“So do you do deep tissue?” “This one person goes real deep. I’m usually hurting”
“Deep Tissue Massage” can be found advertised at most of your general massage studios as a special kind of massage that involves deeper pressure and reaches the deeper layers of muscle tissue and fascia. If you look at the anatomy of our body, we have multiple layers of fascia (a sort of webbing that holds all of our skeletal structures in place and connects our body parts into one working system) and different muscles that layer each other along different paths of our body (for example, our pec minor lies underneath our pec major in our chest; our rhomboid lies underneath our middle trapezius in our upper back). Whether or not an individual needs certain deeper or superficial structures to be manipulated will always depend on the person and situation; therefore, whatever kind of massage is supposedly being done (Swedish, deep tissue, trigger point massage, etc.) should not matter, as certain techniques may or may not need to be used depending on the client and the assessment that is done. Swedish style kneading may work well for a certain structure while Active Release or Rockblades might work well for another. The deeper pec minor might need to be worked on in one situation while maybe its just the pec major in another. So if you go and pay money for a massage, you should want to receive the appropriate work for what your body and your system is presenting with.
While simply trying to generalize and/or box in these massage terms or “styles” is something I’m not particularly fond of as a Licensed Massage Therapist, an even bigger irritant is the fact that “deep tissue” work is often performed with an excessive amount of compression that leaves people worse off than when they came in. I have had more than one occasion where a new client has come in from elsewhere with multiple bruises in multiple locations of their body from the “deep work” that they got. While some minor bruising can sometimes occur with certain modalities if a structure responds a certain way to treatment, excessive bruising is usually not a good thing, especially if its happening often. Also, flailing around on the table like a fish out of water because the “massage” is so painful is not doing anybody any good. I received a massage like this once well over a decade ago, before I ever knew I was going to go into manual therapy, and my body was so sore and trashed that my lifting sucked for an entire week. I walked out of that treatment room worse than when I went in. Some soreness after receiving tissue work? Totally normal. So trashed that you are weaker for a whole week? Shouldn’t happen. And this is not limited to massage therapists or massages; it can be just as bad with soft tissue treatments from certain chiropractors, physical therapists, etc. Excessively intense work is usually unnecessary and often does more harm than good.
When it comes down to it, anytime we intervene manually with someone’s body, we are applying a stress to the nervous system and we are giving an input to the brain. If that input is pain from touch that is too compressive and intense, what is that brain likely to do? It sure as hell isn’t going to relax anything. Those structures that we are trying to release, calm down and get to move better end up clamping down even harder as your brain tries to protect things. The “deep tissue work” just made things worse.
Treatment needs to be appropriate for what is found. If someone is excessively flared up and is overly sympathetic (stuck in fight or flight mode), full body relaxation work with appropriate techniques to calm the nervous system down might be needed. If they have a rotated pelvis with certain muscles that are overactive, maybe Active Release and specific instruments are needed. Maybe a specific form of trigger point release is needed. If the superficial fascia is not gliding well in one direction, perhaps some fascial glide work will do the trick. Regardless of which of these modalities is used, the depth that is needed and used will always depend on the structure that needs work, how that structure and adjacent structures are moving/sliding, the tone that they display, and the state of the nervous system. This is precisely why I simply offer “manual therapy.” What techniques I need to use and what I need to treat will depend on what each client presents with. ART? Could be a great tool for the job and it often is but the presentation will help guide whether I use it. Blades? Stones? Great for the right presentations. Deep tissue massage? Some deeper work may or may not be needed depending on the presentation but either way, the generic nature of the term still isn’t doing it for me. Heck, sometimes there isn’t much hands on work needed at all and some manual breathing techniques are all that are needed to do the trick.
Now, I have the luxury of doing specific work with clients in my own facility and people come and see me because they need help with specific problems. That being said, I understand that some clients do come in wanting certain modalities and as a straight massage studio, certain “options” are needed as part of a business model , and if someone comes in for a full body massage of any particular style (especially at a massage studio), obviously you need to give them their massage; however, I’ve always believed that part of my job as a therapist is to recommend, advise and provide the appropriate course of treatment to the best of my knowledge and abilities. (I promote certain techniques like ART since its a great treatment and many people seek it out for specific issues that they have; I get it. That doesn’t mean that I always use it; depends on what I see) So, during that massage, the therapist should at least adapt the massage to what they found with their assessment and what they find as they palpate during treatment. If you want deep, compressive work and enjoy flailing around on a table, power to you. (Note: not all deep work is compressive) If you actually want to get better and improve whatever issues you’re having, then make sure you are getting the appropriate treatment. The same thing is true if you go to a chiro or pt and get worked on. You should expect that they are treating appropriately based on what they find. Pressure and pain are not hard to create. Anybody without any training or education whatsoever can do that. You don’t even need to shell out your hard-earned money to get it done. Just ask your significant other or friend to dig into you. Hell, just piss them off and I’m sure they’ll have no problem doing it. Similarly, it is not hard to make someone gasp for air and sweat. Sprint around the block ten times and you can get that job done, but if you want specific adaptations and specific results, better find someone who actually understands anatomical and physiological adaptations of the body and has an idea of what they are actually doing. Treatment and training are no different in this regard.
