It’s not a stretch…to say this is a must read blog!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh……………….

Nothing beats or feels better than a good stretch and there are a number of benefits that we receive from stretching our muscles. So it is definitely something that we should all be doing; however did you know that there are certain types of stretches that, although they feel good are failing to produce the desired results?

In fact, right now you can probably observe individuals that are engaging in stretching exercises that may be counterproductive for the activity that they are preparing to perform.  Case and point,

this guy:

Or this girl:

Ok, so I guess you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that besides their choice of clothing, these two subjects might be doing a couple of other things wrong.  But what about this next guy who is preparing to go for a run?

While this stretch looks good and is quite common (in fact, you may currently do something similar before your runs), has he prepared the proper stretching strategy for the activity that he is about to perform?

Bob, did you just say the proper “stretching strategy?”

That is correct, no different than any other activity (and arguably more important) you must have a well planned stretching strategy that uses the proper modalities to ensure that your body is prepared for the task at hand.  In a pre-workout stretch, it is important to activate the muscles, tendons, and joints (we’ll call these “MTJ” through the rest of this article); preparing them for activity. By stimulating the MTJ properly the brain is activated and sends a message to the MJT that says, “Hey get ready we have some work to do!” Before your workout it is important to choose the correct modality of stretching because there are stretches that can have the opposite effect and rather than preparing the MJT, they can cause the brain to send a message that says, “Ok we’re done with our activity now, let’s shutdown and relax.” Let’s explore these modalities so that we make sure that we are sending the right message.

There are basically two types of stretching modalities that I will discuss within this article: static and dynamic.

Static stretching includes active, passive, and isometric techniques. This is the type of stretching that we see our runner doing in the picture above, it involves holding positions that apply steady tension to a specific MTJ for periods of 15-30 seconds at a time.

Dynamic stretching uses movement to stretch or stimulate the MTJ.  This type of stretching will usually incorporate a typical sports movement into the stretch. For example a lunge with a trunk rotation at the end or perhaps a high knee kick into a lunge (this one would actually be a good stretch for our runner because it would serve to loosen up and activate his hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, and glutes). Ultimately this type of stretching can be any type of movement that applies tension to the MTJ while remaining engaged in a controlled motion.

Other stretching modalities that you should be familiar with:

Ballistic stretches are similar to dynamic stretches in that they involve movement; however the movements are not as sport-specific and are performed at a much faster rate.  An example of a ballistic stretch would be rapidly crossing your arms back and forth in front of your chest.This activates the MTJ and increases the synovial fluid to the joint. (This is the equivalent of your body’s natural grease and it helps prevent damage by ensuring that your joints are properly lubricated for the activity at hand.)  This is typically used just prior to an activity that will require a heavy load on the MTJ. It is important to note that this type of stretch is not always recommended as the rapid movements can result in injury if not properly performed.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (What a great term! Use that at your next party for instant credibility) more commonly referred to as PNF is the best modality we have for rapidly increasing flexibility. PNF begins by getting the MTJ into the maximum capacity of a static stretch (put simply, this is the limit to how far the MTJ can be stretched without causing excruciating pain) and then applying a contraction to the muscle being stretched for a period of 7-12 seconds. The muscle is then fully relaxed and set back into the maximum static stretch position, but with increased force this time. This process of stretch, contract, relax is then repeated as necessary. There should be a considerable and immediate increase in the range of motion that can be observed in the MTJ after each round.

OK great, so now we have a good understanding of the different types of stretches and more importantly you have a clear picture of the difference between a static and dynamic stretch; Let’s now discuss when to use each.

Before your workout you want to engage in dynamic stretches and ballistic stretches. These are great at effectively getting blood flowing to the muscle and allowing the MTJ to prepare for the upcoming activity. As I mentioned earlier, they activate the brain to send the “hey get ready!” message to the MTJ.

