What Matters Most, for Most

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Today we have a great article by coach Dan Zwirlein about the importance of habit formation and behavior.  You don’t want to miss this one.  If you are looking to start creating some sustainable habits this new year, be sure to check out rufpchallenge.com and join our 21 day program to get started on the right path!

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When trying to learn how to be successful in getting stronger, healthier, losing weight, etc. people always want the tactics.  They want to know specifics, the details, the minutia. They want you to tell them exactly what to do. They want a cookbook, a supplement to buy, a new exercise routine to try. Should I eat x or y? Should I buy this brand or this brand? Should I train in the morning or the evening? And on and on. I guess this is probably due to the fact that the things that get the most exposure are magazines like Muscle and Fitness and online forums like bodybuilding.com, etc. These mediums are always posting new workouts and random pieces of information that only serve to confuse the masses. For most, giving out a lot of specifics is not practical nor necessary, and especially not all at once. Giving someone the exact details and minute to minute actions will end up leading a person to failure at some point because it is not sustainable, especially if the actions are the result of a list of details and not formed habits. Most people don’t need a complex, detail oriented plan that’s hard to execute to be successful anyway.

 
So what matters?

 
What matters is not a single training or eating ideology; many roads can lead to Rome. What matters is having a simple plan for in and outside of the gym that can be executed correctly and consistently, and with an unwavering mindset.

 
Having a plan and executing it consistently
It’s easy to use the quote “if you don’t have a plan, you plan to fail” but having a general plan for reaching your fitness or performance goals is imperative. Even if your plan is not optimal (i.e. crossfit), it’s still better than not having one at all. Why is this true? Because the plan provides structure and guidance in the face of scrutiny from peers, bad days at the gym, social functions ( see excessive alcohol consumption), and anything else life throws your way. So when life happens, and it will unless you live in a vacuum, you receive guidance from the plan. For example, when you go out to eat with friends you can adjust accordingly. This means that you can indulge a little, a lot, or not at all. The fact that you did or didn’t doesn’t really matter. What matters is how you adjust or stick to your plan leading up to and after. If you indulged a lot maybe you up your training volume; if just a little maybe you just need to adjust your diet the next day; and if not at all then you probably stuck to your plan. Discipline with the plan leads to freedom and versatility because you always have the plan to go back to. It helps to calm the guilt associated with going off your “diet.”

 
A plan can also calm some of the effects of decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is a result of the total amount of brain power a person has to use over the course of the day: when you have to decide what clothes to wear, what route to take to work, what to eat for breakfast, what brand of tooth paste you want to use. Those decisions take up valuable brain power; thus, when you get home from work and that bag of (insert treat here) looks really good and accessible, you are a lot more likely to just grab it since you don’t have to put in any work to make them and use more brain power that you might not have. The more brain or thinking power you used over the course of the day, the more likely it is that you will give in to the temptation of eating outside your plan. However, if you have a plan in place, it can do a few things: it can prevent you from buying tempting foods in the first place, it can remind you what is and isn’t on your plan, and finally, if you do give in, it can give you a way to adjust for stepping off of your plan. Another example of this in action is when you don’t feel like going to gym. Now, there are definitely times when listening to yourself and your body is a good thing and you should take a break, like when you are hurt or are sick. I am not talking about those times. I am talking about when motivation is low but otherwise your body feels good or you just have some mild soreness. Making a commitment to go to the gym will be the first thing to go if your decision fatigue from the day is high and your motivation to workout is low. However, if you have a plan in place and it calls for you to go workout that day you don’t have to make the decision. This is one often overlooked aspect of why having scheduled coaching sessions can be so important for many people. It keeps you accountable.

 
The anatomy of a plan
Having a good plan makes sure everything is accounted for and fits together. Does your diet and training address your goals? Do they complement each other? Are you able to execute your current training, diet, and lifestyle goals? These are the questions a good plan can answer. It should consist of guidelines for inside and outside of the gym. It should address your goals, your current lifestyle or where you are now and where you want to go. Once again, it needs to be easy to understand, easy to execute, and finally, it needs to be flexible.
Let’s take a look at the two areas where you need at least some resemblance of a plan.

