Reflecting on 2013, looking forward & why you should avoid resolutions

And just like that, another year has come and gone. For many of you, 2013 , just like any other year, had its ups and downs. Hopefully a lot of you experienced more positives and accomplished most of, if not all the goals you set at the top of the year. As we embark on 2014, now is a good time to reflect back on this year and ask yourself some very pertinent questions.

Did you get a work out in at least twice a week?

How many goals did you have at the top of the year and how many of those did you accomplish?

Did you see progress in any of the components of fitness? (strength, body composition, muscular endurance, etc)

What was your biggest challenge from a health & fitness standpoint?

What was your greatest accomplishment?

Over my years in fitness, I’ve come the realization that a great way to encourage continued success is being able to review and dissect your efforts from a dietary and fitness perspective. A lot of seasoned fitness enthusiasts can get somewhat complacent after a number of years. Imagine a person who goes to the gym 4 days a week and trains his/her body as intense as possible.  After a couple of years, no matter how hard this person continues to push, if there are no goal set in stone, this person could actually have regressed even if the frequency of going to the gym is unchanged. If you continue to squat 100 pounds for 10 reps and run 2 miles every week, how would you know if you’re making progress in those areas?

I’ve never been a fan of the so-called ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. I think they’re just another commercial ploy employed by health clubs to take money out of the public’s pockets. It’s also a misleading and deceitful attempt to get a sedentary person to become physically active. But I  can see why they work for many people and can be a effective strategy. The beginning of a year is like the start of a book. It’s clean, it’s fresh and unblemished. People like to start out the year on a clean slate and just like their health and fitness goals,  they set other goals in their personal lives.

NewYearsResolutions

2013 Journal of Clinical Psychology study show that  only 8% of people who make resolutions successfully achieve them. Also looking at the chart above, courtesy of statisticbrain.com, 36% of  people who made resolutions in 2012 dropped them after only a month! In my humble and professional estimation, the reason for these failures is unnecessary and unwanted pressure to succeed and frame of mind. No matter what time of the year it is, the ability to embark on a fitness program is hinged on the state of mind of an individual. There are several stages we all must go through to determine readiness to become physically active. Whether its a scare in our lives or that of a loved one or a doctor’s recommendation or even not being able to play with our kids and grandchildren, something will trigger the need to exercise. More than anything else, mentally is the biggest challenge. At the end of the day, a person has to look in the mirror and say, “It’s time”. No doctor or personal trainer or even the commercial marketability of New Year’s Resolution will have a stronger impact than the mental aspect.

As we approach 2014, here are some ways to break out of the New Year’s Resolution mold and successfully stay competitively healthy and fit all year:

1. Set short-term goals rather than long-term goals. “I’ll aim to drink an additional 15 ounce of water every week” and “I’ want to lose 5 to 10 pounds of fat every week” are much more attainable and realistic goals than “I want to lose 30 pounds by the end of the year”. Always think ‘SMART’ goals (Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Timely)

2. Find a way to challenge your workouts every week or month. Cutting down your rest period between sets by 30 seconds, adding an additional set and trying a new routine are simple ways to achieve this feat.

3. Dietary speaking, look up a new healthy meal and its recipe and include that to your daily and weekly meals.  I’m still surprised how much money I save from cooking my meals as opposed to buying and ordering.

4. Prepare and plan your meals ahead of time. I find this to be the single most challenging aspect of eating healthy. Many of us, myself included, wait until the morning of each day to decide on what we’ll eat that day. This can sometimes lead to bad habits like not getting enough meals or eating the wrong meal. I try to plan my meals ahead most days of the week. It can be a very daunting task but it is very gratifying and worth the effort.

5. Read a book, attend a class or watch a documentary on a health and fitness related topic. You don’t have to be a fitness professional to do these things. You will learn so much about yourself, your workouts and diet just by reading books, journals and even watching YouTube clips on fitness and diet. Even after almost 10 years as a fitness enthusiast and certified personal trainer, my passion for learning more has not changed. In fact it is stronger today.

I wish you all a happy and healthy 2014!

happy-new-year-confetti

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Simple Ways To Assess and Correct Poor Posture

“Pull your shoulders back”.

ANALYSIS:

That’s a phrase you’ve probably heard a few times. It’s also a phrase I constantly utter to my clients. Maintaining proper neutral spinal alignment is practice I’ve become overly obsessed with over the last few years. We currently live in a society where work demands, personal and family commitments leave us feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. This directly impacts our posture and creates imbalances all over the body. Poor posture can negatively impact movement patterns, affect athletic performance and cause injuries. But despite these concerns, so many of us still struggle with keeping our spine in its neutral curve.

So how do you know if you have good posture?

DIAGNOSIS:

The good news is that poor posture is very easy to fix. The first step towards achieving good posture is identifying the weakness and imbalance. Almost everyone I know has a postural deficiency. A lot of us are born with mechanical disadvantages and spend most of our lifetime correcting it. It isn’t quite known why humans develop poor posture. But what appears to be certain is how we bend to pick up objects from the floor, the different angles in which we rotate the hips, how we carry our handbags and backpacks and favoring certain limbs during activity all impact posture one way or another.

Here are some quick and easy ways to assess your posture.

Bad-and-good-posture

Stand with your hands hanging along your sides and have someone take a picture of you from the side. If your view resembles the middle image in the picture above, congratulations! You posture is good. If its similar to the images on the far left and right, it means you’ve got some work to do. From an anatomical position (feet hip-width, shoulder-width apart; hands hanging along your side), if your thumb fingers rotate inwards even slightly, it indicates tight shoulder internal rotators. In a plank position, if the lumbar region hyper-extends or ‘sags’, it is a reflection of weak glutes and various hip extensors. If your head and chin tend to drop forward when standing or walking, you’re in a ‘slouch’ posture.

