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

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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


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.