Let’s get back to work outs

One of my favorite exercise blogs is by Nick Tumminello.  I’ve taken a number of workshops given by him at various fitness conferences and enjoy his down to earth no-nonsense approach.  He makes it clear what we, as trainers, are often not doing what we are supposed to be doing: getting our clients in better physical shape and condition.  Instead, we follow gimmicks and fads in the mistaken attempt to entertain our clients.  I’ve often looked around my gym and wondered are we recreational camp counselors for adults or physical exercise specialists?  I suppose each individual trainer has to decide for themselves, but i don’t think most realize there is any difference, just like most gym goers don’t give much thought to what they are trying to accomplish by going to the gym in the first place.  It’s all just becoming another form of entertainment.  I always worked out for three reasons:

1) Be attractive to members of the opposite sex

2) Improve my athletic performance in a number of sports

3) Improve my sense of self-esteem

The idea of exercising, in and of itself, as a form of entertainment, never made sense to me.  I wanted to get in the most intense workout I could tolerate to get the eventual results I was aiming for in the shortest amount of time necessary and then go out and do something like play basketball, racquetball, or go rock climbing.  The only reason I’d hang out in a gym any longer than necessary would be if I was flirting with someone!

I digress.  The reason I wanted to remind you about Nick Tumminello is because he wrote a really good piece on the common exercise mistake of resting too long between sets.  You should read it here.

Don’t forget, your methods have to match your goals every time you train.  If you keep changing your routine, or your training protocols, you’ll never get anywhere with your fitness goals.

Why I eat Organic

Sometimes, I truly hate the New York Times. Their tag line runs the heading: “All the news that’s fit to print”. I wonder how many people today know the source of that tag line. I sometimes wonder if the editors remember the source of it. Let me tell you, in case you don’t know. Back in the 1890’s competing newspapers were more concerned with sensational headlines to move sales, and they weren’t above making stories up, or blowing small stories up into national epics by exaggerating it out of all proportion (think about news organizations that continue to publish stories about “birthers”).

The Times would stand above all that and it’s reputation for integrity has allowed it to become the 3rd most widely read newspaper in the nation, and the only local newspaper with a national following (USA Today and the Wall Street Journal are 1 & 2, respectively) and garner 108 Pulitzer prizes in its history; more than any other news organization in the world; an award created by a rival newspaperman, but judged by a panel of national writers.

Unfortunately, this “newspaper of record” has experienced steadily declining readership (as have all print newspapers), and feels the need to print things, I’m guessing, that create a bit of sexy controversy.

The NYT recently published the results of a Stanford university study that cast doubt on the value of organic fruits and vegetables compared to non organic. They compared three vitamins; A, C, and E, and concluded their was no statistical difference in the content. The Times offered the conclusions of this one study; with out of context quotes by the lead researcher; and no other analysis. There was no discussion of method, other studies, why only those three micronutrients were compared, or any of the other reasons someone might choose to eat organic, that have nothing to do with nutrition yet still profoundly affect health.

To be fair, the NY Times did follow up on their “Well” blog and did a much better job of going into the details and nitty-gritty (click this sentence).

How many of you actually knew that? My point is, if the story didn’t merit a full examination in the print edition, it was not worth publishing at all. It merely confuses and muddies the thoughts of a public already too overwhelmed with information overload to follow-up with further investigation on their own,  and that’s why they purchase The New York Times in the first place!

Here’s my take.Some people eat organic foods under the erroneous belief that they automatically are getting more nutritious products. There are dozens of factors affecting the micronutrients content of produce that it’s very difficult to compare. The soil it was grown in, the water used to irrigate, and the ripeness when it was picked all affect the nutritional content. So if I can’t be sure my organic produce is more nutritious, why spend the extra money? Well, I know what won’t be in my organic produce: poison. Pesticides are poison. Skull and crossbones poison. Dont believe me? Go to your local home and garden section at Home Depot and look at the warning labels on any pesticide you find. Poison. Plain and simple. Imagine seeing this warning on produce at the market: “this produce has been repeatedly sprayed with deadly poisons”. See what they tell you to do in case of accidental ingestion of pesticides.

