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Training Symmetry Creates Asymmetries

The purpose of strength training should be to encourage the entire body to have stronger, more controlled, and efficient movement with the least amount of restriction and wasted energy. The current approach found in most gyms often falls short of achieving this. The goal for many is to create symmetry: a balance of tension, shape, and size to the muscles. The majority of exercises chosen involve both arms or legs moving in the same direction at the same time. These are known as bilateral movements. Then there are unilateral movements which train one limb or side at a time. Although they require an equal amount of work, the way each side, or limb, generates the force required may be quite different. So even though the body grows stronger, the training programs unknowingly reinforce muscular imbalances. The effect will be bodies which are structurally compromised, that train under greater and greater loads. It would be similar to a building, with a weak and uneven foundation, adding grand pianos on every floor. Eventually, the strain will become too much and something is going to crumble.

Imagine two people digging a hole. One person is larger and stronger and has been a professional ditch digger for many years. Both people have the same pace with their shovels, but the stronger individual is more efficient, more practiced, and because he is good-natured, loads his shovel with more earth to help the other person complete the hole. Both might appear to be performing the same work, but that is not the case. Few people are truly ambidextrous, so one arm is usually used and developed more than it’s counterpart. Most people have a preferred leg with which they kick a ball. This develops two different roles for the leg: one is the stabilizer, and the other creates brute force to send the ball flying. This also helps encourage very subtle rotations and shifts the body’s center of mass away from a true balanced point.

What would the outcome be, over the course of time, of performing squats, deadlifts, or some other bilateral exercise with such a situation? This could also mean that if you were to perform a unilateral exercise on one side of the body and then the other, the way in which the body coordinates the muscle action will be quite different. You see it all the time but might not realize it. Have you ever noticed someone performing a barbell squat, and as the hips descend, they begin to shift the hips over one foot more? How many people do you see perform the bench press and one elbow flares out wider than the other, or one hand is closer to the center of the bar than the other? Perhaps there is a subtle tilt of the bar toward the stronger side? The more this is repeated, the more the differences between the sides are reinforced, not corrected. This uneven muscular development is the cause of many joint issues.

That means that, contrary to popular opinion, you may not need to perform the same exercise on each side of the body with every lift. One side of the body, or one motion, may need additional time to improve control, efficiency, and coordination. You may need to do more work on one side than the other to bring the weaker side up to the same strength level as the dominant side. It is essential that a better balance of strength and mobility be developed first, before encouraging balanced, bilateral or alternating motions, on both sides. The best way to understand what your body needs is to assess it. If you would like to come in for a full body movement assessment just give us a call. We would be happy to design a personalized program that your body craves.

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Why I Respect CrossFit

I have been a New England Patriots fan all of my life. I remember watching them in the seventies and eighties when they rarely had a winning season and they were nicknamed the “Patsies.” However, for the past twenty years I have been in heaven! Five Super Bowl victories out of eight appearances. The team hasn’t had a losing season since 2000. They find a way to be on top every year, and for that reason they have a large population who hate them.

I think it is just human nature to want to see those who reach the pinnacle of success fail and fall from grace. I feel this is why so many people criticize CrossFit. I believe much of the negative criticism is not properly earned. Yes, it has a tendency to be extreme and to push people to the brink, but that is why millions of people love it. Yes, it has a tendency to focus on quantity over quality, but that is based on the individual instructor and his or her ability to properly teach the primary movements. In this case, maybe you should kill the messenger?

The founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, and I started out together in the same big box gym many years ago. I headed down 41st Avenue toward the ocean with all of the surfers. He went down the other end of 41st Avenue to the commercial warehouses. The rest is history.

I consider Greg a friend and colleague, and I am very proud of what he has been able to accomplish since beginning CrossFit in 2000. It single-handedly changed the entire fitness industry. His company has been able to take exercise and turn it into a competition. Tens of thousands of exercise communities have been created across the globe. Millions of people have been able to infuse exercise into their lives because of his vision. Companies specializing in exercise equipment used by CrossFit gyms have been born. Thousands of people found careers in helping others change their lives. I think Jack LaLanne would be proud.

Granted, the way CrossFit programs (WOD’s) are designed are not the way I would create them. But this is not a blog about what is wrong or missing in program design. That might be a topic for another day. Yes, people get injured when they participate in exercise programs, but they also get injured reaching for the dozen doughnuts in the back seat of their cars. If done with proper knowledge, guidance, and safety, any exercise program you choose can be done well with minimal risks. Just like legal or medical practices, you are going to find a wide spectrum of qualified and unqualified individuals offering services. You just need to choose wisely.

