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

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


The Taboo About Diets

“…diets are no longer a matter of ‘to eat or not to eat?’ …rather they become a behavior of making the proper choices between WHAT to eat and what NOT to eat.”

We have done an excellent job in America of tabooing the word diet to mean something bad.  To mean “I have to starve myself” when in reality everyone is on a diet.  Whatever you are eating is your diet.

The need to eat is innate.  Your body tells you that it needs fuel.  “I can’t concentrate”, “I’m tired”, “I feel weak”, these are all different ways your body tells you it needs fuel.

What you eat on the other hand is a learned behavior.  So addressing your diet becomes a case of behavior modification.  Once you do this, diets are no longer a matter of ‘to eat or not to eat?’ …rather they become a behavior of making the proper choices between WHAT to eat and what NOT to eat.; That is the real question that everyone should be asking.

So once you wrap your head around that and remove the negative stigma surrounding the word, you realize that you simply have to change or better your diet.  That’s where the challenge lies.  It’s in creating the habit.  But once you do, you empower yourself to  truly change your life.

Now, you need to be educated on what the right choices are.  Please don’t attempt to make an immediate 180 degree change in your diet.  It’s important to make a few changes at a time.  If I asked you to jump a 10ft distance in a single jump I’m setting you up to fail.  But, if I ask you to make that same distance in 3 jumps you are more likely to succeed.  Take the same approach to your diet and before you know it, you’ll be making healthy choices without a whole lot of conscious effort.

You now have the proper mind set to start this journey, now stay tuned for some more specific healthy eating tips that will help you along the way.

More than a workout; Fitness is a lifestyle!

Movement is the key to life. We’ve become such a sedative society which is why we have so many health issues. We have all the knowledge, all the research and resources, yet we are the unhealthiest country in the world right now.

Think about it… People come from all over the world to the United States  to utilize the knowledge and resources that we have to offer and yet overall as a society we don’t apply any of it ourselves. It’s ludicrous!

Movement is what keeps people alive; it’s a fact of life. Nowadays doctors even prescribe exercise and movement as a means to stay healthy.

Read this USA Today article that discusses exercise prescriptions.

Dr. Raul Vazquez does Tread-a-Thon

                              wivb.com

Read this amazing story about my friend Dr. Raul Vazquez (above) who spent his day seeing his patients while walking on a treadmill to call awareness to obesity and the need to get healthy

Your body is your one vehicle in life, yet you put it in jeopardy. Fitness should be just as important as any meeting or appointment. If you’re not healthy you can’t do your job. Don’t be intimidated either. Fitness can be as simple as just getting up and moving. Taking a 5-10 minute walk two times a day would be a great start.

“I don’t have time”, “I’m not a fitness person”, these are all calculated lies to yourself. Everybody has a choice and these calculated lies become hurdles that you create for yourself. So take some accountability and get up and move. After all fitness isn’t just a workout at a gym or a mile run… It’s your LIFE! Ultimately its a choice, a lifestyle.

Ready, Set, Go!

A passion for fitness right from the start!

I always had this innate feeling towards fitness. It all came very naturally to me, almost like I had done it before. I never felt like a fish out of water in the gym. As a 5th grader growing up playing football in Chicago, Illinois, I was able to utilize the weight room at my high school, setting me apart from other kids in my grade. My training involved techniques kids my age wouldn’t have even considered.

My experience evolved when I moved to Columbus, Ohio in the 8th grade because their football program, training techniques and facilities were even more progressive than back in Chicago. It was wild.

When I moved to Buffalo, New York my junior year of high school the schools didn’t have access to the level of equipment I was used to. It almost felt as if my training was taking a step backwards. That’s when I built a gym in the basement of my house where my teammates and I worked out constantly.

I was fortunate to come up on the wave of the fitness revolution. At that time there was a lot of research and progression in the world of fitness and I wanted to learn more. Looking back at what we did in the 80s, which at that time was cutting edge, is now pretty much obsolete. I was never satisfied. I always knew there was more and the field was always evolving. I needed to be a part of it.

With my passion for constantly improving my knowledge and athletic ability I was able to excel. When I had the opportunity to play at the college level I couldn’t turn it down. I was originally recruited to play at Kent State, but ended up at Cortland State. It ended up being a great opportunity due to one of the country’s top programs in exercise science. Funny how things work out.

At that age no one really knows what they want to do in life and I wasn’t any different, but being a part of that team and at that school, my calling became clear to me. I never wanted to be a teacher, but I what I do is teaching.

I graduated from Cortland State with my BS in Physical Education with a concentration in Sports Medicine. I am a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and hold a number of other certifications.

After graduation I continued playing football in the NFL, CFL and AIFA leagues. It was amazing to have the opportunity to play football in the AIFA league in Italy for 3 years. After my first season overseas I lived in New York City and worked with a well-known personal trainer. In preparation for the end of my football career I took the New York City Police Exam. I received a call to report for my NYC Police Physical during my second season in Italy and was extremely lucky to have the opportunity extended until after my return.

When my time in Italy was up I came back to Columbus and made a stop in Buffalo to see my parents. At this point I was unsure if I wanted to go back to live in Ohio, head to Chicago, venture out to sunny California or finally report for the NYC Police Physical Exam.

In the fall of 1987 I put everything else aside. I decided to plant some roots in Buffalo and opened up Body Blocks. Personal Training to the extent I was exploring was new in this area, but I wanted the chance to bring my knowledge of the field to our community.

At first everyone told me I was nuts. No way would this work. Regardless, I opened January 4, 1988 and by April I was so busy that I already had to hire 2 more trainers.

It was a challenge having to prove to everyone the first year that I wasn’t crazy. I tore up my NYC Police papers for my physical exam that upcoming May and I have never looked back. This January marks our 25th Anniversary.