The BRAIN TRAIN: Unilateral Workout

There are several good reasons to work one side of your body at a time, this month the focus in on training your brain - actually your neuromuscular system - through unilateral exercises.

Here's an interesting fact: numerous scientific studies have shown that working one side of the body can actually improve your strength on the opposite side. How is this possible? Because the major component of what we call "strength" doesn't happen in the muscles, it happens in the brain and nerve pathways and receptors that connect your brain to your muscles. We actually become stronger by improving the way that the brain "recruits" muscle fibers to do work such as lifting weights and the way the muscles respond to the call. Think of your body as a symphony. The brain is the conductor, the nerve pathways are his hands and batons, the musicians are the receptors in the muscles, and their instruments are the individual muscle fibers. Train them to work together and you'll make beautiful music.

What are some of the benefits of unilateral exercises? Most of you probably use them to balance your muscles. You feel you've got a weaker side, or maybe one side is slightly smaller than the other. That's only the beginning. Unilateral exercises can help improve core strength, and improve your overall strength by improving "neuromuscular efficiency." It's all in the way that you approach it.

Let's take a simple exercise like a single arm triceps push down with the cables. You'll often see someone doing this exercise leaning into the machine and putting their whole body into moving the handle from point a to point b. Instead, stand back, draw your abdominals and glutes in, bend the knees slightly, and maintain perfect posture throughout the movement. (Remember, glutes are core muscles). Now you've got those core muscles working to stabilize you - and not just in one direction. You'll feel the sideways pull as your obliques resist the weight imbalance. When doing single side exercises, lower the weight so that you can maintain perfect form and posture.

It is easy to start a unilateral program, you can even do it on ExpressLine. For added challenge, you can decrease the stability of unilateral exercises by standing on one leg, or use balls or balance boards. As you do these, you'll begin to understand how this is a learning process for your body, like loading a computer program into memory. Some of my clients and I began playing with unilateral exercises standing on one leg on a bosu ball - you may not want to think about that. They were incredibly hard at first, yet within a week or two, our brains had adjusted and they were surprisingly easy.

Will unilateral exercises make you smarter? Maybe not, but they're a smart addition to your program. Try the unilateral exercise program and 14 others at trainercary.com.


Advil Before Workout?

One of my clients, a hard training triathlete, recently asked me for my thoughts on using Advil before strength and cardio training. Advil, or ibuprofen, is part of a class of medicines call NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories). They act on the pain center of the brain and also act to reduce inflammation in the muscle tissue.

To begin answering this question, one has to understand what inflammation actually is: a protective response by the body. Swelling occurs as your body's own way of immobilized damaged areas. NSAIDS can help reduce the pain and swelling but as they do this, they are also reducing the body's natural ability to protect and heal itself. Repeatedly dosing on pain relievers and anti-inflammatories before training can casue stomach upset, interfere with the healing process, and make you susceptible to further injuries.

Be very careful. Listen to your body. If you have a constant nagging injury, see an orthopedist or physical therapist and learn how you can address the underlying causes rather than mask the problem with medication. In the extreme, there are some studies that suggest that use of ibuprofen during prolonged endurance exercises such as an Ironman can lead to dehydration, hyponatremia and kidney failure, because it alters kidney function (however, I haven't found any documented cases of this happening).

Bottom line: Advil is medicine. Avoid prolonged and chronic use of any medicine that your doctor has not approved, before OR after exercise.


Pre and Post Exercise Nutrition

Proper nutrition before and after competition or workouts can improve performance and results and in recovery. Many people today are putting too much emphasis on protein. Your muscles need carbohydrates for fuel and after a hard workout, they need to replace depleted glycogen - glycogen is the energy source that your muscles use and it most readily comes from carbohydrates.

