When training most folks, one thing that becomes very clear is the lack of time people have. It’s incredibly important if you want to be effective that you find the most efficient, bang for your buck type lifts for your clients and athletes. One of my favorite ways to increase the demand of the exercise without losing effectiveness is to change the hand or foot position. By doing this, we can add more demand on the core during a lower body exercise or challenge stability more by splitting the feet. There are tons of little ways to modify exercises to fit your body type and specific goals.
This post is centered around an exercise that has grown on me because of it’s reliability and consistency in getting results for client’s wanting to shed some weight. It’s scalable, it can be learned easily, and it’s a great progression for the squat and lunge pattern. So, if you are on a weight loss type of a program focused on getting leaner and building some strength check out the video below to add a new tool to your arsenal.
If this helps you, share it or repost for others so they can benefit as well. Leave any comments for questions you have on how these exercises fit into your program.
The hip/pelvic region is one of the most important parts of our body. It is vital for functions like walking, sitting, standing, jumping, etc. So much of our daily lives are affected by the usage of our hips.
Over time, when you stack things up like a growing family, work, and other responsibilities you end up with some weird new pinching in that area. It may be dull at first, but it builds to more. Finally, you head to the gym ready to undo it all but that’s when it reaches a boiling point.
Ow, my hip hurts. What is wrong with me? Am I getting too old to exercise? Do I need to get an MRI?
You are not alone.
The hip region is responsible for so many movements that, without it, you would struggle getting through normal tasks. We can save the causes and theory for another article down the road. The purpose of this article is to highlight what actionable steps you can take right now to address the pain you’re having. Truthfully, even if you’re not feeling symptoms at the moment you can still benefit from all of these exercises.
I can break down how to address your hip issue in four parts. But first, as with anything joint related we need to do a quick assessment. It’s impossible to know exactly why your pain is present without knowing more context. Do you lack internal rotation of the hip? Is the pain coming from hip flexion? Once we know what the joint is capable/not capable of we can pinpoint how to address it.
Assess your Squat
Squatting is a vital part of any program helping someone improve their hip/pelvic region. The motion itself seems to be medicine. In teaching someone to properly squat, they are now moving with greater efficiency and building strength in often underdeveloped areas. By building strength and efficacy in this pattern, you are now more capable of moving correctly and less likely to put stress on your back.
Actionable Info: To assess yourself, you will need a small dowel or PVC pipe and a small 1/2″ piece of wood or square object. Start with your toes pointed forward and, holding onto the dowel with both hands, press it straight over your head. This is the starting position. Now, maintaining your upright posture descend into a squat. Did your toes or knees start to move out? Were your arms able to stay it that starting position the whole way? Did you feel any pain? Below is a generally accepted rubric for you to use in grading how well you performed in the overhead squat. It’s important to mention that if your squat is not perfect after the first rep, place your heels on top of the 1/2″ wood board and try again. If elevating the heels allowed you to perform a better rep, you may need to target ankle mobility in your program.
Score of 0- A zero in the overhead squat means pain was present in the assessment. Due to this, you need to see a medical professional to look deeper at the quality of your hip joint. If pain is showing itself in a bodyweight assessment, you will definitely have issues down the road if you do not address this now.
Score of 1- A one would indicate you are free of pain, but do not possess great strength or movement quality. If you fit into this category, you need to perform bodyweight squats either holding onto a TRX or something stable. You can also perform a bodyweight squat with a target object below you like a box or a bench. These two things allow some support for you while you learn to perform this movement correctly. In this situation, we would ask you to elevate your heels onto a board and perform the squat again. If your form improves, you would be rescored a 2. If it does not improve, you need to address a couple of things immediately.
Score of 2- A two means you probably do possess the strength necessary, but have a compensation preventing you from performing the movement with maximum efficacy. Do your arms fall forward? Do your toes shoot outwards? Do your heels raises off the ground? These are all things that cause you to lose tension into the ground and probably cause parts of your body to do more work than necessary possibly leading to injury or other problems down the road. A score of a two is very close to a three, but you need to work on improving some compensations. Work with light to medium loads until these compensations are done away with. Think of a two like your car being out of alignment. You can still drive it, but the wear on the tires will lead to problems.
Score of 3- My friend, you are in good company. A score of three in an overhead deep squat assessment means you move pretty darn well. If you can do this movement, you are free of most restrictions that people feel in their ankles, shoulders, or low back and you can perform just about any movement with good quality under load. This, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work to maintain your good movement quality. Continue to do this assessment once a month to make sure you are keeping the quality movement skill.
Learn how to hinge properly
Learning how to move properly is one of our goals in becoming athletic again. The hinge movement is vital to athletes and non-athletes because of it’s prevalence in daily life. If you bend over to pick something up, you are performing a hinge movement. If you are carrying groceries inside your house and put them down by the fridge, that’s a hinge. How many times have you heard of someone throwing their back out while bending over? It’s not that one time they picked something up, but the years and years of hinging improperly and that one time was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We can learn to do this movement properly and incorporate the lower body instead of relying on the lumbar spine to do something it’s not meant for.
Actionable info: If you can’t bend over without rounding your back or feeling pinching in your hips, you DO NOT need to be lifting weights in this pattern. The answer is not getting stronger, it is freeing up space in your hips and learning how to bend properly WITHOUT weight. You need to learn how to sit into your hips first because chances are when you add loads you compensate with your low back. If you have the movement down, try the same hinging movements with a dumbbell in each hand. Can you maintain good posture and movement quality with weights? If so, you can progress to loaded movements. If no compensations are present with light loads, you are clear for things like RDL’s and deadlifts. If not, stay with the light loads and build strength in that pattern before progressing. There’s no shame in this as it will save you problems down the road.
