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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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.

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