After your workout is complete is when you want to engage in more MTJ specific static stretches. These stretches actually alert the brain to sends the “ok we’re going to take it easy now” message to the MTJ allowing them to relax. Doing this type of stretch before activity can actually have a negative impact on athletic performance. Especially those sports that require an explosive muscle response, such as sprinting, jumping, etc. Please don’t confuse this statement and think that I am “down playing” the importance of static stretches in any way.  It is an important part of the recovery process that ensures that the MTJ relax, which creates an ideal opportunity for increasing flexibility and recovery.

So let’s get back to our runner who appears to be doing a static quad stretch.  Although this stretch feels amazing, he may find that it is a better choice for after his run.  Before his run he should be doing dynamic stretches like the example I provided earlier or a one-legged hop/high knee raise. (please note, that the “hop” is more of a ballistic movement) This will help him avoid injuries and ensure that the MTJ he will use during his run are primed and ready for optimal performance.

You now have enough knowledge to begin to design your own stretching strategy.  If you have limited flexibility right now, just keep stretching.  Remember your results are only limited by what you’re willing to put into it.

Also, I only briefly mentioned PNF in this post. The reality is that this is a very complex and effective modality that incorporates some fascinating science in increasing your flexibility.  I will be dedicating an entire post to this one subject in the very near future. Plus we get to introduce more cool terms like Golgi (Goal-Ge) Tendons, so you’ll definitely want to read it because it is sure to improve both your flexibility and your Words With Friends score.

Stay healthy,

Bob

Advertisements

How to CRUSH it, even when you have to RUSH it!

I’m sure that many of you (myself included) are finding that you are busier and busier these days. Many days it is hard enough to get the ever growing “to do” list knocked out let alone trying to find time to get a work out in. As a result I talk to a lot of people who tell me that they get their workouts in when they have time, but many days they find themselves skipping them with a promise that they will make it up some other time. (I like to call these types of promises – “calculated lies”) Although your workout may seem like an ideal candidate for the chopping block when trying to free up some time, this strategy might actually be creating more problems. A growing body of research is finding evidence that indicates that individuals are more productive and focused, and less stressed after exercise. I know it’s counter-intuitive to think that pushing your body to the limit in the gym can actually increase your energy, but let’s be honest… we’ve all experienced that “high” after a good workout at some point. This suggests that exercise could be the “magic pill” you need to accomplish more throughout the day and that is why I wanted to provide some pointers to make sure that you are as effective and efficient as possible in the gym when time is limited.

I think the best place to start this is to bust a common myth and prevent a mistake that I observe a number of people making…when time is limited people have a tendency to head straight to the cardio equipment. Although cardio makes you feel as if you got a great workout in and it is definitely convenient (No thinking involved, put on your ipod, set it, and go), it is far less effective than resistance training. If you recall from my previous blog post “Cardio or Resistance Training?“, resistance training can produce a calorie burn that is 3x’s higher than cardio. Now don’t get me wrong, cardio is a very important part of exercise, but when time is limited and you are trying to be as efficient as possible…head to the weights.

The best strategy to use is to work large muscles first followed by smaller muscles. Large muscles include: chest, back, and legs. Small muscles are: triceps, biceps, and shoulders. Before I continue any further, I want to point out that you should have made a couple of decisions before getting into the gym:

What is your fitness goal?

Are you trying to increase strength, add size/bulk (Hypertrophy), or increase endurance? Answering this question will help identify how many reps you should be doing and the weight that you should be using. In that same blog I mentioned earlier I talked about the different “Work Zones” and defined them as follows for each category:

Strength – 6 Rep Max; Hypertrophy- 8 Rep Max; Endurance- 12 Rep Max.

Basically this means that depending on your fitness goals, you should use a weight that allows you to “max out” or not be able to do one more rep beyond the defined work zone. Clearly this weight will change depending on the exercise. Also a special note for anyone who says, “I just want to tone my muscles not add bulk”… All 3 of these strategies tone the muscle, but don’t worry too much about getting “Bulky”. Without a serious commitment and some nutritional/supplemental help, I promise you won’t start looking like Arnold anytime soon (I’ll bust this myth further in a future blog post).

What is your training strategy?

