I know this might be a bit early, but in three weeks it is 2016 and a whole new set of people will be undertaking new fitness goals. The first thing I need to mention is that in the fitness world there tends to be a lot of elitism, and I’ve already seen the “resolutionist” memes going around Facebook. The fact we even have a nickname for new exercisers says it all.
With society the way it is and a massive obesity epidemic, we should all play our own part in not only helping these people get into fitness, but keeping them around as long as possible. See – you’ve already swallowed the pill of fitness, but you are in the vast minority. Over half the population doesn’t exercise at all, and only about 10% regularly (meaning 3x a week and sustained for over six months) because it just isn’t on their radar and never has been. But something is going to drive them into a gym (besides marketing hype) very soon. And for some reason many of them stop after a few weeks.
I want to keep them there. I want to have thousands of people NOT stop working out after six weeks and get healthier. Then hopefully some of those people can inspire others to get started, and snowball effect takes place and boom, no more obesity. Pipe dream? Maybe. But we can all do our part to help keep as many around as possible.
So here’s a list of ways as “fitness people” we can all help make sure that whomever you know who is getting started stays at it long term and gets to the state that you’re in: loving exercise and feeling a ton better.
STOP GIVING ADVICE AND GIVE SUPPORT INSTEAD
Your friend/co-worker/spouse knows you’re a fitness person. It’s probably obvious when you talk about what you did on the weekend or take off your jacket. Our instinct as soon as someone outside of our world wants to jump in is to tell them what worked for us, which simply may not be what would motivate or work for that person. Don’t tell them to start running five times a week for weight loss, or start deadlifting like you do. They are likely getting it from multiple sources and it can be not only confusing but overwhelming. People don’t change overnight.
The simplest thing is to say “awesome news!” and if they ask questions tell them what worked for you, but also let them know what you went through in order to arrive at that conclusion. Hopefully they will figure out something for themselves. If they went to the gym that morning, give them a high five and leave it at that. Let them know that it took you as a fitness person a long time to get to where you’re at and if they want to get support, you’re there but don’t overdo it.
And please don’t suddenly become a personal trainer and offer to work out with them and show them everything you do. Swallow your pride and tell them if they need it to hire a professional. You probably did too.
ASK WHAT THEIR ANNUAL GOAL IS
Typically the first few weeks as a new exerciser is confusing and tough. It is a new thing to fit into your schedule, you have no idea what you’re doing and are nervous every time you step into a facility. As a method of support, ask them where they want to be at the end of the YEAR. Not next month. Again, I’m trying to reinforce the long term aspect of this for sustainability.
Another way to motivate them might be “you know, I signed up for a Spartan Race in June – you should think about it” or “Hey, I’m thinking about doing the Army ½ marathon in September so I started training for the 10k in May”. Let them know how long it takes to achieve things. By next Christmas, where do they want to be? With any luck it will trigger the need to sustain what they are doing.
INTRODUCE THEM TO YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK
We all have one. Maybe you have a trainer you really like and have gotten great results from. Maybe you get amazing recipes from a web site you love. Maybe you subscribe to a message board you got a lot of support from. Maybe they could sub in on your winter ultimate team and see how much fun group sports can be. Introduce them to someone they see you talking to at the gym.
One of the hardest things any person can do is walk into a gym for the first time, and if they approach you and just need a friendly face, don’t get upset that they interrupted your third set of squats. Take a longer rest break and chat for a bit, even if you’re there to work hard. It won’t kill you or your gains.
SHOW THEM WHAT OPTIONS THERE ARE
Some people just aren’t gym people, and that’s fine. The world of health literally has unlimited options. I have a client whose husband is a World Champion in Skijoring, which is like sled dogging on a bicycle and sounds totally awesome (and I had never heard of it). Whether it’s pole dancing, skating, weightlifting or aquafit, the fact that people are moving at all is really great.
So maybe your person seems to feel like the gym isn’t for them. You probably have a friend who does something else cool that you can tell them about. Even as kids we all either played individual or team sports and that rarely changes as an adult. Ultimate Frisbee might not work, but then racquet sports might. Plus the challenge of learning something new is always fun.
PLAY NICE IN THE SANDBOX
This final one is for all of the people who complain about the “clutter” in the gym in January. Instead of thinking that “these people” are doing something wrong, change your attitude. Smile at them. Offer to let them work in on whatever you are using. If you see someone looking lost offer to help them. Be nice. Once, you were probably that person (I know I was).
Remember, these people are probably watching everything you are doing because you’re the fitness person and they want to get there. Being nice to newcomers can go a long way in getting them to stick around and feel like part of a community. CrossFit boxes are fantastic at this because they are usually totally inclusionary and that’s how they retain people. And those people make progress, at least far more than they would on the couch at home.