PRE EXERCISE Eating before exercise can be tricky and very individual, you want to make sure that you can tolerate different foods at different times. Don't try new things the day of a big race or competition, and be aware of your body's signs. In general, you want to start with an empty stomach but plenty of energy flowing in your blood and stored in your muscles. Some people prefer a light snack within the hour before exercise, some prefer a larger snack about 2-3 hours before, others perform better with a large meal. It is also important to have enough fluids, and avoid greasy foods that can upset the stomach. Here are some guidelines:
1 hour before: fruits, fruit/vegetable juices, energy gels
2-3 hours before: fruits, fruit/vegetable juices PLUS low-fat yogurt and/or bread or bagel
3-4 hours before: fruits, fruit/vegetable juices plus low-fat yogurt, bread or bagel, PLUS a meal that is high in carbs, moderate in protein and low in fat (ie, pasta w/sauce, whole wheat bread w/chees/peanut butter/lean meat, cereal, baked potato), energy bar

POST EXERCISE Most important, replace lost fluids, about 20 oz per pound of weight lost during the exercise session.

Within 15-30 minutes, replace carbohydrates with a drink or light snack.
Within about 2 hours, have a meal that is high in carbohydrates, about 100-200 grams, together with some lean protein. That's about 3 cups of pasta or mashed potatoes.
For an excellent article called "Training Diet" from the Iowa State University, click here.


HURRY UP!!! Mini Work Out Program

Maybe you've been stuck on XpressLine for a while and aren't getting the results you want, or you've advanced your program but need a few new moves to kick it up a notch. I've got 4 words for you: TOTAL BODY EXERCISE CIRCUIT!

This mini program empasizes two factors that will maximize your calorie burn:
Exercises that use multiple joints and muscles groups simultaneously. The more muslces you use, the more claories you burn, especially when we incorporate the larger muscle groups (legs, back, chest - especially legs). You'll want to be as flexible as possible to begin, so try the program above as a warmup, and make sure to keep your abdominal core engaged throughout.

Circuit Training to keep the heart rate up. Bring your water bottle along, this program is designed to minimize the rest period between exercises to keep your heart pumping. The faster yoru heart beats, the more calories you burn. Be careful to stay in your comfort zone here, if you don't have a heart rate monitor and target zone, keep the exertion level at about 7 or 8 on a scale of 1-10 depending on your fitness level.

Click here for your program: HURRY UP! Mini Program


FLEXIBILITY: From Desk to Gym or Road

We've talked about it before in this space. Most of the clients and gym members I meet work at a desk all day long, seated and leaning over to reach their keyboards and computer monitors. Many also spend long hours on cars, trains, buses and planes. Their bodies become tight in front and some are virtually locked in that seated position head and shoulders forward position. For all of you, this is a fairly simple mini program to address the most typical issues as summarized below: TIGHT/SHORT MUSCLES: Calves, Iliotibial Band (side of leg), Adductors (Inner thigh), Hip Flexors/Quads, Piriformis, Chest, Anterior Deltoids and Internal Rotators (Front of Shoulder), Upper Traps, Lats WEAK/EXTENDED MUSCLES: Glutes Medius and Maximus, Deep Abdominal Core (mainly Transversus Abdominus) , Lower Traps and Rhomboids, Shoulder External Rotator Follow the link below to a flexibility program designed to stretch/lengthen the tight muscles and strengthen the weak/extended muscles. This program is not meant as a complete program or a substitute for a personalized fitness assessment, but is a effective way of getting most of you started towards addressing some of the most common flexibility issues.

- Muscles work as intended, doing their proper jobs
- Helps avoid using the WRONG muscles leading to better performance, better results and reduced risk of injury.Click here for your program: FLEXIBILITY FROM DESK TO GYM OR ROAD



by Cary Raffle MS CPT Master Trainer

Hardly an hour goes by at the gym that I don't find someone doing something that is not really helping them and might eventually hurt them, including:
• Incorrect Exercise Form
• Inappropriate Exercise Selection
• Obsolete Exercises
• Ineffective Exercise Programs
• Things that Look Good but Don't Make any Sense (most of these don't really look good they just think they do)
• Poor Nutritional Habits
This is the first time I have attempted this project, I've searched the internet and the books and can't find anything else like it all in one place. I'll be working on adding to it over time, and I invite you to clip the list and email me with any suggested additions for future editions.


You may as well kiss your rotator cuff goodbye. These exercises are obsolete - they have been shown to cause injury or impingement of the rotator cuff muscles over time. In addition, they provide no meaningful advantage to other exercises.