Moving in circles
This category is one of my favorites when I’m talking to an athlete or client because the it’s “simple, but effective” nature. You can’t really mess this one up no matter what age or lifestyle you live. The shoulder and hip joints both really like when you move in small circles. Bigger circles work too, but that’s where some joint limitations come into play and impingement symptoms can rear their ugly head. So, for now, as a blanket statement I can recommend arm and hip circles to anyone. Whether you are a 80 year old recreational tennis player or a 20 year old baseball player, arm and hip circles daily can improve the way the joint feels if done on a consistent basis. Now, how you perform these can be discussed and we can always dive into more detail but for now let’s keep it simple.
Actionable info: Add in 3 sets of 20 arm circles and 3 sets of 15 quadruped (on all fours) hip circles each day to act as a way to grease the joint and feel better. The only disclaimer to this is that you need to do this daily for a few weeks at least. If you do this once a week it will not be effective. The point is that it’s simple and effective, but only if you can do it daily.
Stretching is listed last because it’s actually everyone’s first inclination when trying to fix hip pain. “If my [insert body part] hurts, I need to stretch it”. The funny thing about most joint pain is that stretching by itself will not provide any long-term relief. Second, how do you know if stretching improved anything if you didn’t assess your joint before stretching? See where I’m going with this?
Stretching can be a part of this, but if you still move like crap and don’t improve stability in the joint you are just yanking at your shoulder for no reason. In some cases, stretching can actually have the opposite effect. It’s all about context. If stretching is done correctly, however, and fits with what you’ve found from an assessment then you are going to benefit from it. Sometimes your tense hamstrings are a result of posture, so stretching them without correcting what’s happening with your spine/shoulders means you are only providing temporary relief and will most definitely have tight hamstrings tomorrow too.
Actionable Info: Assess your movement quality first and find out where your limitations are. Then, you can decide what needs to be stretched and what needs to be more stable. If you improve the stability of the joints surrounding a muscle, you may improve your range of motion without even stretching. Assess and then you can truly fix the problem. Once you have identified the problem, general stretching can work.
Take Home Message
Get assessed by a professional, if not available follow the rules listed above or email me email@example.com. You need to know exactly where you can improve. It’s worth doing before you pay for a program or else you can be throwing money away.
Prioritize movement quality over strength when starting out. You do not want to load the body when it cannot absorb it efficiently. If the load of a back squat is supposed to be evenly distributed, but 90% is being placed on the spine you will break soon after starting your program.
If pain is present, do not grind away. Your cartilage is not infinite and will not regrow itself back. Arthritis is something that will follow you forever, so do your best to prevent it. Use your head, help yourself now so your program can help yourself later.
For those of you finally waking up from your New Years festivities, I want to say Happy New Year. 2018 was such an awesome year full of changes and improvements made. But, it’s time to call 2018 an Uber like it’s lingering in your kitchen the day after.
As 2019 rang in and we said goodbye to the last 12 months of our lives, a new blank calendar appeared showing all the possibilities the year has in store for you. You can do so much with 2019 and it literally is right here and now. There are resolutions that come and go because they were just what we “hoped” we would end up doing. I want you to get it done this year. Want to travel more? Lose weight? Read 20 books? Learn an instrument? The things that follow are 4 vital pieces to any of the previously mentioned goals. That’s the trick. They will apply to any goal.
1. Get your circadian rhythm on track
I could easily interchange this with “get better sleep”, but I specifically wanted to target the concept of circadian rhythms. Your circadian rhythm is basically your 24 hour physiological cycle that the body and it’s processes follow. How do you know it’s “time” to eat and sleep? How does the body do what it does in a seemingly automatic fashion?
Well, a part of this is due to the internal clock your body runs on. There is an optimal time for you to do certain things and your body tries to tell you that by releasing hormones asking for food, water, or sleep. It’s all about timing. This clock is so important that some even go to lengths to say that it can help prevent chronic diseases. Your metabolism, immune system, organ functioning, and mental awareness can all be affected when this clock doesn’t work right. By using the idea that we need this running right in order to live like we want, we know we need to get a routine mapped out for important things like food and sleep.
Why we start with sleep
If I started this article off with “you need to sleep more”, chances are you would just roll your eyes and say”you don’t understand how hard that is”. That is true. I don’t know all the of complications and things standing in the way of you and quality sleep. However, I know that if we circle back to your initial goal for 2019 you will not have much success without getting your sleep on track. So, you can list all the reasons why you can’t or you can help yourself out this year and start to get your circadian rhythm on point.
Breakdown of what goes on during sleep
Listed above is a simple graphic I found on google displaying growth hormone release (super important for muscle and recovery) and how it is sporadically released throughout your resting. If you only get a couple hours of sleep, have alcohol before bed, or watch lots of television (myself included) you have a tougher time getting to optimal GH release during your sleep. So, even though you slept for 7 hours in duration, the quality of your sleep might be so poor from other factors that you never get past the light sleeping stage. If you’re recharging your batteries, you want to get the most out of that recharge.
After establishing the importance of quality sleep and getting your circadian rhythm in order, I wanted to throw in a few ways you can immediately improve your sleep cycles. Check a few of these out and see how feasible they might be.
Limit sunlight in the bedroom
Buying blackout curtains have not only improved my sleep personally, but several other athletes I’ve worked with in the past. This is so important because early morning light shining through the window can cause your body to start the wakeup process a little earlier than you want. By keeping light to a minimum, your body will still be in recharge mode for longer.