Effective treatment is about finesse and getting the overactive tissue/fibers to release/relax, not compressing and creating excessive pain. It is both an art and a science and requires a good amount of skill and touch. Use of the appropriate modalities for the situation is key, whether that be a relaxation massage or a localized treatment with a specific tool. Deeper work just might be needed, but if it is it should be done with finesse and do the appropriate job, which is getting that overactive structure to let go. Deep tissue work? Maybe, just not in the sense that its often thought of.
So you are stuck working from home every day during the quarantine. You notice that your hips and back start to feel like crap and wonder what you can do to combat this and make things feel better. Well, here is a start.
Reset Your Diaphragm and BREATHE
When you sit in one position for a long period of time, and stress out at all with the work you are doing, it becomes very easy for you to begin holding your breath excessively. Couple this with a lack of much movement through your pelvis or ribs, and its very easy for your diaphragm to become “stuck,” and tension to build throughout your body as your nervous system is driven into sympathetic mode. When we inhale, our diaphragm should descend and when we exhale it should ascend. It can become biased more towards one end of the spectrum depending on who you are and what you do. For many of you, it and you will get stuck in a state of inhalation as you sit and subconsciously stress during the work you are doing. Taking 5 minutes to perform some deep breathing, emphasizing full exhalation and then full inhalation can help to restore fluid movement of the diaphragm, stimulate some parasympathetic activity of the nervous system (relax things), as well as relieve tension through many of the structures around the pelvis and rib cage. Perform these:
2. Unglue the Outside of Your Hips
When you sit, the structures in the front of your hips stiffen up over time. If you sit with your hips and knees splayed out, the structures on the outside of your hips also stiffen up, causing compression and aggravation through the back of the pelvis and low back. You can use the 90/90 drill shown above to engage the adductors and add the following move in on top of it to drive some internal rotation of your hips, in order to counteract all of the external rotation and outward drive your sitting position has left you in.
First, watch this:
Then, do this:
3. Open Up Your Hip Flexors
Provided you don’t have any issues with laxity (excessive looseness or instability) in the front of your hips, this can be a good stretch to help open up the front of your hips and give some length back to the structures that have been shortened while sitting (specifically the psoas, rectus femoris and tfl). Be sure to engage your glute to get a full opening up front and avoid overextending your low back.
4. Engage Your Hip Extensors with Glute Bridges or Reverse Hypers
Engaging the glutes and hamstrings can help to inhibit the hip flexors up front, helping to combat the effects of sitting. Both of these exercises can do that and the reverse hypers add in some fluidity and movement through your back and sacrum, while also helping to decompress your spine and loosen things up nicely.
5. Get Out of the Sagittal Plane
Driving some kind of rotation through the hips and thorax and moving in more than one plane of motion can also help to undo the sitting going on during your day. Our body needs to move in 3 planes of motion in order to be fully healthy. Here’s an easy way to “unwind” yourself even further after the previous exercises.
Get up and do these drills a few times throughout the day and your body will enjoy the quarantine much more while you feel much better.
Stuck at Home? Follow these simple steps to make the most of your at-home strength training!
By now, you’ve probably seen plenty of gyms, coaches, and avid-gym goers alike posting their home workout routines, advertising home training, and you have probably been bombarded at least once by an old Facebook friend trying to sell you some fat burning coffee (newsflash, save your money). It can be a little overwhelming to decide what program is best for YOU and how you can optimize your time training at home. Look no further — keep reading to learn how to spot a good home training program, how to create one for yourself, and how to have a better home training session!
No gym equipment? No worries!
First of all, take inventory of the equipment you have at home as well as things you have around the house that could be used as weights. Do you have dumbbells, bands, a chin-up bar, a bike, etc.? If not, there are plenty of ways to make makeshift exercise equipment with everyday household items.
Here are some of the creative uses of household items that my virtual clients and I have come up with since starting at-home training over the past few weeks:
Dumbbells can be substituted with wine bottles, gallon bottles of juice, cans of soup, heavy boots, or any other heavy object you can hold in one hand!
Backpacks, duffel bags, heavy suitcases, or bags of soil to hold while doing squats, good mornings, and other heavy weighted exercises
Water jugs or milk gallons or other heavy bottles with handles work great for rows and other upper body exercises
Hardwood floors + socks or a towel make a great substitution for a slideboard
Stack some of those old textbooks you never opened in college for some low step-ups or to stand on during calf raises
Your pets will be happy to sit on your lap while doing glute bridges and hip thrusts!
If you get bored of bodyweight exercises or need an additional challenge, using some objects you have around the house can be a great way to add difficulty in a creative and fun way!
“…but working out at home is boring and too easy!”
Many of the concerns I’ve heard from clients about training at home are that they will lose all their progress since they can’t train at home in the same way they do at the gym. This is –partially– true. Even a few weeks off won’t put you back entirely to square one. But, the longer you take off, the more strength, muscle mass, and endurance you can lose. Programming your training sessions properly can help minimize that loss.
