A Year Off Writing About Fitness and Nutrition.

This is my first blog post for a considerable amount of time. Well actually pretty much a year. It was a conscious decision to take a step back from something that I had pretty much done part time for the last 12 years.

Pretty much I was writing 5-10 articles a week from witty one liner rent-a-quote pieces up to 1000 word articles about something health and fitness related. Some of it was fun, some of it was like pulling teeth.

For a period of time and the majority of the “volume” I was writing it was as a ghost writer for varying trainers which wasn’t really that challenging and in truth a bit boring. Consider it as the writing equivalent of “vanilla ice cream”, fundamentally dull (yes, I know some people love vanilla but that is super charged vanilla with hawaiian vanilla pods and all that). Personally I did a piece on Men’s Health on training Batman, did a few articles on the Huffington Post but after those I felt a step back was necessary. To frame it I don’t really make money of this blog, I do it for interest and to frame what we do at Results FAST and ultimately to interest people in the training and nutrition services we provide there (NB I hadn’t retreated to the Batcave to train Batman as has been suggested merely I just got a bit bored writing content for the sake of it (Batman’s trainer would obviously say that though)).

Well relatively time has moved on (as it does) and I feel recharged or re-focussed to contribute something beyond eight great glute exercises or a High Intensity Training video that makes you want to gag when you watch- not because it’s hard but more because you are wondering just why (this is more my issue- social media and the internet is great for sharing information but it really depends what you read and who you follow, put it this way my “circle” is smaller than it’s ever been).

I’m not the only person trying to share practical usable content- it’s just that there is so much volume it’s hard to discern from good and bad sources, hopefully the content I share will clarify certain things or at least be a flag in a hurricane (James Bond reference there… ahem).

So what’s been going on? The gym is busy and has been busy for the past 11 months good. Our fat loss, strength and fitness clients are achieving varying levels of success (our naughty list is pretty short at the moment so shame on you if you are on it). We have seen some good challenges beaten, PR’s being achieved in the weight room and generally all round good stuff for those wanting to take a step on. Our athletes are pushing on, predominantly our swimmers, tennis and our kayakers are doing great stuff at a county, regional and for a few national level so it’s great to see  their efforts being rewarded. What does this say? People who turn up achieve their results.

I have been working on some interesting side projects which hopefully we will be testing in the new year and by the way it’s not an app (as people keep on asking- good ideas can still be on paper btw).

We have refurbed the gym in the last couple of months as well- for me this was basically two 60 hour weeks of labour but at the same time a lifetime of praise for a partition wall that appears to be not falling down, we now look a bit sharper and the new flooring is better for dropping heavy things on!

I think that will do for now, I really wanted to not kick this off again in the new year.

Exercise of the Month: Glute Bridge

This post sees the start of a new feature for my blog detailing some of the reasoning behind the use of certain exercises. There is a lot more that goes in to certain training programmes beyond run, squat, bench press etc. These posts detail why we use certain exercises.

The glute bridge is sometimes called a hip lift and predominantly works the muscles that extend the hip (the glutes and hamstrings). There obviously is more muscular recruitment needed in the torso but this exercises is an entry level movement that trains what we call the “hip hinge” which can be categorized by a stable lower back during extension of the hips.

This exercise is a good warm up drill. Can be loaded as an accessory exercise or indeed may also be a primary exercise for strength if loaded sufficiently.

There are a number of good reasons to develop strong glutes. Not only to strengthen the hip hinge movement and the ability of the hips to extend but also during hip extension we want the glutes to be pulling their weight from a strength perspective. If they don’t we end up with tight overworked hamstrings which quite frankly helps no one.

The glutes play a role in stability of the femur (upper leg). Whilst blaming weak glutes has become a bit trendy due to the advance of rehab based training in to exercise in a lot of cases the diagnosis should be generally poor lower body strength. That said their role in frontal plain stability is important. Weakness of the glute medius and minimus and excessive strength of the  adductors and tfl mean that the knee may fall in leading to excessive pressure being put on the inside of the knee and possibly unnecessary movement at the lower back.

This goes to show that well developed gluteals are fundamental to joint health of the lower back and of the knee. The hip bridge while still floor work is a good introduction to lower body loading and lifting for those who have tender backs or problem knees. In advanced individuals it may be an exercise utilized under load but at Results FAST we predominantly use it in our warm ups. The picture below pretty much sums it up…..