Keep the room cold
This is simple physiology in play. The best way of explaining this is the body’s processes during hot temperatures are not ideal for recovery mode. A nice, cool temperature allows your body to stay comfortable and has been shown to be a more efficient sleeping environment. Research has suggested between 68-72 deg F.
No blue light before bedtime
This is huge! Technology consumes our lives and it’s so hard to disconnect. This is my biggest struggle and probably always will be. I have no issue with the first two, but I have always possessed a dab of insomnia that doesn’t allow me to go to bed at times I want to. So, I fill up that bonus wake time with either work or television. For a really great article on the topic of blue LED lights in more detail, check out https://www.theraspecs.com/blog/how-blue-light-impacts-eyes-brain/.
Here is a graphic I found from that site that can give you a quick breakdown:
2. Crash diet less, eat better foods
One thing that is synonymous with January is the flood of fad diet information being blasted everywhere you look. Cut this food, eat this magic berry, buy this herbal supplement to get skinny quick. You are being swindled by great marketing and ad folks who don’t really care if it works and probably want you to fail so they can sell you more stuff in a couple months. You are only reason that revolving door keeps turning unless you decide it’s time to take a long-term approach. Crash diets will not get you where you want to go and most likely put you in a worse spot later on. The key to avoiding the urge to pursue the fast result is approaching nutrition by principles rather than methods.
Improving the way you grocery shop
First thing to get your nutrition on the right track this month is to change your mindset when you step into the grocery store. We want to buy good quality food that is going to give us the most bang for our buck because it’s our money. Making sure you grab high quality proteins in the meat section, healthy veggies and some specific carb sources, and fresh herbs and spices will allow you to make anything you want at home. These things are set up on the outer perimeter of almost every grocery store. By sticking to the outside border of the store layout you will avoid temptation to throw a bag of Cocoa Puffs into your cart and make fresh spinach more likely.
Cooking for yourself is important for two reasons. One, you save money. I could stop there. But another reason is that you know exactly what goes into your food. You have to remember that your favorite restaurant’s job is to make sure you come back and spend more money. So, the chicken they make is not going to be just plain old chicken. If your wondering why Chipotle’s wraps are so good, it’s probably because they thrown a little extra stuff in there. By learning how to cook some different dishes, you are empowering yourself and learning how to be self-sufficient. If you’re in a pinch, you can make something healthy and affordable without sacrificing your goals.
Here is a link to a quick recipe that is my go-to move when I have little time and need some high quality protein.
3. Work smarter, not harder
I have said this multiple times throughout this blog. It’s a thing I’ve learned to live by after a hip surgery made me rethink my own training strategies. (Link here)
You need to realize that rep after rep of mindless exercise will not be the answer this year just as it wasn’t last year. It’s time to be precise and have a plan according to what YOU need. Your friend’s workout routine is their workout routine, not YOURS. The sooner you realize this, the closer you get to what you want. One of the first things you learn while pursuing an education in physiology is the exercise, reps, and sets you perform should be tailored for what type of goals you have. Choosing the wrong schemes could have you training less optimally and inefficiently.
3 sets of 12 works for some things and will not for others. 3 sets of 6? 4 sets of 15? What set and rep scheme do you need to be doing? It can be confusing.
Here is a chart to go off of to make things easier based on what your goal is:
It’s important to find out what exercises and rep schemes fit best with YOUR OWN goals and body. For how to assess and correctly program for your needs, check out a previous article I wrote here.
4. Prioritize this month
Last but not least, I want to drive home the point that January is your make or break month. How you start off the year is a pretty good indicator if you are going to be able to follow through with your intentions for 12 months. Since fitness is “in” during the month of January, you can take advantage of this and really build up steam to carry you through to December. Some fitness goals can be daunting tasks that require a lot of time and effort in an uphill battle. But, if you start to push that boulder up the hill now with consistent effort and focus you are one step closer to watching as it rolls without effort downhill on the other side. January is the initial uphill push necessary for change. Step by step, consistently focused, knowing you are one inch closer to that awesome feeling watching the boulder roll down with no effort.
I know when I start going into the “routine” and “habit forming” stuff I lose people. I can literally feel your eyes droop and your mood change when you hear things like “cut down on your desserts” or “eat more vegetables”.
But, it needs to be said. So, remember that this month is an important one to establish how you are going to hit your goals and build up momentum. The sooner you get going, the easier the boulder is to push once you reach that peak.
Take Home Message:
Get your circadian rhythm on track, improve sleep quality
Skip the fad dieting, stick to good foods and learn to cook
Train smarter, learn more about what fits best for your goals
Start this month and watch the momentum carry you through 2019
But, we aren’t here to talk about how much money you can make or your corner office.
We’re here to talk about your desk. Well, mainly the chair at your desk. A necessary evil to get the job done. We sit, we work, we stand up and say, “Crap, my back hurts”. Eventually, we go to a chiropractor and say “fix me” only to have your back cracked a few times and sent back to your office with no plan of how to stop the cycle.
Is there something you can do to stop this revolving door?
As much as I like tI want you to understand that just because you have to work does not mean you have to hurt. You might be surprised to hear that the professional athletes I’ve worked with deal with the same issues. That’s right, professional athletes are dealing with the same thing. They sit on buses for 5+ hours and spend hours on end at their lockers. Needless to say, I’m very familiar with this problem.
And it’s not as difficult to fix as you think.