An arched back causes pressure on the spinal column, it can lead to damaged disks and vertebrae. Lower the weight, use a machine with back support, and strengthen your abdominal core if you find yourself arching. Be especially careful about this when doing any overhead exercises, the leverage of the weight increases the likelihood of injury.

Strength training damages your muscle fibers. Muscles recover, repair and actually grow during the 48 hours after your work them. You won't see progress and you increase the risk of injury if you don't allow the rest. This applies only to strength training, you can do cardio every day.

Your body adapts to an exercise program within 4-6 weeks, so you won't see much progress. You also increase the risk of repetitive stress injuries by continuing to perform the same motions at the same speed and intensity. Vary the exercises, weight, and tempo in your program at regular intervals.

Most of you are 5-50 years away from your high school and college sports days. You spend hours at a desk and commuting, and need to select exercises that are appropriate for grown ups who live a grown up lifestyle.

If you an't stand still while performing an exercise, your using too much weight or doing something wrong for you. The exception is certain exercises where rocking or bouncing may be part of the exercise - for reference, this does not include biceps curls, shoulder presses, lateral raises, and most other exercises that I see people bouncing though.

Breakfast kick starts your metabolism and gives you the energy you need to exercise. If you're looking to lose weight, numerous studies have proven that people who eat breakfast are more successful at long term weight loss than those who don't. You'll have more effective workouts when your body had the fuel.

The old fashioned weight belt may help protect your back, but over time it weakens your abdominal core because it is doing the job that you want to train your core muscles to do. No weight belts! Unless you're in the heavy-lifting phase of a power training program. Wraps and braces are a like a Band-Aid, they don't fix an underlying problem and in some cases transfer stress and problems to other joints. Talk to a sports medicine doctor or orthopedist before bracing, or that pain in your elbow may turn into an even worse problem at your shoulder.

Spend about 5-10 minutes warming up with some cardio. Your muscles are less likely to get injured when they aer warm, and the warmup causes enzymes to be released that help protect the muscles and make your workout more effective.

You'll get more out of your strength training if you have the energy to dedicate to the workout, and save the cardio for later or another day. If you've just run 5 or 10 miles, you're ready to eat, not to workout! (This one is dedicated to one of my highly conditioned clients who ran a quick 8 miles before a strength training session... and took an early leave to get a yogurt).

Proper breathing is to exhale on the concentric contraction, that is when you are actually shortening the muscle. It's the push phase on pushing exercises or the pull phase on pulling exercises.

Protein: According to the doctors at the American College of Sports Medicine, a 170 pound man needs about 131 grams of protein per day to increase muscle mass (1.7g/kg body weight) and about 100 grams to support endurance (1.3g/kg). If you're already getting that much in your diet, skip the supplement. More is not better!
Sports Drinks: Research shows that Gatorade-like drinks are effective when you're exercising or playing a sport for more than an hour, or if you like the taste and won't get enough fluids otherwise. Water is just as good if you're planning a 59 minute workout.
Creatine: Is one of the few supplements that has a long standing body of research, dating back almost 100 years. It shows no effect in aerobic performance, some short term gain in muscle size -believed by many to be increased water retention, and marginal improvement in strength or anaerobic performance.
Weight Loss & Energy Supplements: Most of these contain caffeine or guarana. Guarana contains about 3x the caffeine as coffee, and when it is included as an ingredient instead of caffeine, the manufacturer doesn't have to tell you how much caffeine is in the drink. Caffeine will help you lose weight, it raises your heart rate and is proven to increase fat metabolism, but would you have 3-4 cups of coffee? Taurine, also popular, has very little human research, which brings us to...
Other Supplements: Supplement makers can claim whatever they want. The government does not test nutritional supplements for effectiveness, safety, consistency, purity, or interaction with other drugs or conditions. Think about how often you hear about a drug that was FDA tested, or a supplement, that is later found to have harmed people. Do you really want to take that risk with your health?

IF YOU HAVE SHOULDER PROBLEMS, DON'T DO ANY OF THE FOLLOWING Overhead Exercises, Incline Chest Press (and possibly any chest press), Front Raises, Shrugs, Preacher Curls, Behind the Neck Triceps Extension All of these exercises put you at risk of further injury and pain. Have a detailed conversation with your doctor and/or physical therapist about contraindicated exercises, and consider consulting a personal trainer with post-rehab experience to design a safe and effective program.

