Why Am I Injured? Fixing the Flaws…

Wondering why your back hurts? Why do you shoulder’s feel creaky? It could be down to your posture. Your training and what you do daily greatly influences how your body changes and adapts- this effects muscle and the connective tissue attached.

What goes on at the shoulder is greatly affected by the various muscular attachments. If some of the muscles are short (or indeed if some of the muscles are weak) then you may not be able to get your arms overhead properly.  If you are not strong enough around the core/ abdominals then you may see excessive movement in the back. Why does the back move? To create movement compensating for weakness or tightness around the shoulders allowing the arms to continue their path overhead. This is shown in the picture below- the hands are overhead but the pelvis is in an anterior tilt putting strain on the lower back.

What you may also see is that the arms reach out in front of the body and the upper back appears rounded. If dysfunctional movement occurs repeatadly e.g. your run around with your hands overhead daily or more realistically you do stacks of overhead training (such as shoulder presses, swimming or most throwing sports) you can end up with pain in the lower back or the shoulder. This is usually related to weak scapular retractors, weak scapular depressors and poor upper back mobility. It can also occur because of tight biceps- see the picture following:

Notice how the arms are flexed- the biceps have an attachment point on the scapula where it also plays a role in movement and stability.

What can we do, or most importantly what exercises do you need to include in your programme to remedy this. First stop is some static stretching for the chest and lats, mobility work for the upper back such as foam rolling or if you can afford it some massage (as if you needed an excuse!). Row based work for the scapular retractors and wall slides for the scapular depressors help with developing strength and balance to the shoulder region. It also highlights that all shoulder pain is not remedied by holding an elastic band and doing external rotations favoured by a lot of “rehab” specialists- in short there is so much more going on at the shoulder joint- escpecially in active individual’s.  The abdominals also play a big role- core strength in this sense needs to be trained to resist extension- this is what occurs when the hands go overhead and the back hyper extends. Exercises that resist extensions are things like ball roll outs and the ever popular ab wheel that you will often see on the shopping channels (as a tip I brought one from Amazon- the postage cost more than the wheel).

If you are performing a shoulder press in your programme (not always a bad thing) make sure the exercise looks right.

Above you can see that although the arms are extended there is a slight anterior tilt in the pelvis- I would probably say that if you had this type of set up or any more excessive curve in the lower back a good dose of core training and shoulder mobility work should be performed before integrating this movement back in to your programme. If you are an athlete competing in an “overhead” sport consider the implications of extra overhead work- quite simply it may not be necessary.

Lessons from an Olympic Medalist…

On Sunday I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at a motivation day for Hoddesdon Swimming Club. Hoddesdon for such a small club have a very professional setup and an excellent coach who likes to give her athletes the best possible support. I have been working with some of their junior athletes there for the last 4 months (mainly on their strength and power development) and we are getting some good results- national level qualification times for a few of the guys and the chance hopefully for a visit to London 2012.

As well as myself speaking at the event there was Judith Naseby (sports psychologist- helping the guys with motivation stratagies) from the University of Hertfordshire, David Carry (Commonwealth Gold Medalist- great speach on nerves) and Kerri-Anne Payne (World Gold Medalist and Olympic Silver Medalist).

The take home point from Keri’s talk was about the enjoyment of what you do- from a low level up to representing your country. A lot of the time we perform a certain sport or activity because we are good at it- not necessarily because we enjoy it. Keri discussed that after not performing very well at a major tournament she lost focus, her training went to pot and she felt like giving up. Indeed we all know that when things have been going well in sport and in any training or nutrition goal that a poor result can leave you demotivated and generally dissapointed in yourself. The key for her was to change her event, reinvigorating her training and setting new goals- the culmination of this was a silver medal at the Olympic games in 2008 and a gold medal at the World Championships in Rome in 2009.

Once the enjoyment factor goes then training and motivation can decrease. In the book Talent is Overrated By Geoff Colvin he discusses that among other things an enjoyment or passion for what you do is vital for becoming expert or elite. I feel this can be applied not just at a top level but to those looking to make a sustained change to their health and fitness. The key is fusing together support, motivation, variation of training and to have fun… without this the enjoyment factor can be reduced. Training can be fun but most gym members potter around and do a bit of activity in an unfocussed way. Training in itself is a focussed activity- it doesn’t mean it needs to be boring or demotivating- sometimes picking a new goal is the way to go- as Keri showed this. Going from swimming races at the 8 minute mark to performing 2 hours worth of open water swimming may seem a massive challenge but with ambition and focus she reapplied herself with great results. The change in focus was enough to remotivate her, get the enjoyment back in to what she does- and take her to the pinnacle of her sport.