Tip #1: Get up every 30 minutes, be the weird one
Only spend 30-40 minutes sitting at a time. If you need a reminder, set one on your phone that will buzz every so often in order to get you up and take a lap around the office. So what if it’s not the culture at work to walk around, tell anyone that has a problem that you are trying to make #gainz and this is an indirect way to help you do so.
Tip #2: Make the glutes a priority
Fire up the glutes. When sitting, the glutes are not necessarily “turned off” as some people may suggest. Muscle fibers always have some low level activation going on, but not to the point that causes a muscle contraction per say. Over time, the process of the glutes being activated gets rusty. Seeing that these are one of the most important muscle groups in the body, and on Instagram, we want to hit this muscle group 3 times each week at the gym. I would say 2 times is sufficient, but because this is directed towards people who spend 6-8 hours per day at a desk it needs to be more.
Tip #3: Stretching doesn’t fix this
This one is simple, stop stretching so much. The position that a chair puts you into makes you feel something mean in your lower back/hamstring areas. So, instinctively you decide to bend over and touch your toes to relieve that feeling of tension. The issue there is you may end up causing more of an issue. Joint health is an extremely important thing, but bending over and touching your toes for 30 seconds is not going to undo 6 hours each day for 5 day per week totaling up to 30 hours per week times 4 weeks equaling 120 hours per month you spend in that rounded back, seated position. Stretching your hamstrings might also not be effective because your hamstrings are most likely causing your back pain anyhow.
Tip #4: “I just need to sit up straight”
“Sitting up straight” is not going to fix this.
Your back aches, so you instinctively yank your neck up and reverse curve your low back. Now, you feel like you are sitting straighter and avoiding the problematic rounded spine. What you don’t know is that not only have you overlooked the issue, you may have just caused a whole different one entirely. What you need is a stable, stacked spine over top of your hip bones. Pulling your low back into a rounded position the opposite way does not do this.
Instead of curving your back the opposite way to fix the problem, try a 5 minute breathing drill you can find here. I find this drill to help with not only back pain, but serves a purpose for stress relief as well.
Tip #5: Walk it out
Walk 15 minutes per day at least. Spending time walking each day can work wonders. Trust me on this. Yes, you have time to do it. No, it doesn’t need to be running. Go walk 15 minutes per day gym or no gym you can find time. This tip applies to any age. 20 and 30 year olds still need to be doing this too.
Follow the tips here and you’ll have a better chance of avoiding chronic back pain. If you start to check this boxes, but only stick with the half the time I can’t guarantee any of them work for you. This has to be routine and it has to be something you repeat over and over for a period of time. One day of anything won’t do anything for you in the the long run.
Get up every 20-30 minutes at work to walk around the room
Hit the glutes 2-3x/ week
Avoid stretching, strengthening is a better option
Sitting up straight isn’t the answer, diaphramatic breathing instead
Walk everyday for 15 minutes everyday
Leave some comments below with any questions you may have on the topic.
This article was written for two groups of people:
The first group are those of you out there grinding away everyday at your fitness goals, clocking in day in and day out with no let up. You convince yourself that because you are going to the gym you can’t be doing anything bad when you are there. But I’m here to tell you that sometimes you can be so focused on your routine and locked into what you’re used to doing that you develop “workout tunnel vision”. This is when you are so zoned in on what you have always done, that you become a robot that never adapts or evolves. Over time, this exercise monotony can lead to burning out or falling off of your program completely. The fun gets taken out of it when it’s just the same exercises, same reps, same weight. This process is all too familiar to the die hard gym-goers. And the problem is 100% preventable.
The second group are those that have a lot going on in their lives. Work, family, life is preventing you from being there on a consistent basis. I am saying for one second that this isn’t understandable. It totally is. Our brain works in a way that prioritizes what is most important in the immediate future rather than months ahead. Because most of our family responsibilities are in the present and our results from a fitness program are months away, you can guess which one is going to win out. When you DO get to the gym, the lack of time makes your exercise choices much more superficial. Only 30 minutes and not sure when you’re coming back? Chest, bicep, abs it is. Being in that situation, it’s hard enough to work in some leg exercises let alone squats. Aside from giving you the “legs are important” argument, the types of exercises you do are an equally valuable conversation.
A case for variation
Depending on which group you belong to, the theme remains the same. There has to be variation in your program to allow for growth and improvements to continue. The first group that always shows up to the gym is hurting themselves by hitting a plateau and becoming stagnant. The second group is neglecting certain crucial movement patterns that are key in progress and could allow them to get more out of the little time they have. Our bodies are in constant flux, never standing still.
Muscle tissue is either rebuilding stronger or wearing away, never resting. This process is decided by the signals we give our brains. By exercising, you are causing micro-tears in the muscle that send a stimulus to the brain to start a remodeling process. That’s right, an HGTV remodeling show goes on in your bicep when you are recovering from a workout.
This process includes sending hormones and cells to the damaged area to rebuild it back even stronger than before. When you don’t send these signals to the brain for a long time, a decision is made that your body doesn’t need that much calorically expensive tissue and your muscles start to wear away. That is why your muscles shrink after a year of not working out.
Confused on this still?
Ok, enough science.
From my experience working with athletes and non athletes alike, there is a tendency when doing leg exercises to do either the leg press machine or squats on the Smith Machine. By sticking to these exercises, you are avoiding anything that challenges yourself in the right way and you are relying on a machine to handle most of the work. Athletic Again is all about building a strong, balanced foundation. We don’t want to just “get to the gym”, we want to build ourselves to be brick-house, athletic people that have energy throughout the day.