Multiple studies have shown that Pregnant women who consume the most pesticide laden diets give birth to children whose elementary school I.Q.’s are 4-7% lower than average. Childhood cancers, autism, learning deficiencies of all kinds, MS, MD, and a host of other once rare disorders are becoming all too common in our society, and the constant ingestion of *poison* would seem to be a logical place to start looking. But instead, the popular myth that childhood vaccinations, which save 100’s of millions of lives every year ( there is actually a historical record, you know), is somehow the cause of every childhood disease and disability, while the **poisons they ingest daily** somehow remain free of blame or even suspicion.

When “mad cow” disease swept Europe, livestock farmers who used organic feed were unaffected. No cattle on organic farms had to be destroyed, while upwards of 80% of all the other livestock around the continent had to be destroyed because of the infection.  Read this if you want to learn more on this:  Click

Other reasons I eat organic is because organically grown produce doesn’t last as long. It tends to be locally grown and locally sold. In other words, I’m supporting the local economy; the farmer next door, who’s making an extra effort, at considerable expense in time and money. And by the way, the local can buy personal training sessions with me if they are earning a good living, the farmer in Idaho can’t support me at all.

There are concerns with organic farming when looking beyond the local and personal level.  Repeated studies have shown that organic farming techniques produce significantly lower crop yields compared to modern industrial farming.  With 7 Billion people in the world, is it possible to feed everyone organically?  I have my doubts, and I’m not about to start saying we should allow 50% of the world population to die of starvation.  Starving today or possibly getting a deadly cancer in 20 years isn’t a hard choice to make if you’re the starving person or the parent of a starving child.  Click this sentence to be taken to a great article in Scientific America.  My advice, on a personal level, is anyone who can afford to eat organically should do so, as much as possible, without becoming sanctimonious.  Then we should be encouraging agricultural scientific research to produce safer, better approaches for industrial farming to make food, and the environment, safer.

C’mon NYT’s. We have so few reliable media sources left. You charge 100% more per edition than any other local daily. If we buy your paper at that price, don’t we deserve the whole story and all the details, too.

“ Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see. ” – Arthur Schopenhauer

The Intermediate Exercise Enthusiast

The intermediate exerciser has learned at least 3 of the 5 important things in order to progress to this level, and it shows. Most serious health club exercisers fall into this category, though my personal observation is that no more than 20% of gym members ever make it to this level, and instead remain novices despite the amount of time they spend in the gym going from one activity to another. The Intermediate Exerciserhas lost significant body fat and has gained some real muscle, either in the form of size and bulk or muscular definition, or both, depending on their goal. The 5 critical things that the intermediate exerciser understands and conforms to:

  1. Consistency
  2. Intensity
  3. broad knowledge of muscle function
  4. Nutrition
  5. Rest

Lets take these 5 in order.