Incorporate a tempo: for example, we can use a 313 tempo while doing a squat. Count to three on the lowering (eccentric) portion of the squat. Pause for one second (isometric!) at the bottom of the squat. Then, count to three on the way up (this is the concentric portion). This increases the amount of time your muscles have to work and are under tension during each rep, which is much more challenging than breezing through the set as fast as you can. This is also a great way to fine-tune and solidify your positioning at each point in the exercise, which will make your movement even better once you can load it with heavier weight.
Pair exercises that train similar muscle groups: let’s use our same squat example. If you can’t do heavy back squats at home, I may have you do a set of goblet squats followed immediately by lunges. Your quads should be feeling pretty fatigued as if you just did some heavy barbell squats!
Perfect your movement: grab a PVC pipe or dowel rod (or bodyweight) and do a few sets of squats, RDL’s, or any other exercise you would do with a bar. Bonus points if you do these with a slow tempo or pause at various points to solidify and feel the proper position. Use this time to remind yourself of important cues. Even if you can’t train these movements with a weight on your back, this is a great way to perfect your movement with minimal-to-no weight so you will move even more efficiently once you can push it heavy.
It can be easy to fall into a pattern of slacking off from your home training sessions when you’re stuck at home. I mean, watching 6 hours of Netflix and eating ice cream can sound a lot more appealing than doing push ups in your living room. But, this can make it even harder to get back into a routine of training to maintain your strength for when you can get back in the gym.
If you already had scheduled times to go to the gym, stick to these times for your home sessions. Viewing your home sessions with the same intent as your gym sessions will help you stay focused, maintain the same good habits you have formed, and still put maximal effort into your training. Remember, the more effort you put into your home training sessions, the easier it will be once you can get back into the gym!
Create a designated space that you can use as your workout area, and your workout area only. Keep all of your equipment in this space, and try to minimize the distractions of a TV playing, your kids distracting you, alerts on your phone, or any other things that you might get sidetracked with. Especially when you are stuck at home, creating a space that you can associate with exercising will help ensure you can carve out an hour a day where you can focus purely on your training.
Find a buddy to keep you accountable — we are all in this together! Reach out to a gym buddy who trains at the same time as you, and check in before and after your workout. Better yet, do some virtual training sessions with a coach who knows what YOU need to keep your strength up and still meet your goals at home (remember, my team and I are always here and willing to help!).
Obviously, nothing beats a good workout in a physical gym. But, there will be times when it is out of your control to get to the gym, be it travel, work obligations, or a global pandemic. What you CAN control is what you do in spite of those things — staying consistent, adapting your training to fit your current situation, and continually putting in hard work!
Thinking back over ten years ago to when I was starting out this whole training thing full time out of college, I remember writing about the priorities of training for fat loss, as there was a lot of misconception out there about what needed to be done to most efficiently spark the metabolic engine and lose fat. Now, today I sit here eleven years later writing about this topic once again, after training hundreds of people. While I would say that the understanding of these things is at least better at this point in time and over a decade later, there are still a lot of people out there who are uneducated and basing their exercise choices off of their “feelings” or what some unqualified social media “expert” said. It is not uncommon to hear something along the lines of “Well I just need to lose some fat first, so I’m gonna do cardio.” (You’ll soon see that this makes no sense) The bottom line is this: When it comes down to the large amount of research done over the last few decades, both academically and in the trenches; and when you understand even basic exercise physiology, it is blatantly clear what is needed for optimal fat loss and I’ll give you a hint: IT IS NOT LONG DURATION AEROBIC “CARDIO.” (though aerobic work is still extremely valuable for its own reasons when used correctly)
In order to understand fat loss from a training standpoint
we need to understand how our energy systems work. I’ve covered this in multiple articles in the
past so feel free to go back and read more if you are feeling ambitious.
We have our Aerobic System and our Anaerobic System. Within our anaerobic system, we have our
Glycolytic and our Alactic pathways.
Each of these systems has its own leadership role with different modes
of physical activity. While they all
work together with anything that we do, one will be the dominant system
utilized for specific activities.
Our aerobic system is primarily responsible for fueling lower intensity, longer duration activities (5 mile jog) while our anaerobic system is primarily responsible for fueling higher intensity, shorter to more moderate duration activities, with the glycolytic pathway taking care of intense activity lasting primarily between 20 and 45 seconds (100 yard sprint) and the alactic pathway taking care of powerful, explosive bursts lasting less than 10 seconds (vertical jump, max squat).