Sometimes a simple “hey, are you new here” and an offer to help can go a long way. Be nice.
If you liked this, please share it around and take it to heart. I’m not just writing this for fitness people, by the way. If you are thinking about stepping into a gym for the first time, please don’t be intimidated. There is a world of options out there and a lot of really good people and support for you.
My other advice is also don’t wait until January and just get started now, but that’s a whole other article.
Feel free to follow, share and like this and until next time make sure if you see someone in January you help them out!
This was inspired by a client of mine who wanted to restart yoga after a bad back injury.
What if, as a trainer I told you that we were going to do an exercise that did the following:
I want you to lengthen out your posterior chain as much as you can, throw both of your shoulders into extreme extension, put yourself into spinal flexion (even if you can’t properly tilt your pelvis) and stretch out your hamstrings and calves as far as they can go (thereby also yanking hard on your sciatic nerves) – oh, and do it while loaded with up to 70% of your body weight, and the load increases the further you get into the exercise. So for a 150 pound female that would mean their shoulders and knees are loaded in extension with up to 105 pounds on their spine and other joints.
Does that sound like a good idea for anyone, let alone people recovering from injury?
The funny thing is, people in yoga classes do this almost every day. It’s called a downward dog.
Now, before the yoga community absolutely freaks out and starts thinking I’m bashing the movement, I’m not. All I’m doing is providing a practical analysis of what people are required to perform to get into this position. I’ve had a client recently with severe back issues try to get back into yoga and the one movement she had immense trouble with (not surprisingly) was this one. I’ve also attended yoga courses where thankfully the instructors were aware of the limitations of this movement and realized that not everyone should perform a downward dog – in fact several of my most respected colleagues actively discourage it since they have realized what it does.
On the flipside I’ve also been to yoga classes where the instructors did absolutely NOTHING except for sun salutations over and over again. You can guess which class I didn’t go back to.
“BKS Iyengar, one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world asserts that this asana stretches the shoulders, legs, spine and whole body; builds |strength throughout the body, particularly the arms, legs, and feet; relieves |fatigue and rejuvenates the body; improves the immune system, digestion and blood flow to the sinuses, and calms the mind and lifts the spirits.” (ripped from Wikipedia) – and it does all of these things.
But what people need to realize as a whole is that some movements that you perform in a typical yoga class are very hard forceful strength movements. Simply because it is packaged as something healthy and therapeutic doesn’t mean that it is. Just like any other type of exercise, it needs to be tailored to the person participating in it. A 200 pound deconditioned person has absolutely no business getting into this position and here’s why:
Here’s what people need to be able to do into order to successfully perform this movement:
Put your arms overhead fully or even behind the torso while internally rotated. This requires a healthy rotator cuff complex, the rib cage to be able to move and the shoulder blade to be able to move with proper rhythm. One loaded movement I often have clients do to test this area is a loaded shoulder extension (think a front raise but over the head with a cable) at various angles in order to engage the entire shoulder complex.
Hinge the hips with proper pelvic movement so that the lower spine isn’t flexed forward putting strain on the lower spine with load – while it’s flexed. Think loaded Romanian deadlifts, and even things like good mornings (I have a bias against these because of where the load is placed but whatever). Just because your hands and feet are on the floor doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of pressure going through the lower spine in this position.
Fully extend the knees and dorsiflex the ankles as much as possible – general limits here are thought to be 30 degrees but most people have much, much less than that. Generally here in a squatting position I look for the ability of the knee to travel forward properly and therefore dorsiflex the ankle. Can you squat low? Or does your person have longer legs relative to their torso? Are they recovering from a knee issue that might be contraindicated to full knee extension (like a meniscus injury?).
There can be many restrictions in this area and it also has the highest risk of issue due to the excessive load people will put on their knees in order to force themselves into a straight legged position. The restriction might also come from hamstrings, calves or somewhere else, not even the ankle.
So here’s my question: Can or should you do all of these things and hold them for time? No? Maybe this movement isn’t for you.
What people need to realize is that even though it is relaxation based and supposedly “stretching”, yoga is still force on joints. Sometimes a lot of it. Another common flaw of the downward dog is that people will generally run away from weakness. This means that if they are weaker in the shoulders and have trouble there they will dump more load into their lower body in this position. If they are weaker in the lower half they may dump more load into their upper body. I have seen this often in classes. And it can cause a serious problem if suddenly the load shifts by 20-30% into the wrong area suddenly due to a weakness somewhere else. However, due to the nature of the position there isn’t any way to get out of it. Except for compromising by say, lifting your heels or bending the knees or even elbows to put load elsewhere.
