Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category

Brains, the Benefits of Exercise, Breathing and BCAA’s; Part 2 of the series: A-Z Fitness and Exercise

Brains, the Benefits of Exercise, Breathing and BCAA’s; Part 2 of the series: A-Z Fitness and Exercise

Starting at the top of our head the entirety of our body can benefit from exercise. Our hair can benefit from exercise all the way down to the toes. A good way to remember that exercise helps all of the body is the old nursery rhyme/ song describing the human form: “head shoulders knees and toes knees and toes, eyes and ears and mouth and nose, head shoulders knees and toes knees and toes”. Or maybe a more modern phrase: it’s all good.


Exercise is dependent on proper form for it to be maximally helpful: proper form drastically reduces risk of injury, and it maximizes fitness gains. Proper form starts in the brain. It is not all in our heads of course, we are going to have to move the body. Just the way we think about our bodies can have a drastic impact on how it moves. We knew this already, I did not need me to tell you this: think about the last time you emotionally felt like crap: I bet you were also physically sluggish and even noticeably weaker. Of course you can also build yourself up mentally and perform better physically.

The truth is we don’t really know the full extent of the amazing effects the brain has on fitness: it has been shown that accident victims can begin the recovery process using visualization alone, meaning no movement. There is a 5-25% improvement in fitness gains amongst people who use daily visualization exercises. The best way to describe this is, pretend time: pretend you can run faster, pretend you have bigger muscles, less fat, can reach a little farther into the stretch… as it turns out pretending is important and helpful. (I find the best way to do this is in front of a mirror in the morning, if you keep your entire pretending experience positive you can get a great start on the day).

Gradually, exercise will increase the neural muscular response system. Much of the strength gains in the first month or two of an exercise program can actually be attributed to improved communication between the brain and the muscles. Exercise stimulates the growth and repair of nerve cells, and some current animal research is showing it can stimulate the growth of STEM CELLS. (Which is freaking amazing, I hope this ends up to prove true in humans as well). Due to exercise; in addition to hormonal changes which positively affect the brain, exercise physically “works-out” our nervous system. Whenever we move we need our nervous system and our brain to do so, thusly exercise is a workout for the brain as well.

Many people, myself included, use exercise like a wonder drug. When I am sad, I go for a run or even a walk. I like to weight lift or do push-ups when I am angry. I like to sprint when I am over excited. I like yoga or Tai chi when I am anxious. Always, every time, without fail: when I exercise I feel better. Exercise is the best mood booster I have ever found, and it is 100 percent natural and it is very good for us. (Try to avoid overtraining, if you do decide to medicate with exercise. Walking as in the old phrase “take a walk” or “walk it off” is a great way to do both avoid overtraining and enhance the mood.)

Technically exercise is not a drug, but in some ways it should be treated like a drug: just as some drugs react badly with other drugs some drugs react badly with exercise. The two should not always be mixed, only if a doctor or physical therapist has prescribed a drug to you and they have said it is okay to exercise should you assume it is okay. Mild exercise is usually safe to do while on medications. Stimulants raise the heart rate: moderate to intense exercise raises the heart rate. Some drugs raise blood pressure: exercise temporarily raises blood pressure intense exercise can temporarily intensely raise blood pressure (in the long run, exercise lowers blood pressure). Drugs can cause dehydration and exercise can… you guessed it make you sweat causing dehydration if we’re not careful. Be careful when mixing drugs and exercise even if your doctor did give you the go ahead.          

Considering it’s affect on the mood it should come as no surprise that proper form of any exercise is dependent on the brain. Developing proper form always requires a degree of focus and attentiveness. When we reach the moment that you develop proper form, it can be felt. This is often touted as a finding of inner peace or a Zen moment; some will even call it getting closer to God. If these moments provide you with that much bliss don’t let the fact that they can be scientifically explained ruin the fun. When this happens, we are feeling what it is like to learn something: notice that when we learn something that we find interesting we are compelled to smile or at very least it makes us feel good. When we learn an exercise’s proper form it involves many parts of the brain and the body so the feel good from learning feeling is intensified.

The dopamine system is actually intended to be used for reward driven learning. Unfortunately, the dopamine system is often abused by addicts of all types: food addicts, gamblers, alcoholics, drug addicts, anger addicts… anything that can be an addiction: will most likely use the body’s dopamine system. The chemical dopamine is generally intended to make us feel good. It has a ton of functions including being a biological precursor for adrenaline and noradrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine). The body needs the amino acid Tyrosine to make dopamine.  Dopamine helps us learn, it helps us feel good and it functions as a natural pain killer.


Drugs (including excessive alcohol) mess with the dopamine system and they can do some serious damage, especially in addicts. Exercise addictions and most addictions for that matter trigger natural hormonal responses in the body: typically with a natural dopamine release it will shortly be followed by a serotonin release. (EXERCISE ADDICTION is typically a GOOD thing, but you can overdo it and hurt yourself, so be careful.) These two hormones function as a yin and yang and they counter balance each other. Natural hormonal responses 99,999 out of 100,000 are good for us in some way or at very least do no notable damage.

The hormonal responses triggered by drugs hurt us in a very serious and complicated way. Ethically I should note that many drugs, even drugs typically considered “street drugs,” can be used in a safe medicinal way. As a good rule of thumb: if your doctor prescribed it, you seem to be having no side effects and you are following his/her recommended dosing chances are you are fine. NEVER EVER NEVER I repeat never, abuse prescription drugs you think street drugs are bad my Lord Jesus, Father in Heaven, PRESCRIPTION drug abuse is really bad.

The dopamine system is fairly complicated, in the brain there are four major dopamine pathways: Mesolimbic, Mesocortical, nigrostriatal, tuberinfundibular and a number of minor dopamine pathways including incertohypothalamic. These pathways are associated with a ton of different things that the body does; the incertohypothalamic is associated with sexual function. It turns out that most of the problems associated with drug addiction can be explained by malfunctions of these dopamine pathways. Many disorders and diseases are associated with or can be caused by dopamine pathway malfunction including everything from erectile dysfunction, schizophrenia and even Parkinson’s disease.



I will talk more about over-training in later articles, but overtraining can cause all of the negative side effects that drug abuse can. Over-training can cause: tiredness, weakness, lack of energy, lack of physical progress, loss of appetite, constant aching, depression and other mood problems. Most exercisers will NEVER experience overtraining. If you work out without giving your body sufficient time to rest and heal between workouts: YOU ARE ASKING TO EXPERIENCE THESE HORRIBLE SYMPTOMS OF OVERTRAINING. Rest between workout is important, very few (although it is actually possible) are actually able to work out every day without eventually experiencing overtraining.

Truthfully exercise addition and overtraining are not something to fear, but it is important to be aware that exercise can become an addiction. Typically however exercise does not become a true addiction and it can be used in the treatment of addiction. Many addicts will find exercise to be crucial in their recover process. Exercise helping with addiction is one of the many benefits of exercise.

Exercise as long as you don’t overdo it is great

The Benefits of Exercise:

  1. 1.       Exercise improves the mood, and has a ton of psychological benefits.
  2. 2.       Exercise boosts energy and endurance, it sounds false but its true exercise makes everything run a bit more efficiently thus boosting energy.
  3. 3.       Regulates blood pressure, often better then drugs will or can (as in lowers high blood pressure and raises low blood pressure).
  4. 4.       Regulates and/or lowers heart rate, a sign of improved heart health.
  5. 5.       It lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol, and raises HDL “good” cholesterol
  6. 6.       Promotes better sleep
  7. 7.       Improves bone density, as well as muscular and connective tissue strength.
  8. 8.       Helps regulate blood sugar, and can even be part of a diabetes treatment plan.
  9. 9.       Helps fight obesity: after exercise is done burning calories the positive changes in the metabolism and increased muscle mass continue to help fight obesity.
  10. 10.   Helps with or helps prevent nearly all diseases from cancer and heart disease to chronic depression and erectile dysfunction. Chances are if you have a medical issue it CAN and WILL help you, talk to your doctor.

