Sunday, January 29, 2017

Getting Started with TRX Workouts

TRX is the most popular form of “Suspension Training” on the market, and there are a lot of advantages to this versatile exercise system.      It is inexpensive, can be done virtually anywhere, is highly portable, and can be scaled to any fitness level.

That being said, you do need to understand the basics in order to get the most from TRX.  Like any resistance training workout start with the major movement patterns:   Upper Body Push Pattern, Upper Body Pull Pattern, Lower Body Squat or Lunge Pattern,  Ab Curl Pattern, Arm Curl and Tricep Extension.   1 – 3 sets at a controlled pace until you reach muscular failure is all you need to reap the benefits of TRX.    

Before starting any exercise with TRX it is important to make sure you know how to anchor the system safely and adjust the straps for different exercises.     If you have not learned that yet see here: and here:

Once you know how to anchor and adjust your TRX – you are ready to exercise.     There are three key training principles to understand to be able to adjust the intensity of each exercise to match your current ability level.

First is the Vector Principle which refers to your bodyweight versus your body angle.   The higher your body position from ground the easier the exercise, and the lower your body position to the ground the more difficult.     This is easy to change by simply moving your feet closer or further out from the anchor position changing your body angle.     A small movement of the feet can dramatically change resistance and challenge level.

Second is the Stability Principle which states that the more points of contact your body has with the ground and the farther apart your stance the easier an exercise will be.    For example, being on one foot is much less table and therefore much more challenging than being on two feet, and using a narrow stance is less stable than a wide stance so the narrow stance is more challenging.

The third principle is the Pendulum Principle – think of the floor directly under the anchor point as being neutral.    The farther away from neutral (toward you) you are, the harder an exercise will be.  The farther past neutral you are, the easier an exercise will be.

To see and learn more TRX check out their youtube channel at: 

The best way to learn effective use of TRX is spending a few training sessions with a certified personal trainer who knows how to use TRX.   A few sessions of hands on with a trainer is worth many hours of watching videos!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Downhill Skier Exercise

Proper hip hinging technique is critical for the prevention of injuries and being able to perform many exercises properly such as the deadlift, kettlebell swing, and single leg deadlift.       The squat is another primary movement pattern that must be learned to prevent injury and optimize movement.     
There is a great exercise that teaches the relationship between the hip hinge and squat and is a fantastic dynamic warm-up and corrective exercise that can be done every day.     It is called the downhill skier.    

Start by placing the hands palm down on the top of the thighs.    Keep the back straight slide the hands down until the palms are resting on the knees with the hips back like you are a second basemen.      You should begin to feel a stretch in the hamstrings.     

Continue to hinge from the hip forward and slide down until your elbow are resting on the inside of the knees with back straight and hips back like you are a downhill skier.     This will require your knees to track forward over and maybe even slightly beyond your toes (this will generate a stretch in the calf muscles and specifically the single joint soleus muscle).    Keep your heels down the whole time – do not let them lift up off the floor!

Keeping the back totally straight extend the knees as far as possible – you should feel a strong stretch in the hamstrings.  Your hips will rise but keep your elbows on the knees and do not move the upper body!  Then drop the hips, flex the knees and let them move forward over toes as you drop back down to the downhill skier posture.

Start slow but as you get the hang of it you can move faster – as long as you maintain proper form.   Do 30 – 50 reps every day.    You will start to notice that your squat and your hip hinge movements all get easier along with improved mobility in the ankle knee and hip!    Click here for a great video of how to do this exercise properly:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Importance of Movement Tempo in Resistance Training

Tempo is the speed of movement for a resistance training exercise and there are four distinct phases for each exercise.  Tempo directly determines time under tension which is a very important variable in resistance training. 

The first phase is the time spent on the eccentric phase of the movement (where you are lowering the weight and the muscles are lengthening) like when you lower a dumbbell from the top position to the fully lowered position in the bicep curl.  

The second phase is any time spent pausing at the end of the eccentric phase like holding your body an inch off the ground in the bottom of a push-up. 

The third phase is the time spent in the concentric phase of the movement (where you are lifting weight up and muscles are shortening) like when you push up from the ground in a push-up.    

The fourth phase is any time spent at the end of the movement like pausing in the fully contracted position when doing an abdominal crunch.

So tempo for a movement is expressed with four numbers like this 3-0-1-0 which would mean taking three seconds in the eccentric of lowering phase, no pause at the end of the eccentric phase, 1 second for the concentric phase where you lift the weight, and no pause at the end of the lifting phase.

