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How To Decide Your Next Training Goal, Part I: Overall Health Markers, Movement, Body Composition

How To Decide Your Next Training Goal, Part I: Overall Health Markers, Movement, Body Composition

Feeling nostalgic? Ditch the Google Maps.
Photo by Cherise Evertz on Unsplash

This is Part I of a series of three. (Not unlike The Godfather).
Part I: Overall health markers, movement, body composition
Part II: Are Your Strength And Conditioning Up To Standard?
Part III: Measuring Fitness and Filling The Gaps


To get clarity on what to focus on next in your training requires a thorough inspection of where you currently are. Let’s face it, most of us like to do things that we’re good at while ignoring the stuff that we suck doing. People who build muscle easily like to get bigger while ignoring movement. Those with flexibility for days often neglect strength. Some love cardio, but spit at lifting. And so on.  

But allowing our weaknesses to stay weak stops us from thriving. Be it in a sport or life in general. I say, enough. Let’s have a geez and systematically cover each aspect of health, strength and fitness to see where you currently stand and what you should work on. 

Overall health markers

Bloodwork

Blood count, cholesterol, inflammation, mineral and vitamin levels, and whatever else your doctor is in the mood for, matters. Training, performing and trying to be an all around healthy, well-functioning person with bad bloodwork is like driving the highway with a handbrake on. Difficult, slow and annoying.

Book an appointment with your doctor. He or she will be the best person to tell you what to look out for and what, if anything, needs fixing. 

If your bloodwork is not quite what they should be this brings us to your first goal: improve your blood work. Whether it’s exercise, meds, diet or perhaps drinking less Jagermeister on your next Caribbean holiday, sort it out.

Onwards!

Blood pressure

120/80 is ideal. As you know, you can get this checked everywhere these days. At the doctors, gym, or the convenience of your own home. 

If you’re constantly getting a high reading, talk to your doctor. Maybe it’s any of the things we went through with bloodwork. Or maybe it’s more on the mental side. Meditation, mindfulness and general stress management strategies could help too. Or maybe it’s your genetics. Regardless, worth figuring out.

Onwards!

Moving like a human should

Not getting joints in the optimal positions to adapt to stress means that you are not getting the best out of your training. You’re leaving results on the table, not building strength as efficiently as possible, maybe even risking an injury by forcing a joint to handle a load in a position it cannot get into without compromising something along the way. 

You know, the folks who overhead press without proper shoulder range of motion and end up doing the good old low back arch so deep it’s more like a standing bench press. Makes my eyes bleed drops of sorrow.

What sort of ranges of motion you need in each joint depends on what you are training for and what you need in your sport. Being able to lift your arms overhead is not really that big of a deal for a runner. But it becomes an issue for a swimmer. Still, it’s nice to be able to scratch your forehead, regardless of your sport of choice.

There are two fundamental movements that everyone should be able to do, regardless of the training goals. This tells us that the body has at least the absolute basics covered. 

The absolute minimum movement standards everyone should be able to do

There can be a host of reasons (individual joint restrictions etc) beyond the scope of this article, as to why you can’t touch your toes or do a squat. And if you have a big gut that stops you from performing these movements, your time is probably better spent on losing weight instead of movement skills. That might be all you need. If which case, feel free to skip the Body Composition section below. 

But these following drills work for the majority who lack the stability for toe touch or squat. Yes, it can be a stability problem even if “my hamstrings are too tight”.

Toe touch progression. Do five reps toes elevated, followed by five heels elevated. Run hands down your thighs and shins and exhale forcefully as if blowing out the candles on your cake when you turned 11, on the way down. Bend knees however much you need to to reach the toes. Aim to reduce the knee bend with each rep.
Supported squat. Hold on to support to lower yourself to a squat. Keep reducing the grip on the support with each rep, eventually letting go at the bottom altogether. Each rep should feel challenging but manageable.

Every healthy human should be able to squat and touch their toes. Once you have the toe touch keep retesting it every once in a while to make sure you still have it. Checking squat is not that big of a deal if you do squatting (bodyweight, goblet, barbell…) with a good form in your program.

Onwards!

Body composition

Before running head first into the prickly forest of body composition: I don’t care how you look. What you’re about to read is based on what science tells us about health. Not on what the People Magazine tells us about looks. Bodies come in all shapes and forms and different body compositions are more suitable for different sports and activities. 

Health on the other hand is relatively universal. The good old Body Mass Index (BMI) works well for the sedentary, or obese, but I am not fond of it for the rest. It can skew the results for healthy, active population since it doesn’t differentiate between lean muscle and fat.

Using a simple waist measurement is more accurate. Carrying excess fat around your waist is a bigger health risk compared to the fat sitting on your hips and thighs. 

Here are the waist circumference thresholds, taken roughly at the belly button, that indicate an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease [1]:
– For women the risk is increased at 80 cm or more, and greatly increased at 88 cm or more.
– For men the risk is increased at 94 cm or more and greatly increased at 102 cm or more.

