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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I’m Back!

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Wow! Almost one year to the day since I last posted! Where have I been? Did I suffer a heart attack from all the red meat and eggs? Maybe wasted away without all those heart-healthy, whole grains? Or returned to my childhood lifestyle fueled by Skittles and Mountain Dew? Not likely!

Without getting too dramatic, I came to some realizations regarding my personal training career. I was averaging over 35 sessions a week. Combined with preparing programs and diets, studying to earn Continuing Education Credits and stay up on current research, marketing my services, contributing to gyms administratively…I was busy every second of every day.

Don’t get me wrong – it was amazing to do what I loved, as a career. But the fact is, I hit a “glass ceiling” of sorts. I couldn’t accept more clients while still providing top notch service.

My second realization was that most Americans still rely upon a reactive model of health care, as opposed to improving lifestyle in a proactive manner. As part of this, exercise is viewed as a way of balancing out unhealthy choices made the rest of the day.

Easily 75% of those that came to me wanted to do 10 or 20 sessions to get them “in the swing” of exercising a few hours a week, convinced that this would ensure good health regardless of diet, genes, and other lifestyle factors.

images (1)Not only is the general public lacking information, but even many in the medical community have thrown up their hands in despair! During my last year of full-time training I had easily a dozen different clients that came to me only at the insistence of their doctor. Some of these people were 100 to 200 pounds overweight; some had cholesterol levels that no dose of medication could “control”; others went from a diagnosis of pre-diabetes to insulin-dependent diabetes in under a year.

Their doctors prescribed more and more medications. Patients were referred to Registered Dieticians and given USDA handouts recommending a grain-based diet (still 8 to 11 servings a day!) and cautioning against nutrient-dense sources of protein and fat found in nature. Regardless of all this, these clients’ health kept deteriorating until the only place left to look (and point the finger) was their activity and exercise level.

“Your body has lost its ability to properly use carbohydrates? The insulin injections we gave you to do the job of your failing pancreas is no longer helping? And eating more carbs while limiting other nutrients didn’t help? Well, you must be too lazy!”

“You’ve gained 200 pounds in the last 5 years? Noooo, don’t avoid high-calorie, low-nutrient, hunger-stimulating foods like bagels, pastas, and cereal – just peddle a stationary bike for 30 minutes a day!”

“Your iron levels are so low that we want to inject it into your bloodstream. But, if you insist on trying something less invasive, maybe you can give occasional strength training a shot. It’s not like iron is a nutrient found in plenty of foods, with well understood absorption rates.”

 

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Not only was I trying to reshape an individual’s understanding of a healthy lifestyle, but I was also fighting an uphill battle against rhetoric from other health organizations. Again, I don’t blame any individual person…unfortunately, a couple bad studies half a century ago led to the biggest misdirection in terms of nutrition that we have ever experienced.

So, I “sold out to the man” and got a boring 8 to 5 desk job. But, I’m almost 30 and had to accept that guaranteed pay for the hours I work (plus benefits) is necessary to ensure stability in my life. I did keep my most committed clients and I’m still doing everything I can to help any person I come in contact with. And, truth be told, I’ve missed having this outlet to share my discoveries and, let’s be honest, ramble about anything remotely health-related!

In conclusion, I am glad to say that I will return to posting every Monday.

If you haven’t yet, please click the “Follow” button on the right-side of the page – this will send you an email version of each blog post the moment I finish it. And, as always, feel free to contact me via email or phone (also on the right hand side of the page) if you’d like some input specifically for you and your needs.

Sorry for my absence and thanks for reading!

Abdominal Exercises

Most of us are familiar with typical situps and crunches. These movements have been the primary abdominal exercises for the last few decades. Why? Because they can be done anytime, anywhere, with little focus. They are easy to “progress” by simply doing more. Finally, they leave the stomach sore. All these things sound pretty good, right?

Unfortunately, situps are one of the worst exercises for abdominal strength and stability!

The main problem with situps is that they are performed in a posture that places a great deal of stress on the spine. Unnecessary curving of the spine may damage the discs in the back and produce wear-and-tear on the vertebrae. We already tend to hunch in front of computers, driving cars, and carrying heavy objects – why exacerbate this rounded posture during exercise too?

coreAnother problem is that poorly performed situps, involving a bouncing motion and a pull from the legs, will only target one of many “core” muscles– the rectus abdominis. The hip flexors in the front of the thighs and hips, along with upper body muscles, will assist in the situp motion, taking focus away from the core. It is also very easy to “cheat” this exercise by relying upon momentum or a bounce off the ground.

Finally, situps are not a functionally specific movement. Very rarely in life do we have to fold our bodies forward at the hips. Alternatively, we do have to brace with all the muscles in our core when lifting an unwieldy object or even stepping down stairs.

