Reasons Not to Stretch –

I’ve written about stretching numerous times, and the evidence has been steadily mounting against stretching as a warm-up modality prior to exercise, and these two real scientific studies add to that pile. The article is very well written and explains the studies clearly and why these studies are so compelling. The NY TIMES wellness blog continues its tradition of alternating excellent reporting with pointless and confusing filler; this piece being quite valuable. Read it.

This does not invalidate stretching as a legitimate form of exercise, however, and I’ll elaborate.

Almost all these studies; current and past; use real athletes as subjects. They are already well trained, fit, and lead an active lifestyle that helps keep their musculoskeletal system supple and more flexible than the average sedentary adult.

Inflexible muscles, muscular adhesions (muscles and connective tissue sticking together) and poor joint range of motion, can cumulatively impede your ability to move effectively and safely while exercising. Regular stretching can help alleviate and minimize these problems in many; if not most; cases.

So if you need to stretch, how do you incorporate it into your routine?

1. Stretch after your workout, never before.

2. If your muscles are super tight make stretching a separate workout altogether; do it on a day you aren’t doing any weight or cardio training.

3. Incorporate activities like vinyasa yoga or tai chi that focus on movement activities that force you to move through full ranges of motion.

4. Get deep tissue massage. It can really loosen you up. Again, only after a workout.

Read the post, linked below.


Advanced Heart Rate Training for muscular conditioning

I gave a workshop to some trainers today.  I showed them the following training technique, and thought some of my blog followers might find it challenging and rewarding to try.  Some of my current and recent clients have gone through differing versions of it, and they should feel free to give their honest appraisal if they are paying attention to all my blog posts.  You know who you are, out there…

So when reading this, remember that wherever I write client, that would refer to YOU.  Feel free to ask questions, and if any trainers want to use it I just ask that you credit me and refer those clients to my blog.



Advanced Heart Rate Training for MusculoSkeletal Conditioning

  1. What is it?
    A. Results Oriented Training

    1. Get a heart rate monitor: Stop guessing if the client is working out hard
    2. Get the de-conditioned client in shape first, then add athletics/athletic movements
    3. Build the client up slowly

    B. Determining where to start

    1. Discover true resting heart rate and exercise zones using Karvonen formula (220 – age – RHR x 60% & 85%, adding RHR back in to both ranges)
    2. Don’t forget about Rate of Perceived Exertion, especially with beginners
    3. The truth about max heart rate: (it’s not really age predicted; get a stress test to determine your true max heart rate)
    4. It is helpful if you do strength assessments beforehand to determine starting points in major exercises
  2. How to begin
    A. Have the client wear a heart rate monitor for the entire session

    1. Warm up the client to get them to 60% THRZ
    2. Focus on major muscle groups and compound (multi-joint) movements. Set up a Circuit of weight lifting activities, always alternating lower and upper muscle groups, or opposing muscle groups, one after the other (4 or more exercises strung together; the more activities, the greater the overall intensity becomes).  Don’t add too many exercises to the circuit as the time between body parts is resting the muscle(s), and too much rest is counter productive
  1. Monitoring heart rate, push the client through the circuit until their heart rate (or perceived exertion) hits or just exceeds 85% of max, allow recovery until 60% THRZ is approached (do not allow the client to fall below 60%)
  2. For the de-conditioned individual, rate of perceived exertion might take initial precedence, as their tolerance to intensity might be lower
  3. For the conditioned client, you can eventually push well above 85% THRZ, and you can manipulate their low-end to higher percentages as their tolerance improves. Continue to ask how they feel; perceived exertion is never ignored

B. Never sacrifice form for speed. We are not training competitive athletes, and this is not an athletic or recreational event

  1. Our clients are mostly out of shape and/or middle-aged
  2. Allow water breaks as needed
  3. If doing multiple circuits start more complex movements and add less complex movements to subsequent circuits as fatigue sets in
  4. Don’t be afraid to improvise and modify on the go if the client is having trouble with a movement or the club gets busy and equipment becomes un-available (know your movement exercises and the closest equivalents if you have to modify)