Can you be too lean?

Sure can, ese. Being super lean and having a six pack is not necessarily the healthiest way to exist in this cruel world. I know it wasn’t the case for me back in the day. The social isolation aspects aside, being too lean might lead to amenorrhea, low libido, brittle bones and disordered eating. Being super lean has more or less nothing to do with being healthy.

The healthy body fat [2]
– For women anywhere between 22%-33% is healthy for most.
– For men anywhere between 11%-22% is healthy for most.

Let’s talk about muscle

Having enough lean muscle mass, and consequently strength, means that you’ll probably perform better in your sport, and in the day-to-day activities in general

We lose muscle mass as we age so to keep functioning well in our old age it’s wise to build and a bit of a buffer of lean muscle. Muscle is metabolically active and improves how the body deals with the nutrients you throw at it. People with higher muscle mass tend to have better insulin sensitivity for one.

Resistance training will not only help you to maintain your muscle mass, but it also fights off age-related bone degeneration. Peak bone mass is reached in ones late teens and early twenties and after that it’s all downhill. The steepness of the downhill can be greatly reduced by lifting weights. 

So what is the optimal amount of lean muscle mass?

Unlike body fat, muscle mass doesn’t have an ideal, set in stone chart for optimal and ideal amounts. Instead, focus on keeping your body fat in the healthy range and averaging two to three moderate to heavy resistance training sessions per week. 

Check Part II next week for the specifics to aim for. Or, if you work on a farm you can probably ignore the weights and just lift bales of hay.

What about too much muscle mass?

Yes, there is a point of too much. Having an excess of muscle mass might not be too good for your when looking through the lense of longevity. The heart has to keep pumping blood through a massive frame which can cause it to strain. Never a great thing for being alive. Then we can also make a case that excess muscle mass elsewhere in the body also means excess muscle in the heart itself. Again, probably not great for living.

I go on a limb saying that most people don’t have enough muscle on them. Too much muscle is only an issue for bodybuilders on gear who look nothing like humans. You know, the ones who make you think of Godzilla having sex with an earthmoving truck.

Onwards!

Let’s recap

To decide what you should train for next requires a non-judgemental look at where you currently are. If any of the ones we just went through are off, well, you have your next training and health goal set.

Bloodwork: blood count, cholesterol, mineral and vitamin levels, and whatever else your doctor is in the mood for. Something not quite right? Sort it out.

Blood pressure: 120/80 is ideal. Maybe it’s what was wrong with the bloodwork. Or maybe it’s more mental. Mindfulness practice and improving your relationship with stress and life might help.

Movement: really depends on your sport of choice as well what you’d like to be able to do in day-to-day life. As a bare minimum for any healthy adult, you should be able to touch your toes and squat down comfortably.

Body composition: waist circumference can indicate an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. For women the risk is increased at 80 cm or more and greatly increased at 88 cm or more. For men the risk is increased at 94 cm or more and greatly increased at 102 cm or more.

You can also be too lean. The healthy body fat for women anywhere 22%-33% is healthy for most. For men anywhere between 11%-22% is all gee. 

Muscle is metabolically active and improves how the body deals with the nutrients you throw at it. People with higher muscle mass tend to have better insulin sensitivity too. But too much muscle can put a strain on the heart. Although this is usually only an issue for those who are on gear and look like Godzilla had sex with an earthmoving truck.

Onwards to Part II: Are Your Strength And Conditioning Up To Standard?


References:

[1] https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/body-mass-index-bmi-and-waist-circumference
[2] Healthy percentage body fat ranges: an approach for developing guidelines based on body mass index

Break Bad Habits In The New Year

Break Bad Habits In The New Year

FYI, playing guitar is not a bad habit according to Joonas. But this guy seems to think otherwise. Or maybe he’s just navigating his inner Jimi Hendrix. Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s leave it at that.
Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

You know who’s a prolific writer? To date, he’s written 83 novels, 5 non-fiction books and over 200 short stories [1]. He has sold over 350 million copies of his books, and at least 24 of his books or stories are made into movies. How is this sort of productivity even possible?

In the morning he aimlessly wanders around his house, knocks back a few cups of coffee while trying to figure out what to do with his time. If he’s lucky, he’ll get a whoof of inspiration and starts writing. Or, if the inspiration doesn’t whisper stories to him that morning he might just take it easy and play non-alcoholic beer bong (he’s been sober since the late 80s) with his buddies. 

Of course not. When he’s working on a story, he sets himself a daily target of 2000 words and writes until he’s completed it. The writer has a set space, free of distractions where he does only one thing, his writing. It’s all about the habit of writing while eliminating distracting bad habits.

So, instead of making a vague and super lame New Year’s resolution this year, like “I will drink less alcohol”, use the science of habits to sort it out.

