Introducing ‘Rapid Fire : Installment 1’

Hey y’all!

Allow me to apologize for not having written a blog in two weeks. Family and career-related commitments absorbed a huge chunk of my time. I hope everyone’s enjoying the last few days of summer. Fall season is on the horizon so let’s try to soak up as much vitamin D as we can!

And if you’re a football fanatic like myself, it means the weekend is about to get entertaining again with college and NFL football seasons kicking off over the next two weeks! Can’t wait!!

In today’s blog, I present to you my first ever installment of ‘Rapid Fire’ where I briefly address some of the pressing issues in the fitness industry. Unlike my blog format, I’ll only be devoting a few sentences (no more than two paragraphs) to each topic I write about. I will address no less than 3 and no more than 5 topics per ‘Rapid Fire’.

So without further ado, I present to you Rapid Fire : Installment 1

1. No Such Thing As ‘Exercises For Men’ & ‘Exercises For Women’: By now we are all aware of the health benefits of resistance training. It has been historically documented well enough. However a topic of discussion often heard in fitness circles around the world is the notion that certain exercises favor men and some favor women. Nothing is further from the truth! The male and female musculoskeletal systems are created with equal parts. Why then should a woman train differently from a guy? Who came up with the idea that women had to perform resistance training with very light weight for endless number of reps? There is no reason why women shouldn’t be doing barbell squats, bench press, deadlift, overhead press with challenging resistance for a moderate amount of reps. Not only will these exercises burn tons of calories due to their compound nature, they also allow for maximizing of time. Women will see leaner and better sculpted physiques.

No matter how intensely hard a woman trains with weights, she will never be able to achieve the level of hypertrophy a guy can. This is based on the primary male hormone testosterone. It is what allows a man to have a deeper voice than a woman, broad shoulders and larger cross-sectional tissue size. For this reason alone, men are already at an advantage over women for strength and mass. Those bodybuilding and powerlifting women you see on TV and magazines inject themselves with testosterone and other anabolic enhancers to achieve the size that they have. Conversely, exercises like the machine hip abduction/adduction that are considered for women only can in fact help improve a guy’s squat and deadlift by strengthening certain hip external and internal rotators.

2. The Idea Of Muscle Confusion Makes No Scientific Sense: If you happen to have seen those P90X commercial ads, you’ll know that there’s a phrase the creators use constantly when marketing the product: Muscle Confusion. For those of you who’ve never heard of P90X, it is a home-based workout program created by celebrity trainer Tony Horton with the sole objective of transforming your body in 90 days. You perform selected workouts several days a week via DVDs sent to your home. As a fitness professional trying to spread the gospel of health and fitness to as many as possible, I have no problem with this. The issue I have with confusing the body often with different exercise is that it never gets to adapt to a stimulus over time. In sport science and strength training, there’s a term called the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demand). It simple states that when the body is exposed to some kind of stress or load, it starts to make adaptations that will allow the body be able to withstand that stress over time.

This means if you want to get stronger in the barbell back squats, you’ll have to consistently increase the stress and load so the body can continue to adapt. All of a sudden, your 225lbs for 10 reps becomes a bit easier after a week weeks. Before you know it, you’re squatting 255lbs for 10 reps. If you’ve been biking for years and your speed and endurance hasn’t changed much, it means you’re not stressing the body enough for an adaptive change. Maybe your legs and core need better work or you need a tougher terrain to challenge the body. If we constantly confuse our bodies by frequently performing different workouts, we will fail to build adaptation which means little to no improvement in our strength, muscle gains and endurance. Calories will still get burned if the body is confused because any physical activity does that. It is from that standpoint alone that Tony Horton’s P90X will certainly help a person burn fat and lose some weight.

3. Protein Before Training Doesn’t Help Much: Protein supplements are arguably the most consumed dietary supplements in the world. We know about it’s impact on the body specifically with muscle gain, recovery and health of bones, cartilage, skin and blood. But consumption of protein prior to a workout session has little to any impact on training mainly because carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel. The USDA recommends 45%  to 65% of our daily calories to come from carbohydrate sources. Part of this reason is due to the fact that carbohydrates and fats are have  plenty of storage in the liver and muscle and are readily and easily called upon by the body for energy. The body does not store protein so chugging a glass of protein shake prior to a workout won’t do anything because protein’s primary objective in the body is to repair tissue after a workout and facilitate growth.

Because carbs provide the body with the most readily available fuel, they should be consumed before training or recreational activity. Protein is best consumed after a training session and on less active days. Both are vital for optimal functioning of the human body but it is important to know the different roles that they play. If you’d like to read more about the importance of carbs, check out this blog I wrote a few months ago.

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5 exercises that can help improve posture

For many fitness enthusiasts who train regularly, posture and body mechanics are two vital areas of concern. We often hear people say to others, “Sit up straight”, “Pull your shoulders back” or “Keep your spine tall”. The term ‘slouch’ has never been more apparent in our society the way it is today. Thanks in large part to several case studies that have linked poor posture to imbalances in the kinetic chain, back pain and other degenerative diseases like scoliosis and kyphosis.

Those who know me well will tell you that I’m a strong advocate of postural awareness. Before I take on any new client, I put them through a series of movement pattern screening and postural evaluation exercises. So many different exercises can be used to assess and evaluate posture. In my humble and professional estimation there isn’t a best one, although some fitness professionals could make a case for the Overhead Squat.