If something hurts severely, or hurts for more than a week, its time to see a doctor. Don't assume that you can lower the weight and not do any further damage, sometimes it is the movement itself that is the problem. Get a diagnosis so that you now what you are dealing with.

Those ACSM Doctors say bring your water bottle along and: Drink about 1-2 cups of fluid 30 minutes pre exercise, drink ½ - 1 cup of fluid for every 15 minutes of exercise, drink 2 ½ cups for every pound lost during exercise. Drink even after your thirst is quenched.

These cause the back to arch and risks damage to the spine. Bent leg situps are not much better. Do crunches instead.

Never hold an unsecured weight over your face.


Current expert opinions on this machine, for most people, range from its a waste of time to its something that could hurt you if you have any knee problems. Try some lunges instead.

IF YOUR BACK HURTS, DON'T DO ANY OF THE FOLLOWING Back Extensions, Good Mornings, External Abdominal Exercises, Unsupported Above the Head Exercises, High Impact Activities Generally avoid anything that makes your low back tighten and/or arch. Focus on strengthening your abdominal core - your deep abdominals, not the so called 6 pack muscles. In most cases, back muscles are overworking because the inner abdominal muscles are weak. Sitting at a desk all day is one thing that can make your abs weak and your back tight, so you'll want to progress to exercises that get you out of a seated position.

Stretch before and after you exercise. Get your muscles into balance by stretching the tight ones before you exercise to get your joints in proper alignment and avoid injury; after exercise, stretch the muscles that became tight during exercise. You don't have to stretch EVERY muscle, just the tight ones.
To be continued...


The Truth About Abdominals

If you want great looking abs, the first thing you need to do is reduce the layer of fat covering your abdominal muscles. The only way to burn fat is to have a calorie deficit: either burn more calories than you eat or eat less calories than you burn. You can do this through diet, exercise, or a combination of both. Resistance training of your large muscles - legs, chest and back - will maximize your calorie burn and may also help increase your resting metabolism as you gain lean muscle.

Abdominal Exercises strengthen your muscles but are not effective in reducing abdominal fat. You can have very strong abdominal muscles covered by a layer of fatty tissue. It is more efficient to spend the majority of your limited exercise time burning the fat than strengthening the abs. You cannot spot reduce - working the muscle in an area does not reduce the fat in that area, fat does not "turn into to muscle" they are two different types of tissue.
Most people will see definition in the abdominal area at around 9-12% body fat for men and 10-14% for women. This will vary from person to person, depending on where their body stores fat (sometimes called your body type). There are some theories about cortisol, a stress hormone, leading to increased storage of fat in the abdomen, but abdominal fat tends to be dictated mainly by your body type.

You don't need machines to effectively work your abs. Some of the most effective abdominal exercises don't use machines at all and some machines are actually less effective than plain old crunches. (See the next post for a report on the most and least effective ab exercises from the American Council on Exercise).

Most people focus on the rectus abdominus (6 pack muscle) and the obliques, but it is more important to work on the inner abdominal core. In fact, some people should avoid the most popular ab exercises altogether because it can exacerbate problems with posture and low back pain. Simple exercises that focus on activating the deepest abdominal muscle (the transversus abdominus) include a drawing in maneuver, balancing on one leg, planks, and quadrupeds with arm and leg raises. These core exercises can improve posture and pull the abdomen in, giving the appearance of a smaller and tighter stomach. You can also incorporate core training into your everyday exercise routine, click here for a sample program.

There is no conclusive evidence that you can work so called upper and lower abdominals separately. See ACE's study (sidebar) which showed that the abdominal muscles function as a single sheath.

Quality is more important than quantity. You don't need to do hundreds of crunches a day to have good looking abdominal muscles, and you don't need to use heavy weights. The abdominal muscles work slowly and work isometrically, they respond very well to being trained the same way. Increase the level of difficulty by varying the speed, adding isometric holds, and decreasing the stability of your abdominal exercises. You can get results by working for 15-20 minutes 3-4 times a week.

