Category: Article Posts

What Fit People Do That You Can Too

I reinstalled my Instagram recently and while it is a great time waster, it is largely useless unless you want to look at pictures of people posing at the gym, food or inspirational memes.  If I didn’t have a business, I simply wouldn’t bother with social media at all.

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However, one thing I do have a lot of on my feed is fitness personalities, and most of them men and women who love to post selfies showing off various body parts.  I’ve written before about how this is not real life and how very few members of the population will ever be able to (or should) achieve a defined abdomen, bulging muscles and be able to look like they could hop onto the pages of a fitness magazine tomorrow.  And frankly, why would you want to put yourself through that type of suffering in order to just look good for some likes on social media?

Then there is the athletic side of the equation.  I’m not talking about your high paid professionals, I’m talking about the average amateur person competing for a national or possibly even Olympic ranking within their respective chosen sport.

They still manage to look incredibly fit and perform at a very high level of athleticism consistently, day in and day out.  Genetics play some part in this, as does guidance from good (and bad) coaches and parents over their lifespan.

There are some things that these people do that brings them success that anyone can do, even if you work long hours and have other things going on in your life (like we all do).  Here’s the trick – follow these little advice nuggets and you too can have an excellent physique, be healthy well into your later years and also do it without losing massive amounts of time for other important things.

They train consistently and make it a priority

At the gym I work out of, there are regulars who come in at least 3-4 times a week like clockwork.  Some of them are well into their 50’s and even 60’s and look fantastic.  You can almost set your watch by the times they come in because it is part of their routine and they obviously prioritize it.

Anyone who looks fantastic or performs at a very high level rarely (if ever) got there quickly.  Olympic athletes train consistently for over ten years before getting to that level.  Endurance athletes usually take about 5-7 years to build a proper base for performance at endurance sports.  Professional athletes have been doing it since childhood.

Even that girl who is doing the photo shoot with airbrushed abs still worked hard 5-6 days a week for a period of many months before taking their clothes off.  There is something to be said for simply sticking to a program day after day and prioritizing effort – this is something that will get results over time.  As my mantra often is, consistency wins the day.

Another thing about these people is that it is high on their priority lists and part of their daily lifestyle.  I know guys with families who get up at 4am to train, work full time jobs and still manage to be home for dinner.  Some people train shorter amounts but 2 times per day.  It is possible if you prioritize it.  Amateur athletes often have at least one job and sometimes two (I had three in college for a time), but still manage to get their workouts in daily.  I’ve written before about time management and this is a prime example of it.

They realize that nutrition is really, really important

Any athlete prioritizes their food and eats for function, not emotional happiness.  They don’t drink alcohol or consume excess sugar as a general rule.  They focus on macronutrient profiles and eating things that aren’t processed and packaged.

While there are times when they will have a good solid meal that isn’t about nutrition, it is the exception, not the rule and probably happens less than once a week and is geared towards either reloading glycogen stores or giving themselves some relief from fanatical eating.  They prepare meals ahead of time and take them to work.  All quite easy things to do – people just don’t prioritize it.  Taking an extra ten minutes in the morning to pack lunch means one less press of the snooze button to most people.

Some fitness people and bodybuilders overdo it on supplements, but sometimes that is necessary for them to hit their macronutrient goals due to time.  What is a better option, getting in the macronutrients you need or skipping a meal altogether?  Food is fuel – and if you put crappy fuel in, then you’re going to get crappy output.  This one piece can make or break a fitness program.

They know that recovery is another component of fitness 

Sleep, taking rest days and listening to your body are all things that any athlete needs to be successful.  Having good habits like going to bed early and keeping to a schedule that sustains your training is a priority.  My clients have programmed rest and recovery days and if they need extra time off, they take it.

Things like massage and even physio or other recovery related appointments can also be important parts of this in order to maintain proper performance.  As long as you are consistent (see point 1) you won’t have to worry about it.  Skipping social engagements (or leaving early) so that you can rest because you need to train in the morning is a good example of this type of prioritizing.  If you want to perform at a high level, you need to be disciplined.

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One classic example I remember was a high level triathlete who used her off day to get a massage and then do her recovery work so she could train hard the rest of the week for 3-4 hours a day.  Recovery doesn’t have to mean doing nothing, it can be doing what you need to do to prepare for the next day.  Again, release work and stretching/mobility movements can be done typically anywhere and takes maybe ten or fifteen minutes at most.  Make it part of the day.

They have a plan and stick to it      

I have a client who is a successful marathon runner who has his plan laid out for the next year and a half, culminating in doing a full Ironman triathlon in 2020.  Sure, his training will get modified along the way and we have many sub goals set between now and then, but the long term plan is in place.