The question is if you lack the motivation to train what’s your goal? If it’s not enjoyable find a goal that you can buy in to, even try something new. If you don’t have a goal then it’s always going to be harder to take that step up with your health, physique, fitness or performance…

You Can’t Train a Bad Diet!: Fat

Okay, I am going to keep this one short but sweet (irony for a post on fat!). Eat too much fat and you will store it as fat, it is the most calorific of the macronutrients. Eat too little fat and you run the risk of harming a number of different metabolic processes in the body as it’s consumption is vital to maintain health. Fat consumption should be at around 25 to 35% of your daily calorie intake. For someone eating around 2500 calories that would be about 625 calories (70g) to 875 calories (97g). Dipping below this is usually performed in “fat” exclusion diets- this is no more effective than any other form of calorie cutting and in turn may affect your health.

What happens if you go lower? Well this is the contentious point, fat exclusion diets work because they deprieve the body of it’s most energy rich nutrient, therefore it shifts calorific balance to a negative and the body will look to scavenge  energy from stored carbohydrate or fat. Is this effective? I will round up different types of diets later in more of a review- the key with fat is that it depends what else you are eating. The reason why there may be a negative with fat removal though is that fat plays a role in a number of the bodies processes and therefore removing it may not be totally beneficial for your health.

What happens if you go higher? Again if total energy intake is too high then you are likely to store energy. A strategy of many dieters is to add more fat to diets when you reduce carbohydrate intake. This is not a bad strategy as it can help avoid issues with hunger.

Fat per gram has a higher calorific load then it does not mean that you will be consuming a large amount of food to make up for the carbohydrates that are missing. The negative of this is calorific load- an elevated fat intake in line with high unrefined carbohydrate consumption and minimal fruit and vegetables is pretty much where most peoples diets are in the western world- it doesn’t take a rocket scientist therefore to tell you if you are fat eat less, be it fat or carbohydrates. As I mentioned in my previous post on carbohydrates- their value should be fitted to activity. There is no additional performance benefit to high fat diets though there are a number of positive metabolic processes that a good profile of fat consumption will encourage.

Quality counts as well, there are two broad categories of fat- omega 3 and omega 6. While not going in to their role massively (as this blog is to serve as a more applied method of delivering information…. hopefully) we get a lot of Omega 6 in our diet compared to Omega 3 and the balance should be as low as 3:1. Currently, in the average Western diet it is estimated to be up to 40:1. Take home point we don’t need more fat from poor sources. Omega 3 is found in oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackrel), walnuts, most meats (depending upon what the animal is fed) and dairy products can be quite a good source as well. Adding these foods daily can have an impact on Omega 3 levels. What foods will not add quality to your diet? Mainly the key with fats is to avoid trans-fats found commonly in processed foods and avoid manufactured vegetable oils. Most processed foods will contain poor quality fats so these are best avoided when trying to live a “cleaner” lifestyle.

The take home point here is that quality counts. The amount of fat consumed may be variable though there can be potential decrements of dropping fat consumption levels. A higher intake of fat may be okay, though this is dependant upon calorific load, the amount of carbohydrate consumed as well as again the quality of what is consumed. The public health message currently suggests that all fat is bad though as you can see this message is currently at odds with new research which suggests that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to fat consumption.

Don’t Believe the Hype… How to Get Stronger and Gain Muscle… With No Fads!

In the fitness industry everyone is selling something, be it a “new” programme that provides “instant results.” Indeed type fat loss or muscle gain in to google and you will find a host of e-books, specialist coaching programmes, never seen before methods and a whole host of other BS that basically peddles the same information and in most cases mis-information or “bad science.”

Fundamentally, my job is coach first, writer second and this blog is a product of the few minutes I have spare- hence the shocking grammar and the poor spelling. From an applied point of view there are a number of fundamental rules to strength training and muscle gain- this is not the be all and end all but in real terms “massive in minutes” doesn’t happen and unfortanalty you won’t get big arms after one workout or even getting “super strong” in 4 weeks. Lyle McDonald sums this up quite well indicating:

Hard Work + Consistency + Time = Results.