Now that we know situps place undue stress on the back, don’t effectively work all the core muscles, and are not a functional movement, let’s look at some alternatives.

The single best exercise to learn is a “plank”. Start by laying facedown on the floor with the forearms andplank toes in contact with the ground. Tighten through the core, or think about drawing the bellybutton towards the lower back, to raise the hips off the ground until your back is straight. Hold this position for 3 seconds before slowly lowering the hips back to the ground. Perform for 10 repetitions. As these become easier, extend the time and eventually add more motion.

DeadBugAnother excellent movement is known as “dead bugs”. For this exercise, lay on your back, bring your arms and legs straight up toward the ceiling, and bend the knees to 90 degrees. While maintaining contact between the lower back and the ground, extend your right leg toward the ground and left arm overhead. Pause just before the limb touches the ground and fully exhale. Bring both limbs back up to the starting position and alternate sides. The most important parts of this exercise are making sure the lower back does not arch, and that you don’t forcibly hold your breath in the bottom position. Both these errors will result in lessened activation of the core muscles.

These exercises will target the deep core muscles, specifically the transverse abdominals and obliques, more effectively than situps. And, as previously mentioned, we’ll be working the core while lengthening the spine, ensuring better posture.

I hope this post provides some insight into how best strengthen the core, thereby relieving back pain while improving posture and balance. Please let me know if you’d like more exercise ideas or would like me to review the efficacy of other movements.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Unilateral Training

Unilateral training refers to using one limb at a time, as opposed to bilateral training which involves both limbs.

A leg press and seated row are bilateral movements while a single leg press and single-arm dumbbell row are unilateral movements.

Many actions in everyday life require us to use only one limb at a time. Regardless of what specific activity you are training for, unilateral moves help show weaknesses or imbalances within the body. It’s the discovery of these weaknesses, and corrections, that allow us to further improve our health and performance.

I personally love doing full body compound movements, training multiple muscle groups at a time. These are extremely efficient and result in a bigger central nervous system response, thus a better hormonal response, leading to better strength and body composition.

However, I always keep at least one isolation exercise or unilateral movement in my clients (and my own) daily routines. This way, we never allow one dominant muscle group to compensate for a weaker one, thereby exacerbating the imbalance.

If you are just starting to incorporate unilateral training, try a simple dumbbell row – one knee and hand on a bench, back straight, other arm hanging straight holding a dumbbell. “Row” the weight up to about the armpit, trying to pull the arm up and over with the shoulder blade (but don’t twist the torso).

Another simple move to start with would be standing on one leg. This can be done while doing other movements, such a bicep curl or internal shoulder rotation, or it can be treated as its own movement. Standing on one leg will reveal weaknesses at the joints, in the leg or core muscles, or even neurological proprioception issues.

My favorite unilateral movements, as exemplified above, are for the legs and the shoulder blades.
Unilateral training for the legs will reveal weaknesses or incoordination in the lower body, but also instability throughout the core, and may even provide an opportunity for postural analysis. Movements like lunges or single leg dead lifts (SLDLs) are my go to movements for clients trying to increase strength, stability, and function.

Unilateral training for the upper back is useful because it will teach an individual to move the arms in concert with the shoulder blades. If an individual is only using their shoulder muscles, when reaching, lifting, or moving loads, they risk rotator cuff injuries. However, if they can incorporate all the muscles of the upper back, they will have a safer strength potential.

Some advanced movements to work towards would be things like a one-legged squat (pistol squat) or a one-arm pull-up. To achieve either of these, the muscles, stabilizers, joints, and bones throughout the entire body have to be strengthened perfectly.

So, if your workout has stagnated and you’re having trouble adding repetitions or weight to your movements, try incorporating a few unilateral movements to reveal imbalances and weaknesses.

And remember: a personal trainer can help guide you through this process of exercise selection, providing motivation, and finding areas to improve upon safely, guaranteeing long-term improvement!

High Intensity Interval Training

Hill SprintsIf you read any fitness magazines or websites than you may have seen the phrase “high intensity interval training”, sometimes abbreviated as “HIIT”.

This is a method of aerobic conditioning, alternating short periods of high-intensity work with low-intensity recoveries.

An example would be sprinting up a hill as fast as you, then walking back down and catching your breath, before running up again. You would alternate this for as many intervals as you can.

The science behind HIIT is still in its infancy but, thus far, we know that 15 minutes of HIIT provides more benefits to the body than 2 hours of “steady state cardio”. Also, one high-intensity burst of power during regular cardio is not as effective as alternating high-intensity efforts with periods of recovery for the entire workout. Finally, studies have shown that HIIT increases the release of human growth hormone within the body by about 500% for two hours after the workout!
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Remember, it’s these benefits to our hormone levels that make it possible to reduce body fat while improving lean muscle mass, strength, and bone density.

