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Natural Running

I get asked on a regular basis about my shoes because all I wear day in and day out is Vibram Five Fingers. As the name implies, these are those silly looking toe shoes you may have seen by now that barely even look like shoes. In the last year or 2 of the 4 years I have been wearing them, the responses to them have changed significantly now that more people at least know what they are and don’t think that I might be walking around in toe socks or some sort of water shoes.

 

The reason I wear these shoes is because it is the best way of allowing our feet to work the way they are supposed to. Most shoes try to do the work that is supposed to be done by our feet, and in turn our feet are weakened and improper movement patterns develop. First off, having a shoe that provides “support” means that you are no longer asking your feet to support themselves- so they get weak. Having a shoe that provides cushion means that you are no longer asking your feet (and the rest of your body) to learn how to absorb shock- so they get weak. Having a shoe with a high top to help prevent your ankles from rolling means that you are no longer asking your lower leg stability muscles to keep your feet and legs aligned- so they get weak. See a trend here? When we ask our shoes to do things that our feet are meant to do, our feet no longer have to do them and therefore the foundation of our body is weakened and every instability that we create at the roots leads to compensations all the way up our trunk and limbs.

 

On my gym’s website I have written a much more in depth analysis of this and provided links to a couple of other sources for more information.So if you want to know more about the specific benefits of wearing “minimalist” footwear, then go here:

http://www.a-wfitness.com/2013/01/22/running-how-nature-intended/

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How important is supplementation?

The key to answering this question is realizing what the purpose of supplements is.  As the name implies, nutritional supplements are meant to SUPPLEMENT your nutrition- not replace it!  Even though there are many great supplements out there that can help, your eating habits are exponentially more important.  Using supplements to make up for a fast food diet is like putting a band-aid on a broken leg!  The only supplements that I recommend for EVERYONE is a good whole food multi-vitamin and a post-workout shake that is tailored to where you are and what your goals are.  There are a number of other supplements I will recommend as necessary, but not until the food intake is improving so that the supplements won’t give false hope that they can out-weigh the poor eating!  If eating frequency is a problem (and it usually is) then I will also recommend a meal replacement shake that fits in with the nutrition plan.

I will do later blog posts about individual supplements, but for now I will address the baseline of all supplements- the multi-vitamin.  First off, all multi-vitamins are NOT created equal!  The common brands such as Centrum and One-a-Day are practically useless because they will pass right through your system with minimal absorption.  This is because most of the ingredients are synthetic (made in a lab!) rather than pulled from whole food sources.  Your body is obviously supposed to ingest vitamins and minerals from food, and when synthetic vitamins and minerals enter the digestive system they are usually not recognized by the body- and therefore they do not get absorbed.  It is also important to only take a vitamin with food to ensure proper absorption.  Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble vitamins, meaning that if they are ingested without a fat source then they cannot be absorbed.  This doesn’t mean you need to eat an excessive amount of fat, even a small amount of fat that you will attain in any meal will suffice.  Eating a meal will also keep the vitamin in the digestive tract for longer and allow more time for it to absorb.

There are many good whole food multi-vitamins out there, but the one I typically recommend is Nature’s Way- Alive (for men and post-menopausal women, use the iron-free version).  I order most of my supplements from Allstarhealth.com because they are the cheapest I have found and are very prompt with delivery.  I have no affiliation with Nature’s Way or All Star Health, so you do not need to go through me to order.

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Should I exercise if I am sick?

This is a question that comes up any time one of my personal training clients gets sick.  The answer depends on how bad the person feels and what exactly is wrong, but here is the general idea… If you are feeling like you are just starting to get sick or like you have something that you can still function with, then there can be benefits to still exercising.  I would not recommend any heavy weights or anything that will require extensive recovery, but getting your heart rate up can help.  Doing cardio or a fast-paced, light workout can slightly raise your body temperature, and in essence kill off harmful bacteria the same way a fever does.  These types of workouts are also not going to overload your body with too much to recover from.  If you do a heavy workout then your body is trying to recover from muscle tissue breakdown at the same time as recovering from illness, and the result is often to speed up the progression of the illness!  If you are sick enough that you can barely function, then I do not recommend attempting to engage in ANY type of exercise, your body needs rest!

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Should I exercise in the morning or evening?

Every personal trainer out there has heard this question!  My answer is that it depends on the person.  Most people who ask me this question do so because they have heard that it is better to work out in the morning, but are not sure why.  The main reason for this is that testosterone levels are at their highest in the morning, because your body produces testosterone as you sleep (Yes, for women too, just in lower quantities!).  As the day goes, testosterone is converted into estrogen or DHT- so testosterone levels go down and estrogen levels go up.  Testosterone has a huge impact on burning fat and building muscle, so it is clearly a good thing to have higher levels circulating during exercise and immediately after exercise when recovery begins and the muscle-building begins.

