January 29, 2010
This winter many of us will battle seasonal colds or flu. This week’s question has to do with working out when you are sick.
” I have been battling an upper respiratory infection for much of January. There are days that I feel like I can workout and days that I can’t. Are there any rules that I should follow about working out when I am sick? “
The general rule of thumb is that if a cold is below your neck (in your chest) that you should avoid rigorous activity. If respiration is compromised due to alveolar inflammation or restriction you should take it easy and not exacerbate the condition. Intense activity can actually worsen the condition as it is possible for fluid to accumulate in the lungs. If your symptoms are severe or last longer than a week, I advise you to see a doctor.
Use the guidelines below to help you make a sound decision when you are sick
Do not exercise if:
1. You are running a fever
2. Your breathing is compromised at rest
3. You are feeling lightheaded or dizzy
4. You are dehydrated
5. Your body is telling you to rest
You may exercise if:
1. Your cold symptoms are entirely above the neck (a head cold)
2. You are able to to simple tasks without becoming short of breath
3. Exercise makes you feel better and does not exacerbate symptoms such as coughing
4. You are well rested and hydrated
In short, use your judgment. If you have difficulty breathing climbing a flight of stairs, you should rest. Chances are that if you take a couple of days rest, you will be able to come back faster and closer to 100%. Pushing through illness may prolong it by increasing the stress on your immune system.
If you exercise when you are sick, pull back the intensity. View exercise as a therapeutic intervention to increase blood flow and circulation. Within a few days you will be back to setting PR’s.
Please continue to send your questions to email@example.com
Next week’s question will be about training for sectional and regional competitions.
January 22, 2010
This week’s question concerns pull ups.
“I have been crossfitting for 4 months and am still working on getting a pull-up. I have seen it come faster for some of the other women in class. I can almost kip my chin over the bar once but I am no where close to having a dead hang pull-up. How can I improve my pull-ups? Also, is it bad to start kipping pull-ups before being able to do a strict one?”
The answer to this question is simple in response but requires effort on your part. To get better at pull-ups you must do pull-ups. The best way to attack this skill is to address it in a variety of ways depending on the workout.
1. If the workout mandates high volume pull-ups, consider using a band for assistance. The band allows you to develop strength through a full range of motion. Once you can string 10 or more pull-ups together in the band, opt for a lighter band. Jumping pull-ups are great as a metabolic and functional movement but they do not develop strength at the bottom range (the part where you jump through).
2. Incorporate pull-ups into your workout as a skill in the warm-up when your body is fresh. Additionally, incorporate pull-ups after the workout. Sometimes when you are fatigued, your body becomes efficient at the kip to save energy.
3. Make a habit of jumping up on every pull-up bar that you pass by and giving it a shot. Hang one in a doorway at home and try one everytime you walk in and out of the room (I’m serious, this is how I got good at pull-ups as a kid).
4. Practice negatives. Either jump your chin over the bar or have a partner assist you to get your chin over the bar. Lower yourself slowly till you achieve full elbow lockout. 3 sets of 3 to 5 consecutive reps is a great place to start.
5. Partner assisted pull ups is one of the best ways to learn a dead-hang pull-up. Hang with your ankles crossed behind you and have a partner cup your feet and assist you – ensure that you do as much of the work as possible. The partner should allow you to do the negative on your own.
6. Play a game. Make pull-ups fun by turning them into a challenge. A good example is to grab a deck of cards with another 2-3 people. Go through the deck doing the number that you draw on the card. Let all of the face cards represent a single pull-up. Let the red cards represent kipping pull-ups and the black cards dead hangs. Have a friend spot you if you need it on the dead hangs and use a band for the kipping pull-ups.
To answer the second question, no , kipping pull-ups are not “bad” or dangerous before you have a dead-hang pull-up. The beauty of a functional movement such as a pull-up is that if you are not ready or strong enough to do one, you simply won’t be able to. Practice both as they will mutually help one another. It is imperative to understand that one is a strict upper body strength movement and the other uses momentum and timing.
My best advice is to practice as many types of pull-ups as possible. You will be less likely to develop overuse injuries and you will continue to grow as an athlete.
