Fit & Balanced: A Training Guide for All

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Are you ready to start working out on a regular basis but you’re not sure what to do?

Maybe you’ve been following a workout program but, for whatever reason, you are inconsistent or not getting the results you’d like. Or maybe the workouts you’ve tried have been geared to one exercise modality that you just can’t stand.

Well, look no further – today I’ll outline the most convenient and balanced fitness program that anyone, at any experience level, can stick to!

Day 1 –30 to 60 minutes strength training & mobility

Day 2 – 30 to 60 minutes cardio & active recovery

Day 3 – 30 to 60 minutes strength training & mobility

Day 4 – 30 to 60 minutes cardio & active recovery

Day 5 – 30 to 60 minutes strength training & mobility

Day 6 – 15 to 30 minutes interval training & active recovery

Day 7 – complete rest day

d11d36da94df967077e137592a80f25aFirst, just to clarify, the time of each workout will depend on the individual’s schedule and their level of experience. If you are planning to squat hundreds of pounds, you’re going to need at least 5 minutes between sets. However, if you learning squat mechanics with just your bodyweight, you’ll probably only need 30 seconds in between sets.

Plus, if you overcommit and develop the belief that a workout doesn’t count unless its 60 minutes, you may end up skipping workouts on busy days, rather than getting in 30 minutes of quality work to continue making progress.

The “Strength Training & Mobility” workouts start with a 5 minute warmup to wake up f42fd2699a2f96e23792fe1d41d2f0bbstabilizer muscles, improve movement patterns, and practice “prehab” exercises. Prehab exercises target muscles that tend to be tight, passive, or weak, leading to the most common injuries and imbalances (usually shoulder, knee, and lower back).

The rest of the workout will consist of 10 exercises, strengthening every major muscle group of the body. While we strengthen the muscles with these exercises, we also want to improve mobility. To do this, lift the weight fairly quickly, maybe in 1 to 2 seconds, but then make the lowering or returning phase last at least 4 seconds.

As we lift a weight, our muscles shorten, but as we lower the weight, the muscles lengthen, providing an active stretch to the muscles and tendons.

Below is the outline for the “Strength Training & Mobility” days.

Warmup:

BirdDog/Quadruped – 5 repetitions each side, holding outstretched position for 5 seconds each time

Deadbugs – 10 repetitions in all, holding outstretched position for 2 seconds while exhaling

Glute Bridge – 10 repetitions, holding top position for 1 second

Clamshells – green band around knees, 10 repetitions each side, 1 second hold per rep

External Rotations – 10 repetitions each side

Full Body Workout:

Squat – 3 sets of 8 to 20 repetitions.

Deadlift – 3 sets of 8 to 20 repetitions

Pushups –3 sets of 8 to 20 repetitions

Rowing / Back Pulling Motion – 3 sets of 8 to 20 repetitions

Single Leg Lunge or Squat – 2 sets of 8 to 20 reps

Single Leg Deadlift – 2 sets of 8 to 20 reps

Rear Shoulder Fly – 2 sets of 8 to 20 reps

Bicep Curl – 2 sets of 8 to 20 reps

Tricep Kickback – 2 sets of 8 to 20 reps

Side Plank – 2 sets of 10 to 30 second hold each side

And there you have it – 10 exercises, performed a few times each, that will ensure balanced development, injury prevention, and improved function for years to come!  

One thing I omitted from this program is specific tailoring based upon experience level, restrictions and injuries, etc. For example, a novice might perform the squats by sitting back and down onto a chair and standing back up. An intermediate trainee may perform the movement holding a weight in front of their chest and no chair. And an advanced individual may use a full barbell on their back loaded with hundreds of pounds.

Then, of course, there are many technique details that can’t be efficiently communicated in a blog. Whether keeping the knees out and feet flat on the floor during a squat, or tucking the elbows in towards the body during pushups, form is crucial. But unfortunately, the best way to convey this is through one-on-one work.

fitness-tips-for-beginner-or-newFor the “Cardio & Active Recovery” days, pick whatever form of conditioning is most entertaining for you. This can be running, hiking, riding a stationary bike in front of a television, etc. The point here is that you want the activity to be enjoyable enough that you can stick with it, but isn’t so difficult that you have trouble performing the next day’s workout. You can also practice some of the prehab movements from the Strength day, do some foam rolling and stretching, or attend a Yoga or Pilates class.