Not every abdominal exercise is right for everybody. If you're working with a personal trainer, your fitness assessment will help determine the best selection and any necessary modifications based on your own personal personal abilities, physical condition and goals. Just because you see someone else doing an exercise that looks interesting, or it is part of the routine in a group class, that doesn't necessarily make it right for you. Avoid any exercises that are painful to your lower back and exercises where you are unable to maintain proper form. In classes, if you have concerns or problems keeping up with the class, speak with the instructor or a personal trainer to determine whether you need to modify the exercise or perform an alternate instead. For example, a member recently complained to me about back pain and inability to work full range of motion while doing leg raises in abs class. Modifications could include bending knees during the exercise, placing hands beneath the tailbone or an alternate position.

The Best and Worst Abdominal Exercises

Research from the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University, commissioned by the American Council on Exercise.

This study measured activation of the abdominals muscles - the rectus abdominus (6-pack muscle) and obliques - for 13 different exercises.

The three most effective in terms of activating muscles are the bicycle, captains chair (leg raises) and stability ball crunches.

Some equipment, like the ab rocker, was far less effective than even traditional cruches.

The study also reported that most people are unable to separately trigger activation of the upper and lower ab muscles - suggesting that the muscles act together and not independently.

To read the full story click here.

Feel free to let me know if you have questions.


Positive Steps in Stressful Times

by Cary Raffle

With all that's going on, its no wonder that so many people are more stressed out than ever. Last month, one of my colleagues and I conducted a 'StressBusters" seminar at one of the major corporations downtown - 20 minutes of stretching and exercising to get people's minds off their troubles and get their bodies moving. According to the American Council on Exercise, stress can help you feel less anxious, relax you, make you feel better about yourself and make you eat better. They say that just 20 minutes of aerobic activity a day can significantly improver your ability to control stress. Yoga and recreational sports are also recommended. Ideally, get away from your office or even company gym to reduce work related stress ( although we've developed a 20 minute StressBusters session that works pretty well in a conference room). If you tend to work in large groups, ACE suggests avoiding crowded classes, however if you work alone the social contact in classes may help.

We're All Assembly Line Workers: Repetitive Stress Injuries

By Cary Raffle
The idea of repetitive motion injuries - more recently referred to as repetitive strain injuries - is well accepted for assembly line workers, but we aren't quite as aware of it when thinking about executives, professionals, or even our workouts at the gym.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is probably the best know among office workers. This is prevalent among people who use a mouse; the nerve in the wrist become compressed from constant pressure and can cause a shooting or radiating pain up the arm. Avoiding pressure on the wrist and using a gel pad can help prevent this problem. People sitting all day frequently develop hip pain because the muscles are flexed all day long. People rounded over the computer keyboard have shoulder pain. Sometimes it is a repetitive movement, sometimes it is from being in a fixed position or posture like when you get up from sitting on a long air plane flight. Below I will share a few stories and solutions that have helped other people with these kinds of problems.

A judge complained to me of neck pain during our training sessions. We discovered that she turned her head to the left dozens of times a day to see a computer monitor, so she began to alternate the monitor position, be mindful of straining, and incorporated chest sand neck stretches into her routine. My co-worker Alfreda complained about a pain in the neck, and she wasn't referring to her boss or an irate customer. We moved the monitor closer to her and it got better.

I overheard a member doing chest press complaining to his friend about his shoulder problems and inability do certain triceps exercises or hold his shoulders straight for overhead exercise. He described his workout program - heavy chest, lots of shoulders, almost no back. When he stood up he was exactly what I expected - a huge weight lifter of a guy with a big chest and forward rounded shoulders. His workouts had become the equivalent of an assembly line, with nothing to counter the heavy emphasis on the front of his body. He needs to stretch his chest, increase the ratio of back to chest exercises, and work on strengthening the muscles that pull the shoulder back). His program would include rear flies, rotator cuff strengthening, especially the external rotators, and abdominal core training. Crunches could exacerbate the problem he needs to get deeper into the core.

An IT worker complains of chronic back pain, and has poor posture with an arched back. He carries a heavy back with a computer and books every day and keeps his knees locked while standing and waling. He needs to lighten that backpack but until he can, it will be helpful to bend the knees to relieve the arching, stretch the back, and strengthen the core muscles - emphasizing the deep abdominals and gluteals. The program includes single leg squats, leg lifts and lots of core training.