EXERICISE IS AMAZING and there is more benefits to it then could possibly be listed.


Breathing properly is an important part of proper form. It should come as no surprise that exercise increases lung capacity, but (typically) breathing needs to be deep for the improvement to be significant. Indeed we do not have to go on a hard run to stimulate deep breathing, it’s easy to just breathe in deeply while sitting here and reading this. Doing this is EXERCISE. If we breathe deeply in a purposeful manner, it is a breathing exercise and over time it increases our lung capacity. Trust me; no doctor is going to expect a patient who broke a rib to go on a hard run to increase/restore the patient’s lung capacity. Doctors will prescribe various apparatuses and recommend breathing exercises that can be done with these devices (these devices are not really needed but they do help).

There are as many different breathing exercises as there are types of exercises because when done properly all exercise is also a breathing exercise. The obvious breathing exercises that are regular exercise are cardio vascular workouts which get us breathing hard like running and most sports. Breathing exercises which expand our lungs abilities are not just breathing hard cardio, exercise as mild as walking can help the lungs, as long as one thing is remembered: breathe purposefully. In fact you can improve lung strength and ability simply doing breathing exercises.

There are a ton of different breathing exercises; a quick internet search will reveal dozens of useful ones. Not all breathing exercises are deep breathing; those that are not tend to be huffy-puffy in nature (quick short in-out breathing), these exercises are good too. Experiment with what is comfortable for you. It might be surprising but a breathing exercise meant for band geeks and their trumpets (I played trumpet for a while) WILL help basketball players with their game.

As a personal trainer, I often find myself helping people with weight lifting, and proper breathing is extremely important: Thus…

BREATH DAMMIT, A quick guide to breathing while weight lifting.

  1. 1.       Take a few good deep breaths before a set, to create an oxygen surplus (there is no need to do this till you feel light headed, just take a few breaths). If you forget everything else remember this first step.
  2. 2.       Exhale in a manner that is comfortable for you during the “positive” phase, also known as the harder part.  (For the squat the positive is part where one stands up, for a row the positive is the part where we pull towards ourselves, for a Bench press the positive part is the part where we push away.)
  3. 3.       Inhale after the middle or “finish” position during the “negative” phase, also known as the less hard part. For example with the Bench Press the negative phase is the lowering towards your chest phase. (You can inhale during the middle portion, especially if you are doing an isometric hold before the negative.)
  4. 4.       During the lifting, inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. It is perfectly fine, and sometimes beneficial to “puff” when you exhale (let out air in bursts).

Holding our breath shoots our blood pressure through the roof regardless of what we are doing. If you hold your breath long enough you will start to hear your heart beat no matter how loud your surroundings are… if this happens to you for God’s sake breathe. The good news is it is actually difficult to suffer brain damage as a result of holding your breath; it does not typically kill brain cells. For brain cells to start dying they have to be without oxygen for 3-5 minutes. What should happen when you hold your breath is you will hold your breath, then you will PASS OUT and your body will automatically start breathing again (this can be deadly if it happens underwater or on a weight bench).


We all know that we can fail to get enough oxygen, but many of us fail to realize we can get to much. Most of us have heard the word hyperventilation, but for one reason or another most people that I work with half refuse to believe that it is real. You can breathe TOO MUCH.  Hyperventilation leads to excessive expulsion of circulating carbon dioxide, this raises blood pH and reduces the availability of oxygen to the brain. The body is very complicated and we need some circulating CO2. It turns out that hyperventilation can cause most of the problems that hypoventilation (not getting enough air) can: numbness, lightheadedness, head ache, dizziness, nervous laughter, and even fainting. Hyperventilation is perhaps best known for causing panic attacks; it is possible for us to huff and puff our way into a panic attack.

It is actually not uncommon for women in labor to accidentally give themselves panic attacks because of hyperventilation. Birth of a child is (at least usually is) intense exercise and like all intense exercise form is extremely important. Don’t go lamas breathing exercises crazy, because hyperventilation is bad.

Valsalva Maneuvers (named after the doctor who invented it in 17th century):

                Chances are you have never heard of this, but you have done it. If you were ever taught to “pop” the ears by forcefully trying to exhale while holding your mouth and nose closed: you have done a Valsalva maneuver. When popping the ears with a valsalva maneuver there is a danger of auditory damage due to over pressurization of the middle ear. It is much safer to “pop” your ears (open your Eustachian tubes) with repeated swallowing or yawning. Divers need to research the dangers of repeated use of the Valsalva maneuver. For divers and even doctors or patients it can be very helpful at times, there are medical reasons that a doctor might ask you to do a Valsalva maneuver. It is always important to know what we are doing BEFORE we do it.

Valsalva maneuvers are something that power lifters will do to increase the amount they can lift. Doing this has it dangers, and it is often a topic of debate if it should be allowed. Many competitions will “red flag” your lift if they catch you using a valsalva maneuver. There is more than one way to do the maneuver, and if you see someone trying extremely hard to hold in their breath and they have puffed up cheeks chances are they never learned how to do it properly. A proper valsalva maneuver is hard to detect as it involves blocking off the glottis (opening above the vocal chords) with the epiglottis (the flap that protects you from choking when you swallow food). I have done a proper valsalva maneuver while lifting heavy and I will tell you it is not comfortable, it will leave you light headed and dizzy, and usually it leaves me with a desire to vomit. These things are uncomfortable to do while weight lifting, and the chance of fainting, vomiting or falling over is very high.

On a lighter note:

BCAA’s are kinda awesome

It is true that supplementing with amino acids is completely unnecessary; you do not need to buy BCAA’s. If you are getting enough protein you are just fine, and you do not need BCAA’s at all for any reason, but it might be very cool to get them.  

BCAA or branched chain amino acids, they kinda are like what they sound like they are like: they are amino acids that have aliphatic (carbon atoms bonded to more than two other carbon atoms) side chains with a branch. There are three BCAA’s leucine, isoleucine and valine, all three are essential amino acids meaning the body cannot make them. These things are a big deal accounting for roughly 1/3 of the amino acids in muscle proteins. They are used to expedite the healing of burn victims; and many body builders use them to expedite the healing after a hard workout.

I have used BCAA’s and I have to say they do work (I used a sensible amount). I experienced less delayed onset muscle soreness, and I was ready to train hard again about a day sooner. For the money I prefer L-glutamine supplementation but BCAAs are still pretty darn impressive. (I will write about L-glut in future articles).

THERE IS A DANGER TO OVER USE and it has a very un-fun name:

Maple Syrup Urine Disease (that is the real name)

LOL – Laugh Out Loud

                Anyway Maple syrup urine disease is caused by a lack of Branched- Chain Alpha-Keto Acid Dehydrogenase complex (a combination of enzymes that breakdown BCAA’s). Really you only have to be short with one of the enzymes.

This horrible disease is often suffered by infants (another example of why formula should be avoided if possible).     

This disease is characterized by sweet smelling urine, and is caused by toxic by-products of BCAA’s. If this disease is left untreated it can cause severe brain damage and eventual death. Symptoms are: vomiting, poor eating/ lack of hunger, dehydration, laziness, loss of muscle tone (hypotonia), seizures, ketoacidosis, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar),pancreatitis, coma, never issues and opisthotonus which is a terrifying spasm of the back google it, it is freaky.

Don’t get me wrong BCAA’s work and they work well, but don’t over-do it. I have seen and heard about what I would consider horrors when it comes to BCAA’s. BCAA’s are often marketed as calorie free protein, thus people treat it like it is a simple protein powder: DON’T DO THIS. Anything over 10-15 grams is usually considered excessive. I will use 5 grams added to a protein shake and this seems to work real good.