Just make sure you do something active for 30 to 60 minutes that leaves you feeling mobile and healthy!

Finally, try tohiit perform higher level conditioning, such as high intensity interval training (HIIT), at least one day a week. You can do 30 seconds of kettlebell swings with 1 minute rests, hill sprints, farmer walks with heavy weights in each hand, or intervals on a rowing machine – really whatever you want!

On the 7th day, marked as “Complete Rest”, you don’t need a highly structured workout, but don’t fear activity. Only the highest level athletes need a day where they do nothing at all. Go for a walk, do a little stretching, go to the beach and go for a swim.

The structure of this program includes 3 scheduled strength and mobility sessions, 3 scheduled cardiorespiratory / cardiovascular sessions, and 1 day where you don’t have to commit to any one thing beforehand.

This program will provide enough stimulus to improve heart and lung health, while improving strength, balance, mobility, and bone density, without resulting in over-training. Just make sure you eat healthy for the rest of the hours of the day outside of the gym!

And if you need any help learning the exercises and perfecting safe and effective technique, don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks for reading!

 

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Be Careful What You Ask For: Q&A with Paul

Be Careful What you ask for...

Most questions I get come in through email or text, which is great for ensuring the specificity of my answer, but it also means all other readers miss out on the information. So, today will be the first post in my Careful What You Ask For series.

Question:

“What are the safety considerations for performing squats? Specifically, what application does the squat have for runners? And what concerns exist for individuals with arthritis?”

Answer:

Wow – applications and concerns for the squat, known as “the king of all movements!” This could be a pretty involved topic but I’ll do my best to stay on point.  

First off, let’s cover the basics:

The human body is meant to squat.

baby-squat

As soon as we can stand on two legs, we frequently sit in a deep squat position. Whenever we sit down and stand up from a chair, we are squatting. The legs and hips are some of the biggest and strongest muscles in the body not only to carry us long distances, but to offer a safe and powerful base for when we come to a rest and lower into a seated position.

However, like any other movement, the squat can be risky if performed incorrectly.

So, the best place to start is with proper “squat mechanics”

squat

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, toes turned slightly out, weight evenly distributed through the ball of your feet, the pinky toe, and the heel.
  2. Reach hands out in front for counterbalance and push your hips / butt back, keeping your lower back arched in, and shoulders / chest up.
  3. As hips are lowering behind you, actively push knees out to the sides. Keeping the knees wide, and preventing them from caving in, will reduce any load on the knee and ACL.
  4. Keep sitting back and down, almost between your legs, until you reach depth. This is dependent upon specific hip structure, mobility, and experience. Stop descending if your lower back loses its arch and starts to round, if you start to tip / lose your balance, or if any part of your foot leaves the ground.
  5. The squat back up should be identical – knees wide, back arched, chest high and wide – until you are standing up straight, squeezing the butt and keeping the knees “soft” (not forcibly pushing the knees back, creating hyperextension a the knee joint).

A common training wheel of sorts would be to elevate the heels about 1 inch. This will allow you to sit deeper down, without feeling like you’re going to tip over or the extending the knees too far forward.

Next, let’s look at the specific application for runners.


Running is a sport that involves the body moving in one direction, often for many miles, with a great deal of impact. This will develop some muscles while leaving others completely passive and underdeveloped. The most concerning would be the glutes and the hamstrings.

Four-Steps-to-Good-Running-FormAny exercise moving the knee and leg away from the midline of the body will target the glutes and hips…but the squat may be the most effective option because it requires balance and postural awareness, while also engaging the rest of the muscles throughout the body.

My recommendation for a runner would be to become proficient in a bodyweight squat. Once 2 or 3 sets of 20 repetitions can be completed without breaking a sweat, add an elastic band around the knees, hold a dumbbell in front of the chest, or place a bar on the shoulders.