What should the base of a good programme provide though? A motivating and informed atmosphere like Results FAST (www.resultsfast.co.uk ) can help though hard work only takes you so far. The following points are where we start with a lot of our clients (by the way- 90% often have unrealistic time frames on their goals):

Rule 1. If you are not getting stronger or bigger your training programme sucks, you are not training hard enough or the intensity is not hard enough.

Rule 2. You need to train each body part at least twice a week, if someone has 4 days available each week train your upper and lower body twice a week. If you only have three days a week to lift then one day of upper body, one day of lower body and then a full body day. If you only have 2 days a week your results will be sub-optimal- if though you can get results from training full body twice a week- in truth though both your strength and muscle gains will be limited. This though is if muscle and strength is your priority- athletes it is dependent upon your amount of team based or “skill” training. Keeping strong enough and avoiding injury a lot of the time in this case is more important.

Rule 3. Intensity is the driving force behind most programmes. Increasing the amount you do is not always the answer. Strength in essence is a skill that is learnt by hard work and practice, blitzing yourself in to oblivion therefore is not the answer. Training stimulus should be regular to get improvements….. that sort of rules out going to the gym once a week for 2 hours.

Rule 4. Two things recruit muscle fibres optimally, move quickly or lift something heavy. This highlights the need to make your concentric (the shortening of the muscle) movement explosive (quick) or heavy and to make your lowering (eccentric) part of the movement as heavy as possible- you can do this by either lifting a heavy weight or lowering a weight slowly.

Rule 5. No training programme is the best. All programmes are a stimulus to cause an adaptation. Once you adapt get the programme changed. How often do you change the programme? When it stops working is the answer. This is why a lot of people’s results don’t get much beyond average- they are often doing the same routine with a few different exercises. Don’t get tied in to a single training methodology, squats on their own won’t cure cancer, kettlebells on their own won’t dramatically reduce your injury risk and definitely solely training on a powerplates won’t improve your abs. You are a product of your own training. Variation and complexity need to be added to keep progress- this in turn can make almost every form of movement based exercise relevant at some point (though some methods will be more useful than others).

Rule 6. Compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull ups etc.) are vital to getting stronger. This does not mean though they are the only thing to do. Getting stronger and growing muscle are slightly different but are always linked to each other. Strength is a product of neural efficiency and the ability to recruit muscles to move. Near enough all of your muscles will have to work in tandem with other muscles to stabilize your joints and provide a stable base for movement- with stable movement we can load more weight. Growing muscle is a product of breaking the muscle down and the recovery process (diet here is key). Therefore, isolation work (e.g. bicep curls) is relevant for muscle gain, for strength gains less so though it can help bring up strength deficits in muscles that may be holding your bigger lifts back.

Rule 7. If strength is the foundation of movement and in turn muscle growth is part of the adaptive process to stress then increasing strength effectively increases the amount of potential stress that can be placed upon muscles. This means that strength and the variants of strength (strength endurance, strength speed and maximal strength) are fundamentals that should appear in your training.

Rule 8. No one gets stronger or grows more muscle if they are not eating enough calories… period. Most people don’t eat enough for their goals- relying upon supplements is not the answer, if your training programme is perfect and your diet is near enough spot on then supplements can help. Buying a weight gainer may bring your protein levels up but it will also pump you up with a load of processed sugar. Having two a day may take your calories up but you may hold body fat- this is where people trying to gain muscle back away. It is hard to keep very lean while trying to build muscle.

You Can’t Train a Bad Diet!: Carbohydrates

When I check the blogs stats for hits I’m expecting this one to go through the roof- Why? Well carbohydrate consumption in relation to weight loss, gain and sporting performance is one of those topics that seems at the moment to be more contentious than religion.

Carbohydrate is in effect fuel for energy and therefore movement. Carbohydrate can be manufactured from from fat in the body and protein meaning it is not necessarily essential for maintaining life. However, remove carbs completely from your diet and be prepared to see your energy levels plumit as well as your mood!

Carbohydrates include breads, pasta, rice etc. these are common staples of a westernised diet. Vegetables are also carbohydrates as in turn are sweets, chocolate and anything that’s sugar. It’s also a major consituent in lots of dairy products.