Happy Exercising and make sure not to over-do it, Drugs are bad, and BREATHE DAMMIT

Adaptation and the Anabolic State; Part 1 of the series: A-Z Fitness and Exercise

Adaptation and the Anabolic State; Part 1 of the series: A-Z Fitness and Exercise

All living things are capable of adaptation to some extent, but as humans we are absolute masters of it. We are amazingly capable of adjusting our behavior… which is a feat that many other creatures simply can’t or won’t do. It is incredible but we can even change our physiology and structure. Adaptation can involve conscious thought and distinguished efforts, but it is largely automatic, simply put: we just do it.  Adjusting, changing and fixing little things that the environment we live in has proved to be minor flaws are the basic ideas to adaptation.

Adapt or die is a grossly oversimplified explanation to the phenomenon/theory of evolution.

In fact our blob like state that we sometimes find ourselves in is actually an adaptation, “fat” is meant to improve our chances of survival. When we eat more than we need our body uses the excess to make itself a “rainy day fund” of stored adipose tissue (fat). When we do very little movement (not exercise at all) our body slowly loses muscle mass as a means to conserve resources and require less calories. This is a one-two punch for Mr. Couch Potato: when he over eats Mr. Potato gets fatter, when he does not exercise Mr. Potato loses muscle mass and it becomes easier for him to get even fatter. (As a general rule the more muscle mass you have the higher your Resting Metabolic Rate, RMR, will be; this means you can eat more and not gain weight.)

Adaptation can be the poison and the cure, your best friend and your worst enemy. It is, of course, much better to have friends than enemies. If we must have enemies or can’t escape having enemies, we should learn all we can about them to fight them. I am a visual thinker and I visualize two different images for adaptation. I envision little angles of eating right and exercise, who call themselves adaptation; in my mind they look like cherubs. I also envision tiny little goblin/imp looking creatures of sloth and gluttony (lazy and eating a lot) who also call themselves adaptation. Not everyone is as mentally capable of visualization as I am, but just the same the characterization of imps and angels should help with understanding. In this article I am going to focus on the good “angels” of adaptation… because we all know pretty well what those nasty little imps of sloth and gluttony will do to our bodies.

If we did not have such a high capacity for change, exercise and eating right would be utterly pointless. Thankfully we can adapt with relative ease. As a man of faith I feel that when I eat right and exercise I am honoring God, my Family, and Myself. When you look deep down at the amazing science of nutrition and exercise, it gets more and more miraculous as you learn more about the science. Regardless of faith, the science treats all of us the same or very near to the same.

It is pretty easy to see that exercise works out the muscles of the body, and it makes sense that the body would want to improve its muscles to make exercise easier. The body does this improvement through hormonal and physiological responses to exercise. For example, when we first start resistance training weights of 5, 10, or 15 pounds might be challenging enough but soon our bodies will adapt and it will be incredibly easy to lift this small amount of weight. The muscles are not the only thing that improve in response to exercise, indeed exercise gives us an entire body makeover.

The science of exercise, and how it improves the body through adaptation:

Blood Pressure:

Let’s start with the arteries and veins: when we exercise the arteries (and to a lesser extent the veins) constrict or relax in response to exercise. When we exercise the blood vessels (arteries and veins) of the muscles are told by our sympathetic nervous system to vasodilate, meaning they relax and become wider “pipes” for blood to flow through. (Our sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, which is the parts of our nervous system that acts without conscious thought. We should be glad to have this system without it, we could not digest food and our hearts would not beat.) At the same time the blood vessels of many of the internal organs vasoconstrict: tighten and become smaller “pipes” for the blood to flow through. This most notably happens in the digestive tract (stomach and intestines). The actions described above primarily happen in the arteries and arterioles.

All of this expansion or contraction functions as a work out for the blood vessels, and improves their elasticity and general functionality. As the elasticity and general functionality of the blood vessels increases, our blood pressure regulates. This is primarily how exercise reduces high blood pressure. Those with high blood pressure have to be careful when they exercise because exercise causes a temporary raise in blood pressure.

Those with high blood pressure should avoid high intensity exercise, like lifting heavy weights and sprinting (and anything else that seems high intensity). If you want to do these types of exercises, for your safety you may have to wait a bit. Don’t worry; there is a good chance that your moderate/ light intensity exercise program will lower your blood pressure. Once your blood pressure is in a normal range your doctor might give you the go ahead to do the heavy lifting and sprinting that you wanted to do.

If one has a MEDICAL CONDITION, they should always get the go ahead from a doctor before starting or modifying an exercise program. Truthfully, all people should see a doctor before they start exercising. It is also fun to get a “before” physical.

Resting Heart Rate, and heart strength:

Resting heart rate is an excellent indicator of general health, one that people often overlook. A normal range is 60-90 beats per minute (BPM). A resting heart rate of 100 BPM is usually considered okay but anything over 100 is a bad sign and unless you are an athlete a heart rate of 40-50 BPM is also a bad sign. If your heart rate is less than 40 and you are not an elite athlete there is a good chance that you are going to experience a cardiac event (like a heart attack) in the very near future.  Bradycardia is the medical term used to describe a low heart rate (less than 60 beats per minute). If you are not a trained athlete or a healthy young adult, less than 60 BPM is often bad news especially when it is accompanied by palpitations.

Trained athletes typically have lower heart rates due to hypertrophy of the heart (muscle growth/ size and strength increase). Lance Armstrong and athletes like him often have a resting heart rate in the 30’s. (Most of us should probably talk to a doctor if we see our heart rates this low.) Lance’s heart is likely pretty darn big and is definitely very strong.

Cardio junkies (people who love aerobic exercise) are very thankful that there heart and lungs adapted. If they did not experience adaptation in the heart and lung department they would definitely not be able to do the amazing things they do. The tour de France is a 3 week long 2,200 mile bike race… this is a ton of biking. I have broken the 500 miles of cycling in a week marker, on an actual bike (it doesn’t count if you do this on a machine, my opinion)… it was really hard. All of the guys that manage to finish the tour are amazing to me.

If we take a look at these guys some of them are KINDA muscular but most are very lean. They do tend to have large quadriceps (a group of 4 different muscles on the front of the legs), but a body builder would have much larger quads. The reason they look the way they do is because the body does not get much stronger and the muscles do not grow much in response to aerobic exercise. There are three things that do grow tremendously due to aerobic exercise: metabolism (hardest to explain), Lungs (also hard to explain) and the Heart. Explaining how the heart adapts to exercise is simple. Resting heart rate is the best indicator of heart strength; in athletes a low resting heart rate indicates that the heart can pump a higher volume blood.

Exercise uses the heart; all exercise uses the heart from zumba to aquatic dance. All exercise increases heart rate, but only exercise of an aerobic nature significantly increases the heart’s stroke volume (how much blood is being pumped per beat). By asking the heart to pump more blood per beat the heart is physically stretched and it must physically contract over its full range of motion this is a great hypertrophy inducing exercise. In a weird way this is an example of how proper form produces more and better muscular growth.

It turns out weight lifting does little to stimulate hypertrophy of the heart. This is because while you are lifting, despite an increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure the volume of blood being pumped is not greatly increased and could potentially be less than average. Because the volume of blood per stroke is not higher (or not by much) the heart does not get to stretch out to its full range of motion. During a lift the muscles themselves engorge, you can see this: it is sometimes called “the pump”. This enlarged state of the muscles constricts the blood vessels that surround and intertwine with the muscles. The muscles elsewhere in the body, like in the digestive track, were already constricted (it naturally happens with most exercise), so basically during the “lift” the heart is frantically trying to pump blood through a kinked garden hose.

Doing this pumping blood through a body that is like a kinked garden hose is difficult for the heart, people with “weak” hearts should not weight lift. If you have a “weak” heart but want to weight lift you should for your safety, wait until your heart is stronger. There is good news: mild exercise, like walking, actually does improve the heart’s strength; most, as in nearly all people, can safely participate in mild exercise. Just the same ask your doctor what is and is not appropriate for you.

Weight lifting can strengthen the heart, but not my much. The good news is weight lifting while completely ignoring cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise is just plain silly. Doing some cardio as a warm-up prevents injury, and doing some cardio as a cool down helps clear away that nasty lactic acid. Being a cardio junkie that completely ignores weight lifting is also just plain silly… but more on that later.