So what are some good modifications? Well, like in any other loaded position if you can take the load off a bit, then the person can attempt the range of motion without the excessive joint force. For example, a person with good shoulder mobility but poor posterior chain range and pelvic movement might want to perform a simple hip hinge with their shoulders extended and brace their upper body against something. Prenatal classes often recommend this.
Another option might be to intentionally elevate the heels and bend the knees as I expressed earlier. You can also bend only one knee or alternate sides. For less force on the arms and shoulders, lower the body and rest the forearms on the ground. These are all modifications that can easily be suggested in a class but often aren’t. During a busy class most instructors just don’t have the chance to go around and suggest individual modifications to people.
Or here’s a thought – don’t do it. There are ways to work up to this movement, just like any other yoga movements but so many people make the mistake of jumping in and following along, and then wonder why they are sore the next day and never want to go back.
The good news is that with my modifications to her positions and telling her to skip downward dogs my client successfully navigated two yoga classes and has been able to get back in touch with something she previously enjoyed but couldn’t do.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of yoga. I’m a fan of anything that keeps people moving, enjoying loaded positions to develop strength and will over time develop additional range of motion. I’m also a big fan of the relaxation side of the practice and allowing people to be in a parasympathetic state, even if it is only for five minutes at the end of class in savasana. It’s something most people should do a lot more of. The reason I’m writing this is to make sure that if you are about to jump back into yoga because you think it is a good way to ease into exercise again – it might not be depending on the class.
As always, if you have comments feel free to comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck with your future practices!
As a trainer and coach I tend to read a lot of stuff written by other successful trainers and coaches in order to try to make me better at my job. Throughout the years there has been one main theme I have seen that I thought I’d point out to the rest of you, trainers and potential clients alike.
Newer trainers and coaches tend to think they need to reinvent the wheel in order to make themselves more marketable or stand out among the crowd. They try whatever the latest fad trend is with the hopes that it will cause the client to be impressed. Eventually (with any luck) they realize that a coach is only as good as their results. Doing something showy and flashy in order to create a temporary response is usually a sales tactic – anyone can push someone really hard, as I wrote about previously HERE.
This means whatever the client goal is they need to be working towards it and making constant improvement. For my strength clients, this is being able to generate more force or move more weight. For my running clients it is being able to run greater distances, faster or both. If you coach a sports team, then they should be increasing their skill levels at whatever position they are performing in and also hopefully using that to win games.
So what is the key? Throughout history of successful coaching, it really comes down to one word: fundamentals.
Successful coaches can make people better at things that they should already be doing well. For a strength coach, this can mean the basic lifts like squatting, deadlifting, pulling and pressing. For an athletic coach this can mean things like power, agility and coordination. For my runners, it means being more efficient with every foot strike, which in some cases means starting over again at the beginning.
Throughout the sports world, high level athletes will tell you that they spend hours upon hours practicing fundamentals. Basketball players practice foul shots. Cyclists ride their bikes for hours a day. Swimmers swim lots of laps. Baseball players take batting practice daily for hours. Often this has no major goal beyond building the fundamental mechanics or strength they need in order to improve.
Just two months ago I started working with a post surgery client who had recovered but had shin splints daily. When her basic walking gait was corrected and she started to use the proper muscles again the shin splints disappeared. The same thing tends to happen for back issues when the person learns how to deadlift and squat properly. Some trainers would call this “correcting an imbalance”. I’d rather call re-educating the client (and their tissue) on something they already know how to do.
Your body is a very smart thing. It learns based on the input it is given. As I always say, crappy information IN means that you will generally get crappy information OUT. If you overwhelm your nervous system from the get go it doesn’t have a chance to adapt and make improvement. This means spending weeks (for some people) practicing simple things until they have them down.
So what are the fundamentals? Well, it really depends on the person. For some people, walking properly is hard enough. Throw in a few activities of daily living like sitting down, picking things up and climbing stairs and they might be done. I’ve had to reteach these things to hundreds of people over the years, and more often than not when they are practiced and put into place little painful issues tend to resolve very quickly. Same with high level performers. Often with my athletes they simply need to be coached on how to perform a movement they have forgotten how to do properly. This can be as simple as a squat (for a powerlifter) or as complex as an ankle mobility movement for a soccer or football player.
Most movements can be broken down into basic primal movement patterns, which is echoed by both movement gurus and athletic trainers alike. Deadlifting. Pushing and pulling. Spinal flexion, extension and rotation. This is generally what 95% of my clients start with, even if it is completely de-progressed like a basic box squat within a range of motion their hips, knees and ankles can perform at without deviation.