III. Conclusion

  1. Keep it simple. Train what you really know. Don’t pretend to be an expert. Brain surgeons don’t perform heart surgery, orthopedic surgeons don’t perform brain surgery, and I don’t teach boxing (because I’m not a boxer). Stay within your knowledge base and make your clients work.
  2. This protocol will radically improve cardiovascular fitness and aerobic capacity.
  3. It will promote extreme weight loss (if diet is under control)
  4. It will promote intense muscular conditioning, developing lean muscular physiques
  1. This routine follows the GAS principle (general adaptation syndrome). It improves general overall fitness (muscular conditioning, aerobic and cardiovascular capacity) but does not improve specific activities like running or cycling (SAID principle: specific adaptation to imposed demands).
  2. This program is an exercise protocol, not an athletic event or recreational activity. Know the difference. 

    a.  It is meant to improve the body’s ability to tolerate those activities. Tennis players strength and cardio train. Football players strength and cardio train. Baseball players and hockey players and soccer players and basketball players and olympic gymnasts all strength and cardio train. 

    b.  If you want to train like an athlete, you can’t cherry pick. Weight and cardio training will reduce your risk of getting an injury from athletic training. And don’t complain when you get hurt while doing athletic training, even if you do the prerequisite and requisite strength and cardio training. Athletic training is a very high risk activity.

Here is a sample routine to follow:

Squats/Pull Ups or Bent over dumbbell rows/walking lunges or jump lunges/ push ups

4-6 sets, 10-20 reps each exercise, done in sequence with no or minimal rest time between exercises, except as indicated by a heart rate monitor and staying within 60-85% TMHR (theoretical max heart rate).  If the high target zone is exceeded, allow rest to occur without allowing HR to drop below 60% (resume at 65%).  Pick up the circuit where you left off, and continue until the next rest is required.

By Scott Salbo, AHRT systems
Physio-Active Response Training (PART

Results oriented training part 2: In The Beginning

The most important things you can do to ensure your children grow up with the best chances for future physical fitness are:

1. Let your infants crawl as much as possible. Crawling is one of the most necessary elements to develop neuromuscular coordination and proprioception. Do not try to force your child to walk sooner than necessary. They will get up when they’re good and ready.  Remember, the vast majority of their future life will be spent sitting down, so let them develop those muscles and coordination skills early and innately.

2. Encourage any natural inclinations for athletic activity, matching your level of encouragement to their personal inclination; do not try to enforce your higher enthusiasm or desire beyond their own. This will lead to resentment, rebellion, and eventual refusal to participate.

  • Most children will enjoy sports if given the chance and proper encouragement; minus the unrealistic expectations of adults.  But some will absolutely abhor them, simply because they are so dis-inclined of those natural gifts that make anything we do joyful.  I never liked math, and avoided studying something that seemed so alien to me, while literature and history was engulfed by my mind.  Why is this concept easy to understand while the physical equivalent is somehow so difficult?  I was always a good enough athlete that I enjoyed overcompensating for whatever physical gifts I lacked.  But most children never will like participating.  It will be emotionally painful and physically uncomfortable.  That’s reality, as is occasionally failing at things and not doing well at more things.  Understand that creating the right environment using yourself as an early role model is no different that a child growing up watching their parents read a lot.  Those children are far more likely to become readers themselves, though they are unlikely to ever become Ernest Hemingway.

3. Be as fit as possible, yourself, and be seen enjoying fitness related activities as your children grow up. You want to maximize your chances of having an overweight child who develops adult onset diabetes at 11 years? Be unfit and disdainful of physical activities yourself.

4. You will never be able to eliminate junk food completely, so be wise. “Junk” foods are treats, and should not be allowed in uncontrolled portions. Don’t leave them around in easy access. A treat isn’t a treat if it’s normally accessible.

The next post will take us into the ages most commonly found in gyms and health clubs.

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.