All of these systems are used to produce ATP, a substrate that is like our body’s “gasoline.” We need ATP to fuel activity and for muscle contraction to occur. Our alactic system utilizes a molecule called Creatine Phosphate to help replenish ATP at a fast rate for those explosive short burst activities (yes, this is why people supplement with creatine). When a high intensity activity continues for longer than those 10 seconds, our glycolytic system uses a process called glycogenolysis to break down glycogen (storage form of carbohydrates; yes we need them) stored in our muscle cells into glucose, and eventually ATP, to help keep us at that intensity a little longer. Both of these systems work WITHOUT oxygen. That last point is an important one so remember it. Our aerobic system works WITH oxygen to break down fatty acids and convert leftovers from the glycolytic cycle into a substance called Acetyl COA, which then goes through processes called the Krebs Cycle and the Electron Transport Chain to produce a bunch of ATP. That little sentence there talking about fatty acids is where a lot of confusion sets in with the general public. People assume that since long duration aerobic exercise is utilizing these fatty acids that it is great for fat loss. Well, there are multiple reasons why this is not the case. First, lets sum this up:
Anaerobic System (Alactic and Glycolytic)-
No oxygen, lots of intensity, shorter duration, relatively small amount of ATP produced, can’t go for very long without having to slow down or stop (because we need oxygen to replenish things)
Oxygen, lower intensity, longer duration, large amounts of ATP produced, can go for long periods of time since intensity is low enough to allow oxygen to continue shuttling things along
These can be further broken down into Alactic Power and Alactic Capacity, Glycolytic Power and Glycolytic Capacity, and Aerobic Power and Aerobic Capacity. These subsets become more important when you begin training for specific sports and competitions.
Now, building muscle is absolutely and positively the most important component of training if the goal is fat loss. The more muscle that one has, the more fat their body will burn even at rest. It speeds up the metabolism like nothing else and has a myriad of positive effects neurologically, structurally and hormonally throughout the body. Strength training with enough intensity and with the right movements is key and should absolutely be the number one priority of training. While strength training does primarily utilize the anaerobic systems, we are going to focus the rest of this article on conditioning modalities and set the record straight on “Cardio”. (I hate this word as it gets bastardized and means absolutely nothing in regards to the specifics of what you are accomplishing with your training). So you are already lifting hard, now what do we do about conditioning?
Now, as I mentioned before, many people assume that aerobic work is great for fat loss since you are using fat as fuel and burning X number of calories as you do it. While you do burn some fat while you do it, the amount is insignificant when you compare it to the amount that is burned AFTER higher intensity anaerobic exercise. Furthermore, an excessive amount of aerobic work can lead to muscle breakdown, spiked cortisol levels and a decrease in strength and power, which can all lead to more fat STORAGE. (not what you want if your goal is, umm, fat LOSS). A recent study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research compared endocrine and power/strength responses between subjects who either performed strength training alone, strength training and endurance training in a 3:1 ratio or strength training and endurance training in a 1:1 ratio after a 6 week training block. Excessively higher volume of endurance training lead to higher cortisol levels and decreases in strength (1). There are numerous studies over the years showing similar results. This is nothing new under the sun. (Please note the word excessive)
So why do we have this magnificent after effect with anaerobic work? Well, remember when I told you earlier to remember that tidbit about working WITHOUT oxygen? That comes into play now. When we work at those sprint paced high intensities, we put our body into what is known as oxygen debt. If you build up enough of this debt, your body utilizes a phenomenon known as EPOC- Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption. With EPOC, your body burns fat for hours on end AFTER you are done training. Research has shown as many as 38 hours post training. While there are numerous studies on this over the last few decades, THIS (2) is one of my favorites, especially since it was done at UW-La Crosse, where I studied Exercise and Sports Science. The amount of fat calories burned with EPOC ends up rendering the meager amount of calories someone burns during their elliptical workout while watching a soap opera irrelevant. End of story, case closed. You get the same kind of effect after a hard lifting workout. This is precisely why you see all of those people on the ellipticals and treadmills or haphazardly jogging outside doing the same low intensity workout over and over again and never changing. After the first couple of weeks, they never push their bodies to a point of discomfort and never force them to do anything to recover since their intensity NEVER GETS HIGH. And as mentioned above, on top of this, the excessive amount of endurance work that is often done can lead to elevated cortisol levels and muscle loss, which contributes to more fat storage. Coincidentally, the aerobic system is what carries out the recovery from the oxygen debt that is created with anaerobic training. Like I said, all of the systems help each other out. They’re friends for the most part. (However, they can clash and hurt eachother’s feelings, aka adaptations, if programming is not planned appropriately).
Now, in no way am I saying that aerobic training is worthless. It has a ton of value and I’ve written articles about this. Check out this one:_Aerobic is the Word . It is very important for heart health, various aspects of performance, recovery and giving someone the ability to survive the higher intensity anaerobic work that we’ve been talking about. Not to mention, if you do aerobic work correctly, it is by no means a walk in the park. Aerobic power work can be some of the toughest stuff you’ll ever do. Without a good aerobic foundation, you are going to gas out after one or two rounds of anaerobic work and get absolutely nowhere. I’ll say that again: an aerobic base is very necessary to be able to make it through any significant amount of higher intensity work. And no, you’re not going to zap strength and muscle by doing a reasonable amount of aerobic work concurrently. When planned appropriately, aerobic work can actually help improve recovery from strength and power work. It just has to be planned, and not blindly overdone.
Furthermore, one can only handle so much anaerobic conditioning before burning out. Taking a break from this activity and performing aerobic work will keep the body healthy while still allowing for at least some extra caloric output. And it absolutely can help with the overall fat loss journey. It just needs to be planned appropriately and should not be the primary focal point of training when fat loss is the main goal. Another time sticking with aerobic work is beneficial is pre competition or in season. The last thing you need at this time is excess fatigue and burnout from doing a bunch of extra high intensity anaerobic work on top of the sport specific work that is already being done. The right amount of aerobic work can help facilitate some recovery and supplement strength work going into a competition or season (again, provided its not too much and is planned appropriately).