 
Inside the gym
This is the easiest part to execute because it can be controlled the most. What matters is attacking the moment. Being in the present. When you are in the gym, whatever you are working on needs to be your focus even if you are stressed, unmotivated, and tired. Going in and just half assing a workout is going to get you half assed results. So when you are in the gym you need to be all in. In regard to specifics, hard weight training with a barbell, dumbbells, and bodyweight that addresses your goals should be a focal point. The movements should address squatting, pushing, pulling, and hinging in different planes of motion and with complex multi joint exercises as well as single joint exercises. Combining this with aerobic/ cardiac output training is a good starting point for just about everyone, and for most, a good ending point. Do these things 3-4 times a week and you will be surprised at how far it can take you.

 
Outside the gym
Life outside the gym is where most people fail to get things right. All the distractions of work, family obligations, social events, etc. can make things challenging, but if you have your plan in place and you are steadfast in this plan these events will become a lot less stressful. As mentioned earlier, you can plan around social obligations so you don’t have to be that guy or gal eating out of Tupperware at the party. You can enjoy these opportunities without the guilt because you are disciplined 90% of time. Even 80% of time will be enough for most. Now, this does not work if every weekend or weeknight some social obligation comes up and you just say, “screw it, I was on my plan for one day so now I get rewarded,” but I think this is common sense. Outside of the gym most people just need to hit the low hanging fruit: get 8 hours of sleep, drink water throughout the day ( besides what is in your protein shake), eat “paleo-ish” and eat carbohydrates up to your activity level. This means consuming whole foods, protein from quality sources, and some carbohydrates to fuel training. That’s it; no secrets, no gimmicks, no fads. These are things that most people are already aware of but over-think or don’t seem to execute. A lot of this has to do with the fact that hardly anyone understands what portion sizes actually are, which is usually the underlying mechanism to why they are gaining or losing weight. So once this is understood, the biggest need outside of the gym is having the discipline needed to make it work; it has nothing to do with not having enough information. Prepping food, keeping portions in check, or in the case of gaining weight, eating another meal when you don’t want to is the struggle. Get 8 hours of sleep, drink water, eat real food. Checkmate.

Habit formation/change
Forming the habits to execute a plan is imperative. It goes back to the point made earlier about a plan not being optimal but still being effective. You could have the most perfect training program and diet on paper but if you don’t execute it, who cares? On the flip side, if you can execute a less than perfect plan you are going to see results. Could your results be improved? Absolutely, but the flawed plan you execute is always better than the perfect plan you don’t. So what does this have to do with habit formation and change? Once again, your plan needs to account for your current habits and training level. You need to establish very simple and easy to execute action steps for your current self, not the action steps of someone who has been training and eating properly for 5 years, which is what most try to do. The more wholesale changes you try to make all at once, the more likely you will fail. This is why you see people on and off “the regimen” all of the time. There is always the person that says, “I am going to go to the gym three times this week” after months of not going at all, but if you were to suggest that they start with one day a week or just start walking they look at you like you are crazy. Be patient, be confident in your execution of the habits you are working on, and make slow but steady progress. Another good example of this in action would be to first be aware of your portion sizes and the macro- nutrient composition of your meals; and then the next step would transition into actually tracking your daily intakes.

 
Mental buy in
Once you have a plan in place, the mental buy-in must also be in place. Your mental buy-in will allow you to stick with a plan when maybe it doesn’t seem to be working, or in some of the scenarios above, like going out to eat with friends. If you are mentally invested in your plan, and more importantly yourself, you will be a lot more likely to invest time into making yourself better. Part of being mentally invested is having the long term in mind. Doing the day to day tasks in accordance to your goals knowing that at some point they will pay off. This is a hard concept for most to grasp but it is really the habit of the daily practice that leads to your success. Not today, or tomorrow, or next week, or next month but sometime in the future. But your goal will never be accomplished unless you stick to your plan in the present. If you don’t have a long term mental mindset, it’s going to be hard to convince yourself to stay focused; it’s going to be hard to convince yourself that the work you are putting in now is going to come to fruition in the future.

 
Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative
Another part of the mental side is accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. This is kind of a cliché thing to say but it still holds true in this context. If you have a positive mental outlook on what you are doing you will be a lot more likely to stick with it, especially in stressful times. Accentuating the positive also means celebrating small wins like setting PR’s in the gym or dropping 10 lbs. It means looking at what you are doing right and what is working with your plan. It also means surrounding yourself with other positive people who support what you are trying to accomplish. The other side of this coin is eliminating the negative. The starting point is finding your bad habits: the ones getting in your way the most and slowly eliminating them. It also means down the road finding things in your plan that aren’t working and possibly making a change. It means eliminating negative people in your life who don’t support what you are trying to accomplish or who feed into your negative habits. The more you can feel positive about, and the more negativity you can eliminate, the better you will be able to link your physical and mental health.