A quick stretch immediately after a lift is a great way to open up the veins and get some much needed oxygen and nutrition to the muscles. Because stretching stimulates vasodilation, stretching is the best way to get the nutrition from our diets to muscles and joints. Note: some yogic stretches physically constrict blood vessels, but most do not. All the same you should never try to stay in a stretch of any kind for a long period of time (as a general rule not over 1-2 minutes, but some stretches like “child’s pose” are safe to do for much longer periods).           

Adaptation and Stretching/ Range of Motion      

Let us start with the bad news… tricky little imps of adaptation are out to get us; this thing can be out worst enemy. Bad posture, something that I often find myself guilty of, is just plain terrible for the body. Bad posture mostly refers to sitting posture but it can refer to posture in any position or even bad posture during exercise. When we have bad posture our spine is in an unhealthy position.

Sublaxation is a term argued over by medical doctors and chiropractors but if you have back problems chances are you have heard the term sublaxation. Vertebral Sublaxation in both communities (chiropractic and medical) is a nasty term used to describe an unnatural positioning associated with bad things like pinched nerves. There is a reason that the term sublaxation sounds like an awful way to poop your pants… because if things get real bad you might do just that (you might poop your pants). Indeed back problems can cause all kinds of incontinence.

So we all should sit up straight and stand tall no matter how uncomfortable it is right? WRONG VERY WRONG. Yes we should sit in a manner that is much closer to straight then slouch but we should not be over stressing our muscles to sit. The healthy middle ground that is perfect posture is actually easy to find. When you are standing breath in a deeply as you can… observe your posture: this about perfect and about perfect is perfectly fine. Most people when they inhale deeply have a slightly overly Lordotic (inward curvature) of the lumbar region, so be aware of this. The easiest way to good posture is to develop the habit of every once in a while taking a deep breath. If you develop this easy to develop habit of occasional deep breaths your posture will naturally and gradually improve.

When most of us envision someone sitting up straight what we actually are envisioning is someone sitting in a Lordotic state (lordosis)… this is bad and will cause lower back and other back pain. When we envision someone slouching we envision someone sitting in a kyphotic state (kyphosis)… this is also bad and will also cause all kinds of back pain.

Slouching is another adaptation… when we are slouching we are burning less calories then when we are sitting up straight. Anytime we are burning less calories it is an adaptation to conserve resources. When we slouch or lordotically “sit up straight” the ligaments, muscles and tendons of the back get stretched or constricted to unnatural lengths… causing pain.

All parts of the body have a functional range of motion; this is why how flexible we are is a huge marker of fitness. There are only three categories of fitness markers: flexibility, endurance and strength. One who loses sight of flexibility is doing their bodies a great disservice that will lead to INJURY and PAIN.

We don’t have to be able to do crazy yoga poses to be physically fit… but if you are all stiff and can’t touch your toes it is very bad: You do not have a functional range of motion. Those of us without a functional range of motion are, simply put, less functional but we could also be experiencing pain. (Of course there is the other extreme; overstretching and increasing the body well beyond its functional range of motion can also lead to chronic pain.) A functional range of motion (FROM) is just that: a range of motion which is functional.

Warning Science-y Stuff

The smallest functional unit in any muscle is the sarcomere; all muscles have these as their basic structure. The biceps alone might have as many as 100,000 sarcomeres. The sarcomere is composed of myofilaments. Each muscle cell is a tubular cell called a myocyte or myofiber. All in told, adding all the types of cells together, it is estimated that there are trillions of cells in the human body. 1,000,000,000,000 a thousand billions, a million millions… one trillion is a mind boggling number.

 All parts of the body are alive, excepting things like the water in blood and the dead cells of our hair. Bones = alive, muscles = alive, organs = alive, and what is truly amazing for most intents and purposes all of these living entities are functioning together harmoniously to produce one thing: the human body. No matter what your faith is the next time you find yourself questioning it, think about this: we are composed of a trillion + cells that must be in relative harmony for us to exist.     

Muscle cells contain contractile filaments which move using other muscle cells as anchors, this action physically changes the size of the muscle cell. If the contractile proteins, mostly actin and myosin, are relaxed they are not producing force (or at least not much). When the muscle is being either stretched or contracted a force is being generated. To produce a contraction ATP (adenosine triphosphate) must be used, calcium and plenty of other stuff is also involved it all gets very complicated.

The important concept to grab is that the muscle cells use each other as anchors and they in a weird way ratchet off of each other to produce power. STRETCHING can make you more powerful. It ups the power your muscle can produce in a neat way: it realigns disorganized muscular fibers.

Whenever our muscles are stretched the area of overlaying myofilaments of the individual sarcomeres is reduced, (when a muscle constricts this area increases). When all of the sarcomeres in a muscle are stretched to their limits, other connective tissue must then be stretched. In any and all muscles the sarcomeres are aligned in such a manner that their net efforts produce power. In organs the sarcomeres are supposed to be aligned in an omnidirectional manner such that they produce power in many directions, and this is a good thing. In skeletal muscles the sarcomeres are supposed to be aligned in a roughly parallel fashion to produce power in roughly one direction, and this is also a good thing. Unfortunately, organs will have some unnecessary levels of “parallel-ness” and skeletal muscles will have some unneeded “omnidirectional-ness.”

Most of the sarcomeres of skeletal muscle are roughly parallel so when we stretch them out in the direction that is roughly parallel to the sarcomere’s alignment; some of unneeded misaligned sarcomeres are dislodged from where they are anchored. If allowed to heal, these once misaligned sarcomeres will now be properly aligned. The more sarcomeres contracting in the same direction the more power that contraction produces. It is because of this fact that the weight lifter that never stretches is not as strong as they could be.

Sarcomere misalignment is both a naturally occurring phenomenon and an adaptation. A muscle that uses less of its sarcomeres to contract uses less energy to make the contraction. Indeed most adaptation that reduces the body’s functionality is about conversing resources.

Adaptation and Muscular Hypertrophy

                To become “muscular” you must overload the muscles. When you overload the muscles you are actually causing some damage to them, and to prevent future damage from the same load the body makes the muscles stronger. When a muscle cell is stretched or contracted beyond its ability little tears are made in the cell itself. Muscle cells are amazing little things; they are multinucleated cells, meaning they have many nucleuses. The nucleus is the organelle of a cell that contains the blueprints (DNA) of how the cell is made. Muscle cells being multinucleated translates into them having amazing abilities to heal themselves. The main reason aerobic exercise (cardio) does not tend to make a person bulky is because the actual load being placed on the muscles does ever exceed a person’s bodyweight.

(Performers of isometrics like flexing can achieve bulky because it is possible to exceed the load naturally provided by body weight alone.) 

At the end of the day all body healing is about filling gaps, muscles are really good at this. Envision a bridge that collapses in the middle because there was an earth quake that pulled the bridge apart. Now the span that must be crossed by this bridge is just a bit longer, and the bridge must be repaired to be just a bit longer. Or envision a weak little wooden bridge on a country road. Let’s say one day a big heavy truck drives over the bridge and it collapses. To prevent this in the future the wooden bridge must now get steel or concrete reinforcement and the bridge gets bigger and beefier.

The leading theory is that there are two kinds of muscular hypertrophy:  Myofibrillar and Sarcoplasmic. Mypfibrillar is characterized by the addition of extra contractile proteins resulting in massive gains in muscular strength but not much increase in overall volume. Sarcoplasmic is characterized by the addition of extra sarcoplasmic fluid in the muscle cell and huge gains in muscular volume, but not much gain in strength. According to this leading theory one type of hypertrophy cannot be had in isolation but differences in training can increase one type over another. (If you have not guessed by now hypertrophy is the fancy pants way of saying increased volume i.e. growing bigger and stronger.) Myofibrillar hypertrophy is most closely associated with Olympic weightlifters and power lifters. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is most closely associated with body builders.