A very fit professor has tennis elbow. (Technically, its epicondylitis and it can affect the inside in tennis elbow or the outside in golfers elbow, with pain felt in the tendons of the forearm). Is it from his workouts or is it from writing on a blackboard - or a combination of both. He uses heavy weights with exercise gloves, has been doing the same workout for about a year, and now had a forearm and elbow braces, what's next to brace? We are in the process of unwrapping this problem, including physical therapy. The general course of training for this problem involves exercises to strengthen the wrist and also some rotator cuff work, especially external rotators.

The last newsletter discussed flexibility, stretching and strengthening, and stretching before exercise. These examples show how this approach can be beneficial in your training program. It is important to vary your workouts, and avoid doing the same thing over and over again - whether its strength training or cardio. With the warm weather, its easy to mix up your cardio routine with some cross training. When it comes to strength training, focus on changing the intensity - ie, if you been working in a range of 8-10 repetitions, take it to 15 at a lower weight or do the exercises in a unstable position - and give your muscles and joints a break. Of course, if you are experiencing serious pain or pain for an extended period of time, you need to get medical attention and avoid working those muscles. Any questions, feel free to let me know.


Muscle Imbalances: Which to Stretch? Which to Strengthen?

By Cary Raffle
Almost everyone has muscle imbalances. A few simple observations and movement tests tell a fitness professional which muscles are tight or overactive and need stretching and which are extended or underactive and need stretching (these are included in your fitness assessment). Below are a few of the more common observations and indicated stretches and strengthening recommendations to give you an example.

Shortened Muscles to Stretch
Extended Muscles to Strengthen
Feet turn out, shin splints, pain on bottom of foot (plantar fascitis), Achilles tendonitis*
Calves, Quadriceps, IT Band/TFL

Anterior Tibialis (shin), Gluteals, Medial Hamstrings
Shoulders round, soreness in mid/upper back, forward head
Chest, front of Shoulder, Lats, Neck, Upper Traps
Middle and Lower Traps and Rhomboids
Excessive forward lean at hip
Hip flexors and Quadriceps
Gluteals, Hamstrings, Abdominal Core

*Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasicitis are medical conditions, you should consult a doctor for diagnosis and possible treatment.
Once you understand which muscles are shortened and which are extended, be sure to adapt your program accordingly. If your calves are tight, you probably don't want to work them too hard until you complete several weeks of stretching. If your hamstrings are extended, you probably do not want to keep stretching them and extend them even more. Overstretched muscles can also be uncomfortable, they tend to have a low level or soreness that some people mistakenly believe is a call for stretching.

Should You Stretch Before You Exercise?

by Cary Raffle

You may not think that office work is physically demanding, but it takes a toll on your body!

Locked in Seated Position

Have you ever gotten up from your desk or after a long trip and felt like you were locked into seated position? Most of you spend many hours sitting. At a desk or table, hunched over a keyboard, leaning forward to see a computer screen, traveling on trains, busses and airplanes. For hours at a time, your hips are flexed, your shoulder muscles are tight, your glutes and middle/lower back muscles are all stretched out. Then, you want to come into the gym and workout or run or play ball outside. It's a setup for inefficient use of your muscles and potential injury.

A Set Up for Injury

Tight muscles can have limited range of motion and reduced blood flow, which leads to decreased work capacity

Muscle imbalances result as the wrong muscles are recruited to do the work. Here is one example: hunching over a keyboard tighten the muscles in the chest and front of the shoulders, the shoulder muscles and rotator cuff become overactive and tight, they roll forward an reduce the ability of the chest, arm and back muscles to work. It's a set you up for potential injuries such as rotator cuff problems. The same thing can happen at the neck, the hip, or any other area.

As muscles tighten they can spasm, scar tissue and adhesions form. As the muscle becomes less mobile and improperly balanced, joints don't move properly and can begin to degenerate - eventually leading to arthritis. Running with feet turned out and knees knocking, bench pressing with shoulders that are rounded in are a couple of examples of muscle imbalances that can lead to reduced performance and injury.