 
What really matters
All of the things that I have talked about in this article revolve around becoming behavior based and not focusing so much on outcomes; meaning the way that you become successful with fitness, strength, weight loss etc. is not by focusing on the future outcome or so much on the exact minutia of the details, but by focusing on the day to day behaviors. Are you doing the day to day things necessary to be successful? Are you putting time in to prepare your food? Are you committing time to getting good sleep every night? Are you training hard when you do go to gym? Are you sticking to your plan? In my experience, if the proper behaviors are developed, the details work themselves out.

In summary,

*Have a plan or get someone who knows what they are doing to help you develop the plan.
*Execute the plan most of the time, adjusting when you need to.
*Have the proper mindset: accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
What really matters is that you have a plan and that you can execute it. Start with this and the rest will take care of itself.

In Motion Movement Series- The Pull

Check out the third part of our movement series on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s In Motion and learn how to properly pull and row.

Watch the video HEREMJS_Motion_The_Pull

If  you haven’t already done so, check out our 21 Day New Years Challenge Program at www.rufpchallenge.com.  21 days of developing sustainable habits to jump start your success in 2016!

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RUFP In Motion Movement Series

Check out the first part of our movement series on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s In Motion!  In this video, we detail the most important points of performing a successful squat.  Stay tuned for next week’s video on the hip hinge!

 

Check it out HERE

 

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Breathing with Fox 6 Studio A

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Nick Rosencutter went on to Fox 6’s Studio A program last Wednesday to discuss breathing and show some effective breathing exercises to help with holiday stress.

“Between wrapping gifts and traveling to see relatives, the holidays can be stressful. Sometimes, you just need to breathe — and you might be doing that wrong. Nick Rosencutter, owner of Rosencutter Ultra Fitness & Performance, joined the Studio A team with some assistance.”

Check out the full video HERE.

 

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Improved Breathing, Improved Human

Out of all of the things that people talk about with training and movement, breathing mechanics are one of the most important and most overlooked aspects. Breathing runs our body. Knowing this, it should be pretty easy to understand that if breathing mechanics are off, there will be compensatory problems. Faulty breathing mechanics can affect positioning, movement, pain signaling, nervous system state, blood ph levels, oxygen delivery, sleep patterns, anxiety, performance and the list goes on. Bottom line is breathing is kind of a big deal. Yet, while there are some very good fitness, rehab and related health professionals who are doing some great things with it, the vast majority in these related fields don’t even begin to think about looking at it. This is a problem and a mistake and is very unfortunate for their clients.

What is Breathing All About?

In a nutshell, breathing occurs with the purpose of taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide so that we can live and go about our lives. Without it we would die. The diaphragm is our primary muscle of respiration. We then have accessory muscles that help the diaphragm to do its job by moving the ribs in various ways with each breath. These include the scalenes up in the neck, the intercostals between the ribs and the serratus posterior superior and inferior in the upper and lower back respectively, to name a few. The diaphragm essentially blows up like a balloon and moves down as we inhale and moves back up and “deflates” as we exhale while the various accessory muscles assist in moving the ribs with each breath. In an ideal world, our pelvis and ribs are lined up appropriately so that our diaphragm can grab on how it needs to and our ribs expand in the front, sides and back from the abdominal region all the way up into the chest. For many people, this does not occur because of various compensations and poor postural positioning. This leads to many problems as mentioned above.

Common Breathing Faults

1. Rib Flare and Low Back Extension

When we inhale, we want our ribs to expand all around our trunk like a balloon. Many people miss the boat and breathe only into the front as their ribs flare up and their low back extends. Though it may be subtle, when this occurs thousands of times a day, the low back and upper chest, shoulder and neck muscles that overwork when this happens become angry, inflamed and often painful. When done for a long enough period of time, this will usually show up in resting posture.

2. Excessive Rib Elevation

This can often occur along with the flare and extension from fault 1 but sometimes occurs on its own so we’ll talk about it separately. Rather than expanding the chest walls like we want, many people will simply elevate their ribs straight up in a shrugging type motion. The scalenes mentioned earlier along with the upper traps, levator scapulae and sternocleidomastoid muscles often overwork to raise the ribs up all day and get angry because of it, often leading to neck pain and headaches. They begin to act as primary breathing muscles instead of accessory breathing muscles. This is often called “chest breathing” by laypeople.