Progressing to barbell squats or a single-leg version would be a perfect goal for runners! If you want to run 26.2 miles without injury, it’s a good idea to first develop the balance, strength, and endurance to perform 20 squats on one leg.  

Remember my favorite quote from Tim Gould, Doctor of Physical Therapy: “Train to run, don’t run to train.”

And finally, does the presence of arthritis contraindicate squats?

Just to clarify, the form of arthritis determines the risks.

Degenerative arthritis is caused by a breaking down of the “padding” between bones. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where, simply put, offending foods have broken through the stomach lining and are wreaking havoc elsewhere in the body.

I’m going to assume we’re talking about degenerative arthritis since this is affected by activity and movement.

As always, you should consult your doctor first. No matter how cautious and properly a movement is performed, if your body doesn’t have enough cartilage to protect bones from grinding against one another, pain and further deterioration can occur.

Let’s assume that you can load and bend your knee without any pain. If so, performing a controlled squat may actually strengthen the muscles around the joints!

I have had quite a few clients with arthritis, and we usually make the following modifications:

  1. Progress slower, only adding 2 repetitions per set every week.  
  2. Don’t hold any one position too long. Normally, doing a pause squat, where you sit Squat-2and stay tight in the bottom for a count, improves mobility and strength. But the longer you “hang out” in one position, the more likely your muscles will get tired, transferring the load to the bones and joints.
  3. Allow for more recovery and emphasize diet. Degenerative arthritis cannot be cured through diet like rheumatoid, but consuming enough vitamin D & K, magnesium, iron, and collagen (found in gelatin), can help improve bone health.
  4. And finally, never allow one bad repetition! If your knee joint is lacking its natural cushion, we don’t want even a millisecond to be spent in a suboptimal position.

In summary, the inclusion of properly executed squats can help improve running performance, as well as prevent injuries. Squats can also build the strength and stability of soft-tissues around the joints and improve bone density, thereby benefiting those with arthritis.

How you structure your squat training is up to you – some like to heavy barbell squats once a week, while others prefer to complete 20 repetitions of bodyweight squats at random on a daily basis.

If you need any hands-on guidance learning how to squat or developing a safe and effective program, just let me know!

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One Size Fits All

In exercise and fitness training, a “one-size fits all” approach does not work.

This is one of my favorite aspects of being a personal trainer and health coach.

Every single day, I encounter something new. Whether it’s a client’s specific goal, preference, injury, or condition, everyone has different wants and needs. This requires alterations, to say nothing of completely different programming.

My oldest client is 91. My youngest is 13. I have middle-aged clients trying to lose weight. I have young men playing soccer at division 1 colleges. I have new mothers that want to return to their favorite sports. I have seniors reversing rheumatoid arthritis and regaining balance and energy. Some of my clients want to get off a long list of medications. Others just want a fun and challenging workout a few days a week.

These differences between individuals contribute to my hesitation to recommend routines based entirely around weight machines.

Machines allow you to adjust the height of the seat, and sometimes make an adjustment for leg length, but beyond that, you’re pushing or pulling in a pre-determined range of motion. Different people will need to move differently based on their build and body mechanics. And, just as importantly, these types of actions won’t transfer as effectively to real life.

When you pick something up, push a heavy object, or take a very high step up, there is nothing guiding your body through space. Your muscles and joints will be working on their own, free of outside influence.

Machines are useful to isolate a muscle group, and help an individual develop a mind-body connection with that muscle, but they should not be where you spend the majority of your time.

I start most my clients with a series of assessments, performing different movements that are common in everyday life. Their ability to execute these actions, along with the goals they have stated, will specify exactly what we must do together.

These assessments usually consist of a gait analysis, squatting down into a chair and back up, bringing the arms overhead, and holding a plank or pushup position. But, as previously mentioned, I may omit some of these, use alternatives, or do something completely different based on the client.

The same mistake of using a “one-size fits all” approach is apparent in our nations nutritional recommendations. The USDA recommends that everyone consume 45-65% of their calories from carbs, 10 to 30% from protein, and 25 to 35% from fat.