The problem is, not everyone functions well enough early in the morning to get a productive workout.  All other things being equal, of course it is better to exercise earlier.  But if the choices are to have a lazy, half-hearted work out in the morning or a productive, energized work out in the evening, I will recommend the 2nd option every time.  That being said, one thing to keep in mind is that over time your body will adapt to morning exercise and you may actually become a “morning person”!  Many people will also choose to do their cardio in the morning and weight lifting later in the day- that way they are still energized for their lifting but get a metabolic boost to start the day!  Either way, until you get used to it, you just have to rely on pure will power to stay in the routine long enough to make it a habit!  And you better believe that if I am there next to you that you won’t be allowed to slack off regardless of how tired you are!  Overall, I cannot say that I have personally seen a difference in my client’s results between morning sessions and night sessions.  This seems to only be a small factor in the big scheme of things, because I’ve seen great results from either option.  Whether you workout in the morning, afternoon, or night, the important thing is that you DO workout and workout properly!

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Free Weights, Cables, or Guided Machines

One is not necessarily better than the other two, but each type of equipment has its own advantages and disadvantages.  Free-weights are typically the toughest to control of the three since you have full control to move them in any direction.  This can be a good thing in the right hands, or a bad thing in the wrong hands.  If you are new to weight lifting and are not completely sure how to perform an exercise, free weights will be the most difficult to use properly.  On the other hand, if you are an experienced lifter and use correct form, free-weights will give you the most control to manipulate an exercise for a better result.  Everyone has a slightly different bone and muscle structure, and free-weights allow the user to adapt the exercise to fit them.  For instance, on a chest press machine you can’t adjust the exact line of motion to get the precise angle necessary to target a very specific area of your choice.

Cables are the middle ground between free weights and guided machines.  Cables give the user control, but not quite as much as free weights because they will always pull back to the same point.  One advantage of that is being able to change the direction in which the weight is pulling from.  Where a free weight will obviously always be resisting downward because of gravity, the user can choose the location that the resistance comes from with a cable.

Guided machines can be helpful for a beginner to learn how to perform an exercise, but can also be harmful.  Machines are typically easier to use, but require very little control from the user.  But more importantly- since machines usually only allow a set motion, the user can push or pull at an incorrect angle and never know it since the machine will still move the same way.   This can lead to unnecessary stress being placed on the muscles of the rotator cuff, and can lead to a variety of injuries.  There are still plenty of reasons to use these machines, but it should never be assumed that form is any less important on a machine than on free weights or cables!  I usually have beginner clients learn an exercise on a machine, and progress toward cables and free weights shortly after.  Even for advanced users there is still a place for machines in a workout routine though, especially isolation routines.  Variety is very important in any workout program, and when working only 1-2 body parts in a single workout it can be helpful to use machines later in the workout when control is dwindling.

Clearly there is a place for all types of equipment, you just have to know how and when to use them!

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Isolation Exercises vs Full Body Exercises

There is no right or wrong answer here, it depends on the person, the goal, and the amount of time available.  If done correctly, isolation exercises have the most potential to build muscle- but even though this type of routine will typically only include working a couple of body parts per day, more days of working out per week are needed and more cardio sessions will be necessary.

Exercise programs based around full body exercises will burn more calories during the workout, but will make it harder to develop individual body parts that are under-developed.  On these exercises, it is common for the strongest body parts to take over and the weakest body parts to do very little.  Thus the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker!  However, if time is a major limitation, full body exercise might be the only way to burn enough calories to ensure weight loss.  When doing full body exercises one after another, you are in essence doing weights and cardio at the same time.

In the long-term though, either exercise program can lead to weight loss because the more muscle you build, the more calories your body naturally burns all day long.  On average, every pound of muscle you build will burn about 50 calories per day.  That means if you gain 10 pounds of muscle over the course of a couple months, you will end up adding 500 calories per day to your metabolism!  That’s like doing a long cardio session every single day without ever actually having to set aside time for cardio (I still recommend doing some cardio anyway though for heart health, which will lead to even more calories being burned)!  If you’re not sure which program is right for you and how to design/execute each program, call or email me for a free assessment!

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One-Size-Fits-All Exercise Program?

I’m sorry to say that there is no such thing.  The first thing that every personal trainer learns (hopefully!) is that what works for one person may not work for another!  There are definitely many elements of exercise that remain consistent in any exercise program, but each program needs to be tailored specifically to fit the person following it.

That is why it is essential to only create a program AFTER a comprehensive body alignment evaluation.  Over years of repetitive movements, every person’s body learns to move a little bit different.

This can be caused by good or bad posture, the use of high heeled shoes, extended periods of sitting at a computer (and just generally how you sit and how much you sit!), injuries, etc.  The list could go on forever, but the point is that everything you do has an effect on how your body moves.  A well-done assessment should diagnose which muscles are over-active and need to be lengthened, and which muscles are under-active and need to be strengthened.  Once a program has been tailored to fit your body, your body will soon be properly aligned and ready to be much more efficient!  This will speed up your results, prevent injuries, and help eliminate neck, back, and joint pain that causes your body to be stiff and hold onto stress!

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Form over Force

Always remember that how you perform your exercises is much more important than which exercises you choose! Most people who have trouble developing certain body parts will just look for different exercises to do and wonder why the results never improve. Without proper posture and body alignment, you will continue to bang your head against the wall with every exercise you try!

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