Tag Archives: exercise

Help Prevent Shoulder Injuries With This Simple Move

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There are exercises we do because they make us stronger overall or because they help us move better. We might choose one because we want to build particular muscles for aesthetic reasons. Those are all perfectly legit.

But there are a few movements I include in my clients’ training and my own because they not only help us get stronger – they help our bodies keep from breaking down.

The older I get, the crankier my body seems to become if I don’t give it some TLC on a regular basis. I’ve had shoulder injuries before and they feel terrible. The best advice I can give you is to prevent one from happening in the first place.

Here’s an exercise I keep in my arsenal for shoulder health as well as upper back development: the face pull.

The face pull is a funny name for an excellent movement that helps keep your shoulders functioning well and less likely to become injured. The shoulder joint is something rather miraculous. It’s a ball-and-socket joint and allows us to move in all sorts of directions.
scoi-shoulder
 
However, with all of that movement we can run into trouble if we don’t work on strengthening the muscles that stabilize the joint. And if you’re a gym rat like I am, it also helps balance out all that pressing work we do each week.  
 
The big players in shoulder health are you scapulae – your shoulder blades. They attach at your shoulders and in your rib cage, and you might say they’re kind of a big deal. Many muscles move those big plates on your back, including your rotator cuff muscles, your traps, serratus anterior, and rhomboids. 
 
What you need to know is that it’s not so much just that you’re making those muscles strong to stabilize your shoulder joint: your shoulder blades need to be able to move appropriately in many directions. 
 
Some people talk about just doing more pulling exercises like rows to balance out pressing work. But first of all, I’ve found that my lats tend to do much of the work when I do rows and smaller, stabilizing muscles like my traps, rhomboids, and serratus anterior don’t have to work as hard as they should in order to keep my shoulder blades moving well. 
Additionally, many pulling exercises still call on our scapulae to rotate downward, just like those pushing movements do.  That’s why it’s important to also find exercises that encourage upward rotation as well. 
 
So we do things like the face pull. Want to learn how to do it? Read on.
 

You can do face pulls seated or standing. Seated might be even better, and I’ve seen my own coach, Jordan Syatt, do them this way. But everyone in my gym stole the benches so I had to stand. Jerks

You’ll need a cable machine with a rope attachment for these. Here’s what they look like:​

 

The Beginning of the Pull:

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The End of the Pull 
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Top Tips:

1. Grab the rope with your thumbs up and avoid twisting you arms inward. Your palms will be facing each other. This feels comfier to me and it allows for a greater range of motion. 

2. Set your starting point of the cable at around the height of your head. 

3. Aim to keep your elbows at around shoulder height as you pull back. 

4. I think about letting my shoulder blades pull back here to make the movement happen – not my head moving forward. Watch for the rep in the video where I catch myself doing it. Ooops

 
5. To get this movement to happen more naturally, imagine that you’re pulling the rope apart. 
 
6. Allow yourself time to feel the “squeeze” as you pull back before controlling the movement back to your starting position. 
 
7. While you do this exercise, imagine that you’re keeping your shoulders away from your ears so that you don’t get into a “shruggy” position. 
 

How Much and When to Do Them

This isn’t a “1 rep max” kind of exercise. It makes a good drill or a nice exercise to finish out a workout using relatively light weight for higher reps. 

Try 3 sets of 15-20 reps for stronger back and shoulder muscles that keep your shoulders happy and healthy. 

 
If you’d like to see this move in action, here’s a video demo. Enjoy! 

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Is Cardio Good or Bad For You?

sweatybettyIf you follow fitness media, you’ll see that when it comes to recommendations for exercise and nutrition, there rarely seems to be middle ground. This is particularly true with mainstream popular media: after all, bold, urgent-sounding declarations often get us to click the link, open the magazine, or stay tuned after the commercial break.

I mean, what would you be more inclined to click?

Running on the treadmill is making you fat!

OR

In this 2008 study, researchers found that with 10 untrained collegiate women, strength training alone vs. cardiovascular exercise alone induced a statistically significant percentage of body fat dropped over a 6 week period. However, another study, published in 2009, found that in fact, outcomes were similar in the two groups given an additional intervention of…

By the way I just made that last one up. But you probably barely made it through reading it. Maybe you even glanced away from the screen or opened up Instagram to look at some cats. I don’t blame you.

instagramcat

Simple, direct answers appeal to us. But if you can come away with anything today, please understand that in fitness, a truthful explanation is very often “it depends”.