So first, I recommend actual barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbell squatting. Second, I recommend you mix in other leg exercises besides squatting to continue to grow and avoid the eventual plateau that is inevitable.
Here are my top three recommendations for lower body exercises that would make a balanced routine for any goal you may have.
Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)
This exercise is a modified version of deadlifts. The difference here is a shorter range of motion required to complete the movement than a conventional deadlift. Keep your knees slightly bent throughout the movement (avoid staying completely straight) and keep your shoulders pinned back to avoid them rounding forward during the movement. Make sure to place emphasis on driving your hips forward when completing the movement and keep your core tight throughout.
RDLs are a modified version of the deadlift that stops around mid-shin height. The one thing I constantly see athletes doing is going all the way down because they can. The issue there is that going all the way down is now considered a deadlift. Instead, we want to differentiate the two exercises and stop around mid-shin height and return to the starting position.
The reason for combining these two things together in the heading is because they are similar in nature. They are both a split stanced pattern that helps add stability and unilateral leg strength to your program. The difference is with lunges you are moving horizontal or lateral and step-ups allow you to train vertically. So, whichever you choose (or both) will be a nice complement to your other exercises. Make sure to keep the upper body nice and tall during this movement and focus on a quality movement as opposed to rushing through it.
Lunges cannot be overstated for their effectiveness and simplicity. They address mobility and flexibility issues as well as build strength in an important, often-used position in competitive sports. Walking lunges are still a go-to exercise no matter how strong you are.
The step-up is a solid unilateral lower body exercise that will help build strength, stability, and is a nice complement to a program. Like the lunge, it is super simple and very effective.
Hip thrusts may be listed last in this group, but don’t take them lightly. This exercise has become one of the most popular exercises on social media due causing more and more people to try it out. Bret Contreras has done excellent research on this exercise and found that it is extremely effective in building the glutes (check out his instagram @bretcontreras1). This exercise allows you to specifically target the area that sitting for long periods of time effects in a negative way. So, if you have a job where you sit a lot AND want a nice looking, strong lower body these are a must add. They can be done at home or in the gym and loaded with either a dumbbell, barbell, or done with no weight at all (aka glute bridges).
Hip thrusts have definitely grown in popularity the last 5 years due to research showing it’s ability to strengthen the glute region better than other alternatives. Start in the top position and finish by bridging the bar up into the position shown at the bottom. Remember to use a pad over your waist because the bar can leave a bruise on the pelvic bone.
Plan of action:
First, get your butt to the gym. If not possible, your garage or living room is going to work just fine. No excuse.
Second, outline the days of the week you are going to work out and decide how you are going to hold yourself accountable.
Third, write out a tentative plan for which exercises you want to do on each day. This needs to include one of the exercises listed above as well as some pushup variation and rowing variation. If you are working out at home, substitute the rowing for a plank. There is no excuse.
Fourth, continue changing up the exercise sets and reps as you become more comfortable and confident with the workouts. There is no such thing as in the middle you are either getting stronger or you are losing strength.
By now, if you’ve been going to a public gym you have seen people laying on or rolling around on this foam cylinder thingy.
Are these people part of some weird exercise group? Is this foam thing a form of black magic? Do other people know something you don’t?
This foam cylinder has become a hot piece of equipment in the gym over the last few years. Usually located in the corner of most fitness centers, the little rolling pin can be quite the useful tool when trying to recover from tough workouts. But how?
The mechanism behind foam rolling
Foam rolling can seem like a magic trick. You feel tight and restricted, so you lay on top of it and roll around a little bit. When you stand back up, you feel better. How the heck did that happen? Is it just perceived change and not actually real? While most foam roll users expect this positive outcome, it’s not common knowledge how this change actually occurs. So, this article aims to dig a bit deeper using science and highlighting a few pieces of research.
First, let’s discuss what’s going on underneath the skin at the tissue level to understand why the feeling this perceived change may exist.
When you go to a spa to get a massage, they may offer you a deep tissue massage. This, in other words, is a “myofascial release”. A myofascial release is done by placing direct pressure on a specific area of fascia to reduce local tightness that may be present. While fascia remains a debate in the science world, it’s only necessary for our purpose to define it as the matrix of soft tissue underneath your skin. This tissue should run smoothly over each other like sheets of silk. However, hours and hours of sitting at a desk combined with poor hydration/nutrition and intense exercise causes these sheets of silk to become bundled, clumpy balls of clay. Instead of sliding over top of each other when movements occur, there is a tug of war game going on in your quads manifesting itself as pain.
By using a foam roller, you can now remove the masseuse from the equation. This is not only a cheaper option, but can allow you to get to know yourself better. Now, you can be in control of where the pressure goes by directing and orienting the roller in a way that suits you. Your soft tissue responds to pressure from the roller and you feel less tension. As a result, you have less perceived pain. The reason for this relief could be simply because the pressure causes more blood to flow to the area or because it smoothes the fascia actually smoothes out. While that can be debated, there is no argument that when you have a stiff quad you will probably feel better after rolling it out.
But, before you go out and order anything it’s always good practice to check out some research to see what studies say on the topic.
Research on foam rolling:
Macdonald et al. (2014): Foam Rolling as a Recovery Tool after an Intense Bout of Physical Activity (n = 20)
-“Foam roll group displayed substantially less pain at all time points compared with control group. Because connective tissue is the major site for exercise-induced muscle damage disruption and pain, foam rolling can be considered to be beneficial in the recovery of connective tissue.”
Healey et al. (2014): The Effects of Myofascial Release With Foam Rolling on Performance (n = 26)
“The results of this study suggest that SMR through the use of foam rollers before a workout does not enhance athletic performance”.