The simple science of habits

In Atomic Habits James Clear goes balls deep into how to become a master of good habits (or slave of bad ones). By recognising the power of the habit loop and learning to use it to your advantage you’ll figure out how not to suck with your New Year’s resolutions this year. Here’s what the habit loop looks like when typed instead of drawn. Because, no time to draw on New Year’s Eve.

  • Cue 
  • Craving
  • Response
  • Reward

(Not much of a loop, but bear with me.) Let’s go through them one by one.

Cue

Cue is something that alerts your brain of the start of the habit loop. A bit of information predicting a reward at the end of the loop. Things like:

  • Seeing your phone on the table
  • Meeting a specific person
  • Seeing a bottle of water

A rule to remember is to make cues for bad habits invisible. If you have a habit of checking your phone as soon as you notice it on the table, put it in the draw. To not let things escalate with a specific person, don’t meet up with them (makes sense in a second). Or, buy a bottle of water so you don’t have to steal it from an old lady (will also make sense in a second).

Craving

This is a sense that something is missing after the cue kicks in. It’s the interpreter of the earlier cue. You don’t crave alcohol itself but what it gives you, “a desire to change your internal state” and an attempt to address your underlying motives. Usually a feeling that brings immediate pleasure, or makes your feel you better about yourself or the situation you’re in.

  • Seeing your phone on the table (Cue) 
  • You’re bored and want to check Facebook. I mean, maybe someone’s liked you earlier post about what you ate for breakfast because your life is so fucking interesting (Craving)
  • Meeting a specific person (Cue) 
  • You get the urge to have an alcoholic beverage, because this specific person is too heaaaaaavyyyyy to deal with your sober self [2] (Craving)
  • Seeing a bottle of water (Cue) 
  • You want a gulp of water (Craving)

Response

To no one’s surprise this is the action you take to relieve the tension of craving.

  • Seeing your phone on the table (Cue)
  • You’re bored and want to check Facebook (Craving)
  • You check your phone embracing it like your long-lost lover who went missing when his boat capsized in a heavy storm so long ago that you’d almost forgotten about him but now he’s back and you can’t believe it because apparently he was shipwrecked on an island and lived there with his only companion, a baseball named Sergey (Response)
  • Meeting a specific person (Cue) 
  • You get the urge to have an alcoholic beverage (Craving)
  • You slam down three Black Tooth Grins while everyone in the bar stares at you in despise (Response)
  • Seeing a bottle of water (Cue) 
  • You want a gulp of water (Craving)
  • You steal the bottle off a nice old lady who was carrying it and her small dog and now you take a big gulp of water (Response) Also, you make me sick. How could you do that to such a lovely lady?

For a bad habit you want to make the response as difficult as possible. Meet in a coffee shop instead of in a bar. Make a deal that you pay your friend $100 each time you have a drink. Or book an important meeting right after the meeting where you can’t turn up sober. 

Reward

Satisfying the craving floods your brain chemistry with immense pleasure and joy.

  • Seeing your phone on the table (Cue)
  • You’re bored and want to check Facebook (Craving)
  • You check your phone (Response)
  • You’ll get an instant gratification and a jolt that briefly dissipates your boredom. Checking your phone becomes associated with killing boredom (Reward) 
  • Meeting a specific person (Cue) 
  • You get the urge to have an alcoholic beverage (Craving)
  • You slam down three Black Tooth Grins (Response)
  • You can tolerate your companion’s bullshit stories about how great they are. Black Tooth Grin becomes associated with meeting your companion (Reward)
  • Seeing a bottle of water (Cue) 
  • Your mouth suddenly feels dry and you want a gulp of water (Craving)
  • You drink a gulp of water (while the old lady is disgusted with your behaviour and about to call police) (Response)
  • The water hugs your mouth like a bowl of milk hugs yellow fruit loops. Drinking water becomes associated with a dry mouth. (Reward) But you’ll also go to jail. And rightfully so. What’s wrong with you??!.

What is immediately rewarded is repeated, we humans love love loooove instant gratification. Try to make the reward of a bad habit as unsatisfying and ungratifying as possible. 

In the Black Tooth Grin example you could bust out reverse psychology and act boring and dull so your annoying “friend” would not want to hang out with you anymore. Or, alternatively, you could also ask a random person to punch you in the knee cap each time you have a drink. 

Start by creating awareness

It’s hard to change the things you do when you’re not aware of them. Start taking notes of your bad habits. When you notice something that doesn’t align with whom you want to be, write it down and try to answer these questions:

  • What’s the habit?
  • What was the cue?
  • What did I crave?
  • What was my response?
  • What was the reward?

If you’re like most of us, you’ll soon come up with a solid list of habits you’d rather change. What you’ll probably notice is that any habit that brings immediate pleasure, and you hadn’t implemented purposefully, is usually not good for your long-term goals. Watching porn, drinking alcohol, smoking, sleeping in… 

Except coffee. Drinking coffee feels amazing and is definitely good for your long-term goals. And yes, I am biased because I love coffee and refuse to change my coffee drinking habits.