The Tabata Lie

Tabata training is an example of how science has been used to skew a training protocol in to a weight loss regime- even though they are not related.  Tabatas are based upon a study where the participants performed a programme of high intensity/ low volume training peaking out at 170% of their VO2 Max. The original abstract is here for the science geeks. In summary, performing high intensity work over a six week period resulted in an improvement in maximal aerobic power and indicated that  intermittent high intensity training may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy supply systems. That would be okay if the study stayed in cycling highlighting that a short period of high intensity work can bring about improvements in your performance.

However this study has been bastardized in to main stream fitness and “rebranded” as a fat loss protocol. Fundamentally though if you are not working at 170% then you are not performing a tabata. You may be perfroming a set of hard exercise but it is not a tabata.

To explain this consider the original protocol. The Tabata protocol consisted of a 10 minute steady state warm up followed by 7-8 sets of 20 seconds at 170% VO2 Max with 10 seconds of rest between each set. They performed this 4 days a week and performed a slightly modifed version on the 5th day when they did 30 minutes of steady state work followed by 4 intervals.

The control group did 60 total minutes a day at 70% of VO2 Max 5 times a week.

The study was performed on a stationary bike and is an interesting, perhaps a landmark study, showing a clear improvement in performance with high intensity work over a short period of time (even though they did 70mins a week of steady state exercise).

The key for me though is to perform a tabata you have to be working at 170% of your VO2 Max. Simplified this is beyond the point that you can readily replace oxygen in your body. For trained athletes this is a vomit inducing intensity. Performing squats, lunges, burpees or any exercise under the pseudonym of a vaguely threatening animal will not illicit an effort similar to 170% of your VO2 Max. It will be hard, your last set may be tough, this is not 170% of your VO2 Max- instead it is a hard interval for 20 seconds. In essence it is like comparing a hill to Mount Everest- it’s not the same thing.

But welcome to world of fitness and nutrition where we can make things up and alter parameters.

Science doesn’t matter if it works right?

Tabata’s apparently burn more fat don’t they?

Well no.

Tabata’s were created as a performance enhancement tool. Will they enhance energy usage- well the study indicated enhancements in aerobic measures of power for the steady state group as well as improvements in aerobic and anaerobic measures of power in the Tabata group. What does this mean though? Well both groups improved performance. The Tabata group though enhanced their ability to work at a higher intensity. This study has no mention of fat or fuel utilization though inferences can be drawn from this. This indicates perhaps either (A) an increased in efficiency of energy utilization or (B) the ability to mobilize more energy to maintain a higher intensity. The assumption from the fat loss crowd would be option (B) and that is good enough for them- however (A) is just as likely.

Common sense dictates that if you work at a higher intensity for a longer time then you will consume more fuel (unless there is a saving in efficency) than someone working at a lower intensity. The key is this is related to performance and not body composition.

This leads to the re-entering of the Tabata protocol and different high intensity interval protocols last year popularized on the BBC by a Horizon documentary  This particular programme boasted a range of improvements in physical markers perhaps predominantly though an improvement in insulin sensitivity (if you are resistant to insulin you require larger amounts of insulin to metabolize carbohydrates which has been linked to a number of conditions such as elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure- also elevated insulin plays a role in fat storage importantly).

What was interesting though is that the general media took the message of Tabata and high intensity interval training on with headlines of “Fit In 3 minutes a Day.”

On the BBC Horizon programme, Timmons (part of the research team) told Mosley (the presenter) the problem with the current guidelines is they don’t take into account the variation in individual response to exercise, so there is no guarantee that following such a regime will actually give you the right results. The programme highlighted that the link between exercise and health is an individual thing.

But what does all the research highlight?

Very high intensity exercise elevates markers of performance. The question is a 6 week study is fine but in the long term do we see improvements. Well no- in fact other studies on high intensity work performance plateaus after 3 weeks.

It also enhances insulin sensitivity. It does not burn more body fat in preference to other methods of training but high intensity exercise can aid improvements in body composition by playing a role in managing fat storage or the body’s utilization of dietary carbohydrates.