Sometimes this is shortened to three numbers such as 3-1-1 which means lowering resistance for 3, pause for a count of 1 at the bottom of the movement (like the bottom of a squat), and then quickly lift the weight in one second and repeat.

Changing Tempo is a huge tool for preventing plateaus in your workout program because it dramatically changes the stimulus of the workout and directly affects the time under tension.   There are many possibilities but there are several tried and true tempo schemes for resistance training.

Whenever you are having trouble feeling a particular target muscle group in an exercise cut your load and increase your time under tension.   Try taking 4 seconds to lift the weight, brief pause at top without locking out, then lower for 4 seconds and pause briefly at the bottom position:  4-1-4-1.

This slow down creates a lot more time under tension allowing you to feel and control the muscles doing the work to hit your target!

Another great tempo scheme is eccentric accentuated which means slowing down during the lowering phase to 4 – 5 or even up to 10 seconds for big movements.  So a tempo like 6-1-1-1.

Last but not least is pause tempo where you place emphasis on holding the bottom or top of the movement such as the bottom of the squat or top position of a dumbbell lateral raise.      For the squat example tempo might look like this:   4-4-2-0 while for the lateral raise it might look like this: 2-4-2-0

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Why you should skip the bread at the beginning of your meal

Everyone has had the experience of being given bread before a meal at a restaurant, and if it is fresh baked and still warm it is really hard to resist!  If you want to be fit and lean it is best to resist the temptation though.

Most bread is essentially sugar to your body.    There are breads with much higher fiber content and this is big step in the right direction, but most bread is pure starch.     The fact is that, with few exceptions, starches are broken down into sugar very quickly.     This process starts in your mouth where an enzyme in saliva called Amylase immediately starts breaking down starch into sugar (starches are just multiple units of sugar hooked together).      Particularly on an empty stomach at the beginning of a meal you will absorb this sugar very rapidly resulting in a big spike in blood sugar and insulin.

This is not a good thing as shown in study published in the Journal of Diabetes Care.    The study looked at a group of individuals with Type 2 Diabetes (non-insulin dependent diabetes) and had them consume bread as part of two different meals on two separate days.   The meals were identical but the order of when they ate each different part of the meal was changed.

In the first meal, they ate bread and orange juice which are highly glycemic followed by chicken breast and roast vegetables.  Then during the second meal they ate the chicken and vegetables first followed by the high glycemic carbs.    During both meals researchers measured blood sugar and insulin before, during, and after the meals at various intervals.

Average glucose (blood sugar) levels were 28.6% lower at 30 minutes, 36.7% lower at 60 minutes, and 16.8% lower at 2 hours after the meal where the chicken and veggies were eaten first!  The overall glucose response was a whopping 73% lower and levels of insulin where also much lower!

Although this was done with people with Type 2 Diabetes this probably happens with everyone to some extent.   In fact, the average American is on the verge of Type 2 Diabetes due to poor lifestyle habits, and they have a lack of insulin sensitivity that is the precursor of Diabetes.     Lower blood sugar and lower insulin tend to lead to greater appetite control, less creation of fat, and help decrease atherosclerosis (heart disease).

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Single Leg Balance – Exercise and Brain Test!

Standing on one leg and balancing sounds like a pretty simple test, but many people cannot manage to do it for just 20 seconds without holding onto something or touching the lifted foot to the ground to maintain balance!

So who cares right?   Well, a new study published in the journal Stroke suggests that inability to stand on one foot may be the sign of some serious brain issues.   Researchers at the Center for Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University in Japan tested over a 1,000 people (average age 67) to stand with one leg raised and their eyes open for up to 60 seconds. Then – they used an MRI to scan each person’s brain. 

What they found was that those who struggled to balance for 20 seconds had cerebral small-vessel disease (SVD), even though they weren't exhibiting any classic symptoms. SVD is related to stroke, dementia and even Parkinson's. For those who could not complete the 20 seconds, 15% had one micro-bleed brain lesion (30% had two) and 16% had one arterial brain blockage (35% had two.) In addition, those with the shortest balance times tended to have the lowest mental performance scores.

So why the correlation between balance and brain health?  Balance is maintained by three separate systems which work together:  Vision, proprioception (sense of your body position in space) and the vestibular system (inner ear – that senses gravity).  The brain controls all three of these systems.   So any loss of motor coordination, such as the inability to balance for any length of time, could suggest brain damage.

Now that you know maybe you will spend a little more time working on your balance!  We do not know for sure, but it makes sense that working on your physical balance may help to preserve mental function and brain health.