  1. Consistency is just what it says. You are committed to your workouts and have a schedule you will not deviate from when possible. You have set aside a certain number of days; typically 4-6; and a set amount of time; typically 60-90 minutes; and you train. This isn’t something you try to fit into your day. It is one of your highest priorities that you work the rest of your day around. When doing cardiovascular/aerobic training you have a protocol you follow and stick to it. When weight lifting, you typically follow some version of a split routine for your body parts, the classic example being Chest/Shoulders/Triceps on day one, Back/Biceps on day two, and Lower Body on day three. Then repeating that pattern for a six-day workout with one day off for complete rest. You will stick to this pattern till doomsday comes or until you change goals. Additionally, you understand the importance of your exercise routine; variation is not your friend in this regard. You need to stick to a routine that you can make comparative assessments on. That means the same, or extremely similar, exercises for each body part every time you train that body part. If your goal is to be the best marathon runner you can be, you don’t spend hours a week ridding a lifecycle or taking spin classes; you run miles, period! If your goal is to improve your overall muscular strength, or build muscle, you pick your exercises and do them repetitively for months on end, the only variables being that you will continuously push yourself to lift heavier weights every week or even every workout!
  2. Intensity is all about understanding your goal. It is the most important factor that will determine whether you actually achieve any measurable progress, whether it’s increasing you distance on a bike ride, speed in the 400 meter run, or your 1 rep max doing an olympic bench press. Trying to lose weight requires a certain intensity. Building muscle requires its own level of intensity. Improving athletic performance…has its own special intensity demands. Not understanding what intensity you need to achieve will undermine everything you try to accomplish. Too much high intensity training will undermine a marathoner, and too little will be futile for the sprinter or weight lifter. If you haven’t read my posts on intensity, or want to refresh your memory click here and here.
  3. Broad knowledge of muscle function means you really understand how all the major skeletal muscles move and work, and know a pretty broad range of exercises for each of them. It’s like having a large vocabulary of exercises to draw on. Since you also understand how the muscles work, it allows you to choose complimentary exercises when doing multiples per body part. You understand why you might want to do pec flys after olympic bench press, not before, or why doing lat pull downs after pull ups might be redundant, so doing dumbbell rows is the better choice to follow-up with in most cases. (Yes, there might be a valid reason to do both pull ups and lat pull downs in the same workout, but that wouldn’t be the most common combo or even the norm). You understand which exercises will enhance your athletic activities or hinder them, and train accordingly.
  4. Nutrition is simply the understanding that what you consume is both the fuel that moves you and the building blocks of what your body is made of. The cliche´ “You are what you eat” is precisely true. Trying to build a powerful body on a diet of McDonald’s, Pepsi, and Twizzlers, is akin to building a battleship hull out of corroded iron. If you can’t get serious about what you eat, get out of the gym. I follow the 80/20 rule. I eat extremely healthful 80% of the time, and don’t worry about the other 20%. The less fit you start, the more dedicated yo have to be. If you’re very overweight and extremely unfit, you need to follow the 100% rule; all healthy, all the time. Period. Don’t cry about fairness, it won’t help. As a fuel, the foods you eat (solid and liquid) all have their specific purposes, and understanding them is critical. Even the most wholesome foods misused can have a counterproductive effect if not properly applied. Every serious endurance athlete understands the importance of carb loading; where you consume vast quantities of mostly simple carbohydrates like pasta the day before the big race. Serious marathoners are extremely lean, carrying minimal body fat (reserve energy stores) to breakdown as the miles accumulate into the high teens. So they manipulate their diets to maximize the available energy on race day. If you don’t run over 100 miles a week, don’t eat like a marathoner, cause you’ll get fatter than a walrus in a well stocked zoo. 20 years ago everyone said eat all the pasta you want because that’s what skinny marathoners eat, now we say avoid all pasta! Both are stupid statements. The question is: how will eating all this pasta help me in my life’s pursuits! If it won’t, don’t eat so much. The strength athlete eats large amounts of protein because protein is what muscles are made of, and when trying to build bigger and stronger muscles your body needs these proteins to build your muscles into larger ones. If you don’t consume enough protein, your muscles simply cannot get bigger or stronger. It’s not magic. If you’re lifting weights with the correct intensity and not able to get stronger or bigger, it’s a pretty good bet you’re not eating enough protein. The most misunderstood food constituent is fat. Fat is neither good or bad. It is a very dense energy source and a necessary nutrient for a whole host of metabolic processes. Fat isn’t the villain in America’s obesity epidemic; people are the enemy of themselves. When it comes to weight control, what matters at the end of the day is how many calories you ate compared to how many you burned. The average 30-year-old woman burns around 1500 calories per day just staying alive. If her diet consisted of 720 calories of fat (80 g of fat; 1 g = 9 cal) and 600 calories split evenly between protein (60 g; 4 cal/gram) and carbohydrate (60 g; 4 cal/gram) she would be following a successful weight loss program! In 20 days, she will have lost 1 lb. Not the fastest program, but if we replaced all those fat calories (720) with proteins and/or carbs, her weight loss would be exactly the same. Fat doesn’t make you fat…eating too many total calories makes you fat and you not understanding your food makes you fat. Now lets not get into a debate of whether eating so much fat in a day is healthy in other ways, because that’s missing the point I’m trying to make.
  5. Rest is so basic and obvious that it’s absurd how little attention avid gym goers give to it, but the intermediate exerciser understands that the end of the workout is only the end of the beginning of the exercise process. For the endurance enthusiast or the strength training enthusiast sleep is understood as the point in your day when all the hard work is actually transformed into results. The results of your training and proper nutrition can only be realized after a good nights sleep. While asleep your body makes all the cellular and physiological adaptations to your body in response to what you did that day. If you don’t get good sleep, your improvement can be slowed, stalled completely, or even reversed into a negative (over training syndrome), when instead of performance improvements you see lower energy levels, lower endurance, lower strength, and more frequent injuries. Imagine if NFL players were required to play 3 days a week, or if every MLB team were only allowed to have 1 pitcher who had to pitch every single game. That’s obviously ridiculous because these athletes have a hard time going thru a regular season injury free. In my hypothetical, they’d be lucky to last a month before being permanently impaired. To a lesser intensity, that’s exactly what the majority of gym goers are doing to themselves, going from class to class to class, three to five hours a day, 5, 6, 7 days a week. Ms. Intermediate understands that if she gauges her intensity correctly she will be done with her workout in 45-90 minutes (unless a marathoner or other ultra endurance athlete) and she will eat properly and get her 7-9 hours of sleep.