Before and After

It is important to get your muscles into balance before exercising to avoid risk of injury. But - and this is a big but - you have to be sure to stretch the right muscles. Just as some muscles get tight from sitting, the opposing muscles will stretch out. In some cases, they stretch to the point where they are also susceptible to injury. This often happens with some of the hamstring muscles. As the quadriceps and hip flexors tighten from sitting, some of the hamstring muscles lengthen. Yet many people who don't have tight hamstrings stretch them before exercising. After exercising, stretch the muscles that became tight during your workout, and get them back in balance again.

Does Stretching Weaken the Muscle?

One of my clients asked me to comment on an article that said not to stretch before exercise because research shows that stretching "weakens the muscle." I haven't seen that research.

Stretching sends a signal to the muscle to relax, so it might not generate as much force in the more relaxed state. However that is a very narrow view of how our bodies generate force.

Optimal force is produced by muscles working together in perfect harmony. For this to happen, we need to be in correct postural alignment, and the right muscles need to do the job. Often, a tight muscle will inhibit other muscles from doing their jobs. I have very clients at every level who - at various times - can't properly do certain exercises until their tight muscles have been released.


Counting Calories. The true secret of weight loss.

by Cary Raffle

You hear about all kinds of supplements, medications and diets, but remember that the only way to lose weight is to maintain a calorie deficit. To lose weight, you have to either decrease the calories that you take in or increase the calories that you burn. Or both.

A 36 year old man who is 5 foot 9 inches, weighs 190 pounds and exercises 3-5 times a week needs about 2926 calories per day. A 36 year old woman who is 5 foot 5 inches, weighs 140 pounds and exercises 3-5 time a week needs about 2171 calories per day. (Those of you who completed a fitness assessment with me already have your own personally calculated estimate of daily calories).

If you take in more calories, you gain weight, if you take in less, you lose weight. And this is important - it doesn't matter whether the calories are from fat, protein or carbohydrates - a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Most diets recommend a 500 calorie a day deficit which translates to a loss of about 1 pound per week. You will need to adjust this target as you continue to lose weight.


One of my clients recommends The Daily Plate, click here to try it. This is an excellent free resource where you can input all of the foods that you eat and all of your activities, calculate your calorie consumption and expenditures, and maintain a dairy. The library of foods in its calorie database is amazing.

If you aren't looking to get obsessive-compulsive about it and maintain an ongoing diary, just try it for 3-7 days and identify your problem areas. In his case, we reduced red meat from two days to one day per week, eliminated a few beers, and maintained his activity level. Results: dropped 6 pounds from January 6-31.

Periodization of Strength Training: Phase 2 Unstable Exercises

by Cary Raffle

Most readers fall into one of two groups - let's say you've spent the past few weeks doing one of the following:

You worked out on XpressLine or other machines- 1 or 2 sets of 12-15 repetitions. This workout familiarized your body with movement patterns, built a base of strength for muscles and connective tissue and you got into a good routine.

You used free weights on bench or seated, or free weights combined with some machines - 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 15. These workouts should have improved your endurance strength and/or increased muscle mass, and improved neuromuscular control.

The Adaptation Principle
In both cases, after 4-6 weeks your body has adapted to the demands of your exercise program, and as you continue, you will experience a decreasing return on the time that you invest in exercising. You've probably increased the weights, but will still find your program plateauing.

How to beat the plateau?
There are a number of different ways to progress the program other than simply increasing the weight. This month, the recommended progression is to perform similar exercises in a less stable position. In the past, you've had a bench or chair supporting you while you worked out. Starting now, you are going to begin training your core muscles to do this work - especially your deep inner abdominal muscles and your gluteals. Yes...your glutes are very important parts of your core!

Why is this important?

Think of an overhead shoulder press and the way that you do this exercise if you use benches and chairs and machines. Think of the way that you use your strength and conditioning in every day life. You are very rarely able to stop, take a seat and then lift an item over your head, are you? By integrating some unstable or core training into your routine, you can enhance your ability to perform these movements in every day life. You'll also reduce the risk of low back pain and develop the inner stability that can take your strength beyond its current plateau.

Click here to access your unstable exercise program.