So yes, aerobic work is a great tool that absolutely should be used; however, it should not be misconstrued as a primary fat loss tool if that is the goal at hand, because it is simply not that effective of a tool for this SPECIFIC job. I.e. if your goal is to complete a marathon, then by all means go and do all of the endurance work that you need to, just be sure to plan it and supplement it with the appropriate strength work; and don’t plan on looking that lean or muscular, because you will lose muscle with that kind of endurance volume. If your goal is to lose fat as effectively as possible while building a solid body, then cut the bs, get off of the damn elliptical, stop blindly running unplanned miles and train with a proper program that will give you the physiological effects that you are looking for. (the effects we’ve talked about this entire article) Know what your goal is and know what physiological effect your training is having on your body. Otherwise what is the point?
So, we now have an idea of what is going on behind the scenes with these different modalities of training. How about a few examples of putting them into use? Since we are all quarantined right now, I’ll give a couple of ideas that can easily be done at home with little to no equipment. I’ll cover some glycolytic conditioning guidelines here since they are the most effective modality for fat loss around the clock. See the previously referenced aerobic article for guidelines on that front. These will be a mixture of glycolytic capacity and power.
Power Jacks– Simply perform jumping jacks as fast as you can without getting sloppy. Do this for 30 seconds as hard and as fast as possible. If you are truly getting into glycolytic mode, your heart rate should be over 170 and you should feel that you need to slow down or stop after the 30 seconds is up. If this is not the case, go faster. Rest 90 seconds and repeat for 8 to 10 rounds. If it seems like 90 seconds is too much rest, you probably didn’t go hard enough.
Jump Rope– Perform the same layout as the jacks, but use a jump rope. I find that the jump rope essentially forces you to go harder because you have to coordinate your hops with getting over the rope. With either of these examples, just make sure you are prequalified to be hopping and jumping. If you struggle to squat your own weight, I wouldn’t recommend these yet.
High Step Sprint Marches in Place– Drive your hips and arms as hard and as fast as you can for 20 to 30 second rounds with 60-90 second rest. Do 8 to 10 rounds.
Bear Crawls– These are always a pretty good ass kicker. Do them at a fast pace and they’re really fun. Be sure to keep your torso and hips solid as you crawl. You shouldn’t be flailing around like a fish out of water. Use the same rounds as above.
Sprints– Go outside, approximate 80-100 yards and sprint hard. Again, you should be in some kind of decent shape prior to doing this. Rest 2 to 3 minutes between rounds. If you are going hard on these, you should need at least 2 to 3 minutes to recover. If you have one or are in a gym setting, pushing the prowler here works wonders. Perform 5 to 10 rounds. We are looking for maximal power output with each round here, so full recovery is key.
Stair Sprints– Sprint up and down your stairs for 20 to 30 seconds and rest 90 seconds to 3 minutes depending on how gassed you are. Perform 8 to 10 rounds. 90 second range will be more geared towards capacity while 3 minute plus range will be more geared towards power. Do one for a couple of weeks and then switch. Simply marching fast up and down the stairs may be enough for some of you.
Bike Sprints– Hop on your bike and pedal as hard as you can for 20 to 30 seconds. Rest for 90 seconds. You can increase rest towards 3 minutes like the last two examples to skew it more towards the power end.
Boxing– Either with a bag or with air (shadow boxing), throw punch combos at a fast pace for 20 to 30 seconds. Start with a basic jab cross combo. If you are not familiar with this, choose another modality for now.
Medball or Rope Slams– Leading with your hips and driving with your whole body, repetitively slam the ball or ropes for the same intervals as above.
8 to 10 rounds is a good starting point for most of these. You can also perform two series of 4 to 5 rounds. For example, you do 5 hard rounds, take a prolonged rest (5 to 8 minutes or until you’re close to full recovery) and then perform the second 5 rounds. And yet a third option is to perform these circuit style. Pick 4 to 5 of them and simply go to the next one after the alotted rest period. These are just a few possible examples out of hundreds of possibilities. Whichever route you go, the key is getting the intensity to a high enough level to make your body go glycolytic and create enough oxygen debt to get the after effect we are looking for in order to burn fat calories and get a giant metabolic spike around the clock. In regards to how long these should be done, perform these for around 4 weeks and then perform aerobic work (see other linked article) for 4 to 6 weeks. With general fat loss, this tends to give good results while avoiding burnout and keeping things healthy. If you are new to training, then you will want to perform a cycle of aerobic work first; otherwise, you will not be able to handle the anaerobic work. Athletes training for specific sports will need different guidelines, but that is a topic for another article.
So if you’ve been stuck in a rut for any period of time and your fat loss seems to be stagnant or worse yet, is increasing, there’s a good chance this is the solution you need. Its going be hard work and you won’t be able to watch that soap opera or game show while you do it, but success takes some sweat and guts. Now go train.