THE FIX (#1):

This is going to sound a bit weird and crazy but the best way to correct a bad posture is to practice good posture. Coaching cues like ‘stand tall’, ‘brace your core’, ‘pull your shoulder blades back’, ‘squeeze your glutes’ and ‘keep your chin up’ are some excellent reminders that not only can help address poor posture but help in the maintenance of good posture. The challenge is remembering to always apply these cues in our day-to-day activities. Due to stress from work, school and family, it can be difficult to be consciously aware of our posture. This is the only drawback to this solution.

THE FIX (#2):

There’s currently insufficient evidence that support the notion that posture can be ‘fixed’ completely through exercises. More research is being done at this time. However they can be improved and enhanced to a degree. Strengthening the musculature of the upper back and the hip extensors is the the final solution for postural enhancement. The posterior shoulder muscles can be strengthened via a variety of corrective exercises. Keep in mind the objective is to retract or ‘pull’ the shoulder blades forward from a protracted position. The term ‘slouch’ is just a fancy replacement for protraction of the shoulder. With that being said, the scapular wall slide is an excellent choice for correcting rounded shoulders. A wall is all that’s required so it can be done virtually anywhere.

For more on how to perform the scapular wall slide and 4 other fantastic exercises for enhancing posture, check out this blog post I wrote a few months ago.

THE EXCEPTION:

postures1

There are people who were born with partial curvatures and deviations of the spine and may never achieve good posture. Scoliosis, Lordosis and Kyphosis are abnormalities of the spine that leaves a person in awkward positions and angles for life. Although people with these conditions can still improve their posture through strength training and corrective exercise , their curvatures may never be fully corrected. Chiropractors can assist to a degree but the evidence that they can fix the curvatures remains inconclusive. The good news is that traditional exercises and day-to-day activities can still be performed pain-free.

Functional Training : A Brief Overview

Though extremely essential and vital for longevity, functional training may be one of the most overlooked and misunderstood areas of fitness. It is a term that was coined by rehabilitation therapists who had a sole objective of getting chronically injured patients to perform basic day-to-day activities again much simpler. For this reason, it has garnered a lot of mainstream recognition through the years but remains a mystery to some. How do you know if you’re training functionally? What exercises are considered functional?

It is important to know that functional training is designed to meet one specific demand only : performing a wide range of daily activities more efficiently without any potential risk for injury. It’s basically simulating basic movements at home, work and sporting activities. For example, a squat is a functional exercise in the sense that it trains and teaches the lower body muscles to be able to pick up an object from the ground. By performing this exercise routinely, the body is well equipped to handle any life situation that involves bending and hinging of the hips. The overhead press is another excellent functional exercise which trains the upper body and torso in reaching for items in our overhead kitchen cupboards and bedroom closets.

Keep in mind that common exercises like biceps curl, leg extensions, lateral raises and even the bench press, while aesthetically great for the body, have no functional benefits. Nothing we do in life simulates the actions of the aforementioned exercises. Can you think of any day-to-day activity that requires you to lay on your back and push an object upwards? How about one that requires you to bend your elbows with your arms fully extended? My point exactly.

Here are 4 reasons you should be doing functional training:

1. Across The Board: Just about anybody can participate in functional training. Whole body movements make up the template making it easy for an individual to utilize several muscle groups when doing a particular exercise. Resistance for functional training comes in many forms, from dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands to body weight, kettle bells and medicine balls making it universally accessible. The ability to perform basic everyday tasks much simpler and efficiently is more than enough incentive to train the body functionally and benefit exercisers of all levels and backgrounds. Older adults and sedentary individuals historically reap the most benefits due to years of inactivity and lack of movement.

2. Emphasis On Movement: One of the perks of functional training is the ability to effectively perform tasks in different planes of motion (i.e, different angles). As a result, movement is promoted and thereby encouraged. Think of multidirectional challenge involved in mopping the floor, vacuuming and doing gardening work. This movement in different directions subsequently incorporates other muscle groups. As I mentioned earlier, it is for this reason a case can be made against exercise machines that only isolate muscles and restrict movement as having functional benefits. The step-up exercise will yield more perks from a functional standpoint than the seated leg press machine, even though both exercises train the muscles of the lower body.

3. Core Stability:  Another important perk of functional training is the ability to integrate the core musculature. Functional training exercises are designed in a way so there is great deal of core stabilization. The squat and overhead press train the lower body and shoulder girdle respectively but there is core is stabilized and engaged to a great degree, although you won’t necessarily feel a ‘burn’ in your abs during these movements. The result is stronger abs and increased ability to control our bodies through different planes of motion and in the most adverse life situations.

4. Proprioceptive Enhancement: Performance of multi-joint and multidirectional exercises requires a good amount of concentration and alertness. Think about how zoned in you are when you do lunges or squat-to-press. Slips and falls in our society, especially among senior citizens, has been linked to poor balance and underdeveloped motor skills. Functional training addresses these areas by sharpening motor skills, decreasing the difficulty of balance and improving coordination. This is why functional training emphasizes the training of ‘movements’ and not just simply ‘muscles’.

Some of the best functional training exercises include squat, overhead press, step-up, lunges, medicine ball throws, kettle bell swings, rotational movements and pulling exercises.