Set your environment

Instead of using your limited resource of willpower to stop doing bad habits, use your environment to your advantage. 

As mentioned earlier, putting your phone out of sight makes it easier to stop checking it. Meeting your annoying friend in a cafe (or not at all) makes it easier to avoid drinking. Buying a bottle of water makes you less tempted to steal it from an old lady.

Summary

The habit loop: 

  • Cue – Alerts your brain of the start of the habit loop. Make cues leading to bad habits invisible.
  • Craving – The interpreter of the earlier cue and an attempt to address your underlying motives. A feeling that brings immediate pleasure.
  • Response – The action you take to relieve the tension of craving. Make the response difficult.
  • Reward – Satisfying the craving floods your brain chemistry with immense pleasure and joy. Make the reward of a bad habit unsatisfying and ungratifying.

Start breaking bad habits by bringing awareness to them. Make a note each time you do a habit that doesn’t align with whom you want to be. Then deconstruct the habit by finding cue, craving, response and reward.

Instead of abusing your limited willpower set your environment to support good habits and avoid the bad ones. Hide the phone, meet in a cafe, buy a bottle of water.

About that prolific writer…

It’s Stephen King. Highfive if you knew.

Next step

Why Your Habits Don’t Work
Habit Change Made Ridiculously Simple
Reflecting on 365 Days Without Alcohol


Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear

[1] Wikipedia
[2] Come on, we all have one. Or seven. But really, I have none.

The Safest and Most Sustainable Way to Get Strong

The Safest and Most Sustainable Way to Get Strong

The deeper the roots the stronger the tree. Or, as Max Cavalera would put it, “Roots! Bloody roots!”
Photo by Jason Weingardt on Unsplash

It’s a Tuesday night and the clock on the living room wall hits midnight. Sarah Connor is stressed to her eyeballs. She’s spent the evening at a friend’s party mostly worrying about getting home because she has to be back at the office by 7am, and it’s a 30 minute drive home. Sleep is not something Sarah is happy to sacrifice. She’s itching to bolt home as fast as possible.

She tells quick goodbyes and throws her tired body into her Q7 Audi, starts the car and reverses to the street. She shifts to ‘D’. With lead heavy petrol running through her veins Sarah rockets towards the night sky kissed highway.

Interlude. At this point you probably assume that I’ll write about Sarah speeding her way through the night like a true gearhead, driving off a cliff, severely injuring herself and killing a large colony of nearly extinct special birds nesting half way between the cliff and the ground? No. Too morbid for today.

Fifteen minutes into her raging drive home, beacons of blue flash from the darkness in her rearview mirror. Highway’s finest in uniform request her attention. Sarah’s been doing 105km per hour on an 80km zone. Licence, registrations and the time to call a tow truck. 

Suspension of licence for 3 months, fines enough to make a deposit on a nuclear missile in Russia. Luckily she hadn’t been drinking. Still, good luck trying to sleep now.

Like Sarah, when we limit our focus on to the end goal we tend to ignore that the fastest (and let’s face it, often the sexiest, most marketable) way of getting somewhere is rarely the safest or the most sustainable. Strength training is no exception.

The unsexy, idiot proof strength training

Even the name echoes Minnesota more than California: constant resistance strength training. 

People who thrive on this tend to be the ones who treat the gym as practice. As a means to an end. They find their excitement in life from outside of the training sessions. Let’s face it, this is how it should be instead of being the gym warrior who lives to lift. 

I am really working hard here to not go on a tangent on a topic I’ve repeated ad nauseam…  To keep this article somewhat short, check here for more on what ad nauseum here could look like.

Factors making constant resistance strength training safer

Muscles adapt faster to the strength training compared to connective tissue. That means ligaments, tendons and all the other fancily named areas of the body. They can’t keep up with the strength gains the muscles are reaping.

So if you keep lifting heavier weights by progressing too fast the rest of the body isn’t necessarily ready for it. Constant resistance strength training method uses this to your advantage by forcing you to wait until you really are ready to progress.

Here’s how I use it with my clients

Choose a weight you can do for a given amount of reps. This really depends on the exercise. You wouldn’t want to do a one repetition max lift on a say, I don’t know, ½ kneeling cable chop. I’ll give you two examples here, both lower and higher rep exercises. The principles stay the same, regardless of the exercise.

Constant strength training using trapbar

Warm up to a weight you can do for 6 reps. Weight should be challenging, but all the reps should be doable without grinding at any point.

First warm up set 60kg x5 reps
Second warm up set 80kg x5 reps
Worksets 100kg x 6 reps x 2 sets

Now for the next however many workouts do that same thing until it starts to feel easier, even easy. Then add 5-10kg to the bar and start all over again. That’s it.

Constant strength training using ½ kneeling cable chop

Here’s an exercise better suited to a higher repetition 8+ training. No need to warm up the same way we did on trapbar. But as always, get a general warm up done before the training part of your workout.