(2) Mikat, R P, M D Schuenke, and J M McBride. “Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management.” European Journal of Applied Physiology 86.5 (2002): 411-7. pubmed.gov. 29 Jan. 2002. 18 May 2009 <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11882927?dopt=AbstractPlus>.
(1) Jones, Thomas W; Howatson, Glyn; Russell, Mark; French, Duncan N. “Performance and Endocrine Responses to Differing Ratios of Concurrent Strength and Endurance Training.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. March 2016- Volume 30- Issue 3. P.693-702.
Over the past six months that I have been coaching people on nutrition and how they may improve their nutrition and nutritional habits to meet their goals, I have received a lot of questions. Questions from clients, but also plenty from family and friends. Now this didn’t just start when I “officially” became a nutrition coach, but it has substantially increased in that time. Because many people have been asking many of the same questions, I thought others might find it helpful if I typed up my response to a few of these questions and shared them with the world (that’s right people, this article is going worldwide).
Welcome back to part two of your favorite new RUFP blog series — Meet the Coaches!
Next up: the spreader of nutritional wisdom, father of a baby who is so cute it hurts your face, is 90% carnivore, and the only person you probably know who actually enjoys eating sardines — Tyler Koehler. Read More
Welcome to the first part of the Meet the Coaches series — a brand new series where the RUFP team so hesitantly graciously let me (Jessica, your token gym unicorn) take over the blog for a series of interviews showing you the sides of the coaches we don’t normally get to see.
Feelings can be deceiving, and so can the word “tight.” Every day, many people all over the world get on the floor or on their feet and stretch their “tight” hamstrings. Interestingly, those same hamstrings are still “tight” after days, months and years of stretching them. Hmm? If stretching them were actually doing something, shouldn’t they be “untightened” by now? You’d think so, wouldn’t you?
With some fairly uncommon exceptions, on most people, the hamstrings are not “tight” in the sense that they are actually stiff or in a shortened position, needing to be stretched. They are actually being pulled TAUT because they are stuck in a lengthened position, due to the pelvis being tilted forward (anterior tilt). They are in a constant state of being OVERSTRETCHED. In this oh so common situation, what do you think the continued stretching of these already overstretched hamstrings leads to? You guessed it! An even worse position of the pelvis and even “tighter” hamstrings.
Are there some people out there who have hamstrings that are actually stiffened and/or shortened up and are actually “tight.” Sure, some people have a pelvis that is tilted the opposite way, with hamstrings that are being shortened; however, in my experience, about 9 out of 10 people come in with a forward tilted pelvis and hamstrings that are weak and long. The muscles on the front of the pelvis, the hip flexors, are usually the suspects that actually should be stretched, or at least inhibited (shut off), since they are often shortened and amped up from sitting all day. These hip flexors pull the pelvis forward, effectively putting the hamstrings in a tough to deal with position on the back side. To add fuel to the fire, the ever so important glute muscles cannot effectively do their job in this faulty position, which leads to even more problems for the hamstrings. Not only are they locked in an overlengthened position, but now they also have to do extra work since the glutes are out of the picture. The brain engages them even more (or at least attempts to; we actually need to get better at engaging them in a correct manner) to make up for the glutes’ lack of contribution to the group project. No wonder they’re so “tight” and angry. If you can think of a time that you did most of the work in a group project, I bet you can relate with how pissed off you probably were.
Here’s an easy way to tell if you actually have stiff/short hamstrings: Lay on your back and make sure you low back is flush with the floor, table, ground or whatever it is that you decide to lay on. Keeping your leg straight, raise your leg up as high as you can. Ideally, you’d do this actively (you raising it) and also passively (someone else raising it) to get the full rundown but assuming you are on your own, we can just look at the active version for now. If you can get your leg to between 80 and 90 degrees of motion (your foot is basically facing the ceiling or sky), you have normal hamstring length and probably suffer from one of the situations we talked about earlier, if you tend to feel like your hamstrings are tight. If you had to put significant effort in to get your low back to touch the floor during set up, this is probably the case. If you can go beyond 90, you definitely have excessively lengthened hamstrings from a structural standpoint, and stretching should be the last thing you do. If you are struggling to get near 80 to 90 degrees, you may actually have some legit tissue stiffness (could still be a neurological issue). The rest of this article will address what we need to do if you fall under one of the first two categories, yet still feel like your hamstrings are constantly “tight.”
So what do we need to do to address the situation?
We need to get hip flexors to chill out a little bit and get the hamstrings to actually shorten up and engage more effectively, tilting the pelvis back to neutral. There are other muscles and factors at play here as well and if you throw in the possibilities of rotation, shifts and any other side to side differences, we have plenty more to talk about, but to keep the concept simple and straight forward, we will focus on the hip flexors and hamstrings for now.
Here are three great exercises you can use to get the process started:
90/90 Breathing– Set up in a 90/90 position as shown and be sure your low back is solid against the floor. To do this, think about pulling down through your heels on the wall as you engage your hamstrings, effectively tilting your pelvis back under you. This action and this position lines our pelvis and ribs up over one another so that our hamstrings as well as our diaphragm are in an better position to work ideally. Inhaling through our nose while getting three dimensional expansion around our abdomen and chest, followed with a full exhale through our mouth, driving our ribs down, back and in, will help to solidify a better rib and pelvic position, as well as reset our nervous systems, in order to allow us to create new positions and muscle firing patterns.