3. Poor Apical Expansion (especially right side)

As mentioned in the previous fault, many people do not get optimal expansion of their chest walls (apical expansion). This tends to be especially common on the right due to the position of our heart and our liver. With our liver towards the right and our heart towards the left, we tend to hang over our right sides, causing our right shoulders to sit lower than our left. Furthermore, our left hemi diaphragm pushes air to the right chest wall while our right hemi diaphragm pushes air to the left chest wall. Our right hemi diaphragm is apposed by the liver and the heart so it is able to push air easier than the left hemi diaphragm, which doesn’t have much to appose and help push the air. Because of this, our right upper ribs tend to get stuck in a “deflated” state. When we don’t get good apical expansion here, the elevation that was mentioned earlier sets in and the right scalenes, scm, etc. tend to take up the slack. This affects shoulder motion (often a lack of internal rotation) and head/neck mechanics. Its a big deal yet often completely overlooked.

There are also plenty of people who don’t fill either chest wall very well and get all belly motion. Remember, we want rib expansion all over the map, not just the belly. And pay attention to the fact that I said chest EXPANSION, not chest elevation, which is what occurs with the common “chest breathing” fault that is more commonly known. The Postural Restoration Institute has done a lot of great work on these apical expansion patterns.

4. Paradoxical Breathing

This type of breathing is an interesting occurence. This occurs when the belly moves in on the inhale and out on the exhale, the reverse of what should occur. If you’ve ever been to a group exercise or dance class with a “coach” or “instructor” who told you to “suck and tuck,” then this could be you (different thing but often related). This method of breathing will significantly decrease the deep and superficial stability all around your trunk and hips and can lead to a multitude of problems.

When we look at our “core” or our trunk and hips, we have deep stabilizers and superficial stabilizers. The superficial stabilizers are the ones that most people are usually talking about when they say “core.” You know, the abZ. Your rectus abdominis aka the 6 pack muscle and your external and internal obliques. If you’re lucky, low back muscles such as the erectors might even be mentioned in the convo. These guys are great and have their purpose; however, the deep stabilizers or the deep “core” need to be working properly first and need to be working harmoniously under the superficial players. The thoracic diaphragm, the pelvic floor muscles and the transversus abdominis are some major ones that need to be functioning properly.

The diaphragm attaches to the ribs, the spine and the central tendon and plays a role in both stabilization of the spine and ribs as well as a role in respiration. Ideally, we want our abdominals to brace and stabilize appropriately so that our diaphragm can focus more on respiration. We also want our diaphragm and our pelvic floor muscles to move and work together harmoniously for optimal stability, control and function. The folks at the Postural Restoration Institute go as far as calling the pelvic floor the pelvic diaphragm and the diaphragm the thoracic diaphragm, since they are so interrelated. When someone moves their belly in on the inhale and out on the exhale, this harmony is not there and stability suffers.

Looking aside at the relationship between the diaphragm and abdominals, with the “suck and tuck” method, more properly known as “hollowing,” (pulling your belly button towards your spine/sucking in your stomach) you effectively turn off the abdominal brace, making yourself unstable. Hollowing was proposed to activate the transverse abominis in isolation (which makes no sense with any exertional activity). Because of this hindering of the brace, the diaphragm then needs to turn some of its focus off of breathing and act more as a stabilizer. Guess what this leads to? Poor stability, poor respiration and oxygen delivery, poor movement, injuries and pain and the list goes on. Stuart McGill has done a lot of research comparing hollowing and abdominal bracing and makes a great point in his book “Ultimate Back Fitness & Performance:”

“Hollowing is an attempt to simply activate transverse abdominis in isolation, while bracing is simply contracting all muscles in the abdominal wall without drawing in or pushing out.” (P.120)

“Bracing appears to be a highly efficient strategy to enhance stability.” (P. 121)

“Finally, hollowing is weakening of the abdominal muscles as it can only be done when the abdominal muscles are almost inactive.” (P. 121)

That last point should resignate with you greatly if nothing else does. Don’t believe it? Try this. Lay on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Try hollowing/sucking in your stomach and straighten your legs while lowering them to the floor. Now that you feel how weak that is, brace your abs (harden them against your finger like you are about to get punched) and do the same thing. It is not even a question of which way is stronger. Try to lift anything heavy or exert yourself at all and this should happen almost automatically. The reason I’ve gone slightly off path of straight breathing is the fact that this abdominal function works so closely with breathing and the diaphragm, as mentioned above.  Is there a time and a place for hollowing?  With a specific rehab protocol for a specific reason, there absolutely may be.  For performance, in my experience and opinion, I do not see it but if someone has a specific reason for it, then power to them.