Cheatham et al. (2015)- THE EFFECTS OF SELF‐MYOFASCIAL RELEASE USING A FOAM ROLL OR ROLLER MASSAGER ON JOINT RANGE OF MOTION, MUSCLE RECOVERY, AND PERFORMANCE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW: (14 articles reviewed)
“The results of this systematic review indicate that SMR using either foam rolling or roller massage may have short‐term effects of increasing joint ROM without decreasing muscle performance. Foam rolling and roller massage may also attenuate decrements in muscle performance and reduce perceived pain after an intense bout of exercise.”
After reviewing of articles beyond the one’s shown above, it seems like foam rolling isn’t going to change your life but may provide relief. While it does not benefit athletic performance measures, it does reduce perceived pain and stiffness in certain spots. If you have a routine that involves going to get a massage, keep doing that. But, if you want to save money the foam roller could provide some similar effects in less time. A solid 10 minute warm-up may also provide the same result, but foam rolling while you watch tv at night could be the ticket.
How to start foam rolling
Now that we’ve discussed the why, we need the how. To oversimplify it, you just lay on top of the roller and move around. To be specific and give you actionable info, I want you to try three methods that I got from the always awesome Kelly Starrett.
The flossing method:
This method of flossing will not be getting any food out of the hard to reach places in your mouth. Instead, it’s done by finding a spot that is tight and stiff and putting pressure on it. Once pressure is applied, begin to move two inches up and two inches down from your starting point. If you start to feel the pain or pressure dissipate, hunt around for a new spot that may need more love. Now, add in some more movement just as the dental floss moves through your teeth. Flossing is essentially just movement while putting pressure onto the system of tissues.
The pin and stretch method:
The pin and stretch method works by laying on the spot bothering you. Now, pin it down with pressure and move at your joint to cause a stretch of the muscle. Still focusing on the quad, lay over top of the roller and put pressure against your quad. Then, extend and flex at the knee joint (like a leg curl/leg extension motion). By pinning the tissue down and moving, you are forcing the muscle to lengthen and stretch.
The smash method:
This is exactly what it sounds like. Lay on the roller and just smash your tissue with pressure. Some like to use something heavier like a kettlebell or a barbell to apply more than a roller will allow. It is definitely painful if you have gunky tissues. But, it’s pretty darn effective at relieving pain the day after a tough leg workout.
Here are some areas I like to focus on:
Take Home Message
By now, I hope you have a better understanding of the foam roller and where it could fit in your routine. The next time you’re in the gym and you see one laying around, try to roll out different areas and see how various levels of pressure and angles feel to you. Go through the three methods hitting the specific spots in the gallery above.While it is not the end all be all magic pill, it can be a tool in your toolbox that helps your recovery process. This allows you to train at greater levels more frequently and be more successful in the long term. That’s what we’re all about and that’s how I’m trying to help you.
He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. He’s going to find out how many times you drove past the gym instead of going in and got ice cream.
With Christmas fast approaching, it’s actually a weird time for fitness goals. Stuck between the end of Thanksgiving and the beginning of Christmas break, it’s tough to get any meaningful progress done in the gym. On the one hand, you have a small group of people that just destroyed a turkey and are dying to shed the excess weight. On the other, the majority are people who never get off of “vacation mode” until after New Year’s. You’ve worked too hard to get here.
I’m writing this as a reminder that as close as Christmas might be, beach season 2019 is right around the corner. To lose all that you’ve worked for or where you aspire to go just because there are more cookies and cakes at work would be a shame. The reason gym memberships rarely get used can be blamed on our need for immediate gratification. If we do something and receive the result we want, we are more likely to do it again. If we put forth effort and the reward requires even more determination and focus, the less likely we are to continue for that thing. We’ve become spoiled in a way. If we want entertainment, our phones are two feet away. If we are interested in food, Uber eats will get it for you. Companies are glueing you to the couch by competing for your business through convenience.
If you think about it, companies are just profiting off of people’s unwillingness to exert effort. Convenience seems to be the hottest thing in business right now.
So, what I’m about to suggest is not sexy. I’m definitely going against the grain from culture when I say,
“Get up off the couch and go get it yourself.”
Is that more convenient? No. Is that less stressful? Definite no. So, why in the world would I be recommend it? Because it’s all about the mindset that comes with these things (or prevents). When you get up and say, “I am going to do it myself”, you’re one step closer to being someone that reaches their goals and one step further from “I’ll just do it tomorrow”. The more you give into procrastination, the more it will become your default setting. We have to find a way to enjoy the tech of today while maintaining our drive and work ethic.
At the rate we’re going, Amazon is going to have a robot that delivers your food, cooks it, cleans up the kitchen, and reads you a bedtime story. On some nights, that would probably be really nice. But over time, we would lose the ability to do anything for ourselves. I’m not trying to sound like Will Smith from the beginning of “I, Robot”, but I don’t want all of these services to take away your work ethic and the ability to push through stress. With all of the fad diets and overnight fixes on the market, it seems like good old fashioned hard work is being overlooked.
Take Home Message:
Tying all of my future robot rant nonsense together, my point is that nothing will ever substitute for hard work. Our modern conveniences are really miracles that we’re all fortunate to have. Walmart pickup and Amazon’s prime shipping really do make life easier. However, with the approaching holiday and all of these conveniences factored in, the odds of you sticking with your goals for the next month are not in your favor.
This worries me. So, I wrote this as a reminder to stay motivated and stick to the day in day out routines that we set in place. Sure, it’s nice to have some fun and break from routine. But keep that laser focus in your back pocket so that come the next sunrise you are back on the grind.