Are you doing a “Full Body” workout or are you on a particular day of split rotation? A full body is exactly what it sounds like: a workout that hits all the major muscles of the body in one workout. This is typically what most “time crunched” individuals will find themselves doing. However, if you happen to be doing a split rotation where the muscle groups are divided (split) into a strategic pairing (Chest/Triceps, Back/Biceps, Legs/Shoulders) and worked out over the course of 2-3 days then you will want to pick the exercises below that best fit into that routine.

Sample workouts:

These are some suggested exercises that you can do with equipment that will be available in most fitness centers. There are other options and variations, if you would like additional suggestions please shoot me an email.

My good friend and Body Blocks’ client Gene fitting a chest workout into his busy schedule.

Large Muscles: These muscles burn the most calories.

  • Chest (6 Sets): Flat Bench Press (3 Sets); Incline Bench Press (3 Sets)
  • Back (6 Sets): Wide-grip Pull Down (3 Sets); Reverse Grip Pull Down (3 Sets)
  • Legs (6 Sets): Squat-feet shoulder width [wide] (3 Sets); Leg Press-feet hip width [narrow] (3 Sets)

Small Muscles:

  • Tricep (4 Sets): V-Bar Push Down (2 Sets); Reverse Grip Push Down (2 Sets)
  • Bicep (4 Sets): Preacher Curl (2 Sets); Standing Straight-Bar Curl (2 Sets)
  • Shoulder: Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise (2 Sets); Bent Over Lateral Raise (2 Sets)

These exercises can also be done using a superset(A large muscle exercise paired with a small muscle exercise) for further efficiency.

Clearly time will play a part in what you are able to accomplish, but if you have a plan and you’re focused you can accomplish a great workout in 30 minutes and get on with your day. For other good time efficient workouts please read my blog “Conventional Training vs. MC²” and stay tuned for my upcoming blog about the calorie scorching 360 MC workout that is quickly becoming popular at Body Blocks.

As always I look forward to your feedback and hope that this has helped convince you that playing hooky from your workouts is not a good idea. Get in, get it done, and reap the rewards. Remember excuses are nothing more that calculated lies that we tell to ourselves.

Stay healthy,

Bob


Conventional Training vs. MC²

Nowadays we are exposed to all sorts of recommended work out styles, each of which have their own benefits. In this blog we are going to discuss the benefits that can be enjoyed by implementing a workout style that strategically combines the effectiveness of time, cardio, and compound movements; this workout is known as MC² (pronounced M C squared).

Start by establishing the basics:

Conventional weight training is the foundation of a good workout. Conventional training consists of exercises that incorporate an individual body part with single or [mutli] joint movements. Examples of these exercises would include basic: Presses, Rows, Fly, Squats, etc.This method of training is necessary to help establish your base. Without a good foundation, other workouts will be more difficult and often ineffective.

You should utilize conventional training methods and concentrate on proper form and technique before integrating compound movements into your workouts. Failure to do this may cause your workouts to get sloppy when you attempt to incorporate compound movements and could result in injuries. Clearly this is not functional or healthy for your body and may delay you achieving your fitness goals. Proper execution of exercises will accelerate your outcome.

Need help creating a conventional training program? Please consult a coach or a trainer. There is no shame in asking for help every now and again. All the best people, in whatever their vocation, have usually had some help or guidance along the way; the concept with your workouts is the same. When working out at the gym and unsure of how to use a piece of equipment or perform an exercise properly always ask a gym employee if there is someone to give you direction or feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to respond with the guidance that you need.

A MC² style workout (concept designed by Free Motion Fitness ) is a combination of timed compound movements and timed heavy-load cardio. Compound exercises are movements that utilize more than one body part at a time, such as squat/curls, lunge/chest press, lunge/triceps-extension, etc.

Cardio is done at a slower pace but with a heavier load and with a high level of incline. This form of cardio places the load on the large muscle groups in your lower body, engaging your muscle longer to produce a higher caloric output.

In this workout you perform timed compound movements in rotation with your cardio. The benefits of this style of training include high caloric output from the increased muscle contractions that result from your compound exercises in combination with high intensity cardio. MC² workouts promote development of leaner muscle, muscle endurance and are great for melting away fat.