As a lot of people are uneducated about their diet a lot of the time they don’t understand that avoiding bread and replacing it with cous-cous or a different type of bread is really a match for match calorie wise. Quality of what you consume is important, true, however total calorie consumption is lost in the message of trying to eat healthier and more natural products.

Carbohydrates are commonly refered to inline with the glycemic index with wholemeal products existing at the low glycemic end and sugary sweets existing as high glycemic foods. What does this highlight? Well high glycemic foods are broken down more quickly and therefore make energy available- in turn often they will elevate insulin levels and over a long period of time this has implications for conditions such as diabetes.

On the other hand high glycemic foods are useful for restocking the muscles and aiding and assisting with recovery post exercise and training. In essence the carbohydrates are being used for the right reason- movement and recovery from training in opposition to just sitting in your blood stream where ultimatley they may be utilised in fat storage.

This highlights that carbohydrate amount should be dictated by activity and also means the time that you eat them can be important as well. Carbohydrates therefore before and during activity can aid exercise intensity and as discussed aid recovery post exercise.

How much is too much though? At the bottom end low carbohydrate diets are considered to be those below 100g daily of carbohydrates. This is good for fat loss but pretty much kills any type of exercise intensity as well as making you pretty grumpy. As a general rule I tend to use a rough scale for carbohydrate consumption. 3-4g per kg of bodyweight daily for those who are performing light activity. 5-6g per kg for those moderatly active or training regularly. For those involved in endurance sports up to 10g/kg bodyweight may be necessary- though these guys generally get away with diets that would make the Milky Bar Kid blush!

Often it will depend upon people’s activity- it sort of highlights how undirectional the labellings on food packets are and also how they can potentially misinform, for example someone training 3 times a week gets the same recomendations as someone not training at all. Also these recomendations will also advise a carbohydrate diet of up to 60% of your daily calorie intake so depending on what you are trying to acheive it could scupper your goals be it weight loss or improved performance.

Bashing the Bootcamp…

Getting the form of an exercise to look right is a lot of the time the primary role when coaching. Indeed there are some great personal trainers, strength coaches and programme designers who in principal write good training regimes; a good programme though can be made great by informed coaching.

This is part of the job in my mind that is starting to be missed out on. With the advent of boot camp style fitness, the rise of methodologies such as cross- fit, fitness pilates and other mass forms of exercise the time for fine tuning and making sure things look right seems to be getting even smaller. Indeed if personal training and small group fitness coaching are the equivalent of fine dining then boot camp fitness is the equivalent of fast food- easy, cheap and although it cures hunger  there will be complications down the line if you do too much.

This does not mean I am anti-boot camps (or indeed fast food), I think that when you do this type of training it can be done in a more considered fashion. Take for instance most park based bootcamp workouts, they include excessive amounts of press ups, sit ups and dips. All these exercises can help aggravate shoulders susceptible to impingement or instability related issues. Twinned in with shed loads of running jogging you have some of the most aggravating methods of exercise for beginners.

Most beginners (male and female) are not functionally strong enough to handle excessive training volume, indeed after 20minutes good form may go out the window as another 200 press ups have to be performed.

The key is education: while I believe you can train a large group of exercisers I don’t think you can train a large group of beginners well. Coaching good form in large groups becomes more like a forest fire- once you put one fire out another three have started behind you.

My recommendations are quite simple if you are a beginner don’t join a bootcamp; invest in a fitness professional who makes sure you are doing things properly (this doesn’t mean sitting on a bike for an hour). The teaching of foundational moves such as squats, lunges and press ups are a start. Master 3 sets of ten, add some weight and then progress. Focus on developing basic strength levels before adding in higher repetition based workouts at least if you have a good foundational strength level then you know you will not be doing any structural damage to your body. Most over use injuries are related to poor movement dynamics and incorrect form, for example, your knee is a hinge joint- if it is not stable enough in time you may suffer from injury, time and time again we also see this with amateur joggers.

For intermediate exercisers and indeed the guys who consider themselves “expert” get some advice from someone who has been training more people than you. Indeed if your own training programme is built purely from your own experiences then you need to look elsewhere for advice.

Ask yourself what you goal is and get fit in a smart way! Don’t smash yourself in to oblivion- it’s progress you can’t maintain… and down the line you may find yourself suffering from a few injuries.

You Can’t Train a Bad Diet!: Protein

The first point of address in this series of articles is protein. Specifically, what, where and when to eat will be discussed but initially I’ll deal with the sciencey numbers part detailing amounts and the potential issues with the consumption of protein.