When the paradoxical style of breathing and the suck n tuck style of poor abdominal function becomes habit, excess tension is often stored throughout the body since the diaphragm never really fully relaxes between the shallow breaths that occur since it is overactive as a stabilizer. If you feel like you constantly need to hold your breath when you are engaging in physical activity (or maybe even at rest) then this is probably describing you. This then leads to our sympathetic nervous system becoming overactive and we get stuck in fight or flight mode. This can then lead to faulty ph levels, inflammation, pain, anxiety, poor sleep, poor recovery and the list goes on. This problem can occur with the other breathing faults mentioned above as well, and these faults are often combined. This paradoxical pattern just seems to be closely related with this stability vs respiration problem. So next time you have an instructor or coach who instructs you to suck and tuck and/or breathe in this manner, I strongly encourage you to ask WHY?

5. Overbreathing
All of these situations tend to lead to a hyperventilatory state of overbreathing, where more carbon dioxide is let out than normal. Think “panic state.” According to Leon Chaitow and Judith Delany in their book “Clinical Application of Neuromuscular Techniques,”
“People who overbreathe, or who have marked breathing pattern disorders automatically exhale more CO2 than is appropriate for their current metabolic needs. Exhaled CO2 derives from carbonic acid in the bloodstream, and an excessive reduction of this leads to a situation known as respiratory alkalosis, where the pH of the blood becomes more alkaline than its normal of ~7.4.” (P.31-32) They go on to talk about the fact that the increased alkalinity causes more oxygen to stay binded to hemoglobin, which then leads to reductions in calcium and phosphate levels as well as intracellular magnesium, which all leads to many undesirable things such as increased sympathetic arousal, increased sense of apprehension and anxiety, reduced pain thresholds, fatigue, trigger points, compromised core stability and loss of balance among others. “Loss of CO2 ions from neurons stimulates neuronal activity, causing increased sensory and motor discharges, muscular tension and spasm, speeding of spinal reflexes, heightened perception and other sensory disturbances. Muscles affected in this way inevitably become prone to fatigue, altered function, cramp and trigger point evolution.” (P. 32)

Bottom line and moral of the story is: Breathing affects A LOT of things. If you are not addressing it, you are missing out and probably allowing many annoying problems to continue being problems without realizing it.

Ok, so what SHOULD we do?

Generally speaking, when we practice breathing, when we inhale it should be through our nose and when we exhale it should be through our mouth. This encourages proper mechanics and movement. Inhaling through the mouth encourages excessive accessory muscle usage and is usually related to faulty breathing mechanics. When we inhale, we should get good expansion around the front, sides and back from our abdominal cavity all the way up into the chest. When we exhale, our ribs should move down and we should blow all of the air out through our mouths like we are blowing up a balloon.(Use a balloon to train it with if you really wanna get good) This allows us to get all of the tension out of our system and lets our diaphragm fully lengthen and relax so that it can then recoil and shorten/contract more effectively to give us a deeper and better inhalation. It can also help calm down excessive low back tone and get us out of the oh so common extended state. It can calm down our sympathetic nervous system, calm down pain, help us sleep and so many other things. Learn to EXHALE. Once you do this, you will be able to inhale better which will then lead to better movement, better recovery, better stability, better tissue quality, better sleep and the list goes on.

Taking things a step farther, with general physical activity we should be able to breathe effectively with our diaphragm while our abdominals do their job stabilizing. There are plenty of effective ways to train this.

If we are talking about something such as a power lift like a squat or deadlift, then we want to get full inhalation, keep the air in and use this to help increase the stability around the abdominal wall until we exhale to finish the concentric portion of the lift. (So yes, the diaphragm SHOULD use its stabilizing capabilities in some instances).

There are many exercises and drills that can be used to effectively train breathing. Check out our youtube page or come visit us to learn more.  You can also find many great ones from the Postural Restoration Institute.  Below is a great one to get you started.

The moral of the story is breathing is a big deal. It affects everything with your body. If you are not addressing it with your training, you are missing out big time.

 

 

The Road to 600

Check out Nick’s guest article for Robertson Training Systems all about what he did to get his deadlift over 600 pounds.  Give it a read HERE.