My job as his trainer and coach is to make sure he gets there and performs at a high level.  Your goals might be different but having a laid out path is always better for focus than just going at it without guidance.  You can feel free to change it, but you always need a path to start with.

I can’t count the amount of times people walk into a gym thinking they want to do something and then get confused, lose momentum and then just stop rather than figuring out and planning.  This can be done in four week chunks, expanded to three months, then extrapolated over an entire year quite easily if you have a good coach.

Likely in your profession or business you have annual goals you need to achieve – why not in your fitness as well?  Plan long term and give yourself a realistic view of what you can achieve.  Don’t rush results, because odds are it isn’t going to happen.  A good coach can help with this type of thing.

I only point these things out because people sometimes need perspective.  When you see people who perform well or look fantastic there is a good reason for it, and many of them are right above you on this page.  They didn’t get there overnight, and neither will you.

Anyone can start at any time and make a commitment to themselves to make some simple changes to start going down that path.  Like I always say, it is never too late to get started.  Don’t get discouraged because it doesn’t happen overnight – just remember, that athlete or even that random Instagram person never, ever got there quickly and neither will you.

How to (Re)Start Running for Spring

Ah, spring.  Here in my city of Ottawa we received over 3 meters of snow (that’s 9 feet!) through the winter this year.  Only the most dedicated (or crazy depending on your interpretation) runners were outside in that!

Inevitably what I see every year is a bunch of people who hung up their running shoes when the snow started flying 5 months ago.  Yes, you may have done some short treadmill running during the winter, but odds are that most of you got in about half of the volume you’re normally used to (or less) over that time.  This means that flying right back into a normal schedule when it gets nice outside can be a recipe for disaster.

My business always sees an influx of knee, hip and ankle related issues around May.  Usually because people decided they could go right back to what they were doing five months ago.  And they shouldn’t.

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Want to avoid that?  Here’s some simple tips for getting back into spring for experienced AND new runners:

New Runners:  Start with walk/run

When you run, the main difference from walking is that your body has both feet leaving the ground for a split second (or jumping).  This changes the forces involved from mostly vaulting over stiff knees (walking) to absorbing and stabilizing with a bent knee (running).  Walking forgives things like bad stability much more than running and gives the muscles a much needed break when someone may not have optimal form (as most new runners don’t).

Running requires muscles to absorb and stabilize loads repeatedly.  Just for some perspective, if you’re running a 5k and take 35 minutes, and your gait is 72 foot strikes per minute, that’s over 2500 repetitions each leg and it’s corresponding several dozen muscles has to absorb and control each of them.

As with any exercise, progression is important and adapting to load is as well.  Therefore, one minute of fast walking and then one minute of running is a good start.  You can then build up the time running once you have accomplished step two, which is:

New/Returning Runners: Focus on form at the beginning, not speed or time.

If you’re new or getting back into form, then you may want to work on HOW you are striking the ground at the beginning.  Running should be much more of a forefoot/midfoot strike with a rebound, rather than heel striking.  Are your feet relatively aligned to your hips and knees?  Do your ankles have proper support and balance laterally (side to side?).  Do you have the right shoes, or do you need new ones?  These are all questions to ask yourself when spring hits.

Many times, back when I worked at the Running Room I saw new runners pick up very low stability cushioning shoes and had to caution them away, because at the start you need that extra support until your muscles acclimatize to the forces involved.  And don’t be afraid to spend the money!  (PROTIP:  Find the shoes that work then look online for last years’ model – often they are half price for the exact same thing).

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Returning Runners:  Figure out your weekly mileage goal – then reduce it by 20% to start off.

Often I see experienced runners who have been doing 20km a week during the winter suddenly head outside and start back doing 30-40km per week right away.  Gradual progression is necessary.  If you hadn’t benched more than 150 pounds for several months and then loaded 300 pounds on a bar, your body would not be happy.  Running carries the same necessary progression.

Whatever your goal is (marathon, half, etc.) go to the target weekly mileage and work BACKWARDS.  Then, when you hit the first 2-4 weeks reduce it even more and ease into the mileage.  Risk of overuse injury drops greatly as a result.  You can find good progression programs online just about anywhere – use them.

New/Returning Runners:  Check your ego.

Another big thing I see is far too lofty ambitions too fast.  New runners have a progression – finish a 5k.  Then maybe shoot up to 10k first season.  Next year maybe a ½ marathon is possible if you do it right.  Oh, but my friend did their first half marathon in less than six months of training!  Yes, and now they have tape all over their legs and a standing appointment with a physio.