Being bred a New England sports fan (though I have become a Sharks and Earthquakes fan since moving to Santa Cruz) I have always loved to hate the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Lakers. That is where my “hater” mentality ends. I am glad that there are CrossFit gyms popping up everywhere I look. It keeps our business alert and encourages us to continue to hone our craft to be the best we can be. There is plenty of room for all of us. It really doesn’t matter where you find a place to move as long as you keep moving. That is what really matters.

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5 Mistakes of Foam Rolling

Here are 5 common mistakes people make when they begin foam rolling:

#1. No Pain No Gain: The point of foam rolling is to rehydrate tissue, not to find the most painful place. When the brain experiences pain it commands the muscles to contract and protect. This is counterproductive and will not allow increased circulation. It will increase your heart rate and blood pressure though.

#2. Search & Destroy: Many people become overly aggressive when rolling soft tissue. Generally the area which they target is tender or sore because it is inflamed. Rolling back and forth over an area of inflammation often makes the situation worse. It may feel good in the moment but could very well slow down the recovery process.

#3. Speedy Gonzales: Not taking a slow, controlled approach to rehydrating the affected tissue with foam rolling is a common mistake. Have you ever received a quick massage as if the therapist is late for a date? Not very effective in calming down tense areas.

#4. Same Old Same Old: Most people continue to roll the same areas day after day without exploring other sites. The body is in a constant state of flux. Therefore, what a person rolls on Monday may need to be different on Tuesday. There are over 650 muscles in the body. Not all of them need the same attention, but there are sure to be a few that are yearning for just a little more.

#5. Not Having a Plan: Some people blindly roll the same areas without really having a plan. A better approach may be to gain an understanding of which muscles are being pulled on more than others. Rolling out those areas can allow the body to return to a more balanced, aligned posture. The chart below is something I have developed for my clients and many chiropractic patients. Based on where the pressure is centered in a person’s feet gives better insight on where to roll. Example: if, when standing naturally, there is more pressure in the forefeet, the areas that should be rolled are the hipflexors, quads, and calves. If the pressure is more toward the heels, the gluteals and hamstrings would be the target areas.

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Mechanics are to Structural Engineers as…

I feel a need to clear the air a bit. In previous blogs I have written about how doctors, although highly educated in surgical procedures, physiology, and pharmacology, are not educated in certain aspects of human motion and pain management. This is not a slam on the medical profession but merely an observation. Full body biomechanics and kinematic sequencing (how joints move in relation to one another) are not in most medical books.

Overall, doctors and the medical field are truly amazing. The knowledge and technology at their disposal is nothing short of remarkable. If I were to suffer some physical trauma I would not hesitate to seek the attention of an emergency room doctor. However, when it comes to acute and chronic joint or muscle pain, I would turn my sights toward other arenas.

Western medicine’s typical approach to treating such pain involves rest, pain reliever medication, and cryotherapy (apply ice to the pain site). If the pain persists the choice often becomes surgical intervention.

Like a mechanic, doctors will find something that is not operating properly and decide to remove the part and replace it with something brand new. Fuel filter, dysfunctional knee, head gasket, worn out hip, it doesn’t matter; just put in a new one, and we’ll be right as rain. Granted, some people have allowed the deterioration of a part of their body to progress to the point that surgery may be necessary. However, for a large number of people, all that may be required is a little structural engineering to restore the body to a place where joint pain is reduced or eliminated.

This is what we specialize in helping people with. Looking at the body as a whole, integrative, structural unit where one area can have a direct impact on another. We choose to not focus all of our attention on the symptomatic pain site, but pull the lens back to get a better understanding of why the issue is occurring. Where are the stress points? What is not moving like it should? What is moving more than it should? How is mass managed throughout the body?

Just because a person comes in with knee pain does not mean the problem is somewhere in the knee. The majority of time the knee is not the issue, rather it is the recipient of excess force due to another area not generating its fair share. The same can be said for many issues people might seek a doctor’s advice: carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, rotator cuff pain, plantar fasciitis, etc.

This is not to claim that re-aligning the human structure will be the panacea for all that ails you. However, wouldn’t it be nice to learn a few movements which re-train your body on how to move with less compensation and no pain in lieu of undergoing surgery that may or may not relieve your issues?