This is akin to recommending that 15% of all calories come from dairy…or that 5% of calories come from peanuts. What if an individual is lactose intolerant or allergic to peanuts?

As evidenced by our current diabetes and obesity rates, most Americans cannot tolerate upwards of 50% of their calories coming from carbs. Through years of trial and error, I’ve learned that if I average more than 40% carbs, more than 4 days a week, I start to gain fat, even in a calorie deficit.

Remember, carbs are fuel for high intensity activity, while dietary fat is truly essential for optimal health. After a lifetime of consuming more carbs than the body can safely store and burn, it loses its “insulin sensitivity”. This means that the sugars last too long in the blood (causing inflammation and cardiovascular disease) and are eventually forced into fat storage.

I work with my clients to find the most sustainable and healthy nutritional path for them. I base my nutritional recommendations not only on their dietary restrictions, activity level, and current conditions, but also their preferences and lifestyle.

I personally cook a few big meals on weekends so I have leftovers available on weekdays. However, I may have to suggest a different approach for clients that don’t have the time to, or interest in, trying this. Some of my clients are vegans or vegetarians that require more vitamin supplementation and creative protein options. If a client has sugar or chocolate cravings, we’ll work to find the healthiest options and optimal timing for indulgences.

Some foods are healthier than others, but I’ve never insisted that a client consume a certain food or avoid another. I merely work within their parameters, to find out what will guarantee them success in the long term.

These examples show the importance of individual personalization. Personal trainers, and health professionals of all kinds, must be able to tailor the theories learned through education, to best serve each client.

No two people are the same, so why should their exercise and diet be the same?

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5 Health Quotes

Hello again everybody! Those of you that have spoken with me about health topics know that I am a big fan of using quotes from other professionals to make a point.

I have always had a rather good memory when it comes to quoting shows or songs, and this seems to apply to quotes from trainers, nutritionists, coaches, etc.

So, rather than exploring a single topic in-depth this week, I thought I’d just list a few of the quotes that I find most relevant to almost every health-oriented individual.

“Train to run, don’t run to train.” – Timothy Gould, Doctor of Physical Therapy. Tim was referring to the fact that many individuals think that jumping into an endurance running program will improve their health. The fact is, running long distances can be tough on the body and therefore should be a goal, or a piece, of a balanced program. Tim is the most skilled PT I have worked closely with and I would highly recommend those with rehab needs to contact him at timothygould@deept.com .

“Cardio doesn’t burn fat. Muscle burns fat.” – John Meadows, CSCS, CISSN. This refers, in part, to the concept above. The calories burnt during an aerobic workout are insignificant compared to the increased metabolic rate and improved hormone signaling resulting from sensible strength training.

“You can’t out train a bad diet.” – I’m not sure who first said this but it’s used by every knowledgeable trainer. Sure, you can spend an hour every day on an elliptical and burn a couple hundred calories. But, simply removing wheat from your diet, as an example, will reduce your daily calorie consumption by over 400 calories (to say nothing of other health benefits such as better digestion and less inflammation).

“Eat leaves, not seeds.” – Michael Pollan, author of numerous works exploring nutrition and environmental sustainability. His quote refers to the fact that Western diets are now based around grains (seeds that haven’t sprouted yet) as opposed to whole foods such as vegetables.

“[Eating] fat doesn’t make you fat.” – I’m not actually sure who first said this, but Khush Mark, PhD authored a book in 2008 with a similar name and Mark Hyman, MD uses this phrase frequently. Looking at any newspaper article or magazine over the last year will make it clear that our nation was wrong to vilify fats. We now know that overconsumption of processed foods, and meals that are high in carbs but low in nutrients, are to blame for the current health epidemic.

Please feel free to add your own quotes in the comments or send them directly to me at paul.romasco@hotmail.com . I love collecting these and will probably turn this into an ongoing series, posting 5 or so quotes every few months.

Hope you can find some simple words of wisdom or motivation in these brief lines.

See you next week!