Experienced runners, you think it’s a good idea to run a ½ marathon in 12 weeks of training just because you did one last year?  Nope.  Be realistic with your intentions and check your ego.  Otherwise you’re on the fast track to getting hurt.  Probably again because you did the same thing last year.  If you don’t have time to train properly, adjust what event you’re doing or lower your time goal/mileage.

If someone comes to me and wants to run a marathon, I’m all for it.  But if you’re new to running you need two years of progressed training to do it properly.  That’s a simple fact and you can ignore the laws of progression all you want, but you will pay for it in the end.

Now, those of you who have been diligent over the winter on the treadmill, these guidelines may not apply.  What I usually tell people when starting to run outside again if they have been inside all winter is to cut back slightly and watch your pace, because this tends to increase when not on a treadmill, plus the added factors of slight inclines and declines can make a difference.  Otherwise have at it and continue your program.

If you want any more information or just want to ask a question you can reach me at strengthrehabottawa@gmail.com or through Facebook or Instagram any time.  Hope you have a fantastic spring – if it ever arrives!

Don’t Rush Back

If you follow sports at all, you know who Lebron James is.  He is likely one of the most athletic and skilled sports figures of all time and has been for over 15 years.  One of the major factors in his long career is that even with among the highest amounts of minutes played in the NBA, he gets injured very rarely.  In fact, in 15 years the longest he had been out due to injury (until recently) was two weeks due to a sore back.

Recently he experienced what has been called a strained groin muscle. This is a common injury for many of us, but especially sports participants who have to do high velocity movement like basketball, hockey and football.  He’s been out of playing or even practicing for 4 weeks and it has just been reported that he will be out likely at least another two.  Suggested recovery time for an injury of this nature is 6-8 weeks so this is right on track.

My point is that this individual has access to the best rehabilitative care in the world.  He has trainers, physios, any therapeutic thing he wants all day every day.  He has access to literally the best of the best.  Yet still he takes a long time to heal from an injury.

Rushing back from hurting yourself is something I see a lot in my practice.  Typically someone hurts themselves and then does about half of what they need to in order to return to their activity and then gets really surprised when the injury either recurs (and is usually much worse) or they hurt something else that is linked to the original injury.

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The typical timeline requires rest, therapy and then slow easing back into movement and activity.  It depends on the severity of the injury obviously, but if one of the most athletic people on the planet still needs 6 weeks to recover from a strain with access to the best therapy in the world, a regular participant has no business returning to activity having done basic physiotherapy and resting for a couple of weeks.

Here are some typical timelines for injuries I see often in my practice (according to the Mayo clinic):

Sprained hamstring:  Grade 1 is 3-4 weeks, Grade 2 is 6-8 weeks.

Herniated Disc in the back:   6 weeks.

Rotator cuff surgery:  4 to 6 months.

ACL surgery in the knee:  6 to 9 months.

Concussion: Anywhere from 2-9 months depending on the severity.

This is also taking into consideration that you are doing all of the things you need to do in order to heal the injury.  Now, I get to help these people after they have completed physiotherapy which usually makes my part of the job much easier – if they have done what they needed to do in physio.

The best way you can help yourself to make sure this doesn’t happen again is:

  • Find a competent therapist (not a cookie cutter hook you up to the machine and walk away therapist).
  • Do your exercises daily (they exist for a reason – you can also do your own homework easily for modifications or progressions).
  • Figure out your new limitations (often after surgery scar tissue will not allow the same range of motion or strength through a range of motion).
  • Find out why it happened in the first place (was it a fluke accident like a fall, or an overuse injury).
  • Strengthen the supporting muscles around the joint as much as possible (this needs to be done with proper progressions and regressions)
  • Re-establish range and proper movement before re-entering the activity (ie don’t rush back – the whole point of this article).

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The injury recovery process can be frustrating to active people but unfortunately, the one thing I can tell you after dealing with hundreds of them over the years is:  if you try to rush, you’ll make it worse.  After all, if elite athletes need to take the time, so do you.  If you take the time now to make things fully better, you’ll be able to enjoy your activity longer and hopefully never have the injury get worse or recur.

If you need any more details or are interested in exploring further, feel free to reach out to me via email at strengthrehabottawa@gmail.com.  I’m happy to help!

Keys to Injury Prevention

My whole business is focused on getting people back to strength after suffering an injury.  Many times when dealing with a new client it would be great if that injury never happened in the first place.  It sounds a bit counter intuitive, but if there were people out there actively trying to work towards NOT hurting themselves it would make my life a lot easier.

So when we look at the basic causes of an injury, it can be boiled down into a few main factors I see constantly.  I would like to address these one by one with the hope that it will allow some of you who might be on your way there (or are quite injury prone) to prevent any recurrence of what you have already done, or also maybe not have an injury happen in the first place.