Before attempting MC² style workouts, be aware of your foundation. You may need to practice more conventional training methods so you are more aware of the movements. As I’ve said before it is more important to concentrate on technique and for to prevent injury and insure the maximum results. (Plus you don’t want to end up looking like a person falling out of a tree.)

MC² is a fun, challenging, and effective workout that is capable of delivering exceptional results. Please feel free to contact me at fitnessdefined@bodyblocksfitness.com for more information and as always enjoy your success.

I’m Back…

Hello readers,

I want to apologize for my absence from blogging for the past couple of months.  I promise that I have been hard at work during this time and I am excited to share some of the things that I’ve been working on with you.

One project that I’ve been able to kick off that I am extremely excited about is the implementation of a Body Blocks’ designed fitness and sports performance curriculum within the Buffalo Public Schools. This program will begin this fall in 4 schools (Riverside, South Park, City Honors, and Emerson) and will expand to the remaining 12 high schools within the school year. The program will  be incorporated as part of the current physical education curriculum and allow us to not only educate the students but also the faculty within these schools.  This sets the groundwork for a sustainable long-term model rather than a short-term fix. We are confident that this program will not only serve as a major contributing factor towards developing a culture that produces fitter and healthier students, but also that leads to increased academic performance and fewer sports-related injuries; ultimately making our schools and our students more competitive in multiple arenas.

Another announcement that I am pleased to make is that I have recently learned that I have been named as one of Business First’s 2012 Healthcare 50, which recognizes me as “one of the top 50 extraordinary professionals in the medical field in Western New York.”  I am extremely honored to be recognized on this list and in the company of the other great individuals who were also named, all of whom are committed to making Western New York a healthier community.  This recognition came on the heals of another recognition that I received from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).  I have been honored with the designation of a Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach Emeritus (RSCC,*E) which is the highest certification attainable through this organization. The NSCA only gives this title to individuals who have accumulated 20 or more years (WOW, time flies when you’re doing what you love!) as a trusted expert in their field and recognizes their area of expertise as separate and distinct from the medical, dietetic, athletic training, and sport coaching fields.  This certification is significant not only because I get to add some more cryptic letters after my name, but more importantly because it secures my status as an industry expert and trusted source of information even after I retire (whatever that word means).

I have just returned from the IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association) Annual Convention in Los Angeles, CA.  This event is the focal point of the fitness community every year and serves as the launching point for new breakthroughs in exercise techniques and equipment.  My week was jam packed with seminars and meetings with some pretty amazing people within the industry.  Anyone who has ever taken a trip and had people waiting for their return knows all too well that one of the first questions that you often get is, “what did you bring me?”  Confident that my staff of trainers and clients at Body Blocks would have the same question for me, I knew that I had to bring them back something that they would appreciate and “remember” and a T-Shirt just wasn’t going to cut it!  So my choice…

Meet the Step360 Pro

This piece of equipment may seem innocent enough, but after one 360MC session, even my most conditioned trainers were feeling the burn.  I’ll save the details and the science of the equipment and the workout for a future post, but suffice it to say that after that workout nobody was asking what else I may have brought them. [insert maniacal laugh here]

In addition to that, I have a lot of other exciting things that I am working on that hopefully I will be able to share with you soon.  In the mean time, I am pleased to return you to your regularly scheduled blog posts. As always thanks for reading and feel free to get in touch with me at fitnessdefined@bodyblocksfitness.com

Stay Healthy,

Bob

You must eat to lose weight.

No that’s not a misprint in the title, today we tackle another common fitness myth that I have heard time and time again:  “If you want to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than you burn off in a day”.  Sound familiar? Now, depending on your size and gender you’ve probably been given a calorie goal somewhere between 1200-1500 calories a day.

