor is an essential component to rowing and displays quantitative information for you to analyze the performance of each row. Key features include time, distance, speed as time per 500 meters, watts, and calories per hour. The time per 500 meters is my favorite to watch because it represents to a rower the same as what time per mile represents for a runner.

Technique

As with any other exercise, technique is crucial for attaining benefits and shunning away the bad stuff like injuries (just like Gryffindor’s sword). So here are the step by step instructions for a beginner.

1 – Turn the machine on, set resistance to low, secure your feet so they don’t move around as you slide, and grab the handle using an overhand grip, but don’t hold too tightly

2 – Pull the handle with you as you slide to the end of the machine. Your legs should be straight, but knees should still have a slight bend in them so they aren’t locked. Lean back slightly and pull your hands up to your chest, holding the handle so it is right below your pecs, with elbows pointing down against your sides.

Inline image 1

3 –  THE RECOVERY is when you start to come forward towards the starting position. To do this properly, move your arms out first, followed by your upper body. Your back should always stay straight, not slumped, with shoulders back and abs engaged as you follow through. As your arms extend out, your upper body position will go from slightly angled back to slightly angled forward.

Inline image 2

4 – THE CATCH is when you make your way back to the starting position. As your arms extend and body leans forward, slide your body forward on the seat by bending your legs. Once you are at the top of the machine, your arms will be fully extended and legs will be bent.

Inline image 3

5 – THE DRIVE is where the magic happens. This is where you push off with your feet first, so that your legs straighten, but your arms are still extended and your body is still slightly leaning forward working the leg and core muscles the most.

Inline image 4

6 – THE FINISH starts when your torso begins to lean back, followed quickly by your arms; as your upper body angles back, pull the handle and bend your arms so that the handle ends up back to touching the front of your chest, just like how you started.

Inline image 5

Caution

Here are a few things to look out for. DON’T grip the handle too hard; the power should be through your legs. Using too much force while pulling the cable can cause hand blisters as well as back problems. DON’T slump forward because the core muscles must act to keep the spine in neutral alignment so that power can be transferred from low to high and high to low through the kinetic chain. DON’T move your arms up and down as you row because raising and lowering of the handle during recovery is inefficient, involves more work and should be avoided for optimal rowing. DON’T push the seat away from the flywheel and then follow with the hands and torso. Instead, at the very beginning of the drive phase, make sure the seat and the handle move together for approximately ¼ of a slide, at which point the torso starts to hinge followed by the arm pull. DON’T lean back like you’re taking a nap in your car (or Fat Joe) because it increases the workload on the abdominals, slows pace and decreases overall performance. DON’T chicken wing by raising the elbows vertically at the finish of the stroke like you’re going to choke yourself with the bar.

Workouts!

Here’s the fun part… the workout options! There are a few basic options. I like to row for 10 minutes and see how far I get. You can do the reverse by seeing how long it takes you to get a certain distance (500m for beginners). I like to also use a Fartlek style of training where you go slow for one minute, medium pace for 45 seconds, and all out sprint for 15 seconds for 5-10 rounds. Once you have some experience under your belt, you can try an interval training plan such as this one, or place it strategically into a workout plan like this one. To sum it all up, rowing is a workout that you need to try. Once you master technique, you will be able to take on just about anything (except water)!

The Best Way To Burn Fat!!!

With so many clickbait articles and diet/exercise fads out there promising to burn fat, it’s crucial to know what fat burning actually means.

Great news everyone! Science has found a way for people to burn fat 100% of the time. The answer to all your fat burning questions is to… do nothing! That’s right. To burn fat you need to do nothing more than watch TV, fiddle with your phone, or even take a nap! At this point you may be asking yourself “won’t I gain weight by doing nothing?” The answer is a resounding “YES!” Which is why I wanted to address the difference between burning fat and losing fat. With so many clickbait articles and diet/exercise fads out there promising to burn fat, it’s crucial to know what fat burning actually means.
 
Fact or Fitness Fiction
I wasn’t lying before. Fat is the body’s preferred fuel source while at rest. As we start to move more, and with greater intensity, the body will start to use glycogen (sugar) in greater quantities. For instance, walking uses around 80% for fuel, running uses 50% fat and 50% sugar, and high intensity exercise uses nearly 100% sugar as fuel. These very rough numbers are of course dependent on the person and their training levels, but the point is that it really doesn’t matter what the fuel source is for exercise. Because it’s true that with the right diet and exercise you can turn your body into a fat burning machine! But if you’re taking in more calories than you are burning, it really doesn’t matter if you’re burning fat all day long. The science behind gaining fat and fat loss is complex, but what you need to know is that there is no “one true solution” behind either of them. Take fasted cardio for example. The thought is that if you don’t eat anything before cardio exercise, then you will burn only fat, therefore you will lose fat mass. But in well controlled research, we see that this just isn’t true. A more malicious example would be weight loss/detox wraps. Yes you will lose weight using it… you will also gain a pound by drinking a bottle of water. See where I’m going with this? With the weight loss industry fraught with snake oil peddlers, knowing what actually works will save you time and money on top of getting you results.
 