Don’t quit. Keep showing up. Punch the time clock. Get in and out. Do not go backwards. One step forward, zero steps back. Brick by brick.
Often displayed on television, basketball players that can soar over defenders and dunk a basketball on a rim 10 feet high make you feel like that is reserved for those gifted with incredible ability. So, we watch those talented athletes on the tv screens in the gym while we hit our 100th set of machine chest press. In reality, jumping higher is absolutely attainable by anyone. Although you may never hit the same jump height as Lebron James, you can still gain the benefits that jumping higher can give.
In order to figure out just how someone jumps higher, we may have to do a bit of scientific critical thinking. Here are three things you can do to gain athleticism pretty rapidly:
First, we have to propel our body with enough force off the ground to resist the gravitational pull. This takes muscle. So, first step is we need to make sure we gain muscle. An indirect benefit of this? You will also probably lose body fat and make your strength to body weight ratio go up. This is something that is extremely important for athleticism as well as personal health. Next, if we are stronger we can create more total force into the ground. But, we still don’t have the ability to generate that force in the split second it takes in an explosive vertical jump. Which means we also want to train to move things explosively. Simple as that.
Get stronger so we can push into the ground hard enough to defy gravity
Lose body fat and increase our strength to body weight ratio
Train explosively so that we can generate that strong force in a short amount of time
Now that we have covered jumping, we should shift our focus to one of the most fundamental thing when you think of an athlete. Running fast. Sprinting is still one of the best ways to display athletic ability even though the fitness industry will try to convince you that you just need to hop on an elliptical and watch tv for 30 minutes instead.
A great sprint coach once told me there isn’t a single exercise in the gym that can replicate the amount of force your body feels while sprinting. You can load up a bar as heavy as you want, but nothing will give you the same effect. This is important to remember if you are training to be more athletic but left sprinting out of your program.
The benefits include that explosive, fast twitch effect previously mentioned in the vertical jump section. You will gain muscle and lose body fat, become faster, and be a healthier individual by adding this in. I recommend sprinting before your strength work in the gym. Most days, you won’t need to sprint more than 6-8x for 30 yards.
Eat to perform
If you are an aspiring athlete and are still filling up most of your diet with fast food, you got it backwards. You can’t out train a bad diet. That saying has withstood the test of time because it’s undefeated. Those that try to tell you that fast food is fine in moderation are doing you a disservice. If you can stayed disciplined enough to cook and eat the right foods to fuel your body, you probably are going to be disciplined enough to do all the little things necessary to be successful. I have found that players that lack the focus in their nutrition also lack focus when it’s crunch time. It’s not just about broccoli and bad foods, it’s about putting enough quality gas in your tank to outplay the competition. If your friends around you are eating fast food burgers and you are eating great quality foods, who has the advantage in the fourth quarter? Making this a priority separates the athletes from the non-athletes.
Any young athletes with questions on the topic, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call it a hiatus, but I took a little break from writing to focus on some other things progressing in my life. Travel, more reading and learning, more conversations with great coaches in the same boat.
I wanted to post a write read for those of you loyally following along to remind you that each and everyone of us are different and therefore should have unique differences in the way we train. The person next to you might be able to do a variation of squatting that doesn’t match well with your body type or ranges of motion. Doesn’t mean you can’t squat, but it does mean you have to find one that fits you better. It takes doing some assessing before you start so you can take out some of the guesswork and be more precise with exercise selection.
If this conflicts with your trainer, fire them. Any trainer that doesn’t want a little more information to help adjust for your specific measurements or doesn’t know how to do an assessment to find this shouldn’t be training you anyway. As much as I want to write about lazy coaches that copy & paste the same programs and charge you money, I need to stay on message.
You are not the person next to you
It’s important to address this right away because it is the gist of everything I want to discuss. Too often we see magazines, instagram, television where someone else has the things you want right now. You might be working towards it and because they seem to have what you want, you try to learn what they are doing in hopes of it working for you. Monkey see, monkey do.
“They have what I want. So, if I do what they do I’ll have what I want”.
This happens with professional athletes as much as anyone.
“If that guy did this new program online where he throws weighted balls for 2 months and is throwing harder, I should too.”
This leads athletes to try out exercises that aren’t best for them eventually leading to injury or a decrease in performance. Again, if you fall into this I get it. It makes sense. I aim to explain why this doesn’t actually work after you follow it. As with everything else in life, good things come most of the time after a period of delayed gratification. There is a long period of boring, day in day out work that goes into most success stories.
Apple did not become Apple because of the iPhone. Fortune 500 companies did not buy a building, slap a logo on the exterior and become who they are. It takes time. These companies had years and years of trial and error to find out what works and what doesn’t for them. Apple’s marketing strategies and research may not work for Choice Hotels. They have found what specifically works for their industry. You need to be this same way about the way you choose exercises and train your body. However, we don’t have the luxury of trial and error that may lead to learning through injury. So, we need to take out the guesswork and be precise from the start.
Make your gym routine about you
Imagine I saw a snapshot of what you did in the gym today. Now, imagine I ran you through a full physical screen/assessment to find out the things you struggle with the most. Would the snapshot of your workout reflect you training your biggest weaknesses? How many exercises would I see that only reinforce problems? I’m not trying to point fingers, but I am trying to make a point that leads to change.
This is the point of the article. Stick with me here.