Although this “could” happen to be your goal, in reality you’re calorie goal should be based on your Basil Metabolic Rate (BMR) and your level of activity.  Your BMR is the number of calories your body burns at rest in a 24 hour period.  In other words, it’s the amount of fuel your body needs to continue sustaining life. So how do you obtain this magic number?  According to a formula provided in a 1990 study that appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Basil Metabolic Rate is equal to:

It’s that simple! (insert sarcasm here) 

Obviously the calculation is complicated and further studies have even included variables such as lean body mass and physiological elements.  The good news is there are tools out there that provide these measurements for you.  Although there seem to be some decent lower-cost, home products on the market, at Body Blocks we use a medical grade body composition analyzer called the InBody520.  This piece of equipment provides us with a number of measurements (including BMR) which allow us to understand the unique physiology of each of our clients.

InBody520

Now that we know how to get them, let’s look at what the numbers mean.

If you’re BMR is 1500 and you’re eating a recommended 1200 calories, you are not even providing your body enough fuel to make it through the day (and that’s if you were at rest all day).  Since most individuals have some level of activity throughout the day, walking, climbing stairs, talking, exercising, etc.  The true caloric deficit that they are experiencing is even greater than the 300 calories that is represented here.

If you think about your body as if it were a race car and that car required 11 quarts of oil to operate efficiently.  If you decided to put only 5 quarts in,  the car will still run, but at some point during the race it’s going to break down.  Additionally the car’s support systems would experience increased stress, overheating, and in some cases permanent damage as they are forced to work with insufficient resources.  Your body and it’s support systems respond in a very similar manner.

Unlike a race car, our bodies are able to interpret and adapt to changes in the environment.  This means that when the body recognizes a pattern of high caloric deficits, it interprets this as starvation and goes into survival mode.  At this point it starts managing fuel in an effort preserve energy, this means that it distributes the energy to essential life support systems while shutting down other systems and functions.  Clearly this is probably not the result that most people would be looking for from their diet.

The best way to manage your weight is to understand how your body works.  The first step is to learn your BMR.  Keep in mind that your BMR increases as you increase your lean muscle mass.  Put simply this means that the more lean muscle mass you add, the more you will NEED to eat for your body to operate efficiently.  It also means that you will have to monitor your BMR on a consistent basis to ensure that you are always eating at least what your body needs to survive.  Any attempts to lose weight should use strategies that reduce the extra calories that are consumed in addition to the BMR.  This means that many of you will have to actually eat more if you want to effectively lose weight.

I hope that this article helps clarify this common fitness myth and empowers you with the knowledge necessary to achieve your fitness goals.

Cardio or Resistance Training?

I want to first start off by thanking you all for reading my blog and for the tremendous response we’re getting.  In this post I want to address a question we recently received via email at fitnessdefined@bodyblocksfitness.com (remember send me your questions).  The question was submitted by John C. (one of our readers) who asked,

“what is better for you, cardio or weight training?”

This has got to be one of the most common questions that I have been asked throughout my career and honestly there are a number of different beliefs regarding the question.  Surprisingly many people believe that cardio is the best choice between the two.  A majority of people seeking to lose weight head straight for the treadmills or the elliptical trainers.  The question is how did this become the “go to” remedy?  The reality is that people hang on to the beliefs and myths as if they were facts and truths.  They have no idea why, other than just because someone told them so.  There is no real accreditation, it’s just “that’s the way it’s always been done”.

Any type of training should be result specific.  This means that there should be a specific goal that the training is being used to accomplish.  Cardio (short for cardiovascular) is a great method to strengthen the heart and lungs and to improve oxygen flow throughout the body.  Yet as we stated, most individuals head to the cardio equipment when they are trying to lose weight and burn calories; very few people get on a cardio machine and say “oh I want to exercise my heart”.  The reality is that cardio alone burns fewer calories than weight training.  You might be saying right now “no, no that can’t be true” and I hate to break it to you, but it is.

Me training my good friend and long-time client Jerry

Obviously during your workouts you want to try and burn fat instead of muscle.  You can do this by focusing on burning off your glycogen first.  When the body breaks down complex carbs it produces glycogen which is then stored in your muscles as energy.  Your body is going burn off glycogen first before it burns the fat.  It’s easier to burn, like burning pine in fire vs. a piece of oak.  The pine will burn first.