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Butterfly Effect

We just had an amazing few days of giant surf in Santa Cruz with tidal and weather conditions helping to make the waves near perfect. This morning as I recounted all the waves I caught and felt the soreness in my paddling muscles, I took time to reflect on how the waves came to be.

Two weeks ago a storm system developed deep below Australia and New Zealand off the coast of Antarctica. The storm had strong gale force winds that blew it’s energy into the ocean’s surface. The system squeezed under Australia and blossomed north toward the central Pacific. That wind energy which transformed into wave energy travelled 5,000 miles until it contacted something. Fortunately for us it was the shores of Monterey Bay.

I like to think about this because it reminds me how an action in one place can create an effect somewhere completely different. It’s that Butterfly Effect. A butterfly flaps it’s wings in China and causes a tornado to develop in Oklahoma. It is the same with our bodies. When we encounter joint or muscle pain in an area of the body it could be because of something happening (or not happening) somewhere else in the body.

Here’s a true example: I had a client who had been a top professional athlete, in fact National Champion at his sport. Before he came to see me he thought his sports career was over. His shoulder had developed so much pain and wear-n-tear that he was forced to undergo surgery to repair his rotator cuff. He came to see me after his surgery and physical therapy with the hope of getting back into the sport. We began training and conditioning as he began to compete again in his sport. It didn’t take long for the same symptoms to reoccur. He had followed his doctors advice as well as the physical therapist’s exercises but the pain was coming back.

So we began to look at his whole body and how he moved in his sport. We needed to understand that pain, although it does not feel good, is our best friend. Pain tells us something is wrong and that we need to stop and pay attention to what it is telling us. It took a little time but in the end what we discovered was that the problem was actually in his opposite foot and big toe. How can that be you ask?

The foot has 26 bones and 33 joints and is meant to be supple and absorbent at one moment and then be rigid and spring-like the next. The foot is the first part in a chain reaction that allows the joints above (and the muscles that react to their movement) to behave properly. When the foot is not aligned properly and the muscles which support the foot’s position are not doing what they should then compensation must occur. This compensation can lead to areas that are underworked and others which are overworked. It is usually the overworked areas that wear down and where injury is most likely to occur.

In this athlete’s case the overworked area of compensation was his rotator cuff. Once we understood how he was moving and what was missing it was just a matter of introducing the proper action. This allowed the correct muscles and joints to work in the most efficient way and decreased the demand on the rotator cuff. The change in how his shoulder felt was almost instantaneous. He is now ranked as one of top professionals in his sport and is looking to become National Champion next year.

So the next time your knee hurts you or your lower back begins to ache do not immediately blame the victim of the crime but get help in hunting down the real perpetrator. You might be surprised to find that it’s your tight hips or weak abdominals or even stranger, it could be a result of an ankle sprain that occurred years before.

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Determining Target Heart Rate

The question continues: What should my heart rate be when I am exercising? In general, you want to exercise when your heart rate is between 65-90% of your maximum heart rate in order to create physiological changes in your cardiovascular system and improve your fitness level.

Okay, that’s great but how do I know what my maximum heart rate is? That answer is not so simple and has been elusive for many decades. The most common and equally the most inaccurate way of determining this number is to subtract your age from 220. There are many problems with this equation and can underestimate your maximum heart rate by as much as 35 beats per minute. The theoretical maximum is based solely on your age and does not take into consideration your present fitness level, heart chamber size, or resting heart rate.

Then you can try the Karvonen Method which determines the training heart rate reserve by not only subtracting your age from 220 but also incorporating your resting heart rate. However number 220 is still used to determine the maximum beats/minute this equation so you might as well throw that one away.

A study by Dr. BM Nes from the Norwegian College of Science and Technology and colleagues, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports showed that researchers tested 3,000 men and women ages ranging from 19 to 89 and determined that the number 211 minus 64% of your age was the most accurate way of selecting your target zone.

This just goes to show you that none of us really know what the magic number is. The conclusion here is to go by the perceived exertion rate of how hard you feel you are exercising. On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is sitting watching a movie and 10 is running up Mount Everest, try and exercise around 6-8. Take your heart rate for for 15 seconds and multiply that number by 4 to give you your heart beats per minute. Most likely this will be your best bet at finding your target heart zone.

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