To make matters worse, fitness professionals often cling to the latest piece of research that emerges. They fail to fully evaluate studies or weigh new research within the greater scope of existing evidence. This is partly because reading all of that research is a huge pain in the ass. What unfortunately results is a pendulum that swings wildly from one extreme to the next.

Cardio is a perfect example:

Cardio burns the most fat!
Cardio makes you fat!

I know, that’s aggravating. But it’s what happens. Fear not, however, because I can untangle some of the mystique around cardio and give you advice. So buckle up and read on. I’ll try to make this almost as pleasurable as a Ryan Gosling meme. Hey girl, hey.

ryangosling

What Cardio Is
Cardio, i.e. cardiovascular exercise, is simply exercise that is rhythmic in nature, is continually maintained (instead of short, intense work/rest intervals),  works large groups of muscles, and elevates your heart rate to a degree that it improves increased use of oxygen in order to improve the body’s capacity of the cardiovascular system.

Clear as mud?

Your body uses different energy pathways to get stuff done. Certain kinds of exercise utilize particular pathways. Cardio uses the aerobic energy pathway.

That’s not very freaking useful either, is it? Instead, let’s talk about what’s important:

What cardio does:
it makes your heart work better, strengthens your bones (if you choose weight bearing exercises like walking), and burns calories. There are other benefits too, but that’s the basic gist.

Stuff that we do that is typically “cardio”: activities like running, walking, swimming, or dance cleaning for starters. (Don’t mock me, it’s my favorite cardio option).

Workout

What Often Gets Played Out
Two opposite types often show up at the gym:

The cardio bunny:
this term is kind of sexist. Ok, it’s really sexist, because I see plenty of dudes toiling away on the elliptical for hours too. But these people believe that they must do tons of cardio to unlock their next achievement. They also often equate a good workout only with total calories burned: sounds like a drag to me. But the term is also used by smug gym rats who post too much on Instagram. So that alone makes me want to go for a jog sometimes.

The powerlifter: I had an old school powerlifting vet come up to me once and caution me to not do any cardio. He warned that I might lose my muscle. Yeah, not so much. It takes a lot of time spent doing cardio to negatively impact muscle growth and strength performance. There is some truth to this idea, but my few walks I do each week are only helping my overall performance, not harming it.

As evidence emerges, we’ve found that cardio doesn’t actually reign supreme when it comes to fat loss. 1 Can you lose fat doing only cardio? It’s possible. Fat loss happens when you burn more calories than you take in. But unless you’re also controlling your food intake, you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot of cardio to create a significant calorie deficit.

Moving Beyond Cardio
Cardio burns calories. Yet it doesn’t build muscle the way that some other forms of exercise can offer, especially strength training.

But why care about building muscle, you ask? We care because having more muscle makes fat loss easier. I’ll avoid a long, sciencey explanation and boil it down to this: more lean muscle improves your metabolism. Strength training reigns supreme for building muscle. Metabolic conditioning relies on large muscle groups doing intense work as well, offering some strength benefit as well as torching calories by working at intense pace. The loads are typically less than what we use for strength training, total training time is relatively short, and rest intervals are often incorporated so that work can be harder in effort than what we do with aerobic exercise. 2

The fitness bandwagon has also veered heavily toward favoring strength and high intensity exercise for fat loss because of a mechanism called “EPOC”, or exercise post-oxygen consumption. It just refers to calories you burn AFTER you stop exercising. Strength training and metabolic conditioning have a higher rate of EPOC than cardio. However, the benefit has been somewhat overblown. But that doesn’t stop people from screaming that cardio is now useless for fat loss.

Side note: if you’re doing “HIIT” for 45 minutes, you’re actually doing cardio. The intensity of metabolic conditioning or high intensity intervals can’t be sustained for a long time. Also please, for the love of God, stop calling things Tabatas. You’re not doing a Tabata. I promise. 

Michelle Obama Arms and the Fat Loss Plan

michelleobamaarms

Most clients who come to me with a fat loss goal say they want to lose fat but they also mention that want to change how their body looks. I call this the “Michelle Obama Wish”, because I’ve had several clients mention her arms as something they want. I can’t blame them. The First Lady has some sweet looking guns. She is strong!