If your top three personal goals are weight loss, “6 pack abs”, and having a 225lb. bench press, but your assessment shows that your shoulders have limited range of motion and you have a rounded upper back, is the bench press important for YOU? Are there other things we can change in your program to match what’s most important for your body instead of what society says you should have? Are abs the most important thing to focus on right now when it will only pull your shoulders forward more and lead to more issues later? If we can get more people to realize this, we would have some serious progress made and less injuries occurring for no reason.
If an assessment shows limited range of motion in the shoulder and ankle these are things you have to consider when choosing certain exercises.
Doing this will find the right exercise for YOU and lead to faster progress.
In an effort to keep this from being a long read, I’ll wrap this up with the take home message.
Get an assessment to find out what limitations your body may have with a professional.
From this, start to think about what goals are most important for YOU.
From your assessment, pick specific exercise variations that will help you reach your goals AND fit within what your body can physically do.
Once you have tackled a majority of the things hindering you physically and you are balanced, you can go back to things like “bro I want huge biceps”. But, all while maintaining the things you worked to improve on.
I grew up playing every sport possible. If it was pickup basketball, we played until we physically couldn’t play anymore or it got too dark. I wasn’t a physical specimen, but I have enough skill to be a decent player and enjoy the games.
My road into formal strength and conditioning education wasn’t like most. I was a string bean, lanky type of kid that realized I wasn’t jumping as high as everyone else or running as fast. Long legs, short torso, and not much training knowledge was a recipe for disaster as I got older and played collegiate baseball. I still struggled understanding the weight room’s place in my development and instead looked to the skill practice on the field to help me take that next step. Now, fast forwarding almost a decade, I’ve been working in the strength and conditioning field for almost 10 years and had a major surgery on my hip. The details of the surgery weren’t actually related to training, but training has become a very important part of the recovery process. I learned so much from this difficult period in my life and want to be able to share the things I learned to you so that you can avoid wasting time.
Lesson #1: Work smarter, not harder
This lesson is great to start off with because it’s something I struggle with still. I like to push the pace and feel like I busted my tail. I had to learn to pull it back and work within myself. When you’re young, the more you push yourself typically leads to greater return. After a major surgery, you realize how much training wrecks you. Every rep, every set made me more sore than I’ve ever been and I had to look myself in the mirror and say “stop adding stuff for no reason.” It’s important to be extremely selective when you train and detailed in how you go about it. I used to just walk in and lift weights, now I am precise about what I do and why I do it. This has made my post workout pain and soreness much less problematic.
Lesson #2: You are not them, you are you
This one seems obvious, but obvious doesn’t mean easy. It’s tough to watch other people that can do certain things and not wish that you could do it too. But, that’s not how it works. You have the body that you were blessed with and that body has limitations. It’s also important to remember that the person you’re envious of might be thinking the same thing about you. Maybe you have something that someone else can’t do no matter how hard they try. For any limitation you might have, you also have a lot of abilities and blessings. As I struggled with regaining strength, I saw people of similar build able to do things I couldn’t do. If I tried, the repercussions of soreness and pain were reminders that it wasn’t realistic. It wasn’t from the lack of trying anymore and that’s when I really started to grow in my approach and mindset.
Lesson #3: Be honest about what you lack and set proactive goals to fix it
We all have shortcomings or dysfunctions. Physically, it can be a lack of range of motion in your ankle or lacking the self-discipline to stop eating at your favorite fast food place. Regardless of the type, it does NOT change until YOU decide to put in the time to make a change. It starts with a look in the mirror. You can try whatever coping mechanism in the world, but when it comes to changing it will always start by being honest with yourself. If you keep saying, “it’s not that bad”, you will not be motivated to change.
Next is goal setting and crushing barriers. Once you make yourself aware of what the issue might be, you plan your attack. Small, measurable steps that lead to the bigger goal are most effective. Want to lose 50 pounds? Break that up into how many you’d like to lose in the first week or month. Do you want to eat healthier? Start with shopping for healthier food on your next grocery run or trying a new vegetable or recipe. Try to plot the course like a ship had to back in the old days. Your small goals are your map and your motivation is the compass that you stick to in times of waves and storms.
**It’s worth noting that not all goals are physically possible, i.e. jumping 50 inches or running faster than Usain Bolt. But, if you make REALISTIC goals for yourself like improving your ankle range of motion by 1 inch or squatting 45 more pounds in a training program you will be much more successful and less disappointed in the end. **
Lesson #4: Don’t feel sorry for yourself because no one else is going to
I learned this one over time. I have a great family and support system, but I know that when it comes down to it life goes on. People ask you how you are doing and how you feel, but they have their own problems and life to deal with. There is a period of empathy, but that fades. You don’t want to be the person still carrying on about your problems month after month if you want your friends to stay around. It sounds cynical, but hear me out. When you are struggling with something, I think you are person who is going to get yourself out of that struggle more than anyone around you. You have the power to do it, you have the strength and abilities necessary for that task. So, when things get tough reach within yourself and take action. I think this creates a feeling of accomplishment and self-confidence that is unmatched by anything else. When you depend on yourself to get things done, you start to realize that you have all that you need and your friends and family are there to support you as you find your way to your goals rather than them carrying you to it.
So, in an effort to keep this brief and actionable for you I will sum up what I’ve learned below:
Work smarter, not harder
Remember that you are you and they are not you
Look yourself in the mirror and make real goals that are attainable
Stop feeling sorry for yourself and waiting for someone else to help you. You have all the tools you need now go out and accomplish things with what you have been blessed with.
Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog. Tim is an author of 5 #1 NYT/WSJ bestsellers, investor (FB, Uber, Twitter, 50+ more), and host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast (400M+ downloads)