Tuesday, April 26, 2011

McGills' "Big 3" core exercises

In the past few months I have been reading a number articles and research studies written Stuart McGill, a Professor at University of Waterloo.

He specializes in spine biomechanics and has published a number of articles pertaining to core stability, what it is, how it responds to activity and how best to enhance its functioning.

In his article published in the NSCA's Journal of Strength and conditioning 9Volume 32, Number 3), he summarizes many of his findings in a 10 page article. The entire article is extremely interesting and I was forced to rethink my take on the "whats, whys and hows" of "training the core".

He discusses the role of the core stabilizer musulature and their role as a preventor of motion as opposed to the muscles of the limbs which create motion.

He goes on to recommend 3 simple exercises, the "Big 3" core stabilization exercises, to enhance core function.
  1. The abdominal curl up

    The curl up varies from a standard crunch. There should be no movement through the lumbar spine. Hands are placed in the small of the back to monitor movement. Elbows are down to begin and elevated as a progression. Maintain the entire spine in neutral, including the neck; lift only the head and shoulders. Compared to a crunch, the curl-up involves very little curl and the upper body and neck stay elongated. There is minimal range of motion. Other progressions involve prebracing the abdominals and deep breathing during the exercise.

  2. The Side bridge:
    The side bridge, or plank can be performed from the knees if you have limited strength or ability to engage the abdominal wall. Begin by lying on the right side supported by the right elbow, hip and knee. Using support of the left hand, press up through the hips until you are supporting your body between your elbow and your knees. The top hand can rest on the hip. Progressions include moving to the feet, and changing your arm position to reach across to the opposite shoulder.

  3. The Bird - Dog
    From a quadruped position, one leg is lifted and then returned, followed by lifting the opposite extended arm. To progress, both the leg and opposite arm are lifted. Making a fist can increases the tension in the extended arm. Further progressions involve drawing a square with both the foot and hand simultaneously. The exercise is performed on alternating sides.

These 3 exercises can be applied to all level of participant and will help create the balance between stability and motion we are always striving to achieve.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Facts That Matter

The following came from Charles Schultz, the creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip. Don't strain yourself trying to answer the questions - just answer what you can on the first try.

1. Who are the five wealthiest people in the world.

2. Who are the last five Heisman trophy winners.

3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America.

4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.

5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners, either for best actor or actress.

6. Who won the last five world series?

How did you do?

Remember - these are not second-rate achievers... these are the best in their fields.

But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Acheivements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Now try another quiz:

1. List a three teachers that influenced you before grade 12.

2. Name three friends who have been there for you in difficult times.

3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.

4. Think of three people who have made you feel appreciated and special.

5. Think of five people you would enjoy spending an afternoon with.

The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards.

They are the ones that care.


Friday, April 22, 2011

"Eat less, move more". ~ Guy Demong

About a year ago, a girl walked into the gym and was interested in making a lifestyle change. When you are listening to someone for the first time, you're always unsure whether or not their enthusiasm is backed by the motivation necessary to succeed, or if it will fade into the background as soon as they realise what's required from them to elicit change.

Lucky for us (and her), this girl was motivated. She committed to training with us three times per week, started coming to spin class once a week and participates in some form of physical activity at least one to two more days each week.

Just from adding physical activity into her life, she saw some amazing changes in her body composition but soon realised that if she wanted to see more changes she was going to have to start evaluating her nutrition.

She is now about 8 pounds away from her first goal of being under 200 pounds, which would be a total loss of 40 pounds for her since she started with us.

Her family, friends and co-workers are now starting to notice. One co-worker in particular keeps asking her what she's doing. She always says, I am exercising and watching what I eat. But each time she gives that answer, her co-worker presses her to tell her what she's 'really' doing - is there one food she cut out of her diet, which exercise is she doing, is she taking any supplements?

Her co-worker keeps waiting for the 'magic answer' or the 'secret' that will give her the body she wants, without the work required to get or maintain it. The secret is, there is no secret, you have to work hard and watch what you eat, if you want to see results. It's simple.

~ Sasha

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Do you have the power?

Power and wattage are words that have become common place in the world of cycling.

It has been shown, time and again, to be the best indictator of output and intensity on the bike, and is somthing that is becoming more accessable to cyclists of all levels - not just the Elites.

But there is more to power than just being able to crank out a high number of watts. The important consideration is how long can you hold that wattage for before fatigue sets in?

Lance Armstrongs' success rested on the fact that he was able to ride at a very high wattage, while maintaining physiological integrtiy and psychological control at all times.