In conclusion, you must master and implement at least 3 of these factors in order to achieve any real results, and 4 of them to be able to move on to the next level. Think about what I’ve said. If you’ve been spinning your wheels in beginner land for more than 6 months, you need to implement the steps above to get to the next level. Good luck.

Stupidity

This has nothing to do with fitness, but I can’t resist…

Why Evolution Is True

Well, that’s true if you judge from the 2012 Texas Republican party platform. Granted, party platforms aren’t usually turned into legislation, but they’re meant to appeal to voters.  What appeals to Texas Republicans?  This, from page 12 of the document:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Nope, wouldn’t want to do that.  There’s more:

Protection from Extreme Environmentalists – We strongly oppose all efforts of the extreme environmental groups that stymie legitimate business interests. We strongly oppose those efforts that attempt to use the environmental causes to purposefully disrupt and stop those interests within the oil and gas industry. We strongly support the immediate…

View original post 336 more words

Developing a bullshit detector

This blog post has nothing to do with exercise and fitness, directly, but has everything to do with critical thinking, the nature of pseudoscience (and that pervades my industry), and how easily under and mis-educated people can be fooled into believing almost anything.

Read it, even if you believe, and think about why you believe so much that you know can’t possibly be true.

Follow this link

My training philosophy

People always ask me what training style I follow. My answer usually perplexes them…
“I’m not a yeller”, I might say, (my spinning adherents might disagree, but that’s a different environment).
“Whatever seems to suit your needs, if it’s within me”, is another common answer I give.
Or, “observational and fact based training”.
None of these answers is satisfying for most prospective clients. That want to know what kind of “system” I adhere to.
One certifying body; NASM (national academy of sports medicine) has actually created a rigid model they expect all trainers to conform to, and all trainees to accept. They are ridiculous, and their concept is ludicrous. That’s fodder for another posting.

Nick Tumonello, a fitness educator, has posted on his blog 7 tips from Bruce Lee that will make you a better trainer. These words of wisdom from the late martial arts master cut to the chase of my philosophical beliefs when it comes to training, and most other aspects of daily life. Click this to read more.

Exercise Science? part 2

Science is a rigorous, no-nonsense, discipline.  A few months ago, a research team of physicists at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland reported that they had measured and recorded subatomic particles that traveled faster than the speed of light.  This is the most revolutionary discovery in the history of modern physics.  It completely destroys Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and undermines the whole scientific consensus of how the universe works.  The reaction of the scientific community was immediate and visceral: “hmm, that’s interesting.  Lets double-check that.”  “I wonder where they made their mistake?  Lets check it out”.  Even the CERN scientist who recorded this potentially revolutionary finding wondered: “I wondered what we did wrong?”  Every real scientist would love to be the one that upend Einstein, just like Einstein overturned Newton.  But no real scientist is going to base their reputation on 1 study that has not been independently verified multiple times.  Not even if its their own study.  That’s science.  That’s integrity.  That’s truth.