Technically these two types of muscular hypertrophy thing is still theory: because there is not enough evidence to support it. The reason this is still theory is because when viewed under a microscope the difference between the biopsied muscle of powerlifters and body builders is actually hard to determine. The reason this theory is well supported is because when a protein analysis is done of biopsied muscle of different athletes it is often easy to guess which one is the powerlifter and which one is the bodybuilder: power lifters will USUALLY have more protein in their muscles. Other things can explain the difference in power between the extremely powerful “power” lifters/ Olympic weight lifters and the comparatively weak Bodybuilders. It should definitely be said that bodybuilders are usually extremely strong, they just happen to not be as strong as their smaller less muscular less well “defined” Olympic and power lifting counterparts.

Metabolic and neurological differences can be used to explain the disparity in strength between power lifters and bodybuilders.

Adaptation and the Metabolism Due to Exercise

Metabolic increases due to exercise are primarily due to muscular hypertrophy (bigger/stronger muscles burn more calories), but this is not the only way the body adapts to have a faster metabolism as a result of exercise. In response to exercise slowly over time our body’s slowly changes its hormonal balances, increasing the metabolism. The body also changes on the cell membrane level (the outside of a cell), by increasing or decreasing hormone receptors making the hormonal changes more effective. Inside of the cell changes in a number of ways. Often, in response to exercise, cells of the body increase the number mitochondria (the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell) in them because they need more energy. The cells of the body, most notably the muscles, also increase their glycogen stores.

This article is not really about the metabolism, and honestly… although it is interesting to some most people find the how it happens to be very dry and boring. There is a ton of chemicals and hormones and technical jargon that involved in the detailed explanation of how exercise increases the speed of the metabolism. Primarily these hormone and chemical changes have to do with the changes in our body’s insulin levels and insulin response system. Exercise has such a powerful blood sugar regulating effect that starting an exercise program has been shown to actually cure mild cases of diabetes: people have exercised the disease away. (Note: this is not possible very often, but exercise does consistently aide diabetics and mild exercise should be a part of any treatment plan.)

Muscles Adapt Faster and it is a Problem            

Exercise directly causes or indirectly stimulates adaptation on every level of the body. This is how we have the many benefits of exercise. With appropriate exercise every part of the body improves: the bones, the tendons/ligaments, joints, our organs, our BRAIN… all of it, everything gets better. Muscles get better and stronger very quickly in comparison to the rest of the body. This means that if we don’t wait for tendons/ ligaments/ joints to be strong we actually have our new found muscular strength to be a bad thing. This muscle hurting your tendons does not happen often with traditional weight training or most “classic” muscle building programs. However it is possible. When you are not in good shape trying to get into great shape too quickly brings a high risk of injury.

Good although vague news: it generally takes more time to go from bad shape to good shape than it does to go from good shape to great shape. This is because in the transition from good to great many of the metabolic and hormonal changes in the body have by in large already taken place. It is generally safe to quickly go from good to great shape because by the time the body gets into good shape the tendons, ligaments, joints and bones of the body are also in pretty good shape. If however one is in bad shape, meaning muscularly weak, then most likely the bones, tendons, ligaments and joints are also: WEAK.

Exercise makes all of the body stronger, but muscles adapt very quickly. This means that sometimes even when you can do the exercise or lift the weight, you shouldn’t. The best indicator of wither or not you shouldn’t be doing something is pain, basically if it hurts STOP. Exercise should never actually hurt, completely forget the old phrase: “no pain no gain.” Replace it with “No Strain, No Gain.” It is fine if exercise is difficult and mildly uncomfortable (it does not have to be many mild exercises are not in the slightest difficult or uncomfortable). Some exercise most notably weight lifting requires that you make yourself a bit sore to see the most gain. It is important and needs to be reiterated, even in the lifting of HEAVY weight there should NEVER be pain.

The best way to maximize gains is with proper nutrition.     

The body needs a ton of different things for nutrition to be proper: there are many different minerals and vitamins, we need water, we need electrolytes (like salt), and there are essential fatty acids and essential amino acids. We need “enough” of these many different nutrients. To maximize fitness gains we need more than we would need for a sedentary lifestyle. This bit of basic common sense eludes many people, most notably “dieters.” Regardless of actual calorie intake the basic needs of the body do not change. If we do not get our essential amino acids (protein) from our diet; our body will take it from our muscles. If we don’t get the vitamins and minerals we need our body will take them from our bones and other mineral/ vitamin rich places.

This breakdown of body tissue is called catabolism (catabolic state) and it is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact it is often a good thing. We need some catabolism to keep the body in balance, replace old cells, and even help fight cancer. But, we want to prevent excessive catabolism because excessive catabolism leads to many bad things, most notably weakness. Excessive catabolism leads to weakness everywhere including but not limited to the bones, the organs, and of course the muscles.

The building of body tissue is called anabolism (anabolic state). At any given time the body is always in BOTH an anabolic and a catabolic state. The exerciser is often interested in making muscular and other fitness gains. To maximize gains one should try and stimulate the body into being in a state that is mainly anabolic. If properly fed the average person’s body will try and be in a state that is mainly anabolic, this is obvious as the average person is not wasting away into nothing.

To maintain an increased level of anabolism; the vitamin and mineral requirements of the exerciser are higher than that of the average person, but often not by much. It is important to try and avoid over consumption/ supplementation of vitamins. I personally never recommend that a person exceed the recommended upper limit/range of a particular vitamin or mineral. For example: the exerciser needs additional calcium, but it is not recommended that ANYONE gets more than 2000mg of calcium a day (don’t worry if you do this every once and a while just don’t make a habit of it). A common recommendation for women over 50 is 1200mg of calcium a day, this demographic needs additional calcium. It is not well established how much calcium is needed for exercisers but I use 1200mg as a target for myself.

Fat recommendations vary wildly; I have never seen it recommended that saturated fat intake be increased. Recommended saturated fat levels are between as close to nothing as possible to about 30 grams a day. Those on an extremely high calorie diet, like many body-builders and elite athletes often have much higher saturated fat intake levels (often as high as 70 grams with 5000+ Cal diets). These elite athletes manage to maintain good cholesterol levels. If most of us ate this much saturated fat in a day we would have a crappy blood lipid profile.

The outer part of a cell, the cell membrane is a fat based structure, and indeed many parts of the body are fat based structures: the skin, cartilage, collagen, and many hormones. We need fat, exercisers need more fat if they are going to expect that their bodies build and repair these fat based structures. I have seen recommendations from just slightly over average to double. Regardless of actual calorie intake it has been found that a minimum of 10% of the calories should be from fat. So if you are going to eat more you are going to have to eat more fat as well. As you eat less and less it becomes increasingly important that the fat that you do get be predominantly healthy fats. Fat that is not trans-fat or saturated fat is healthy.

The big buzzword when it comes to exercise and nutrition is: protein intake, a subject that is constantly studied and debated. Most of us do not need a ton of protein from our diet to maximize our personal fitness gains. However if you happen to be a body-builder of about 100 kilograms (~220 pounds) who is in the gym 3-4 hours a day you could benefit from getting 180 to as much as 252 grams of protein.

Three basic protein recommendations:

All of these are based on lean body mass measurements; LBM is a person’s mass minus the fat. Most research is preformed and reported using the metric system. To be honest I do not feel like converting the following numbers for users of U.S. customary units. In the U.S. we actually use metric all the time… in fact metric is what is on the back of nutrition labels. So when you convert your body weight to kilograms by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2 you will eventually be using metric anyway when you go to eat the food.