Worksets 12.5kg x 8 reps x 2-3 sets

Once easy-ish add weight. Little jumps in here are more feasible versus 5-10kg. 

Listen to your body

Some days the weight feels tough. Do fewer sets, train to train another day. Sometimes it feels lighter, add a set. But don’t do too much. There’s a point, a fine line of diminishing returns. Again, train to train another day.

Because you don’t have strict target numbers to hit each workout, you’ll never feel behind. You never have to force it. And this is great news for us who have kids, busy work, are tending a nut farm, and other stuff that often impairs our sleep and training. 

Basically, don’t force the training if you’ve spent the night roaming the nut farm.

This sounds just about as boring as shoveling lost thoughts of the poets past

Well, it depends what you want out of your training time. If you’re anything like my typical readers you want sustainable results to thrive in the activities you love. So, no, we don’t think that’s boring. If you love simplicity, no, definitely not boring. And results are never boring. 

You could also go about things without any structure and just do whatever smokes your goat that day. Fun? Yep, but not necessarily super progressive for strength gains. Unless you’re an absolute beginner.

But if you want to feel like a kid in a pawn toy shop each time you get changed for your workout clothes, yes you’ll probably find this boring. I’d make a case that you should find excitement from joining the local circus, not from from the gym.

This also sounds like it takes a long time to see results

What’s long? Longer than other training methods where you follow pre-established percentages to lift a certain amount of weight each day? Or where you work up to a heavy lift for four weeks, deload, and start again? 

Yes. But I argue constant resistance strength training is more sustainable and you’re less likely to burn out and injure yourself. Also, you don’t have to be a slave to the numbers or turn each training session into a maths class.

How about linear progression where you keep adding reps or weight each training session? Yes, this will take longer. But same caveats from above apply. Besides, unless you’re a true beginner there’s only so long you can keep progressing linearly. 

What did we learn today?

Pick a weight you can do for 8 reps (or 6, or 9, or 10, 11, or 12…) without grinding the weight. Keep repeating that for however many workouts it takes to make the weight feel easier, even easy. Then add more weight and start again. The jumps in weight don’t need to be humangus.

Constant resistance strength training method requires patience. You have to be in it for the long game. Which means this works well for you and me. We are past the age of ego driven gym fanaticism.

Your progress will be more sustainable and your strength gains deeply rooted and solidified. You’ll spend a long time getting strong on a weight before progressing. Solidified. Great word. One more time, solidified. 

This method seems to work especially well for those who are in somewhat tune with their body, can listen to what it’s whispering to them, and don’t give two shits about what anyone else thinks about their lifting.

For the next three months Sarah embraced car pooling

She was able to get her co-worker Brian to pick her up each morning. Now, Brian was all about smart driving. He left ample time for the commute each morning.

Brian woke up earlier when he predicted the traffic would be bad (rain, roadworks…) And on the rare occasion when things didn’t go his way on the road, Brian was content at being late, “as my grandma used to say, some nasty shit you just can’t control.” Something for Sarah to meditate on.

Besides paying her fines, Sarah spent three months forking out for Ubers to get her kid to and from school, karate practice, football skill training and piano lessons. All by the same teacher.

Next step

Hey, this sounds a lot like Easy Strength.

Why You Should Keep Training When Injured (and How to Do It Without Exploding)

Why You Should Keep Training When Injured (and How to Do It Without Exploding)

“This is how we found it. I swear.”

Like so many times before, Captain Skip Brown Jr. is flying a scheduled morning flight from Sydney to LAX. He’s done this exact same flight, with this four engine Airbus A340 plane a hundred times, and counting. As with the previous flights everything’s going as expected, smooth. If you don’t count the shitty weak coffee, the cabin crew is serving this morning.

Four hours into the flight though things take a rather upsetting turn. Without a warning one of the plane’s four engines shuts down with a bang.

He reaches for the CAB button on the audio control panel to share the disappointing news with the passengers as well as the cabin crew who are busy problem solving what the fuck went wrong with the coffee today. Miguel, the chief of cabin crew on today’s flight, is adamant that it’s the beans.

The captain clears his throat, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It’s a bit unpleasant, but we’ve just super recently lost one of our four engines. Not sure what happened, but it’s annoying. Anyway, a plane with only three working engines is not worth flying with. I just want to go home and sit on my couch and watch Netflix. And definitely not fly this plane anymore. A piece of shit that it is.”

Captain Skip Brown then does the only reasonable thing he can think of, he turns off the remaining three engines and starts a gentle descend with the goal of gliding the A340 into the Pacific Ocean. “Only three working engines left,” he mutters to himself. “No point flying now. Can’t wait to get home and watch Narcos Mexico.”


Ok, so besides the weak coffee and Narcos Mexico, none of that makes any logical sense. Captain Skip Brown’s A340 still has three perfectly working engines. The plane would fly as normal with two, perhaps only one engine. 