The world of exercise science is nothing but bogus hucksterism: verb [ with obj. ]promote or sell (something, typically a product of questionable value).  Popular experts are dangerous people, selling opinions and personal preferences as facts, when their not trying to sell you a product they don’t even believe in.  That’s the nature of the “fitness world”.

One of this blogs followers; Mia; asked me about another blog she read.  I will not link to it, because it is terrible.  The author, Kassem Hanson is a personal trainer, a disciple of Charles Poliquin (an expert I formerly admired until I read this garbage).  The article talks about getting “skinny fat” and how certain exercise activities, like Spinning, can cause you to develop “cottage cheese thighs”.

I’m so tired of this.  This Kassem Hanson, if his bio is to be believed, ought to be an expert that I could quote, not waste time refuting.  He claims to have a BS in Exercise Science, BA Biochemistry and Molecular Biology – Cornell
BA Biology – Cornell.  A google search seems to indicate he went to Cornell College, in Iowa, not the Ivy League University in NY.  The fact that he intentionally leaves this vague indicates he wants you to assume the Ivy League connection.  Not that there is anything wrong with the similarly named college.  I don’t even have a degree in an exercise related field, which is why I would expect more from him.  And I am disappointed.

Let me be clear.  Not a single, reputable, scientifically based research study has shown spot reduction to be anything but a myth.  The American Council of Exercise (ACE), The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), The International Sports Science Association (ISSA), the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM), and every other accredited personal training certifying body, as well as the National Institute of Health (NIH), all link to thousands of articles, research papers, and position papers giving the evidence against spot reduction of fat.  The inverse is equally true.  No activity can cause fat to specifically form in one area of the body over another,  The simple fact is that body fat accumulation is mostly genetically determined.  Again, the scientific evidence is overwhelming!  Hanson, and apparently Poliquin, are basing their opinion on a lone Danish study from 2007 that was never peer-reviewed or duplicated independently.  That such a study was done at all, and got published somewhere, doesn’t surprise me and was discussed in part one.  That Hanson and Poliquin would tout this and base their entire training philosophy around a single dubious study goes more to show their personal exercise preferences and bias than their commitment to exercise truth.

They misinterpret what Spinning is, and even say that “indoor cycling” is a better choice because it incorporates anaerobic high intensity intervals.  Uhhh, excuse me…Spinning is the original “indoor cycling program” and includes as part of its standard protocol anaerobic high intensity intervals, though there’s no guarantee in any program that the instructor truly understands or incorporates these principles, or that every participant follows those instructions.

He goes on to make other comments on the subject of things that will make you “skinny fat” mixing myths and facts indiscriminately, showing a tremendous lack of judgement.  For instance, he says that eating a vegan diet will make you “skinny fat”.  I know of at least 4 professional body builders who are Vegan, and I have friends who are vegan.  The body builders look like body builders.  And my friends run the gamut of fit, fat, “skinny fat” and powerful.  No I don’t personally advocate the Vegan diet because it is it is way more complex to insure that the individual consumes adequate complete proteins, but properly done, it can be just as healthy as a meat inclusive diet, for most people.  Please remember, that no diet is universally good for everyone.

Hanson claims scented candles will cause a man’s androgen levels to significantly drop.  Where he gets this tidbit from I don’t know, but if it were true, then their must also be scents that would raise androgen levels.  Where are those?  Trust me when I say the FDA would have this as a controlled substance if it were true.

So watch the next tour d france, the track athletes running the mile, three-mile, or marathons in the next olympics, or the top 100 finishers of the next Iron Man Triathlon.  Find the cottage cheese thighs.  Find the “skinny fat” competitor.  But also remember, you are not them.  You don’t train as hard, you don’t eat as well, you don’t sleep as well, and you don’t dedicate your life to your training.  That means you can’t compare you’re results, either.