Mild and Flexibility Exercises (Tai-Chi, Yoga) = .8 grams per kilogram LBM

Endurance Exercise (running, aerobics) = 1.2 – 1.4 grams per kilogram LBM

Strength and Anaerobic exercise (weight lifting, sprinting) = 1.4 – 1.8 grams per kilogram LBM

Four Duration Multipliers:

1 for an hour or less

1.1 for 1-2 hours (10%)

1.25 for 2-3 hours  (25%)

1.4 for 3-4 + hours (40%)

Rendering the following ranges

Mild .8 g/kg – 1.12 g/kg LBM

Endurance 1.2 g/kg – 1.68 g/kg LBM

Endurance High Intake 1.4 g/kg – 1.96 g/kg LBM

Strength 1.4 g/kg – 1.96 g/kg LBM

Strength High Intake 1.8 g/kg – 2.52 g/kg LBM

Amino Acids that Start with the Letter A

There are 22 standard amino acids 8-10 of them are considered essential depending who you ask. In truth most of the non-essential amino acids can be conditionally essential if a person has a medical issue. Aside from the standard amino acids there are many more non-standard amino acids. None of the amino acids that start with the letter A are consistently considered essential, but sometimes Arginine is considered an essential amino acid.

Alanine: Is a non-essential amino acid and can be manufactured by the body using pyruvate and branched chain amino acids. Alanine plays a key role in the glucose-alanine cycle: when we exercise in addition to pyruvate we generate alanine. The alanine then goes to the liver to make glucose, this allows for more of a cell’s ATP to be used for muscle contraction. The alanine cycle also transports ammonium to the liver to be converted to urea.

Arginine: Is a conditionally essential non-essential amino acid, meaning the body can make it but may not make enough of it. Primarily (can be biosynthesis in other ways) it is made like this: Our body makes citrulline in the epithelial cells of the small intestines from glutamine and glutamate… then citrulline is converted to Arginine in the proximal tubule cells of the kidney. Arginine is a pretty darn important amino acid, it does a ton of stuff for the body it helps with: cell division, wound healing, ammonia removal, immune function and the release of hormones. Arginine is a precursor for nitric oxide. Arginine has been used in the treatment of ED… if you don’t know what ED is it does not apply to you. L-Arginine is a fairly common supplement that has been attributed to reduced blood pressure, increased healing and while some claim supplementation increases Human Growth Hormone secretion this has been proven to be insignificant.

Asparagine: Is a non-essential amino acid. To make asparagine the whole process starts with a transaminase enzyme transfers an amino group glutamate to oxaloacetate which produces alpha-ketoglutarate and aspartate (aspartic acid). Then the enzyme asparagine synthetase from aspartate, glutamine, and ATP makes AMP, glutamate, pyrophosphate and asparagine. We need this amino acid for our nervous system and it plays an important role in the production of ammonia (yes the same type of ammonia that is used for cleaning).

Aspartic Acid: Is a non-essential amino acid. To make it: a transaminase enzyme transfers an amino group glutamate to oxaloacetate which produces alpha-ketoglutarate and aspartate (aspartic acid). (<- This is also the first step in making Asparagine.) Aspartic acid can also be made in the Urea Cycle. Aspartic Acid is participates in gluconeogenesis which is the incredibly important process by which our body gets glucose from non-carbohydrate sources. Aspartic Acid is used to make inosine, a precursor to purine bases (our body does need some purines). Aspartic acid also functions as a neurotransmitter.

We don’t really need to worry too much about any amino acids that start with the letter A. But it is a good idea to get some extra Arginine when you accidently get injured, because it can speed up the healing process. How we manage to make the non-essential amino acids is another example of adaptation, can you imagine if every nutrient was essential; having a balanced diet would be very difficult. Adaptation can be found in every part of the human body from the hair on our heads to thickened skin on the soles of our feet.

Happy exercising and make sure to get enough protein!

Tai Chi, Yoga, and Walking: active rest, an important part of any training program: A fitness post.

Tai Chi, Yoga, and Walking: active rest, an important part of any training program: A fitness post.

Not every client a personal trainer has will really want to go to the gym or the track. Many simply want to get into some type of shape, before they go to the gym. Taking these people who have a fear of the gym into a gym runs the risk of the event being emotionally devastating for them. Besides what you really want is a client that is comfortable so that they can be in control of their movements and have better self-awareness. Remember, cortisol and other stress hormones are enemies to progress.

People’s anxiety problem is something you are going to have to deal with as a personal trainer. To be good at your job you must be capable of being personable, empathetic, understanding and caring. To excel at any job you have to care about what you do, but to become a top notch personal trainer you have to also care about your clients as individuals.

I do not ever actually SCREAM at my clients (I call doing this a jerk move; I try not to be a jerk). Some people need an elevated voice to feel motivated, but most do not.

Some clients are going to want and need to be pushed and perhaps even “screamed” at: I call these friendship screams. (Friendship screams are not true screams, but they are done with an elevated voice.) Emotionally sensitive clients can never be friendship screamed at; any amount of assertion can be a terrible experience for them. Some clients can only be guided. You don’t want to be a meanie pants. Never should a personal trainer insult you, if your personal trainer insults you go find a different trainer there are plenty of us out there. On the opposite side of the coin if your trainer does not find a way to guide you to your goals, find a new one.

Contrary to popular belief it is not best to “just do it.” Many people like to start out with a resistance training routine that is very intense, and many people like to start running by either long distance running or maybe even sprinting. Ex-athletes that are in decent shape can do this with less risk, but no matter what; starting your training program with intense exercise is not the safest nor is it the best for maximizing gains.

To maximize gains, injury should be avoided and intense exercise for non-athletes carries a high risk of injury. Don’t worry too much if you really want to do intense exercise (it’s a fun thing to do) all you have to do is: become an athlete. Everyone can become an athlete at any age, and with any starting level of fitness. The average person could train to become a marathon runner in 6 months to a year (I think we would all agree these people can be called athletes).I personally never recommend intense exercise for a client unless the client has been doing moderate training for 6 months. At that point it is best to slowly work up to intense exercise. Even one rep max lifting should be avoided for a month or two. Intense exercise is NEVER needed for weight loss.  

It is not just those with anxiety issues that should start out slowly with mild exercise. Some demographics: the morbidly obese, the elderly, the weak, children and pregnant women, to name a few; should start with mild exercise. Not all elderly clients need to start with mild exercise; many can safely start at a moderate level. A good portion of senior citizens these days are in better shape than the average American. EVERYONE including these demographics can eventually become an athlete (mothers should wait until after the baby is born).

Mild exercise is not just for those that need to start out with it, mild exercise is for everyone. The concept of active rest has been around for a long time but it likes to cycle in and out of popularity so don’t feel bad if you have never heard of active rest. These days some really cool things are being anecdotally discovered about active rest by a small portion of the body-building community.

I love following what these guys and girls do; they are often way ahead of the curve when it comes to techniques and tactics. I enjoy learning from every population and every source that I can learn from. Information from many sources including body-builders needs to be double and triple checked before it is personally tested. You should attempt and discover at least some hard science (not pseudoscience) behind why it would work, before you try things. I caution against using body building techniques, tactics and teachings for three reasons: 1. Myths almost never die inside of the body-building community, no matter how much they have been proven wrong. 2. Many body-builders do not care much about anything besides weather or not a tip or technique works. 3. Body-builders are elite athletes and their bodies are more capable of extreme exercise, extreme exercise is less risky for them.

A few months back I read a post off by personal trainer James Stettler about a client of his. This client (a body-builder) only resistance trains each muscle group once a month and only works out once a week, long story short his client experienced major gains. After reading this I decided to test my body and see just how much exercise with active rest I needed. Turns out for me if I work out once to a maximum of twice a week, it is optimal; I should take one day completely off and have an active rest activity for each day of the rest of the week. I have always believed that active rest was important for maintaining fitness. It has not been until recently that I have started to believe that active rest is important for gaining.

I advise everyone to try and do the same thing I did: discover how many days a week (or month) is optimal for you to experience gains. As a trainer, it is a matter of safety that my muscles be incredibly functional every time I am with a weight training client. A primary function as a trainer is that of spotter: someone who is there to grab all to most of the weight in the event that you fail to be capable of another lift. Due to this basic necessity of high functioning muscles, many trainers do not get to train more than once or twice a week anyway. I have personally discovered that a once to twice a week schedule can be optimized, using active rests, to achieve maximum gains.