Skip Brown Jr.’s approach to flying is on par with how people look at training when injured. “I can’t do it 100 percent so why do it at all”. Here’s why ditching your body into the Pacific, aka your couch, when injured is not smart.

Training while injured will help you to maintain your strength levels

You might lose some strength, but training will definitely slow the speed that you’ll lose it. If your right shoulder is injured, you still have three limbs and the trunk to train. That’s over 80% of the body. What’s more, you might actually speed up the healing.. 

But before diving into the details of how and what to do, there are two important points to remember.

1. Injuries in this article means stuff to do with limbs

There are certain areas of the body that might be tough to find ways around when injured. Low back is one of them. Depending on what’s going on with the back it might be better to take a step back from intense training and focus on less straining activities. 

It really depends on what’s going on with the back whether you need to stop training, or if modifying the program is enough. Backs are tricky, especially online.

2. If it hurts don’t do it

Regardless of the information on training around injuries, don’t do something if it aggravates the symptoms. Simple rule, but ignored way too often. 

Three ways to train when injured

1. Train one side only
2. Progress by increasing time under tension instead of adding resistance
3. Find an alternative exercise with the same, or similar, movement pattern

Let’s tackle them one by one.

Train one side only

While letting the injured side to recover, you should keep training the uninjured side as normal. Not only will this help you to maintain the results you’ve gotten so far, but it will aid the healing. 

A process called cross transfer takes place when training the uninjured side. It’s a neurological health-loaded roundhouse kick to the injury. The body transfers some neurological training benefits from the uninjured side to the injured one which is pretty much candy for your injury.

There’s a study somewhere about how hip replacement patients who kept training their uninjured side where able to heal quicker from their operation compared to those who stopped altogether. Candy.

If you can’t hold a weight increase time under tension

When one arm is injured, it can get complicated to load up the lower body heavy enough to get the training effect. Any two legged squatting movement becomes difficult because you can’t hold enough weight (if any) to provide sufficient training stimulus for the legs.

That’s when time under tension and single leg work become your friends. Do single leg squats (one leg needs less loading than two) with a 3-5 second eccentric phase (lowering). Here’s how a brutal set of ten would look:

5 second lower – 1 second up x 10. Finish all the reps before taking a break.

You can also use the time under tension trick when doing upper body exercises, such as a single arm dumbbell press. It means you don’t have to go as heavy and worry about how to get a big dumbbell up in the first place without helping with the injured arm.

Or worse, you might have to ask a gym “friend”. You know, the guy in the skinny singlet with a double nipple piercings who likes to talk about the unquantifiable energy of the universe. Meh.

Find an alternative exercise with the same, or similar, movement pattern

Sometimes you can’t do the original movements in your program. This could be, as mentioned earlier, a struggle to load a two legged squat, not being able to set up the landmine press exercise without aggravating the injured side, or unable to hold the trapbar. You’ll need an alternative that has a similar benefit as the original exercise. 

Here are a few examples

Squat is predominantly a knee dominant lower body strength exercise. We want a similar benefit without having to load as heavy (or at all) → single leg squat with 5 second eccentric phase on each rep.

Landmine press is an upper body pushing strength exercise → single arm dumbbell press with a slight incline will give a similar training effect.

Trapbar deadlift is a lot of things, but mostly a hip dominant lower body exercise → single leg skater squat is the closest we can get.

The purpose is to keep training, even progressing, without making your program one dimensional. One exception is upper body push pull ratio. Everyone and their mum needs more upper body pulling exercises. So if you can’t press, you’ll be fine doing any form of pulling instead.

Most folks initially struggle with the idea of only training one side 

They’re afraid the uninjured side will become too strong or too big. Like Quagmire walking out of the house after he discovers the internet. I understand the fear, but once you think about how much work it takes to build strength and size, this fear should become a moot point. Let’s rephrase the question.

Why would you let a perfectly healthy limb lose its hard earned strength and muscle and weaken it to the levels similar to your injured side? 

If it really gets that much stronger and bigger than the uninjured side (it won’t) you can do double the work for the injured side once it’s healed. You have a strong limb, use it to your advantage.

Real example of a client with an upper body injury

Here’s what we did with a guy who had injured his right shoulder/chest in an indoor soccer match.

A1) kettlebell front Squats single leg squats
A2) chin up single arm TRX row, left arm only

B1) split stance deadlift same, but loading the left arm only
B2) dumbbell bench press dumbbell single arms bench press, left arm only

C1) single arm bottom up carry → same, left only
C2) dumbbell single arm row same, left only

Real example of a client with a lower body injury

Here’s what we often do with a client who’s knee doesn’t love the eccentric part of squatting, or knee flexion in general. Kneeling is also often problematic.

Most of the hip dominant movement are fine though. Her programs are built around aggressively training the hinging while using the limited choices we have for training the knee flexion. Needless to say she swings a heavy kettlebell like a boss.