What Works
One thing that successful fat losers have in common is gumption. Because when it comes to your health, failure is not the absence of success but the unwillingness to try. Even if it takes years, consistently making an effort will pay off big in the end. So if you’re currently in a bit of a slump, take the advice of my good friend Jen “Ditch the defeat, decide you are worth fighting for, and start again RIGHT NOW.” She also has a terrific blog that I highly recommend you check out.
Now that you’re good and motivated, let’s take a look into the exercises you need to do to “burn fat.” And at the top of the list is… drum roll please… the exercise you like to do! It’s a bit anticlimactic, but it’s true. There’s no way to be successful with a weight loss exercise routine if you don’t do it consistently. That’s why loving the way you move is so important! If you don’t even know where to begin, here are a few ideas.
Start with a steady state cardio program. If you’re new to exercise, simply hop on a treadmill or plop down on a bike and go. No this won’t get you shredded, and you won’t “tone” your muscles by doing this, but you will burn calories (not always fat though 🙀), increase your overall health, and you will get a chance to get acclimated to the gym.
Next, work you way up to weight lifting. As I’ve written about before, weight training is great for fat loss. And in reality, it’s the only way you can achieve a lean, strong and athletic-looking physique. You can lose all the weight you want, but if you don’t have any muscles then you will certainly be lacking ever elusive “toned” look most people are searching for.
Finally, once you’ve established a baseline of fitness, find ways to get uncomfortable. Break loose of the stereotypes. You’re never too old to try high intensity training. For those women who are worried they will get too big… stop thinking that! You wont! Woman up and lift heavy things to burn fat and see the change you desire.
Fat Burning Nutrition has some merit to it. There are some select foods and potables that can help you burn fat. But guess what? That doesn’t matter at all! No mater what diet you’re on or what super exercise and nutrition plan you have, you won’t see results unless you’re in a caloric deficit. Who care about carbs or fats. They have absolutely no bearing on weather or not you will lose weight. Research shows us that you simply need to find a way to cut calories out of your diet to lose fat. I highly recommend you listen to this podcast and/or watch this video for the best information on the subject.

Lifting For… Losses

Lifting for gains (muscle/strength) can also equal losses.

Today I wanted to talk about getting shredded to lose weight. Because I know everyone is concerned about how they are going to burn off all that BBQ they will be eating this weekend! So that’s why I wanted to talk about why lifting for gains (muscle/strength) can also equal losses.
But first, a clarification. Weight loss is not the main topic of today’s post. Why? Because weight loss can be achieved through amputation, osteoporosis, stomach flu (though intestinal parasites will do in a pinch), coma, chemotherapy, shaving all your hair off, lobotomy… you get the point. Weight is not a great indicator for health or fitness, so what we are really talking about is fat loss. Because we all know muscle weighs more than fat, we know that weight may go up while your pant size goes down. This is why all of my clients take more pride in their bio-electric impedance (fat mass) numbers rather than the numbers on the scale. They know that their body composition (lean mass compared to fat mass) is what’s really important.
Old-School
The old-school way of thinking was that low intensity cardio burns fat, therefore you lose fat. But we now know that this just isn’t true. Without getting into science nerdy stuff too much, burning fat only means your using fat as fuel source. And unless you’re an ultra marathon runner,this doesn’t really matter. Although cardio is beneficial in many ways, it won’t do a great deal to help you lose fat. Oh and fasted cardio? Well… listen to this podcast that reflects my thoughts on this ridiculous practice.
Why Weight Lifting is Better
Picking up and putting down heavy things does more than you know. It places large amounts of stress on not only your muscles and tendons, but your bones and nervous system as well. Everything has to adapt to stress. As a result of this adaptation, your muscles will store more myoglobin (sugars), bones will become more dense, and your body will know to send more blood to these areas to help with the repair/replenishment of nutrients. Although your weight may go up a bit from these adaptations, it in turn means your metabolism grows as your muscles do! So class. What do we burn when we are at rest and our metabolism is high? Fat! This scenario is how we lose fat. Research continues to show that placing greater amounts of metabolic stress (like weight training) will result in greater fat loss and muscle gains.
Where To Start
Now for some of you, I know that the thought of weight lifting is daunting. Images of bench pressing meat heads may even be dancing around in your mind. But getting started on a weight lifting program doesn’t mean you need to learn how to grunt like an animal while squatting. What is important, however, is that you get started and stay consistent. Here are some key thoughts on how to do this:
Make the Process Fun – Experiment around the gym. Find what you like to do, then do it. It’s that simple.
Set Mini Goals – Long term goals progress slowly. To avoid going crazy, set short term goals as well. It can be as simple as doing a real push up by the end of the month.
Have An Accountabilibuddy – Nothing gets you in the gym as easily as a buddy. It’s much harder to say “no” when there is someone to push you along the way.
Don’t Get Carried Away – The “more is better” approach is rarely a good thing. Layer things on slowly and you will stay sane and injury free.
Feeling stressed out? Who isn’t these days?! Check out this link for tips on how to train when stressed.
Final Thoughts
I’m not saying cardio is bad by any means. In fact, it should be a part of your training program. But if your trying to look strong and/or lose weight, it should not be the main strategy. It’s also important to remember that everyone will react differently to resistance exercise. There is no magic bullet to all of this. Make sure you are placing the big rocks first and results will come. A high protein diet and consistent metabolic stress from resistance training will get you the results. Just be patient and keep the faith and you will see your body composition change! Still need help getting started?