There is currently insufficient evidence that supports the notion that exercise can correct posture or lead to deviations. More research is still being conducted at this time. While I don’t believe postural training exists, there are few exercises that can help improve and enhance poor posture. It is important to remember that these exercises shouldn’t be relied entirely upon for postural correction. Active stretching, myofascial work and mind-body awareness should be integrated as well.

So without further ado, here are my top 5 exercises for improving posture:

1. DEADLIFT: I’ve written extensively about the Deadlift in some of my previous blogs. This is arguably the best resistance exercise for improving posture because of it’s functional component. No other exercise mimics the action of picking up an object from the floor. But even more important are the mechanical aspects of it. Setting up for this exercise requires the trunk to be in a diagonal alignment from shoulder to hip which reinforces neutral spine. Flexion of the hips automatically causes activation of the dorsiflexors of the leg forcing the ankle to be mobile. The retraction of the shoulder blades and full extension of this hips  via thrusting at the completion of the movement emphasizes good posture. Retraction and adduction of the scapula will help a person who is internally rotated in the shoulders via external rotation. Likewise, extension of the hips will help a person who has  tight hip flexors and over-lengthened glutes due to prolonged sitting by stretching them at the top of the movement.It is important that you don’t hyperextend the lumbar spine like some people do.

Deadlift1

2. REVERSE LUNGE: The most knee-friendly lunge variation is also a good exercise for those with short and tight hip flexors. When dumbbells are used, the shoulder girdle and upper back region get activated. The hip flexors of the leg that lunges backwards get a deep stretch during execution of this exercise. When I perform this movement, I try to hold the bottom position for 2 seconds to illicit a good dynamic stretch of the hip flexors. When dumbbells are held in each hand, the shoulders ‘pack’ and forced to pull themselves back due the challenge of maintaining good balance. A much farther center of gravity forces the shoulders to externally rotate to prevent tilting forward because of the additional resistance in each hand.

3. SCAPULAR WALL SLIDE: This is an exercise that will garner weird looks from others when you’re doing it. If only those people knew the amazing postural impact it has on the trunk musculature. The good thing about this movement is that it can be included as part of your pre-workout mobility warm-ups or as an exercise in a resistance training program. Stand with your head, upper back and butt against a wall. The heels of your foot should be anywhere from 12 to 18 inches away from the wall. Lift your elbows to shoulder level and press your forearms back against the wall so your elbow and shoulder make a 90-degree angle. Most people won’t be able to get their forearms to press firmly against the wall indicating tight shoulder internal rotators and chronic slouchy posture. With your head, upper back and butt pressed against the wall, fully extend the elbows in a diagonal pattern, hold for a second and return to your starting point. Many will also have a hard time keeping their back flat and will arch quite often early on. The objective here is to continue to keep the forearms close to the wall as much as possible and do your best to keep the back flat. I used this movement to correct extremely tight shoulder internal rotators I battled with for many years. My forearms were 10 inches from the wall when I started this movement!  Though they’re not quite touching yet, they’re about 4 inches from the wall today.

4. DUMBBELL SUITCASE DEADLIFT: This deadlift variation, which was developed through the real life action of picking up a suitcase, is ideal for training the core stabilizers while also strengthening the posterior chain. Though identical to the conventional deadlift, it is different in it’s unique way. Hold a dumbbell of moderate resistance in one hand and stand in front of a mirror in neutral alignment. Your stance should be 3-5 inches less than hip-width apart. Push your hips back and bend the knees as you would do in a regular deadlift. Lower the dumbbell as far as your can without rounding your back or letting your knees cave in. The objective here is trying to remain symmetrical despite the destabilizing forces from the dumbbell attempting to pull you out of alignment. The reason for the mirror is to keep an eye on your symmetry and alignment ensuring you remain neutral all along. Do not allow your trunk to tilt laterally while performing this movement. It is the resistance to tilting that yields the benefits of this exercise. As an added bonus, the core musculature is activated via anti-lateral flexion exercises.

5. WAITER’S WALK: Popularized by the innovative Gray Cook, this exercise is eerily similar to the suitcase deadlift due to the asymmetrical nature of both. The idea behind this exercise came to fruition after witnessing the incredible dexterity and skill waiters display as they constantly hold and walk around with a tray in one hand above their head. To perform this exercise, hold a dumbbell of moderate resistance in an overhead stance. Earlier I talked about ‘packing’ of the shoulder girdle for increased joint rigidity. The same technique applies in the Waiter’s walk. With the dumbbell over your head, ‘pack’ and pull your shoulder back into the scapular without shrugging. Keep your upper arm as parallel as you can next to your ear. As you begin to walk, you’ll feel the weight of the dumbbell trying to pull you out of alignment from all directions. The challenge is to resist these forces and remain symmetrical as much as you can. Do your best to avoid tilting and hiking up the hips. When all the mechanics fall in place, the result is an erect posture in neutral alignment. Begin by walking 20 to 30 yards per arm and work your way up to 40 to 50 yards.

So there you have it. 5 exercises that can help improve your posture. Keep in mind that these are based on my personal experience and years of extensive theoretical studies and research. As always, use good form and work with a moderately challenging resistance. Incorporating active stretches and self-myofascial release will make the process much easier.