Active rest is doing mild exercise and taking a day of rest from moderate or intense exercise.

Some guidelines for active rest:

  1. You should be capable of conversation at all times, even singing your favorite song should be easy. If you are in decent shape you should be able to recite your countries pledge of allegiance with only needing to inhale once beforehand (10-15 seconds of constant talking).
  2. If you are in shape, your heart rate should never be above 65-70% of your max heart rate (my opinion, some will advise never go above 60%). If you are out of shape your heart rate should never feel elevated, during active rest. (Max heart rate is often calculated as 220 minus your age)
  3. The activity should be of decent length.

Rest in general is very important, because it is during periods of rest that your body is actually making its physiological improvements and fitness gains. Current research supports active rest as superior to complete rest, but in my opinion more study is needed. I have personally found this conclusion of superiority to be true for me. Active rest actually does help reduce a muscle’s lactate build-up (lactic acid) faster than simply resting.  Lactic acid, it is a big cause of muscular soreness. During active rest blood flow to the muscles improves, blood is what carries nutrients that are needed to repair the muscles. Increasing blood flow to the muscles is a very good thing. Many find that active rest improves relaxation (for some active rest is the best way to avoid the temptation of working out).

Stress has been shown to slow recovery and healing, so anything you can do to avoid it is a good thing that will speed up your recovery.

My favorite active rest activities:

  1. Walking: walking is great and my dogs love going on long walks. Walking has all the benefits of exercise, and it is one of the easiest things you can do. Walking actually burns a good amount of calories (you can find your exact number pretty easy through the magic of the internet or smart phone apps). Walking is typically very safe (unless you trip or are in a bad part of town) and it is a great time for thinking.
  2. Biking: A gentle bike ride is fun and not very difficult or hard on the body. During an active rest, you should not try to go fast or climb hills on the bike. Biking is a favorite pass time of mine, and if you give it an honest try: it will probably become a favorite pass time of yours as well.
  3. Hiking: hiking is always an adventure and who doesn’t love an adventure… well some people hate adventure but beside those people, who does not love adventure?
  4. Yoga: it is important to remain flexible to reduce injury risk, there is two ways to do this stretching (which most consider very boring) or activities like yoga (which many people find fun and relaxing). Yoga is not for everyone, because many people simply can’t be entertained by yoga. Yoga is worth giving it a try because you might like it and it is very good for you.
  5. Flexing and isometric/dynamic tensioning exercises: I like to flex when I am alone, just as a means to monitor progress and well, I like the way I look. Flexing is great for monitoring progress, but it also counts as exercise. Flexing (a type of isometric exercise) will exercise muscles that your work-out routine missed, making flexing something that should be added to any work-out routine. Dynamic tension is a concept originally popularized in the 1920’s by a man named Charles Atlas. The basic concept is to move your muscles and use your own muscles as opposing resistance. These types of exercises might be less capable of producing quick muscular gains, but they are very safe. You are in complete control of the tension, because your muscles are providing the tension. Isometrics are clinically used in rehabilitation when movement has to be limited to prevent further injury.
  6. Tai-chi, keeps the body flexible like yoga does (yoga is a more effective as flexibility training). I find Tai-chi can be more entertaining for many people; after all it did originate as a combat martial art. It is easier to see the practicality in an exercise if it serves a purpose other than exercise; Tai-chi teaches you self-defense. All martial arts teach self-defense and have the potential to serve as mild exercise, but most do not have as great an impact on flexibility as Tai-chi. (Tai-chi is my current favorite martial art.)


Yoga is not something that I currently regularly do, but I have regularly done this in the past and I have enjoyed it. There are many types of yoga and I have enjoyed all of the types I have tried. One of the more “masculine” types of yoga that many guys may enjoy is Bikram Yoga; Bikram Yoga is arguably the most popular type of hot room yoga (yoga practiced in a hot room). If you know someone who does yoga, chances are if you ask them and they ask their instructor they can take you to one class for free. Doing any exercise program with a friend is a great way to provide mutual accountability to each other, and even if your friends quits you are more likely to stick with it because you started with a friend. If your friend tries to encourage you to stop exercising because they stopped exercising get a new friend.

Unfortunately, Yoga is often considered by guys to be a girly exercise. This is not true; yes the average yoga class is filled to the rafters with women, but yoga is neutral sex. These days’ body-builders are using yoga to improve their posing forms… I dare you call a body builder a girly man. (“Girly man” is a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger catch phrase.) It is sad but many machismo type guys will openly question the sexuality of their male friends when they their friends even friends they have known for years announce that they are doing yoga. Guys if your friend does this to you: they are a dumb friend. One should never guess a person’s sexuality for any reason including exercise habits; doing so will make you look ignorant and intolerant, two negative qualities not embraced by society at large.

How anyone could consider it gay to be in a room full of, mostly attractive, women stretching and sweating is beyond my ability to comprehend! Guys that are trying to get in shape to attract women… have you even considered trying a yoga class? If one class doesn’t work try another, but there are usually single women in these classes whom are looking for a good place to meet a guy. Yoga class is generally considered a good place to meet a romantic partner.

My wife and I met in class in 3rd grade; gym and recess were integral parts of us being each other’s first boyfriend and girlfriend. Yes this is/was as adorable as it sounds, and NO (talking mostly to parents of 3rd graders) you should not be frightened by this.            


I have a client for whom; Tai-chi is the best way for her to manage her Tietze’s syndrome. When I recommended Tai-chi to her, I had tried it and enjoyed it, but I am still not currently capable of teaching it. All exercise carries the benefits of exercise to some extent; Tai-chi is especially great for healing. I have known about the health benefits of Tai-chi for a long time, and the unique healing benefits of tai-chi have been well studied and are becoming close to medically proven. Tai-chi is often taught at hospitals all over the world and it is constantly gaining credibility for its ability to heal. Tai-chi is famous for being appropriate for all ages and fitness levels. It is likely that the senior center near you is hosting a tai-chi class, because it is becoming very popular amongst senior citizens.

In January, My client is scheduled to take a weekly tai-chi class that I will not be teaching. I have received permission to observe, and for the first class I am going to, as a means to help ensure she does not exacerbate her Tietze’s. She wanted to look somewhat experienced when she first took the class. So what we did was look up the type of Tai-chi being taught in the class and she got a DVD to learn it (this was her idea she is a smart women). I corrected her form based on the instructors form in the video (my idea). Luckily, she had a natural gift for tai-chi but all the same watching both the instructor and her at the same time made it so that I was able to correct her movements easily. She is currently studying the 12 postures for Arthritis form developed by Dr. Paul Lam (this is a commonly taught form). Anyone with a helpful friend or trainer can learn excellent form like this, rather quickly (and not just for Tai-chi).

I am currently personally studying the 24 posture simplified form known as Beijing form. This is theorized to be the most popular form of Tai-chi in the world. Oddly we have the Chinese government to thank for the development of this form. The Chinese Sports Committee in 1956 brought together four teachers to develop a form that most people could easily learn and use, these masters were: Cai Longyun, Chu Guiting, Fu Zhongwen, and Zhang Yu. Tai-chi is a very old martial art with a rich history, which started in China, making it a Chinese martial art. The martial art philosophy of Tai-chi is: If one uses hardness to resist force, then both sides are certain to be injured to at least some degree. I don’t like to get hurt so, Tai-chi has become my new favorite self-defense martial art.


                Walking is the primary mode of transportation designed into almost all animals, most insects, and many small life forms. Most birds are designed to use their wings to fly, but as far as I know there are no feetless birds and all birds can walk. As a man of faith, I have to trust that if God used the same design (walking) over and over again like he did, there really must be something awesome to it. Thank the lord for MP3 players because now walking is more enjoyable than ever. For those that are wheel chair bound, you should know the human body is quite well suited to using arm-power and wheel chairs; physiologically it is very similar to walking.

