Monday, March 28, 2016

Rowing – The Ideal Form of Exercise

There are many ways to exercise, but of all of them rowing is one of the best overall.     Rowing combines the best of aerobic and anaerobic exercise in a low impact movement pattern that is safe and effective for anyone from the unfit to the highly conditioned athlete.

If you want to give indoor rowing a try (outdoor rowing aka sculling is also excellent but requires access to skull and lessons on how to use it!) there are many high quality units and the best of them al have you seated on a seat which slides so you can access the strength and power from your legs and hips to do the lion's share of the work. 

Indoor rowing will take a little getting used to because there is some technique to it, but most people can learn to use one of these indoor rowers quickly with a little help from a trainer.    The rowing stroke can be divided into four phases:

The Catch – where you begin to pull back on the rower handle
The Drive – where you drive backwards using legs and hips to push
The Finish – where you finish pushing back and quickly pull the handle to your mid-section
The Recovery – where you flex the ankles, knees and hips as you reach forward to the next catch

There are several keys to effective rowing.   First and foremost is that the power should come from your legs and hips NOT your arms.  Your arms just finish the pull at the very end where they should be quickly pulled to your mid-section as you finish the drive.

Keep your back straight the whole time!  There is a little forward and backward lean as you lean forward to begin the pull/catch and then lean slightly back as you finish the drive.    However your back should be straight and posture upright the entire time and this is very important for preventing any potential injury.

To help with posture and keeping the back straight you need a strong core and exercises like the front and side plank are perfect to build the type of core strength you need for rowing!

Here is a breakdown of proper technique for each part of the rowing stroke:

 The Recovery (Phase 1)
  • Extend your arms until they straighten.
  • Lean your upper body forward to the one o’clock position - keeping back straight!
  • Once your hands and the oar handle have cleared your knees, allow your knees to bend and gradually slide the seat forward on the monorail.
The Catch (Position 1)
  • Arms are straight; head is neutral; shoulders are level and not hunched.
  • Upper body is at the one o’clock position—shoulders in front of hips.
  • Shins are vertical and not compressed beyond the perpendicular.
  • Balls of the feet are in full contact with the footplate.
The Drive (Phase 2)
  • With straight arms and while maintaining the position of the upper body at one o’clock, exert pressure on the foot plate and begin pushing with your legs.
  • As your legs approach straight, lean the upper body back to the eleven o’clock position and draw the hands back to the lower ribs in a straight line.
The Finish (Position 2)
  • Legs are extended and handle is held lightly at your lower ribs.
  • Upper body is at the eleven o’clock position—slightly reclined with good support from your core muscles.
  • Head is in a neutral position.
  • Neck and shoulders are relaxed, and arms are drawn past the body with flat wrists.
The drive is the work portion of the stroke; the recovery is the rest portion that prepares you for the next drive. The body movements of the recovery are essentially the reverse of the drive. Blend these movements into a smooth continuum to create the rowing stroke.  A good rowing cadence, or tempo, is 22-26 strokes per minute.

Rowing is best done in intervals alternating high intensity efforts with a focus on perfecting your technique with low intensity recovery intervals.       Done correctly rowing provides a completely balanced total body workout that can burn a ton of calories, improving aerobic and anaerobic fitness and building an athletic physique.    If you take the time to learn this form of exercise it can be your one and only go to for total fitness!

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Three Best Bodyweight Exercise Moves you are not doing!

Bodyweight exercises aka calisthenics are one of the most popular ways to exercise.  Bodyweight exercise is great if you spend a lot of time travelling with spotty access to equipment.  Staple bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups, planks, etc. are easy to learn and can be done anywhere.