It begins with a balance and a drawing in maneuver, which trains your body to activate the deepest abdominal muscle. The program includes one representative exercise for each body part. In this phase of training, you'll generally be working with 2 or 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions. We also want to pay some attention to the 4-2-1 tempo, which will emphasize the "negative phase." Each exercise should be perromed so that the concentric phase (when you push, pull or lift) is 2 seconds, the isometric phase (fully pulled or extended) is 1 second, and the eccentric or return phase is 4 seconds.

Feel free to let me know if you have any specific questions about the exercises or program.


Thinking Ahead: Periodization

by Cary Raffle

Whether you're new to exercise or you've been hitting the gym for years, a few weeks from now you might feel that your routine is getting stale, or that you aren't seeing the results that you saw earlier in your program. Periodization, which involves changing the design of your workout at regular planned intervals, can help you stay on track and reach your goals.

Around Valentine's Day, you'll be ready for a change. That's because your body adapts to the particular type of stress (exercise) that you put on it within 4-8 weeks. When this happens, you are likely to see diminishing results over time if you stick with the same exact program. Some people also start feeling aches and pains from doing the same exact movements over and over again. Effective periodization involves more than just taking the weights up every couple of weeks or using a different brand of machine that works the same muscles in pretty much the same way.

There are any number of variables that you can change or progress:

Number of sets and repetitions

Tempo or time and type of muscle action, ie, emphasizing the isometric, eccentric (negative) or concentric phase to hit different muscle fibers

Frequency of training and organization of routines, change the exercise order and reorganize your split routinesl Even better, progress to a totally different mode of training

Unstable exercises to build core strength, if you're usually on fixed machines or benches

Plyometrics to build explosive power and deceleration

Consider a phase of muscle building, ie, heavy weights if you usually train light
Try incorporating different activities like yoga or an alternate form of cardio training. Often, these changes can reenergize your routine, keep you interested and on track, and serve as a springboard for getting to the next level with your fitness program - no matter if your goal is losing weight, gaining muscle, sports performance, or anything else for that matter.

When you think of it, Spring is just around the corner, so start thinking of Periodization now, and feel free to let me know if you need any help. I'll include some specific ideas in the next newsletter that comes out just before Valentines Day.

Is your workout wasting your time?

By Paul Scott, Best Life
According to this author, it's likely that most of what you're doing at the gym is nearly useless - and might be ruining your chances of getting fit. With all the fancy equipment and with all the desire out there to look good, why can't we keep the weight off? Why can't we stick to our gym workouts? Is it our fault? Or does the fault lie elsewhere?

"The health-club culture tries to create a dependency on machines," says Vern Gambetta, a trainer with 38 years of experience training professional and recreational athletes, and the author of Athletic Development: The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning. "If you have a limited amount of time to work out, you're better off ditching the machine to do different kinds of body-weight and whole-body exercises. You'll get more caloric burn for your time spent." Critics also charge that a traditional machine-centric regimen has other downsides.

There is potential for pain in any workout. The key to preventing injury is to find your weak links and then modify your exercise to fortify your weak links, while also not putting stress on them, says Nicholas DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and author of FrameWork: Your 7-Step Program for Healthy Muscles, Bones, and Joints. The most common strength-training-related injuries Dr. DiNubile sees are rotator-cuff problems, knee issues, and lower-back pain. While these are not exclusive to machine-based training, the nonfunctional movements that some machines require, coupled with heavy loads and less-than-perfect form, can cause problems - especially in men over 40 whose joints are getting creaky.

Research from the University of Kentucky studied 23 patients with knee pain to see what made them stronger: a step-up test or doing leg extensions. They found that both became stronger at doing leg extensions, but only those doing the step-ups became stronger at stepping up and functional activities. Chris Powers, a biokinesiology researcher at the University of Southern California, determined that the mechanics of the leg-extension machine doesn't simulate functional activity (e.g., walking, running, or going down steps). "The leg-extension machine puts a lot of strain on the knee ligaments and the patella," says Tim Hewett, PhD, a professor in the departments of biomedical engineering and pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati. "I would never consider letting our athletes use a leg-extension machine."

Bottom Line: Machines are a great way to get your exercise routine started and can be incorporated into any routine ... but a risk in any exercise program comes from repeating the same motion over and over again. The fixed path of the machines can exacerbate the problem, and machine workouts don't burn as many calories as total body exercises.

To read the full story, click here for MSN Health and Fitness.

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