What does your tissue need in order to be at its peak performance when you shove a bunch of forces through it?  It needs to be able to generate (and sometimes sustain) tension across a wide range of motion so that the tissue that is that last line of defense to prevent injury isn’t adversely affected.

What factors come into play therefore to increase the body’s ability to generate and sustain this tension?

Nervous system engagement

The way muscles fire is part of the autonomic nervous system.  In simple terms, the brain controls muscular movement through firing something called an action potential across a nerve.  This is done in conjunction with the endocrine (hormonal) system.  Therefore, a large part of generating tension in muscles is what we refer to in my world as priming the system.

If you are training for a specific movement, then you should be doing a dynamic warmup to support the main movement that you are trying to practice.  An example would be if you are planning on training explosive power, you would perform something like a jump in order to get the CNS ready for a fast, powerful movement.

What does this mean for the average person who simply doesn’t want to fall down?  Well, a good CNS engagement movement might be as simple as standing on one leg.  It forces the brain and muscular system to adapt to a change in centre of mass and therefore fire muscles in a milder way that will support a larger movement.  There is also a reactionary component that will help the simple movement become more of a reflex than something that must be rehearsed.  In my practice I call this intentional practice.  

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Simple standing can increase CNS potential and “prime” the system.

Blood flow

Any muscle in order to fire properly needs to be hydrated and requires blood to flow through it.  One purpose of a general warm up is to move muscles and increase blood flow, which is also why we move them (dynamic warmup) instead of simply stretching (static warmup).  There are two good supplements to this method.  The first is creating blood flow through pressure or massage to an area.  This can be done simply by massaging an area lightly or using an implement like a stick or foam roller to put pressure across an entire area for increased blood flow.  As a side note, this often also adds a nervous system component to the body.

The second is using isometric contractions.  This means taking muscles through to their end allowable range of motion and contracting them in order to facilitate tension at those end ranges.  Typically, muscles are weakest when they are longest or shortest (with a few exceptions).  I perform these with the help of my ISOPHIT but you can easily do this on your own.

An example of an isometric I use often would be lateral hip movement.  Find a wall, stand sideways to it and lift your leg into the wall and press gently for about 10 seconds.  You will feel a contraction in the hip.  More often than not my clients report after doing this that they are more stable and able to control their movements during the workout.

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An example of a posterior chain isometric on the ISOPHIT.

Control over the range of motion

Ever watched a Cirque de Soleil show or a gymnastic performance?  One thing that any very strong person has master levels of is control over their muscular system.  In my practice, my rule is if you can’t control it, you’re not allowed to do it.  This means that when you first introduce a movement it needs to be practiced at a low rate of speed and focus needs to be made on every portion of the movement.

Any movement can be broken down into component parts, and when dealing with injured tissue often that control aspect is stunted or never existed in the first place.  How you can prevent future injury is to make sure you can perform movements slowly and execute every portion of them.  As I mentioned above, high level gymnasts can perform complex movements incredibly slowly.  Doing things quickly only means that the body often has to cheat in order to achieve a position and if it does this often enough, then it will adapt in that way to work around a weakness.  It’s important for injury prevention to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Use this as your mantra:  Control everything.  Teach your body to move with precision and then when you need it to it will be able to fire properly to prevent the movement you are trying to avoid.

Practice, Practice, Practice

There is a basic principle for any athletic movement called specificity.  It means that whatever you want to be able to do, your training should mimic what is required for that movement.  Want to bench a lot?  You need to bench press and work on the components of a bench press.  Want to be able to jump higher?  Run?  Throw something hard?  These are all things that you need to practice in order to prevent injury while doing the movement.

The one key to this, however, is that most of the practice needs to be sub threshold – or well below the force required for the one individual movement.  You will rarely see high level weightlifters maxing out on lifts.  You will rarely see golfers trying to rip the cover off the ball.  You will see few marathoners running the full marathon distance before a race.  Instead, they work within an allowable range in order to repeat the movement repeatedly without having to worry about the forces involved.

Especially right after an injury, take your loads down to levels far below that which you tell yourself you can tolerate and practice the movements for a while instead.  Make sure they are perfect before trying to ramp up and you will see that you will be able to return to proper form faster and without risk.

 

In summary, these four keys are necessary to reduce and prevent injuries to pretty much anyone.  The good thing is that they are simple to apply and take very little time added to any workout that you might do.  These are things that become gospel to my clients who are looking to recover from a previous injury and prevent future ones.  My goal is to always make sure that injury doesn’t happen again.

Feel free to let me know if you have any specific questions about any of these points and as always, I’m happy to help any of you with injury recovery.  Good luck with your training and rehabilitation!