How did he do this? Prett simple methodology actually - he spent a ton of time training at or around his Anarobic Threshold (AT) or Lactate Threshold. This allowed him to work harder at his Threshold - pushing out more watts, with less fatigue.

So you want to be able to do what Lance does? Well here is where you need to start.

If you are unable to get your threshold determined by a qualified professional (sport scientist or exercise physiologist), this simple field test will do the job too.

30 minute time trial test.

You will require a heart rate monitor that has an Average Heart rate function and an indoor spinner for your bike.

- Spend 20 - 30 minutes thoroughly warming up - you should be sweating at the start of the test.
- Ride as hard as you can for 30 minutes - start a little conservatively in the first 5 minutes to ensure you have not gone out to hard.
- You want to be able to hold the intensity for the full 30 minutes.

Your average heart rate at the end of the 30 minute test is a very close approxamation to your Anaerobic Threshold. We can use this number to develop training sessions to improve your output at threshold.

Before we look at some sample training sets using your estimated AT, please keep the following in mind to avoid Overtaining occuring:

- Most of your Threshold training should occur about 5 b/min below your AT.
- Allow 2 - 3 days of recovery between AT training session.
- Have a week with no AT session after 3 weeks of AT training

A 3 month training cycle might look a little somthing like this:

Month 1:

Week 1: Training at AT - 2 sessions per week
Week 2: Training at AT - 2 sessions per week
Week 3: Training at AT - 2 sessions per week
Week 4: Remove AT sessions for 7 days to allow for adaptaion and recovery

Month 2:
Week 1: Training at AT - 2 sessions per week
Week 2: Training at AT - 2 sessions per week
Week 3: Training at AT - 2 sessions per week
Week 4: Remove AT sessions for 7 days to allow for adaptaion and recovery

Month 3:
Remove AT sessions from the program to allow for recovery and adaptation
Keep training well below AT for this period

Now lets talk specific sessions - remember to always warm up and cool down thoroughly and after the session to spend 5 - 10 minutes stretching.

These sessions can be completed on an indoor trainer or outdoors - you choose.

Timetrial special:
- 30 minutes steady state riding
- 10 beats below AT

- 10 minutes steady state riding
- 5 beats below AT
- 5 minutes easy spinning 30 beats below AT
- Repeat 3 times

Short hills:
- 3 - 5 minutes of climbingWork @ AT
- Recovery is the ride back down the hill and then
- 5 minutes of easy spinning.

This approach to your training will not only make you capable of maintaing a higher level of output on your bike, but will provide you with the confidence to put the hammer down when the need arises.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Another Example

Dinner out:

  • 8oz steak

  • Baked potato

  • Asparagus

  • Small sourdough dinner roll

  • 1oz of butter

  • 1 bottled beer

  • Total calories in: 2085
High Intensity 45mins workout for a 165lbs athletic male

  • Total calories burned: 550
Think about this the next time you try to exercise in an effort to justify your eating habits. You'll never win. ~Guy

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Drop Effect

Life is like fat loss - it is never linear. You rarely see someone lose fat evenly week after week. It's always a big drop for a week or two. Then there's a plateau and then maybe another big drop, but sometimes the body gets stuck and plateaus at one spot for a period of time.

This can be extremely frustrating for anyone and this is when you need to stay focused and wait for the drop effect. The drop effect is the phenomenon that happens when your body is at a plateau and stays consistent week after week, until suddenly your body lets go and you drop more than a couple pounds in one week.

This goes a long way in keeping you motivated to stick to the plan, because you know that sooner or later the drop is coming, and even though you haven't lost any fat for a few weeks, your body will catch up.

It's like in life, just because you have decided to set goals for yourself, it doesn't mean that success will happen overnight. It requires consistent, hard work and there will be plateaus but if you can stick to the plan, just be patient and wait for the drop effect, success will be yours.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Important Ingredient for Success.

Act in
Careless of who is
Understanding that by the
Nature of the law of attraction, karma, and many other forces,
Tangible results
Bound your way, either
Inching you towards your goals if you've been progressing, or
Leaving you
In the dust as others
Take advantage of the opportunities
You miss.

Whether you hold yourself accountable, have a great leader holding you accountable, or you think you are 'getting away with one', only to face your day of reckoning sometime soon, ACCOUNTABILITY is a necessary ingredient in the formula for success in this life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Common marathon training mistakes

The marathon is an event which has been challenging men and women for decades.

Participants are drawn to it for a number of reasons, improved fitness and health, the challenge of running 42.2km or perhaps the camaraderie of participating with hundreds of other like minded individuals.