Three of the least known but most productive bodyweight exercises are:

The Sit-Through
Kneel  to Squat

The Sit-through comes from wrestling and is simple to learn, yet highly effective.    It involves the entire body with an emphasis on the core, and creates an incredible cardiovascular overload.     Start on your hand and knees and then pick your knees up off the floor so you are on the balls of your feet and hands.    Then you quite literally “sit-through” by driving either foot underneath and across your body and picking up the hand you drive the leg towards.    You end up with your foot kicked out the side and butt down and the one hand supporting your bodyweight.  Then return to the starting position and repeat to the other side.   With a little practice you get a little hop going from side to side and man is this challenging on the core and cardio!    For even harder version keep both hands on the floor the whole time as you sit through and drive the leg out to the side.   Here is a nice video:

Skaters are phenomenal for developing lower body power in the frontal plane (meaning moving side to side instead of forward and backwards!).         Start by taking a large step to the side with either foot, and as you transfer weight to the foot stepping out life your inside foot and cross it behind the other leg then repeat to the other side.     You can add power and actually jump to the side and for the maximum challenge flex forward at the waist as you land and the hip, knee, and ankle flex to absorb the landing then touch the inside hand to the ground in front of the outside foot.    Here is video:

The get-up is a variation on squatting that looks simple but will really make you work hard.     Start in a tall kneeling position on both knees.    Then pull one leg forward and through placing the foot on the ground in front of the body so the knee is at 90 degrees.   Then step through and up with the other foot so that you are now in the bottom of a squat (do NOT stand up!!!).   Stay low in the squat and then return to the tall kneeling position by pushing back on one leg behind so that you are kneeling on one foot then push the other leg back so you wind up back in the tall kneeling position.   Alternate which leg steps up first and steps back first and get ready to feel that lower body sing! Here is a great video:

For a quick and effective bodyweight circuit do 20 repetitions of each exercise in succession and see if you can finish 4 rounds without a break!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Coaching Proper Running form and Mechanics

Many people chose running as their favorite or only form of conditioning, and 85% of runners say they have been injured while running. Running injuries can be prevented, and "barefoot" running is often presented as a solution to running injuires.  The fact is that proper running is first and foremost NOT just about wearing shoes or not wearing shoes, and simply changing shoes will not correct running mechanics!  

The good news is that there is a highly evolved, easy to understand, and comprehensive approach to understanding, analyzing and coaching proper running that anyone can learn known as the Pose Method.    This system is based on the scientific inquiries of Dr. Nicholas Romanov.   Interestingly despite being the person who developed this approach, which was the impetus for the entire “barefoot running movement”, Dr. Romanov and the Pose Method are not as well-known as some of his followers such as Chris McDougal who wrote the incredibly popular “Born to Run”.  

Dr. Romanov developed the Pose Method based on the painstaking frame by frame video analysis of thousands of runners, and from this analysis he was able to separate running mechanics into two discrete elements:  variable and non-variable.    Non-variable elements are elements that we see EVERY runner use, and in fact there is no running without these elements!   Variable elements are seen in many runners that are not necessary.

Variable elements are not only unnecessary they are the root of the three challenges all runners seek to overcome:   injury, inefficiency (lack of running endurance), and slow running speed (inability to run as fast as you would like).      So one of the keys to proper running is eliminating all the variable elements and improving perception and control of each of the three non-variable elements of running!

The three non-variable elements of running are:  Pose, Fall, and Pull.   When done properly they will prevent injury, helpf people run longer, and help them run faster!  

Pose refers to the stance that occurs while you are supporting yourself on one leg right before you fall from support as your center of gravity moves forward ahead of your base of support.      As stated EVERYONE moves through the Pose stance when they run – the only real question is how they get there?

Heel strikers (about 75 percent of all runners!) land on the heel which is ahead of the center of gravity of the body then have to roll forward to get to the ball of the foot to get to the Pose stance.   This creates several issues including the fact that the natural muscle-tendon elasticity cannot be used to absorb forces so there are 3 times the impact forces travelling through the ankle, knee, hip and back and this is the key reason for the vast majority of running injures!    In addition, heel striking involves braking with every step taken so you are literally fighting your momentum and slowing yourself down with each step by having to overcome this braking action!  

“Fall” is exactly what it sounds like falling forward by shifting your center of gravity forward ahead of your stance leg to the point that you fall forward and must catch yourself by dropping the other foot to the ground.      Falling properly is the basis of all human movement including running, and the angle of your fall is the accelerator and brake for running speed!   The fastest athletes in the world are capable of maintaining the highest fall angle of up to 21.5 degrees for runners like Usain Bolt.