What people like Hanson are doing is attacking a mode of training many people favor in the hope of getting these people to switch to a mode favored by Hanson (and other personal trainers).  Since the activity is different, you may in fact start to see some positive change, but that has to do with the SAID principle, not to any inherent superiority of their training method.  Once you start training with them, inertia is likely to keep you as long as you can afford it.  Of course, with a trainer watching you, it’s much more likely that you will train more intensely.  And that could lead to some improvement. And now they are getting your money, too.

Don’t expect unrealistic results that are greater than your commitment.  and always ask for the research.  Then ask for the independent, corroborating research. Stop being a sucker.

Exercise Science?

Hello.  I’m back.  And i have a few things to say.

Over the last 2 weeks I’ve read multiple articles in the New York Times Health section, and a much longer piece in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, that would make any seasoned exerciser bewildered about what we do, and don’t know, about how the human body works.

In one article, “Why Ice may be bad for sore muscles“, there are so many ridiculous suppositions that it boggles my mind.  The article starts off:

“For the study, researchers at the University of Ulster and University of Limerick in Ireland reviewed almost three dozen earlier studies of the effects of using ice to combat sore muscles, a practice that many who exercise often employ. Ice is, after all, the “I” in the acronym RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), which remains the standard first-aid protocol for dealing with a sports-related injury. Icing is also widely used to deal with muscles that twinge but aren’t formally injured. Watch almost any football, basketball or soccer game, at any level, and you’ll likely see many of the players icing body parts during halftime, preparing to return to play.”  (The bold text is highlighted by me)

In 29 years of being in the fitness industry, I’ve never; not once; heard the recommendation to ice muscles made sore from regular exercise or physical activity.  Not once.  Ever.  The RICE protocol is used in first aid when dealing with INJURIES.  Post exercise muscle soreness is not considered an injury and would be considered counter productive as icing the muscle would reduce blood flow, which is the opposite of what a weight trainer is trying to accomplish.  The paragraph then goes on to say that icing is also used for muscles that may not be sore, but “twinge”.  Again, never heard this in 29 years from a professional.  And the final nonsense: “…players icing body parts during halftime, preparing to return to play”.  Body parts, yes.  But not specifically muscles.  The athletes routinely ice shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and ankles.  They do not typically ice biceps, pectorals, latissimus dorsi, Quadriceps, etc.  Do you know what the difference is?  Athletes ice joints, not muscles, during competition.  And they only ice themselves if they’ve suffered an injury, like a contusion, or severe muscle pull, or sudden attack of tendonitis; situations where inflammation around the affected joint will have a serious impact on the athlete’s ability to continue competing.  Yes, muscles cross joints, as do tendons and ligaments.  But it is the area of the joint that matters.  The article continues to discuss how the research being detailed shows that icing reduces the overall performance of the athlete in the affected area.  Really, was it the icing, or the injury that preceded the icing?  And how much more degraded would the athlete have performed if they didn’t ice at all and tried to compete anyway?  As someone who used to be a tournament racquetball player, I have some experience with elbow tendonitis.  Icing was sometimes the difference between winning a trophy and prize money, or losing because i could no longer grip my racquet.  As to why an athlete would risk more serious injury by continuing, the answer is: They are competitive athletes with prize money and trophies at stake.  This is who they are and it is often their job.  And Aaron Rodgers or Eli Manning at 75% effectiveness is many factors of 100% better than their respective backups.

Lets continue:

The article goes on to discuss how:  there  has been surprisingly little science to support the practice. A 2004 review of icing-related studies published to that point concluded that while cold packs did seem to reduce pain in injured tissues, icing’s overall effects on sore muscles had “not been fully elucidated” and far more study was needed.”  Why an ice pack before exercise should depress performance isn’t fully understood…”.   Not understood!  Oh my god!  Icing reduces blood flow and slows down cellular activity, which is why we ice severed limbs, not put them on heaters.  And ice will slow down muscle cellular activity and tighten up the muscles it is used on.  There aren’t any studies because it would be like a PHD in physics deciding to test Newtons theory of gravity by dropping an apple and a 50 kilo weight from the same hight to see if they fell at the same rate (they do).