Resistance training in the work zone* produces three times the caloric output of cardio. This means that you want to structure your workouts to ensure that you have enough energy to hit the work zone associated with your fitness goals.  In order to effectively reach the work zone, your muscles will require energy (glycogen). When you do your cardio before your resistance training, the initial 20 minutes are spent burning that glycogen which results in not having the energy to achieve your desired rep range; it will be as if someone has unplugged you. By starting with Resistance training you ensure that your muscles have the energy that they need to achieve the desired output. What’s better is that when you follow up your resistance training with cardio, your body is already in the fat burning zone.  This means that you are maximizing the potential of your entire workout!

So the real answer to John’s question is that fitness should not be a trade-off of Cardio or Resistance, rather it is a matter of balancing the two to ensure success.  At the end of the day, getting the best fitness results are a simple matter of exercise efficiency.  Hopefully this article demonstrates the drastic impact that something as simple as the order of exercise can have on fitness results.

For more information check out this article “Warm Up With Cardio, Then Go to Weights. Right? Wrong”.

Another great fitness myth busted!  Thanks for the question John.

Send your fitness questions to me directly at: fitnessdefined@bodyblocksfitness.com

*Work zone: Maximum output for a desired rep range. For example an individual attempting to increase muscle endurance should work in a 12 rep max range.  Therefore if more than 12 reps are achieved the weight was too light and if less than 12 reps the weight was too heavy.

3 Basic Work Zone Ranges:

Strength: 6 Rep Max

Hypertrophy: 8 Rep Max

Endurance: 12 Rep Max

Simple guidelines for making healthy choices.

Happy New Year readers!  Many people are currently flooding their local fitness centers and produce aisles, fueled by the motivation of the promises they’ve made to themselves to get healthier this year.  As I’ve said in the past fitness is not simply exercising, it is a lifestyle and perhaps the largest part of that lifestyle is choosing the proper foods to include in our daily diets.

I wanted to use this post to share a few simple facts to guide you in structuring a healthy daily diet.  The following guidelines should provide you with some basic fundamentals to get you going in the right direction.  We’ll tackle some of the more complex issues in future posts.

First you should try to avoid starting your day off with nothing to eat or by consuming only simple carbs.  As a general rule try mixing a protein with a complex carb (preferably an hour apart).  Space your meals out every 3-4 hours.  After all we are really designed to graze.

Simple Carbs are mainly sugars or highly processed complex carbs that can give the same affect.  These can be used as instant energy prior to a workout.  You’ll burn it up before you crash.  Now, I’m not saying go eat a spoonful of sugar, but if there is a little sugar in a pre-workout drink so what!  Any sugars and processed carbs, like white flour, act as simple carbs and are not good in abundance. General rule of thumb I like to follow is “the easier to grab and go food is (not including fruits) the more processed it is likely to be.  For example, instant oatmeal has more of the affects of a simple carb than oatmeal that takes even a few minutes to cook.

Complex carbs are your grain products and some vegetables that the body converted into glycogen and are stored as an energy source in your muscle.  These carbs are a sustainable energy source for your body.

You should be consuming about 1gram of protein per lb of lean body mass.  If you are active in exercise and resistance training, you should be bumping that up to 1 1/2-2 grams per lb of lean

body mass.  Don’t try and eat your recommended amount of protein.  Try adding in a supplement like a high quality protein powder to your diet.Proteins are used by our body to rebuild tissue.  We tend to be a more protein deficient society because they have to be prepared and we see them as less convenient.  Protein also helps to stabilize insulin levels in our bodies.

A common balanced diet ratio is broken down as follows:

60% carbs 30% proteins and 10% fats.

For those calorie counters out there:

  • 1gram carb = 4 calories
  • 1gram protein = 4 calories
  • 1gram fat = 9 calories

As I said this was meant to be a simple guide.  Ultimately diets are simply an ongoing set of choices that we make everyday.  Information allows us to make educated and informed decisions. So the question is: now that you’re better informed, what choices will you make today?