Proper falling is a full-body lean.  Many runners reach/bend their upper body forward ahead of their waist – which is unproductive because it forces the legs to play “catch-up” instead of being synchronized with their Center of Mass/Gravity Movement.   Learning to precisely feel and control body lean is the definitive skill in refining running technique! 

"Pull" refers to pulling your foot from the ground by pulling your heel directly under your hips as you fall forward and let the other foot drop to support.

The timing of this motion within the running cycle is crucial – too late and you postpone your next “fall” from support.   The goal is to minimize the amount of time the foot stays in contact with the ground.   This view of running clarifies two common concerns in running: stride length and cadence.   Both of these concepts are rooted in the notion that running is a leg driven activity involving “pushing” into the ground.  But, in fact, neither determines how fast you run – cadence and stride length are both by-products of how fast you are going which is controlled by your fall angle!

One of the keys to coaching running is to understand that the focus should not be on the act of landing, but on the act of removing the foot from the ground.   Landing is going to happen automatically requiring no focus – you just let the foot drop to the ground after the pull.   The pull is a very simple movement – the hamstrings contract and pulls the foot straight up under the hips, positioning it to drop directly under the center of mass/gravity.  There is no forward movement, no reaching, no driving into the ground.   Done properly there is almost zero vertical oscillation – the head, shoulders and waist should be travelling in a straight line parallel to the ground, not bobbing up and down!
Although having an understanding of the mechanics of running is helpful – it will do little to improve actual running.   The key to improving running form is increasing perception of the Pose, Fall, and Pull, and perception is heightened by doing specific drills for each element.      Also the coach and runner need to have an objective system for evaluating each element over time to insure and document progress.

This is where the Pose Method can be so powerful because it provides a complete system for ongoing evaluation along with drills to refine perception and performance of each phase of running to insure success!  In addition there is a body of research supporting the fact that the Pose Method can and does improve running by increasing running speed, running efficiency, running endurance and most importantly preventing injuries!

Using treadmill can actually exacerbate running problems.   If you take the time to watch people run on treadmills you will find that treadmill runners almost always do three things:   stand fully upright with zero forward lean; land on the heel; land with the heel in front of the body rather than under the hips.    This occurs because the belt moves at the person so to avoid having their feet swept from under them they stand upright and land on heel in front of the body to slow down the movement of the belt.  So we are teaching people to run with improper mechanics proven to create injuries and decrease running performance!

Bottom line: find a Pose Certified Coach to work with you on your running form and spend time focusing on form which is NOT the same thing as just running!   Also an occasional treadmill run is no big deal, but if you want to learn to run you have to run outside or in a space large enough to allow you to Pose, Fall, and Pull!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Fat Loss versus Weight Loss

If you want a specific outcome from a workout and nutrition program the first step is clearly defining the goal and making sure it is relevant to you!  This may seem obvious but the fact is that the majority of people starting exercise and nutrition programs are focused on the WRONG goal: Losing Weight!  There is a significant difference between losing weight and losing fat, and to achieve the aesthetic goal of “looking better” on the beach it is ALL about losing fat. So what is the difference anyway?
Fat takes up much more space than the same amount of muscle and muscle is much denser (feels firmer) than muscle.  In addition muscle burns more calories than fat at rest and this is key.  The reason is that increasing your resting metabolic rate (by having more muscle relative to fat) allows you to burn more calories all day long — even when you are not exercising!
Take a good look at the picture below and you will notice that 5lbs of muscle is much smaller (and denser) than 5lbs of fat.  So if you lose 5lbs of fat and gain 5lbs of muscle your weight will not change, but you will look MUCH better and your body will feel much firmer to the touch — which is goal right?   Notice the picture of the girl at a much heavier weight but looking great because she focused on fat loss and maintaining or even slightly increasing her muscle mass.
So the important take away here is that for the vast majority of people your goal is to lose bodyfat and maintain or gain a little muscle mass.      Anytime you lose a lot of weight quickly one of two things are happening:   you are losing water (which is NOT permanent) or you are losing muscle which is counter-productive!    So your exercise and nutrition program needs to start with measuring your baseline level of bodyfat so you know where you are starting.    Next develop an exercise and nutrition program designed around the real goal – fat loss!   Then measure each month to see if you are heading in the right direction! See our other blog posts with tips and programs you can use to help achieve these goals!