Whatever the reason, no matter who you are or what your athletic training background, training and preparation are the common denominators amongst all participants. With the volume of training and time commitment to race preparation it is clear that mistakes will be made along the road to race day.

Many of these of these "training mistakes" are not only made by the novice runner - we all make them at one time or another in our running career.

MISTAKE 1: Carrying out excessively long runs during the final weeks leading up to the event

This time (2- 4 weeks) before the race should be dedicated to allowing the body to recovery and for the training adaptation to take effect.

Cut the total volume of your training (quantity) by 30% - 50% per week leading up to race day, while keep the intensity (quality) high.

MISTAKE 2: Not training beyond race pace

It has been shown that maximal running speed is a good predictor of marathon potential, and for nearly all runners, developing max running speed leads to improvements in marathon running times.

Keep in mind we are not talking about Tempo running - tempo running is pretty much race pace and we are striving to work an intensity above race pace.

For example, include 2 faster-than-marathon-pace training sessions into your weekly training program. This could take the form of an interval session (speed work - 800m track repeats) and a time trial (10km, 5km).

MISTAKE 3: Incorporating non-specific resistance training into your program

Remember the concept of Specificity of training? Well it is still as relevant as ever.

Aim to develop movement patterns and muscle recruitment patterns that mimic running. In other words: stay away from exercises which have you in the seated or lying position or which isolate muscles.

Here are a few general guidelines:

Start the program with whole body strengthening exercises which involve a large percentage of the bodies musculature such as Squats, lunges, Pull ups, skipping, mobility and flexibility work. This might last 6 - 8 weeks.

Follow this with hill work and exercises that mimic the gait cycle. Step ups, 1 leg squats, 1 leg hops on the spot, A-B-C running drills. Also 6 - 8 weeks.

Finish with 6 - 8 weeks of explosive training activities such as speed work, hops, bounds, lateral work.

MISTAKE 4: Making training boring

Keep yourself mentally and physically fresh by changing things up regularly.

Hit the trails for your long run instead of running on the pavement. How about running your favorite 10km time trial course, backwards?

Heard of Fartlek training? Use it! Vary your pace through the course of a run - go hard for 30 seconds and then bring the pace right down for 2 minutes.

MISTAKE 5: Not training yourself to eat and drink

Re-hydrating and re-fueling is an extremely important part of the marathon program and far to many participants start rehydrating and fueling during the race.

Use your months of training to try out different products available. Use bars, gels and gummies to see which sits the best with you.

Drink fluids with and without electrolytes. And do not forget to drink plain water regularly.

Bottom line:

It is your overall level of conditioning which will determine your performance on race day - not how many miles you have racked up in the 6 months leading up to the race.

Lose the junk miles - focus on the quality - not the quantity.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Now's a Good Time to Start

On June 24th of this year, those of you in British Columbia will be given the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the HST. I'm asking you to please start the process now, rather than later, of researching the full picture before you vote.

Yes, the way the that the HST was brought in was duplicitous and underhanded - no denying that. But before you let your emotions rule and vote to get rid of it because of your unhappiness - look into what repealing this tax will mean. Are we going to have to pay back the federal government for the money we received in exchange for implementing it? What about the money that we've already paid for HST - do we get it back? How will they do that? How much is this referendum costing us in the first place, and how much more will it cost to undo what's been done?

I'll offer one more bit of food for thought... if they undo the HST, are you sure they're not just going to find some other, possibly even MORE unpleasant tax to replace it?

Remember - sometimes "...better the devil you know, than the devil you don't"...


Friday, April 08, 2011

What's pulling you?

What's pulling you?

If you really want to change, you have to decide that you want it, but more importantly, why you want it - knowing what drives you and what will keep you motivated is absolutely critical to achieving your dreams.

Most people won't (and don't) take the time to figure it out, these same people will get only a few weeks into their program before they lose motivation and they will be destined to fail because they never took the time to examine why they wanted to change in the first place and more importantly, what they were willing to do to achieve that change.

Having a clearly defined goal gives you a destination to aim for, but that isn't enough on its own. You also need to have a powerful driving force - an understanding of why you want to accomplish that goal - which will create a magnet that will pull you towards that destination. You will undoubtedly encounter obstacles over the course of your journey - everybody does. However, if you don't know exactly where it is you're going and why you want to go there, you'll easily be pulled off track and the smallest obstacle will cause you to give up. But if you know exactly where you're going, how you want to feel, and you have a powerful reason why - you can get through any obstacle, because the magnet will be strong enough to pull you towards your goal, making it easier not to give up until you get there.

~ Sasha

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The art of squatting

Squatting should be a corner stone exercise of any training program.