A1) suitcase carry
A2) med ball shot put

B1) kettlebell swings
B2) cable press with a forward step this is our opportunity to get in low level knee work

C1) Skillmill* – her knee tolerates this well so we use it almost every session. The lack of eccentric work (you’re only moving forward) makes it money for the knee.
C2) TRX Row

Summary

Find ways to train the healthy parts of the body. Don’t let them regress to the level of the injured side. You will not only maintain more of the strength on the injured side but also speed up the recovery with neurological cross body transfer magic.

Injured limbs are usually simple to train around. Train the uninjured side as normal and increase tension when struggling to add resistance. When swapping exercises try to stick with the same or similar movement patterns. And no, you won’t end up like Quagmire by only training one side.

Things take a complicated left turn up the hill when you’re dealing with a trunk or low back injury.

Captain Skip Brown Jr. realises he’s being silly

One minute into the descent an overwhelming quantity of positive warmth rushes over the captains body. “A340 with three engines is still a beauty to fly. It’s like riding an arctic fox on marshmallows.”

Miguel solves the weak coffee riddle (it was the beans), and brews a new batch. He hand delivers it to the cockpit, placing it in the firm, warm, but cool and calm hands of Captain Brown.

The captain pushes a button on the audio control panel to contact LAX air traffic control. “Captain Skip Brown Jr’s eagle is LAX bound. Stop. Light up the runway like a Christmas tree, Santa’s coming home. Stop. And for Christ’s sake someone get Miguel a raise. Stop.”

“Also, nobody tell me what happens in Narcos Mexico. Full stop.”**


*a machine mimicking prowler/sledge. Small gym no turf space.
**I am somewhat confident this is how pilots talk.

References
https://www.strengthcoach.com/public/Cross-Transfer-and-Bad-Physical-Therapy.cfm

Reflecting On 365 Days Without Alcohol: Why? And Was It Worth It?

Reflecting On 365 Days Without Alcohol: Why? And Was It Worth It?

It’s hot. And it’s humid. Typical January day in Sydney. The consequences of my earlier decision to stand in front of the blazing hot barbeque, to grill an assortment of vegetables, is dawning on me. All the while my mind keeps playing the yes/no/yes/no tug of war with the thought of popping open an ice cold bottle of pale ale.

Breaking well-ingrained habits is hard. But changing bad habits you struggle with right now is not about the hacks, or the newest trick someone else is selling. When you convince yourself of something, you can then use the newly found reasoning as a fuel to make things happen.

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Are You Getting Functional Training All Wrong?

Are You Getting Functional Training All Wrong?

 

“Functional training is only functional when your body is functioning well.”
Dr. Andreo Spina

Ah, functional training, one of the many great fitness buzzwords. Remember when being functional was synonymous with arm curls on a Bosu ball and back squatting on Swiss ball?

Yep, we used to call it functional. Luckily, things have moved on and most folks now understand that stuff that’s great for circus and Instagram isn’t always the stuff that actually serves a purpose in real life.

Unless that purpose is Instagram, or circus.

To me, the word functional is all about training to get better at a certain task. While also training using movements that the human body is meant to do. Stuff like crawling, climbing, sprinting, squatting, jumping, throwing Molotov cocktails…

But it’s only functional if your body can safely do those things.

My beef with people diving chin-first into functional training.

People jump into these activities having none of the required prerequisites for them. “But Joonas, the body is meant to do them, it’ll adapt.”

Well, yes, and no.

It’s true that your body was meant to do all those things. And if you look at a kid who is yet to fall a victim to the wicked ways of our modern society, they can do all of that. Except perhaps the Molotov cocktails (unless their parents are rather free-spirited).

But you are not a 12-year-old kid. And just because you used to be able to do functional movements when you were 12 doesn’t mean that you can do them now without certain limitations.

Because you know what happened between when you were 12 and today? Life kicked you in the ribs. Hard.

Your body isn’t “designed” to be used for sitting eight or more hours a day staring at flashing lights on your computer screen. I am going to level with you: you’ve regressed since the days of your youthful self.

The less attention you’ve given to your body the last 20+ years, the less likely it is that you can just jump into one of the cool and fashionable functional movements.

So, yes, your body will adapt. But instead of just adapting by getting all functional and primal, it will adapt by compensating where necessary to just keep you moving.

And compensation doesn’t mean that you will become Spiderman. Instead it’s more along the lines of hello Gollum.

How to make your functional training more functional

Let’s start with your joints. Before you can put your body through some complicated movements, you need to have your joints functioning well enough to get into those positions.

Let’s use an example that is all the craze in gyms today: handstands. To me, this seems to be the new “let’s squat on a Swiss ball”. Why everyone thinks this is the coolest thing since picked and peeled and sliced and repackage and sealed and frozen banana is beyond me.

But, alas, the handstand still wins a fistfight over squatting on Swiss balls, so let’s see what your joints are required to do for a solid handstand. So that looking cool upside down doesn’t make your body hate life.