My favorite thing about HIIT is the efficiency. I always tell my clients, they can take a Spinning class, for an hour, twice a week, and end up famished, ultimately overeating later in the day, or perform one HIIT session for less than 30 minutes counting a warm up and cool down.

In addition, high intensity interval training can be modified based upon the individual’s capability and equipment available.

For example, in the summer I prefer hill sprints or sprinting on a grass field. In the winter, I move indoors and perform intervals on a rowing machine or stairmaster.

A safe and effective way to start a HIIT routine is to warm up for a few minutes on a rowing machine or stationary bike, and then alternate 30 seconds as fast as you can with 30 second recoveries. Continue this until you feel like you could only complete one or two more intervals. Finally, cool down for another few minutes and do some stretching or foam rolling.

Even though this protocol is referred to as high intensity, it is entirely dependent upon the effort you put forth. For this to be effective, you want to move at a speed that you could not sustain comfortably for much more than 30 seconds…but the key word is “comfortably”. You don’t have to push beyond your comfort zone to experience the amazing results of HIIT. All you have to do is be willing to work very hard for some short intervals once or twice a week.

It’s actually important you don’t push too hard as it can cause adrenal fatigue or burnout. For this reason, I recommend clients limit HIIT sessions to once or twice a week in the beginning and always stop when they feel like they could only complete one or two more intervals at their “high-intensity” pace.

So, give it a try, play with the variables, and reap the amazing benefits of high intensity interval training!

How To Improve Your Cholesterol Levels

As promised, this week I’ll give you a few easy tips to improve your cholesterol levels. Before I start though, I want to remind everyone that “improving” cholesterol levels does not necessarily mean lowering them.

If you remember my post about cholesterol, you’ll remember that the body creates and uses LDL as a temporary bandage that, once the threat to the body is resolved, HDL will transport back to the liver to be excreted. It is only when inflammation persists in the body that LDL becomes oxidized, hardening and risking blockages in the arteries.

In fact, low total cholesterol levels in the body have been linked to shorter lifespan! Therefore, for this post, we’ll talk about how to adjust your cholesterol levels to the optimal zone…as opposed to the range statin companies usually promote.

First off, the easiest number to alter is your HDL. This is what carries cholesterol back to the liver after it has served its purpose.

The best way to boost your HDL is to consume more monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and avocado. Consuming these in a raw form, as opposed to cooking them, will be more beneficial. Also, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found almost exclusively in grass-fed beef and dairy, will help raise HDL.

In addition, weight training and moderate aerobic activity are shown to increase HDL.

Now, on to LDL. To reiterate, high LDL is not necessarily a bad or dangerous thing. However, LDL can become oxidized in the blood so I understand why people may want to lower their LDL numbers.

To lower LDL, be careful when consuming other saturated fats. Saturated fat is actually the safest to consume, and most stable source of energy for the body, but make sure you’re consuming it from natural sources. This would include coconut products (again, with minimal processing), grass-fed beef, and other humanely raised animals fed a natural diet, with plenty of space to roam and forage.

Exercise may also help control LDL levels since low-level aerobics will improve the body’s ability to metabolize fats for energy.

Finally, the only truly problematic form of cholesterol found in the body is triglycerides. Anytime you see claims that cholesterol in the blood is dangerous, I will guarantee the samples were people with extremely elevated levels of triglycerides and low HDL.

The best way to decrease your triglyceride count would be to avoid processed or heated polyunsaturated fats which are highly unstable and prone to oxidization.

I’m not saying to fear nuts and seeds and every food containing high amounts of omega-6 (the primary inflammatory constituent of poly-fats). Just avoid foods that are high in this AND have been processed or altered. Examples of foods to avoid would be corn oil, soybean oil, and other vegetable oils.

Finally, limit your sugar and refined carb intake. Again, no need to fear fruits, sweet potatoes or other whole foods; instead, skip the center aisles of the market made up of processed and packaged food.

Please keep in mind that all my suggestions of what to eat more or less of are based on the assumption that we already know things like candy, chips, ice cream, and soda are unhealthy. Fortunately, our health and nutrition systems have not yet become so infiltrated by major corporations that McDonalds and pizza is labeled as healthy.

Nonetheless, as exemplified by my own past food choices, there is still a great deal of confusion regarding what is optimal for our bodies. Just last month Mazola ran a massive marketing campaign (and must have spent billions of dollars) to convince researchers and doctors to claim that corn oil is “safer for the heart” than extra virgin olive oil!

And with that, we should all have a decent level of knowledge regarding what to consume and not consume to maintain the most beneficial cholesterol levels in our bodies.

Hope it helps!