A quality squat requires the elements of mobility and stability to be in balance. Speaking of balance - you need a lot of that too.

A certain amount of strength is also an important component of squatting, and when you bring together all of these elements, you have a truly challenging, yet effective, exercise.

The big problem is that most people cannot execute a squat correctly as a result of muscle tightness or muscle weakness, or a combination of the two.

For starters, keep these basic pointers in mind while you are squatting:
  1. Select a foot width that works for you - the recommendation is to keep the feet hip to shoulder width apart, but our anatomies are not all the same, so make adjustments to accommodate this fact.
  2. On the downward phase of the movement:
    • Knees follow (track) the toes. Work hard to keep the knees from collapsing inward (called Valgus loading)
    • Allow for a small amount of forward bend at the waist (trunk flexion). Remember however, you are not lifting the weight using your lower back!
    • Keep the head looking straight ahead of you. Looking down will push you into forward bending (flexion).
  3. Breathing - Exhale as you push upwards, inhale as you move downwards

Executing a quality squat emerges from the body being able to move through a full range of motion - from ankle to head. Have good flexibility and mobility is key.

It also requires us to possess a certain degree of stability to be able to move the resistance.

Working on joint stability and overall body stability will have a huge impact on your squat mechanics.

Always strive to maintain good biomechanics from the start to end of the movement - this is when the optimal gains in performance will be achieved.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Op Ed: Crossfit

Continuing along the lines of my last blog, this week I'm going to speak about the other thing I'm most often asked for an opinion on: Crossfit.

Now, in the interest of demonstrating a balanced point of view, I'd first like to list some of the positive things that I believe come from it:

  • It has gotten a wide scope of people to embrace the concept of "functional training" - getting healthy individuals off of rehab and muscle isolation exercises like the leg extension and pec deck.

  • It has helped to create a culture where women get stronger and faster; they don't worry about "getting too big", or just being "toned".

  • It's pushed people to actually challenge their comfort zones - no more mindlessly swinging your legs on an elliptical machine while reading a magazine or talking on a cellphone.

On the flip side, the inherent problems I have with Crossfit:

  • It's dangerous. Olympic lifting, for example, should only be performed by people who have had appropriate training, and never for high reps to fatigue. These are complex movements, that require precise timing and coordination - allowing form to degrade under high volume is irresponsible and negligent.

  • It's attitude towards these risks is deplorable. Two of their mascots are a couple of clowns, one called "Pukey" (no further description necessary) and "Uncle Rhabdo" - a reference to "rhabdomyolisis" which is a painful and potentially life-threatening condition wherein muscle tissue breaks down rapidly as a result of damage to the muscle, and which has popped up enough as a result of this system to lead to the creation of a mascot. In fact, the article "Killer Workouts" was written by a Crossfitter...!

  • There is no quality control. Crossfit gyms are affiliates, not franchises - meaning for a cost, they can call themselves "Crossfit" with no checks and balances to maintain competency. You may have a highly-trained Crossfit coach that is a registered kinesiologist in one gym... and some guy/girl who's completed nothing more than a weekend certification in the next one. In fact, in many cases they may be unable to get insurance through legitimate companies - thus, the Crossfit Risk Retention Insurance was created... a self-managed, in-house insurance run by the very people who the companies won't insure (see here for a better explanation).

  • Finally - and perhaps this is the reason for all of the aforementioned issues - anyone who questions their methods or approach is immediately attacked, both professionally and, in some cases, personally; detractors are labeled as "weak", or "cowardly" and there is no debate or discussion that might lead to improvements. In fact, some high profile individuals that were connected to Crossfit have left under rather "unpleasant" terms (read one example here).

A final note: if you are one of the devoted "Crossfitters" and take issue with my thoughts (see the final point above), then feel free to deride me for them - I'm probably not going to debate it with you. Firstly, because I've made it clear that this is an opinion piece. Secondly, I have more important things to do than argue with you, especially when neither of us is going to change our mind as a result of it.

Let the public look into it themselves and make their own informed decision. I'm just one guy with an opinion.


Friday, April 01, 2011

The Old Man, the Boy and the Donkey

An old man, a boy and a donkey were going to town. The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked beside him. As they went along they passed some people who remarked it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding. The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people who remarked, "What a shame! He makes that little boy walk." They then decided they both would walk.

Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So they both rode the donkey.

Now they passed some people who shamed them by saying how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey. The boy and man said they were probably right, so they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal, and he fell into the river and drowned.

The moral of the story? If you try to please everyone, you might as well kiss your ass goodbye.

~ Courtesy of Michael Port (Book Yourself Solid)