In fact if you’re a reader of fitness magazines, you can see this plain as day. Any program that tells you how to get a BIG LEGS has a squat in it. BIG CHEST means lots of bench pressing. Not a one armed dumbbell press on a Swiss Ball. Stick to fundamentals and you are guaranteed to see progress. Another of my mantras is that you EARN THE RIGHT TO DO MORE. This means if you can’t do something basic you have no business doing a progressed version of it. Most high level coaches adhere to this.
If you have run into a coach or trainer who tells you that you need to perform some sort of elaborate system in order to improve a simple movement, maybe you should think twice. There’s a time and a place for breaking down movements to isolate weak points, but it should not be the primary focus of any workout. There always needs to be a goal, and in my opinion that goal should be centered around the fundamentals.
So the next time you read about some amazing NEW system that is going to explode your gainz please put down whatever article you’re reading (unless it’s mine) and go deadlift. Or do some pullups. It’s probably what any decent coach would tell you to go and do anyway.
Recently I was asked if sitting on a Swiss Ball at work was a good idea for the average office worker. The theory behind this whole phenomenon is that if you sit on the ball you will be forced to maintain proper posture and it will “strengthen your core”. Let’s explore the history of the Swiss Ball and see if this really holds any water.
In a nutshell, a woman named Joanne Poser-Mayer began to instruct physical therapists in the use of these things for rehabilitation purposes in 1989. From the Canadian Physiotherapy web site:
The power of stability ball training and its importance to core strength cannot be underestimated. Various muscles contract to help produce movement, balance the body, stabilize the spine and hold the body in a safe, neutral position. All of these muscles working together reduce the compression that contributes to disc degeneration.
The words “cannot be underestimated” really fly out at me. I can get into all sorts of discourse about this statement, but the underlying fact I’m illustrating is that Swiss Balls came from physiotherapy modalities. Now thanks to athletic trainers and practitioners they have morphed into this ridiculous following where people claim that doing things on an unstable surface makes it “better” because your body has to work harder to achieve the movement on an unstable surface. Again, from the web site:
Sitting on stability balls both within and outside a fitness environment has been found to be highly effective in engaging the core muscles. And since most of the body’s movements are initiated and supported with the core muscles, good back health is ensured.
Well, that’s a bit of a blanket statement, isn’t it? Good back health is ENSURED.
So here’s a simple statement I’m going to make and hopefully you understand where I’m coming from:
If your body can’t engage muscles properly while it is in a supported state (ie on a solid surface like the floor or a chair) what makes you think it’s going to be able to do it on an unstable one?
Most people when they are at work exhibit poor posture, mostly as a function of what they have to do all day. I’m going to sit (taking tension away from things like hamstrings and glutes), put both hands internally rotated, lean forward slightly and put my head down – all day. This, to be blunt, sucks for your body. We do this for 40 hours a week or more and wonder why at the end of five years our body defaults into being internally rotated, leaning forward and weak in all of the muscles that we don’t use. Then we also wonder why, when we want to do something that is externally rotated, requires firing of your posterior chain and support from your lower back (like a LOT of stuff) the body protests.
Much of what I do especially with office workers is getting their muscles to be stronger to fight against the tug of war that we encourage with our poor work environments. This also includes things like standing desks, moving around more during the day and even changing position entirely. Being aware of how you’re sitting all day is important as well. As is having a proper strength program to work on the muscles that don’t take a lot of load for many hours a week so they don’t become deconditioned.
So what’s the answer? Well, it isn’t sitting on a Swiss Ball at work. If you have poor posture (which is forced and a function of the equipment you need to use) sitting on a surface that has less support isn’t going to make it better, it’s just going to tire out the muscles faster that are already either overworked or weak. Then your poor unsupported body is going to be even more tired and sore from working harder than it needs to.
By the way, this also applies to squatting, bicep curls and shoulder presses. If you are doing this on a BOSU or sitting on a ball, stop wasting your time and learn how to do it well with both feet on the ground please. Too many times I see poor clients being treated like circus animals by trainers who want them to “feel their core”. News flash: most of these trainers don’t even know what a “core” is.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big advocate of core strengthening. They’re called deadlifts. Squats. Pullups. Things that require the spine to hold tension under load. Things with spinal rotations, extension, bracing and flexion that involve more than one part of the body moving. I’m willing to bet that if you can become strong enough to pick up your body weight then you’re not going to have a problem with your lower back. And I’ve applied this over and over again. Funny enough, it works.
So as you navigate this fitness world, remember that trends come and go. Trust things that have been proven to work over time. As always, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to reach out.