I need to point out that a MLB Pitcher, or an NFL Quarterback is paid millions of dollars to play, while you and I are not.  They are not icing to rehabilitate an injury, they are icing to continue the competition.  And how did we go from discussing whether or not icing injuries was an effective treatment, to icing muscles before exercise to see how that affects performance?  How does that have any relevance to icing an injured body part?  No one ices before exercising.  Anyone in the exercise industry knows you warm up muscles and joints prior to exercise, not cool down!  For the rest of us, any injury that would require the RICE protocol would also be followed by the recommendation to rest the injury for a period of days or even weeks, depending on the severity.

Why was this ridiculous study done in the first place?  I imagine some graduate student in Ireland needed to conduct research and present their findings in order to receive their graduate degree.

As to why the New York Times decided to publish an article about this I surmise it was a slow news week in the world of exercise, and the writer of the article doesn’t know anything about fitness, or doesn’t care.  Write or die.  I see the same thing in all the major fitness magazines.  You can’t leave blank space.  You must publish something every month or go out of business (or lose your job).  This writer should lose his or her job just for publishing this nonsense and confusing the public more than they already are.  Hey New York Times…maybe you should hire me.

I will follow this up with two more blog posts; each on two other NYT articles; with valid information, much better researched, much more well-informed, and seemingly contradictory, on the issue of fat and weight loss.  Stay tuned.

The human body; a trainers view (mine, anyway).

When a good trainer looks at a human body, they will instinctively start assessing it. We can’t help it. You’ll catch us looking you up and down. Looking at your front and backside. Looking at you from the side. Watching how you stand, and how you sit, and how you move. Maybe even how you sleep, if the circumstances permit. We do it because it’s our job, and since training rarely makes us rich, we do it because our job is our passion, and true passion can’t be switched off.

So what am I looking at (please assume I’m not being lecherous)?

1. I’m looking at your torso and upper extremities (arms, torso, abdomen, hips, from the front; gluteus (butt), lower and upper back, posterior deltoids (back of shoulder), neck, from the rear.

2. I’m looking at your hips and lower extremities (hips, quadriceps, knees, shins, ankles, and feet, from the front; hips/gluteus (butt), hamstrings, knees, calf, ankle, and feet, from the rear.

3. From the side I’m looking at your posture; the position of your head in relation to your shoulders (your cervical spine). I’m looking at the position of your shoulders and how it relates to your thoracic spine (mid back), lumbar spine (low back) and hip. I’m looking at how your hands fall at your side when relaxed (do they fall to the side or do they rotate in so that your palms face the front of your thighs.  I’m looking at your hips to see if they are excessively extended back or are your hips tucked under you?

All of this is about your skeletal alignment, because how your skeleton aligns will determine how your body moves, and whether your muscles will move you with good healthy results.  It will even determine if the appropriate muscles get activated.  Have you ever seen an obsessive runner who has great thighs and a flat butt?  That’s not genetics.  That’s bad running form, often caused by an inability to properly activate the gluteus due to musculoskeletal movement problems (movement dysfunction).  Now the question would be, is it due to a bad habit (learned dysfunctional movement) that simply needs to be “reprogrammed (not simple, actually), or is something inhibiting the normal movement pattern (injury, tight muscles)?

These assessments can occur anywhere, anytime. I find myself assessing strangers walking down the street, sitting in Starbucks, running in Central Park, and of course working out in the gym.  It’s not a personal judgement, it’s an impersonal observation, that I make automatically.  I get half of the information I need to set a person up on program in as little as 10 minutes if I can give them a few instructions. But there’s another aspect to this view as well.