Walking along without a change in diet can gradually get you into better health, and most people have no fear of walking. Walking coupled with dieting is an amazing way to lose weight. Dieting results in the body having less food for energy then it is use to, this along can make exercise pretty difficult and much harder than it has to be. As long as you are consuming a safe amount of calories, walking always remains relatively easy. Make sure to get a general minimum of 50 grams of protein (200 calories) and 20 grams of polyunsaturated fat (180 calories). By far the easiest, most pain free and comfortable way to lose a lot of weight very quickly is by calorie restriction to 1300-1800 calories and WALKING.

The average human can perform mild exercise relatively safely for many hours; making mild exercise, if you are willing to put in the time, a superior way to burn calories. Not losing weight fast enough? Typically the best solution is to add more walking or mild exercise. Mild exercise is amazingly powerful, and its awesomeness should never be doubted.


Tietze’s syndrome, a very rare condition and client

Tietze’s syndrome, a very rare condition and client

By Patrick Moorehead

Special populations (people with medical conditions) need personal trainers too, and it is up to the personal trainer to learn all they can about each of their clients medical conditions. Exercise can have healing effects that traditional medicine can’t compete with; exercise can heal both psychologically and physiologically. An exercise done with poor form or the wrong exercises can make everything much worse, so a personal trainer must be prudent. Many things can exacerbate a medical condition, and these things must be known. Stress can make almost all medical conditions much much worse, so any time when working with a special population try and reduce stress levels.

Tietze syndrome is rather rare, but just the same I managed to find a client diagnosed with it. This syndrome is something I honestly had to look up, and in the process discovered that many doctors have to do the same. It cannot be stressed enough, never diagnose yourself; most doctors won’t even diagnose themselves. This might be a hard diagnosis to get because your doctor is going to have to run a huge amount of tests to rule out other things. Tietze does not have to but it certainly likes to make an entrance. You might have tightness in your chest before it happens but all of a sudden it will happen (Tietze’s big entrance). There will be an incredible pain in your chest and it will feel like you are having a super heart attack… there will be no “I think I might be having a heart attack” you will know you are having a heart attack. Anytime you get the sensation that you know or think you are having a heart attack get to an emergency room fast. Flairs as they are sometimes called can happen both before and after a heart attack so don’t think about it, go to the hospital.

Many things can trigger Tietze syndrome all of which involve the chest and sternum somehow including but not limited to: localized infection (does not really have to be that localized), trauma, cancer, arthritis, surgeries and other medical procedures. It can also be triggered by things you would not expect, like coughing and heavy laughter. The other fun one you might get the privilege of hearing your doctor say is “we don’t know.” They do know that stress and irregular breathing, short shallow breathing, deep breathing and well regular breathing breathing can exacerbate Tietze.

Tietze syndrome is often distinguished from other similar ailments by the length of time it lasts. It usually lasts 12 weeks to a year, but can become chronic. Tietze is inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs and breastbone, and can also be accompanied by a weakening of the ligaments and tendons of the area. Tietze’s syndrome can lead to pinched intercostal nerves via slipping of the ribs (Tietze is sometimes called slipping rib syndrome which is a separate thing to itself as well). It is important to remember that this syndrome involves cartilage, tendon and ligament weakness and inflammation; it is not a muscular disorder.

Tai Chi has been shown to be extremely helpful with Tietze. Yoga and other exercises that work on extension and flexion of the thoracic cavity have also been shown to help. Intense exercise and “bouncy” exercise like: running and contact sports should be avoided. Anything that stresses the chest or pectoral muscles should be avoided or done with close to no weight. It has been found anecdotally (people report their own experiences) that although they can without much effort perform chest exercises they often suffer with extreme soreness and pain later, a sign that they may have made things worse.

If you push a client with Tietze syndrome to do an activity that causes a flair-up, you risk causing something which feels like and can lead to an actual no-shit could be fatal heart attack. Don’t get me wrong Tietze is not something that is considered a very dangerous thing to have, annoying, painful, but not really dangerous. Sufferers can experience flairs for seemingly no reason and they can experience them pretty often. Usually they walk away from the event with little more than fading chest pains and memories of something that was awfully painful. You should never knowingly put a client or yourself at risk like this and honestly you should have already known that (this is one reason I dislike trainers that lump all people together and push them all like they are professional athletes).

If you are a good honest trainer you should always ask yourself what would a megalomaniac trainer do… and then do the opposite. Training should be about comfortably maximizing health and doing so in a way that is as safe as possible.

People suffering from Tietze may feel very strong in the chest, and they may want to do things like bench presses and push-ups. Chest exercises can and should be done extremely lightly, like very low weight dumbbell presses or prayer style push-ups (an exercise that is much lower impact than “girl” style). Chest exercises for people with Tietze is more about maintaining range of motion and preventing muscle loss, think about having a sprained ankle but on the chest. Sprained ankles are primarily ligament and cartilage injuries so because the physicality of the two things are similar it can really helpful to just think of them as varying manly by location. Indeed mentally lumping this syndrome in with other cartilage and ligament syndromes like arthritis can really help. As with things like arthritis, exercise can help the healing process. Listening to the body using various markers of biofeedback is important with all special populations, the easiest to use biofeedback markers are pain and heartbeat if either one is elevated when it should not be, stop.

Early exercise in more severe cases involves segmental breathing exercises usually done with a physical therapist. Segmental breathing exercises in this case are done by the therapist applying pressure to different parts of the sternum while the patient breaths in and out. This should not be attempted be a trainer, as it can be really painful. These exercises can be done solo, with less pain. These are done as a means of recovery by runners who develop tightened inter coastal muscles and ligaments as a result of improper short shallow breathing; the runner will find deep breathing difficult and possibly painful. These exercises can be painful but are pretty easy, however less effective to do yourself. The concept is apply pressure with a hand to the sternum in various places while breathing in and out as a means of stretching individual and pairs of rib joints. The ribs where they join to the sternum are costochondral joints.

Supplementation is something all trainers are asked about, but few endorse as necessary. If you eat a well-balanced diet than supplementation should not be needed, however sometimes it is hard to do things like eat enough pineapple every day to get your dose of bromelain. Supplements are often shown by studies to help, they will tell you right there on the side of the box oh ah this will cure this oh ah this will cure that. Truthfully most supplements are “snake oils” and will have little to no effect or perhaps would help you if you had something different. Some supplements have been anecdotally shown (people’s own experiences) to be helpful with reducing the symptoms of Tietze’s: Bromelain, rutosid, trypsin, ginger root, willow bark, and vitamin E. Supplements that might help heal but might do absolutely nothing to help relieve symptoms would be runner’s supplements like glucosamine and arthritis and osteoporosis patient supplements like calcium, magnesium and vitamin d. I have personally taken bromelain for me it worked as an excellent natural anti-inflammatory.

In medicine Tietze’s syndrome is usually treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and pain meds. Often this is sufficient; sometime more serious things like Cortisone injections are used. Physical therapy to help identify issues and strengthen certain muscles groups to reduce stress on the chest is often used. It is rare but surgery that removes the affected joint has been done as treatment. Therapies like massage therapy and acupuncture have worked wonders in some sufferers, but have done little to help others.

Before trying surgery it would be a good idea to discus with your doctor the possibility of going vegan. I know it does not sound like fun, and I am not a vegan because well I love the taste of meat and I like its protein. Veganism largely avoids dietary sources of inflammation. We all know certain foods are anti-inflammatory like fruits, vegetables and most health foods. For some just little changes to their diet like adding nuts (which are strongly anti-inflammatory) to the diet can help with a variety of ailments. You could also try something like a wellness (still has meat) diet that is intended to be about lowering inflammation, but if you do you should know that it is not likely to work as well as veganism.

The best thing to remember when working with special populations is to be compassionate and careful; people will want to push themselves even when it is a bad idea. A trainer should not only know when to support their client to push themselves but also know when to encourage the client to hold back. Exercise with a trainer should always be safer and more effective than exercise done along. When exercising alone pretend that your form is being watched and your routines are being critiqued. This can truly help. Tietze’s syndrome is a nasty thing, but as with other people and medical conditions a good trainer can be a big help.