The ranges of motion you need to safely do a handstand

In handstand, most of your weight is sitting on your wrists, elbows and shoulders and scapula. For the sake of keeping this article somewhat on the shorter side, let’s leave out all the other parts (thoracic spine, rib cage position, fingers, etc.) that work too. Because, attention span.

What you need is not only mobility, but also controlled mobility to safely get to a handstand. To keep it simple:

Shoulder: 180 degrees of flexion, of which 60 degrees comes from scapula upward rotation. 
Try it: standing with your back against a wall, can you bring your arms overhead next to your ears without arching your back or shrugging your shoulders?

Elbow: a full elbow extension. 
Try
 it: repeat the above shoulder extension test. Are your elbows staying straight as you reach overhead?

Wrist: a minimum of 90 degrees of extension. Probably more.
Try it: again, repeat the above two steps. After reaching your arms overhead, can you bring your palms horizontal i.e. perpendicular to the ground? To illustrate this, can you hold a tennis ball (or any round object resembling a ball) on your palm without it rolling in any direction?

Did you pass the range of motion tests?

Yes? Well hello there, Peter Parker. That means that those three joints can get into the position of a handstand. But that doesn’t mean that they are yet strong enough to take the load of your full body weight.

Also, don’t forget your thoracic spine, rib cage, fingers… As you can see, there are a lot of moving pieces to a movement that looks relatively straightforward on Instagram.

You can’t? Before you swing your body against a wall, stop! Work on improving the control of those joints.

Why? Because what do you think will happen when you swing your body up against a wall and force your non-functional joints to take all your weight? Perhaps nothing in the beginning, but keep doing it and over time, your body will let you know about it.

And no, compensations still doesn’t mean becoming Spiderman. Not even if you compensate in fancy spandex.

How to improve how your joints move.

As mentioned, you need to not only improve the flexibility of the joint, but also the control you have over that flexibility. And just because your wrists are strong with hands dangling on your sides doesn’t mean they are strong with your hands overhead. Strength is position specific.

The best ways to start this process are controlled articular rotations and isometric contractions. You can click on the links and find detailed guides on how to get started on both.

Handstand is just an extreme example. There are more common movements that still require fully functioning joints: push ups require 90 degree of wrist extension. With crawling, you probably need even more.

Finally, how much of controlled mobility do you really need?

Annoyingly, this starts with it depends. The answer depends on the activities you do and the goals you have.

From an athletic point of view, a powerlifter needs way less controlled mobility than a ballet dancer needs. Sure, powerlifter has to be extremely strong in the movements they need, but the ranges are not excessive. In contrast, a ballet dancer needs to get into all kinds of weird and funky, if not kinky, positions.

So, it depends. 

For those of you who train for a general goals of feeling great and looking like Bat(wo)man (because Spiderman is lame) think of what exercises you practice during your training and what level of movement allows you to live a fulfilling life.

And as you get older, keep in mind that if you don’t use it, you will lose it. I am notorious, sometimes to my detriment, for looking at the super-un-sexy bigger picture: how do you want to feel, move and look on your 80th birthday?

I’ll answer this one for you: great.

Earn the right to be Spiderman. (But really, you probably want to be Batman).

Insights from Move Strong’s Kettlebell Workshop

Insights from Move Strong’s Kettlebell Workshop

I acknowledge that 99% of my readers are not health and fitness professionals. I will briefly explain what the workshop was about and then go into how you can improve your kettlebell training.

I recently took part in Move Strong’s An Introduction to Kettlebells for Rehabilitation and Performance –  workshop in Sydney.  The founders of Move Strong, Matt and Andrea, both chiropractors, have noticed a void in the industry and are on a mission to educate other clinicians, as well as personal trainers on how to better serve our patients and clients.

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How to Fix Back Pain

How to Fix Back Pain

Chains. Heavy. Also, this could be an entrance to Batman’s wine cellar. Keeping that sneaky Robin from drinking all the Merlot.

I am no stranger to back pain. There are more than few clients I see that have either had or a still dealing with the bane of back pain. And I’ve had my fair share of back issues in the past.

There is just something wrong about the evolution of the human animal. Wait, maybe it’s that the human animal hasn’t kept up with the fast-paced evolution of the world around it. The world raced from active manual labor (not that heavy manual labour was making great backs either) to days of prolonged sitting.

Alas, instead of cursing the world for what it has become and done to our lumbar spine and transverse processes, let’s instead see what you can do to feel better.

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Minimalist Health and Fitness for Busy Parents

Minimalist Health and Fitness for Busy Parents

World on fire. In a good way.

My life becomes busy when poor time management practice clashes with not having my priorities right. That’s all it is. To me, “being busy” belongs in the same category as “I am not motivated”. Both statements are just the end result from lack of discipline.

Lack of discipline to get away with not doing shit I don’t feel like doing.

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