The Hip Flexor Stretch- Many times, taking care of the rib and pelvic positions with the breathing drill above will eliminate the need for this drill; however, it can still be very useful if you do have a true stiffness or shortness in your hip flexor muscles, especially if you sit a lot all day. Set up in a 90/90 position as shown in the picture. Simply place your back foot on a box, chair, etc. to increase the pull. Be sure to keep your thigh and trunk in a straight line to avoid putting unwanted stress on your low back and front of your hip. Squeeze the glute of your down leg and brace your abs (harden up like you’re going to get punched in the stomach) to create the opening of the front of your hip that you are looking for. This will help to pull the pelvis back in position, get the hip flexors to open up and let go, while allowing the glute to be in a better scenario to do its job with the follow up glute bridge exercise shown next.
Be sure thigh and trunk are lined up straight as shown and elevate the back foot to increase the pull
The Glute Bridge– Lay on the floor as shown below: Think about “pinching pennies between your cheeks” as you squeeze and engage your glute muscles before you leave the floor. We need to activate them and wake them up before we intiate the movement, or the hamstrings and/or low back will take over the bridge. Once we have them engaged, we are going to lift our hips up until we have a straight line between the hips and trunk, as shown in the bottom picture. We are at hip lockout and are glutes should be contracting nicely. Lower back to the floor under control and repeat the process. Shoot for 8 to 10 reps without your hamstrings or back doing too much. It this is not possible for you right now, you may need to start with your feet elevated on a box to make the exercise easier. Other regressions are possible if necessary. Stay tuned for a follow up article about glute bridge progressions and modifications.
Glue bridge -bottom position
Glute bridge- top position
Ditch the stretching, give these exercises a try and watch your hamstring tension melt away!
Upper body training. Probably the most popular emphasis of training that you will see if you walk through most gyms throughout the country. Everybody loves pumping their biceps and building their chests up. If you are lucky, you might even find someone who enjoys chiseling out their upper back. While working the upper body might be a very common thing to come across, very few people actually understand how to train it correctly. This is because very few people understand the anatomy and biomechanics of the activities that occur up top. (and if these things were understood even a little bit, those lovely things below the belt called legs would never be neglected).
So, when we look at gym goers who do hit their upper halves a few times a week, we can generally put people into a few different groups.
Group 1- TheBench and Curl All Day Every Day Group. These people love working the muscles that they see in the mirror and do many variations of pressing and curls with some extra delt and tricep work thrown in for good measure here and there. Neglecting the opposing muscles in the back leads to problems down the road and they are left with imbalances and shoulder issues.
Group 2- The Train with some Push-Pull Balance Group. These people at least understand the importance of balancing out pushing and pulling exercises and try to do some kind of pulling exercise to provide some balance to whatever pushing/pressing exercise they might be doing.
Group 3- The Shoulder Mechanics Involve More than 2 Motions Group. These are those in the know that understand the anatomy and mechanics of the shoulder and train movement and muscle around their upper bodies with some decent anatomically balanced precision; often leading to less shoulder issues and better looking and better performing postures.
Digging into this a little deeper, while group 1 is way off of the map, group 2 at least has SOME realization about balancing out the anatomy. So what is it that they are missing that Group 3 is not?That my friends, is the question that we shall answer with the rest of this article.
To understand how to properly train, we must first look at the anatomy and mechanics. I’m going to keep this straight forward and basic so this doesn’t turn into a textbook lesson. The first thing we need to look at is the scapula (known as your shoulder blade in street talk) and the motions it is capable of. The scapula lays on the back of your rib cage and has connections with your clavicle (collar bone) and humerus (arm bone). When we talk about “push pull balance,” we are generally talking about protraction and retraction of the scapulae (although many people don’t get quality protraction even with their pushing), flexion/extension, and on some occasions, internal/external rotation of the glenohumeral joint (what most think of as the shoulder joint) .
While having some balance here is great, we also need to factor in the multiple other possible actions of the scap and gh joint. The scap can also elevate, depress, rotate upward, rotate downward and tilt forward and backward. The gh joint also internally and externally rotates, adducts and abducts. There are certain muscles that help to perform all of these actions. Anytime we move our arm, whether that be forward and backward, out to our sides or overhead and back down, our scapula, gh joint and our thoracic spine all need to move with a certain harmony amongst each other. When one of these is off, the other(s) must compensate in order to create further motion. Most commonly, the scapula stops moving or moves abnormally and the humeral head (top of the arm bone) glides either upward or forward to compensate, leading to impingement. Simply pushing and pulling neglects many of these actions, although if we are talking pushing and pulling both horizontally and vertically we are at least getting closer to the prize.