Anatomical planes chartVitruvian



The diagrams above offer examples of how all good trainers organize the human body, and how we decide which muscles to work and in what order we work them. The one on the left was drawn by Leonardo Da Vinci.  The other is a modern, 3 dimensional model.  They show the human body and it’s “planes of movement”.  Seem complicated?  It’s not, but it confuses a lot of trainers too.  Want to test a trainer in the gym?  Go up to one and ask them “Can you tell me an effective exercise that works the transverse plane” (Pectoral fly’s)?  That’s actually the easiest movement question you could ask, but outside of 3 or 4 trainers in any gym you’ll get a blank stare, and some fumbling.  Or, can you name the largest muscles responsible for movement along the sagittal plane” (quads/glutes/hamstrings; i.e. walking)?  The few somewhat sophisticated trainers will be able to answer these kinds of questions, but the really experienced ones realize that tidbit is just a stepping stone to true physical enlightenment.

In reality, these separations are almost completely unimportant when choosing exercises, as virtually every free weight exercise, or natural body movement, works in more than one plane simultaneously.  Only when using weight lifting

Supervised physical therapy may be helpful to ...
Image via Wikipedia

machines (image on right) can the human body be forced to perform single plane movements because the machine stabilizes your body and restricts the movement pattern you can go through.  This has some purpose with traditional body building, but in any athletic or weight loss endeavor, this is much less efficient.  More movement = more potential calories expended.  All athletics require multiple flowing movement patterns that require neurological coordination simultaneously and through these anatomical planes.  But understanding these movement planes does offer some useful help.  For one thing, it reminds us of the variety of possible motions in every joint action, and that movements that require two or more joints to act (compound movements) can and do work through multiple planes simultaneously.    The greatest use this diagram serves is as an organizing principle.  If I perform an exercise where I push my arms up, over my head, against pressure (Dumbbell shoulder press), than I should also do an exercise where I pull my arms down against pressure (lat pulldown). Each joint needs to be worked against resistance in every direction and in each plane it is capable of moving against.

When designing advanced weight lifting programs where we split the body parts worked into multiple days allowing for more intense workouts for every body part (many all around athletes, especially strength athletes find this advantageous at least part of their training year), being able to picture the above diagram helps to understand the multiple ways a person could effectively “split” their routine.  You could easily see how to split your body at the transverse plane, working everything above the line on day 1, everything below the line on day 2, and continuing that pattern all week.  Each major body part could be trained intensely three times in a week and have a full day off for recovery while the other half is targeted.  You could also perform exercises for every muscular movement in front of the sagittal plane (all pushing movements) on day one, and all movements to the back of the sagittal plane (pulling movements) on day two, and continue to alternate throughout the week(s).

If you’re older, or just need more recovery time between body parts, then you can further split the body in logical ways with the above chart guiding you.  If you have a decent vocabulary of exercises at your disposal, you quickly realize there are many more possible movements in the upper body, simply by virtue of the almost unlimited ranges of motion available at the shoulder joint.  That means a two-day split is going to leave you with a very long upper body workout compared to the lower body workout.  Or at least you’ll have a more boring lower body workout.  But those upper body parts can be split too.  I could do a total lower body workout on day 1, followed by all upper body pushes on day 2, with all upper body pulls on day 3.  By the time you get back to the lower body, those muscles have now had 2 days of recovery.  As will each group in succession.  Allowing for less frequent, but often even more intense, workouts per day.

Don’t let this discussion lead you to believe that total body workouts are less useful, though.  A baseball, basketball, football, or hockey player will get tremendous benefit out of total body routines that are tailored to their specific needs.  A Quarterback or pitchers throwing motion and a batters swinging motion require such a complex, flowing, sequence of precise movements through almost every plane of movement, that they will absolutely utilize total body routines during certain points of their training cycles.  The trick for everyone doing total body routines is to identify what their goal is and pick the most precise exercise movements to foster that end result.  Do a few things intensely and precisely.  When improving strength is the main goal, the split routines gain more prominence.  When attempting to correct or better work around musculoskeletal imbalances, sometimes split routines can help place emphasis on the areas that need correcting.

And the point of everything is finding the method that works best now, realizing that in a few weeks or a few months, you will need to change direction to continue moving to where you want to go.  And that diagram up there tells us where we need to go, and all the options we have to get there.