Recommended daily allowances (RDA’s) are roughly at 0.8g/kg of bodyweight, however for an active individual protein demands are increased- primarily for repair and recovery. With research showing value of close to 1.6 g/kg of bodyweight this is double what is recommended on the side of food packets. The take home point is that a fixed value on the side of a packet is not specific for active people.

What is the point of consuming protein at above what is currently recommended apart from repair and recovery. Well if someone is trying to get lean and lose body fat removing carbohydrate and fat from your diet will help because excesses in either are likely to be stored as fat, excess protein is utilized in a different way and before it can be stored as fat it needs to be converted which the body does not do preferentially. 

As you need to be in a calorific defecit to lose weight manipulating your fat and carb intake in my mind is more preferential compared to reducing protein consumption. In fact increasing protein intake makes sense from an energy usage and storage point of view.

Do you need as much as 3g/kg BW though as recommended on a number of bodybuilding focussed sites? In most cases unless leaning out in a pretty extreme way with a very low carb and fat diet it is not necessary.

If most of the last paragraph was confusing really what you want to know is why? how much do I need to eat? and what do these numbers relate to in “food”. See the list below for major protein sources:

Eggs x2- 12g

Milk x 1 Glass- 8g

Yoghurt x 1 Cup- 12g

Cottage Cheese x 1/2 Cup- 15g

Most Cuts of Beef (100g)- 25g

Chicken (100g)-  28g

White Fish (100g)- 22g

Tuna (100g)- 24g

Pork Loin (100g)- 25g

Most Beans (1/2 cup)- 7-10g

Tofu (1/2 cup)- 20g

Most Seeds (1/4 cup)- 6-8g

Almonds (1/4 cup)- 8g

Other foods contain varying amounts of ptotein but these are primary sources that we base most of our clients details on. As you can probably see that if you are an 80kg individual at 1.6g/kg of protein then 128g of protein would look circa. 2 eggs, 1 cup of yoghurt, 150g of Beef, 200g of chicken, 1/2 cup of mixed beans and 1/2 cup of almonds.

From most people I consult with their instant reaction is: “Really? That’s a lot of food!” When you consider most peoples diet then “yes” it may be, but remember this is for a healthy active person, saying that though  believe that there are a number of other metabolic advantages to eating a higher level of protein compared to RDA’s (http://www.precisionnutrition.com/protein-limit for a more extensive review) in individuals with no health problems.

As for timings then protein intake should be spread evenly throughout the day. There is no need really to consume more than 20-30g of protein in one sitting.

So there you go- start seeing how much steak  and chicken wings you can eat, we will cover fat at a later point and next post I will discuss carbohydrates and the misconception that they are worse than the devil…….

You Can’t Train a Bad Diet!

The above picture is a big plate of steak and parmesan cheese that I had for my 30th Birthday. While many would hemorage their sides with either disgust at the apparent amount of fat consumed in this sitting or the apparent negativity towards excessive red meat consumption when approaching nutrition you have to be more pragmatic between the line of good food/ bad food.

The thing I find with the clients that I work with is that nutritional behaviours are harder to change than exercise behaviors. Exercise can be scheduled, simply all you need to do is turn up (well that’s what I say to my clients at Results FAST).

Diet in itself has been confused by the media with super foods, fads, poor under qualified trainers advice etc. dominating the media message. Diets in general work if they provide a calorific defecit. Exercise programmes work if excessive calories are burnt than consumed. Starvation based diets though are not necessary and this is where sensible nutrition and structured exercise become the focus of the way I work. The overall message of health first has been lost beyond anything else- if you are not healthy and taking care of your nutritional needs then your training will suck or be non existent.

While activity helps calorie burning it takes a around 45 minutes of exercise to balance an excessive surplus of 300 calories. Simply if you have consumed an excessive amount of food you will not lose fat… Period!

While using an example of calories this is generally one for the professionals. Eating the right things at the right time in the right amounts is the best way to deliver improvements on weight loss or indeed performance. In the following articles I will detail the nutritional practices that I generally advise and how to apply them without using a calcultor to calorie count most importantly I might even talk about how you can consume plates of steak and cheese… well at least once a year!

I’ll kick of in the next few days discussing protein and why I see this as the ideal place to put your diet together…