Moving overhead involves multiple pieces, including flexion of the glenohumeral joint, upward rotation of the scapulae and extension of the thoracic spine
Pulling with good protraction of the scapulae and pushing with good protraction of the scapulae
Internal and External Rotation of the shoulder joint (in this instance while the scapulae are in a bit of retraction)
When we look at the most common pushing exercises that are performed, the bench press is definitely towards the top of the list. When we look at pulling exercises, a row variation is towards the top of the list as well. When done correctly, the row will work the rhomboids, mid traps and low traps, the main muscles that pull the scapulae into retraction (they pull your shoulder blades together). When done correctly, the bench press will work your pecs, anterior deltoids and triceps with the actual motion of the press; however, a correct set up involves pulling the shoulder blades together (retraction, as we learned a couple of sentences ago, which also utilizes the rhomboids). When we do too much pressing like this, without any protraction of the scapulae and pair it with straight rowing exercises, we end up getting what we call anterior glide of the humerus, where the top of your humerus (arm bone) moves towards the front of your shoulder joint, creating impingement. This occurs because when the scapulae fails to protract sufficiently during a push motion, the humeral head compensates by moving forward in the shoulder socket excessively (anterior glide); this ends up happening if we never train scapular protraction with our pushing movements. (Similarly, if our scapulae stop upwardly rotating when we move overhead, the humeral head tends to glide UP in the socket, causing impingement at the top of the joint)
To add further complication, when we add in any kind of shrugging exercise which involves elevation of the scapulae, the rhomboids are under pressure even more since they also assist with elevating the scapulae. Throw in some pulldowns or pullups, which involves downward rotation of the scapulae, which also activates the………guess what?………the rhomboids! So while at first glance, you might think that many people would need lots of rowing and pullups to balance out all of their pushing, you can now see that its not so black and white. When you add in the fact that any kind of pressing exercise and any kind of vertical pulling exercise also involve internal rotation of the shoulder joint, we can start to see some patterns occurring. Pecs, lats and deltoids often become overactive, pulling the shoudler joint into internal rotation and, along with the rhomboids becoming overactive, limiting protraction and upward rotation of the scapulae. While many of these people do have overactive rhomboids, many of them do still need to “open up” their shoulders. So how do we do this without creating further complications?
We need to balance out the types of pushing exercises we do, being sure to include exercises that allow us to get protraction and/or upward rotation of our scapulae
We need to train upward rotation of our scapulae and external rotation of our shoulder joints and/or do this ALONG with retraction.
Some people might be excessively depressed and some excessively elevated. This must also be factored into any programming.
Balancing out our pushing exercises
Rather than just bench pressing, incline bench pressing, decline bench pressing etc. we need to do some pushing that allows us to move our scaps freely. Landmine presses, cable pushes, overhead presses, and pushups are some great ones. These allow us to get either quality protraction or upward rotation, or some combination of the two. Ensuring that our scapula is able to move effectively in these pathways will better allow our humeral head to stay centered in the glenoid fossa (shoulder socket), preventing impingement and keeping our shoulders healthier.
Training our scapulae to upwardly rotate and stimulating the external rotators of our shoulder to help counteract all of the internal rotation going on are essential. Beyond that, we need to train some retraction without the rhomboids taking over. Y variations and basic external rotation variations are great ways to take care of the first two. Face Pull variations are a great way to conquer our third mission here. With a face pull, our scapula is in a position of upward rotation as we pull towards our head. Since rhomboids are also downward rotators of the scapulae, this takes them out of the movement to a certain extent and allows our mid and low traps to do more with the retraction of the exercise. So we have retraction with good recruitment of the mid and low traps in a position of scapular upward rotation, which is great. Add in the fact that we also get some external rotation at the shoulder joint as we pull, and you have a phenomenal exercise that can really do a lot to help balance out all of the issues that we talked about earlier. Both double and single arm variations work well here depending on the situation and person at hand. If there is side to side imbalance going on (one scap is positioned or moves differently than the other) then it is usually best to start with single arm face pulls.
If somebody is excessively elevated in their shoulder girdle, it is important to be sure that they do not shrug up as they perform these pulling exercises as this will add to the tension that they most likely feel quite often through their necks and shoulders. Performing a high to low face pull might also be a good idea to encourage some depression of the shoulder girdle as you pull. Being sure to keep the shoulders down and back on most pushing and pulling exercises is important here as well.
If somebody is excessively depressed, we need to get their shoulder girdle back up to a respectable level to allow optimal movement and to provide better support for the neck. These people often feel like their neck is “tight,” since its always being pulled on and stretched with the scapulae sitting lower than they should be. Factoring in the possibility of rhomboids being overactive from our earlier examples, we need to train elevation without overworking them more. Enter the Y shrug. This exercise allows us to engage the upper traps to help pull the scapulae up without adding fire to the rhomboids and levator scapulae, while also encouraging positive upward rotation of the scapulae via the lower traps, upper traps and serratus anterior muscles. Check it out above.
While I could go on all day about more factors that could possibly be considered in our shoulder puzzle and this is by no means an exhaustive list, these tips can and should go a long way in helping you to achieve a better balance around your joint; not to mention they should also help improve your lifts and your physique if those are goals of yours. After all, you can’t have a full road map on your back without hitting all of the muscles that are part of it.
In case you didn’t watch this video earlier, check it out now. We go through a lot of the anatomy considerations mentioned in the article and it should help put some of the things mentioned earlier together for you.