This highlights that energy management is the key to fat loss as is fuel utilization (in essence what you put in to your body). A greater review is here remember though this encompasses all interval training and isn’t specifically Tabata style 20 second blasts. The role of interval training is well documented as a training aid but the key point is that Tabata’s are a specific type of interval.

If you are not working at 170% of your VO2 Max it isn’t a Tabata- if you have ever done it you will know.

 

 

Why Soft Tissue Work on Your Shoulders Will Improve Your Squat and Take Away Back Pain.

At some point anyone who trains regularly will have an incident of shoulder pain. While looking to maintain healthy shoulders it is important to maintain good tissue quality in and around the shoulder.

The musculature of the posterior shoulder plays a direct role of how your shoulder posture positions itself. To the back of the arm pit you have two muscles that play a large role in shoulder position and generally stabilizing the shoulder joint. However stability and stiffness isn’t all that great if you don’t have enough mobility and stability as you raise your arms. This can commonly be seen in individuals who through training (the chest usually) or by their posture (usually desk based) can’t put their hands above their heads without moving their torso forwards. In fact the two pictures of an overhead squat highlight this quite well as someone with good range and someone with poor range.

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The musculature that can help release the shoulder is located just under the arm pit. The teres major has a tendon, at its insertion that lies behind that of the lats (the big prime muscle down your sides which form your “bat wings”…. If you are a guy) from which it is separated by a bursa or fatty pad that acts as a shock absorber, the two tendons unite along their lower borders for a short distance.

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The teres major is not part of the rotator cuff but it does play a role in humerus position in line with the lats. The lats when trained obviously recruit the teres major. As the lat are connected to the spine tightness or restriction in movement of the lats will not only cause back pain but also shoulder pain. The lats also act as internal rotators of the arm- just as the pectoralis major does. Typically in the situation I have seen a lot of aggressive chest stretches to try and create mobility here. Simply the pecs may not be an issue but the posterior shoulder may be causing the mobility issues.

The exercises that tend to be effected are any that necessitate barbells being placed on the shoulders and being stabilized by the hands such as barbell back squat as well as any overhead exercise. What you will typically see on a shoulder press is extension from the back- this effectively means that you perform a back extension as there is not enough space in the shoulder joint for the movement to clear without a bit of friction in the joint.

The following exercise is a great way of removing posterior shoulder stiffness- typically we have seen some people achieve a better hand position with a barbell on the shoulders as well as improvement in range of movement in overhead work.

Single Leg Squats: 4 Fatal Errors…

The Single Leg Squat (SLS) is an advanced exercise for the lower body. Although it is advanced there are a number of errors in it’s performance as people rush to master this advanced exercise while still not having enough lower body strength to complete the movement succesfully. If you are a regular reader you will know that I place a massive emphasis on good form- indeed if it’s not in good form then you are performing the wrong exercise.

Problem 1: Poor Hip Range of Motion- Firstly, the question is why can some one not get the depth on the lowering portion of the movement? Simply, they are not strong enough to have control of the hip stabilisers during the lowering portion of the movement.

Problem 2: Lower Back Position- Typically this is due to problem 1. In order to acheive more movement often people will flex their lower back to acheive more range. Now when training a stable lower back it is unnecessary to emphaise flexion at the lower back just to get a bit more range. Individuals who generally have good strength levels can usually cheat the movement this way while beginners will often look to get range from the knee first (as explained in problem 3).

Problem 3: Forward Knee Position: Often the knee will push forward if there is not enough strength and stability around the hip. This gives a feeling of getting more range in the squat but instead emphasises the muscles in the anterior chain such as the quadraceps. A lot of the time I consider this “moving towards your strengths”. If you have poor hip extensor strength and stability through the muscles such as the hamstrings and the gluteals then this will happen. It highlights that often this movement needs to be taught with hip flexion being initiated first which will also limit unnecessary patella and knee joint issues.

Problem 4: Poor Ankle Stability- Often on this exercise people will shift their weight to their forefoot to compensate for forward knee position and a more quad dominant movement. This often means that the heel may lift. Having a good mix of stability and mobility is vital at the ankle for this exercise- if there is insufficnet range at the ankle then you may also fall forward on to your toes. Similarly if there is poor multidirectional stability at this joint then you may fall over.

This post highlights that although some exercises look cool they may be beyond some people no matter there fitness levels. As always making sure the leverages are right around an exercise are right before progression is suggested.