If we just lose fat by burning calories and reducing calories, we’ll typically look like a smaller version of ourselves. This is neither good nor bad. But if it’s muscular definition you’re after, get thee to a weight room on a regular basis.

Can You Lose Fat With No Cardio?
Yes. But I don’t recommend eliminating it entirely. Read on to learn why. 

So Why Bother With Cardio?
Because it’s good for you, that’s why. Like eating your vegetables. It also helps you move better, be able to get through tasks like climbing a flight of stairs more easily, and it feels awesome. It’s a huge mood booster! It floods us with endorphins that feel pretty fantasic. It also burns extra calories. If you’re trying to lose body fat, you can use it to boost your calorie deficit.

Also note: going hard with intense strength training and metabolic conditioning cannot be a daily thing for most people. You need rest to recover and build muscle. Light to moderate intensity cardio is a wonderful way to get in some extra activity without burning out.
It’s also restorative: when your muscles are sore and tight, go for a walk. You’ll feel better.
TL;DR: Cardio isn’t the end all be all. It’s also not going to get in the way of your progress, whether it’s fat loss or making gainz in the weight room. Just use it appropriately.

My Recommendations
Evaluate your current use of cardio this way:
-Am I using it mostly as a calorie burning tool? If so, am I using it excessively to attempt to overcome a diet with excess calories, or am I using it to give myself a boost?

-Do I actually like my activity? If not, then why am I doing it?
-Does it move me toward a particular goal? If so, why and how?

The amount we do, the number of days we do it, and the mode we choose is variable: we just have to figure out why we’re using it in the first place and the other pieces will fall into place.

Want an approachable yet scientifically sound approach to fat loss? Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll give you my free book Fat Loss on a Budget. Look for it in your inbox! 

 

Notes:

  1. Bryner RW, Ullrich IH, Sauers J, Donley D, Hornsby G, Kolar M, Yeater R. Effects of resistance vs. aerobic training combined with an 800 calorie liquid diet on lean body mass and resting metabolic rate. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 1999 Apr;18(2):115-21.
  2. Talanian, Galloway et al. Two weeks of High-Intensity Aerobic Interval Training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women. Journal of Applied Physiology (December 14, 2006).

What Fit is the Best Fit for Beginners? Here’s the Truth.

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What workout should you do to get into shape? What’s the BEST way to burn fat/get strong/become a ninja? Have you asked yourself this? Chances are, if you did, you dug around a little bit. You read some magazine articles. You saw blurbs on Facebook. You asked your friend, who might have raved about her own workout.

It’s likely that when we ask this question that the answers will be all over the place. The answers usually don’t have the most important piece of the equation: you.

Here’s the thing: yes, there are more optimal ways and less optimal ways to go about burning fat if you’re talking about the very most efficient way to go about that task. The same goes for getting stronger or faster. But we get so bound up in the variables of fitness that sometimes we never start. That can also lead us to take on someone else’s vision of what a workout program looks like instead of allowing ourselves to find our own fit.

After I had my third son I was really out of shape. The task of moving again felt monumental. When I finally decided to do something about it and get into the weight room, I wasted weeks because I read way too many articles. Every resource I read had a different take on the best course of action. I had information paralysis, so I sat on my ass for even longer.

As a trainer, I now spend a lot of time in Facebook groups devoted to fitness and reading fitness-related articles. Fit pros often debate among ourselves the very best way to go about achieving an outcome, but we sometimes lose sight of something critical, particularly for beginners:

There are many ways to achieve an outcome. For someone new or returning to exercise, the truth is that any choice is a good choice, as long as you can do it safely. Beginners are lucky because they’re probably going to see some results just by doing something. It doesn’t really freaking matter what it is at first.

Find something, anything, that you enjoy. Or even something that you don’t completely hate. Go for a walk. Try a new class. Dance in your kitchen (I recommend Taylor Swift. You know you secretly love Shake it Off). Start with something smaller than you think you can handle. Seriously.

You know you want to shake it off. Just give in already.

Building the habit is the most important step at first. All those details will shake themselves out later, whether you want to get leaner, stronger,  faster or have more energy and zestiness. If that goal is to become a ninja , you might be on your own there. It’s past my pay grade.  🙂 Once you become a regular exerciser, then you can find the activities that might best suit your goals. But at first, any activity that you can commit to doing regularly is the best activity.

How did you start moving again? If you haven’t, what’s holding you back? Share below and let’s have a conversation!