January 17, 2010
The final two major factors contributing to the storage of abdominal fat are stress and lack of adequate sleep. High stress and/or insufficient or interrupted sleep raises cortisol levels. When cortisol levels are raised, it is difficult to lose abdominal fat even on a caloricly restricted diet. Many experts suggest 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep for optimal health and recovery. While uninterrupted sleep may be difficult to achieve, (such as in the case of having an infant at home), there are variables that we can control.
Try following these simple steps to ensure the best sleeping environment:
1. No televisions in the bedroom.
2. Have a small balanced snack 60-90 minutes before bed.
3. Set and abide by a bedtime.
4. Limit alcohol intake or abstain.
5. Cut back on caffeine, especially late in the day.
6. Remove all light sources.
With regard to stress, most of you reading this blog are on the right path. Exercise is one of the very best stress relievers. However, stress comes from a variety of sources (beyond my area of expertise) and often requires a major overhaul of your lifestyle. If you suffer from high stress levels that are beyond your ability to control, I recommend that you seek help from a trained professional.
In conclusion, we cannot specifically target belly fat but we can optimize the ability of the body to lose fat from the abdominal region by keeping cortisol levels down. Fat loss comes from creating an energy deficit which should be achieved through a combination of diet and exercise. Adding muscle through weight training is like adding fuel to your metabolic fire.
January 16, 2010
Diet is the most important variable when trying to lose belly fat. Exercise takes a close second.
The best way to talk about exercise is by debunking some common myths.
Myth 1 – Doing lots of cardio at a low to moderate intensity will burn body fat.
While it is true that you will burn calories while doing cardio and utilize a large percentage of free fatty acids in comparison to carbohydrate during low intensity work, total number of calories expended is what counts for fat loss. Basically, you can walk a mile in 15 mins and burn 100 calories or run a mile in 8 minutes and burn the same 100 calories. Which is more efficient?
Myth 2 – The more volume of exercise that I do, the more fat that I will lose.
Frequent bouts of high intensity exercise of short to moderate duration will provide the most optimal hormonal balance in your body. Constant variation is key to keeping your metabolism revved up, but remember to never let your body get used to routine. Excessive volume raises cortisol levels, and cortisol is the hormone responsible for storage of abdominal fat. When choosing an exercise, choose quality over quantity.
Myth 3 – I will get bulky or look fatter if I weight train. I should try to get lean first by doing cardio then add weights to tone up.
This could not be further from the truth, if you want to lose fat, weight training is essential. The simple science is that weight training builds muscle. Muscle is active tissue and burns lots of calories–even at rest–thereby increasing your metabolism. Also, muscle is far denser than fat, 5 pounds of muscle takes up only about a third of the space that 5 pounds of fat takes up. You will not “bulk up” unless your caloric intake substantially exceeds your output.
Myth 4- If I do 10,000 crunches a day I will have a washboard stomach.
Sorry to disappoint you but the shape of your abdominal musculature is pre-determined by genetics. The only way too see these muscles is by having a low body fat percentage. If your percentage of body fat is high there is no amount of work that will show your abdominals.
Isolation exercises such as crunches provide little bang for the buck. Your exercise program should be composed primarily of functional movements where large amounts of your body mass are used. For instance, a squat demands far more energy (think calories) than a crunch. All functional movements require us to use our core to stabilize. A simple guide is this - the larger the distance moved, the more work you performed. More work= greater caloric expenditure.
It all boils down to the following: To lose belly fat you must incorporate weight training into your fitness routine. The bulk of your training should be high intensity of relative short duration. Routine is the enemy as it allows the body to become efficient, thus it utilizes less energy to accomplish the same task. Next time you think of doing crunches get down and do some squats and push-ups instead.
January 15, 2010
The first question of the week is one that I get asked so frequently that I feel compelled to share it with you. Please post your thoughts to comments.
” I work out regularly and I follow a healthy diet, but I cannot get rid of the fat around my middle. The rest of my body is fairly lean and trim but I have a belly that won’t go away. Can I reduce my belly fat without losing too much weight from everywhere else?”
I always smile and chuckle before answering this question. I know that the person on the other end does not want to hear what I am about to say. The short answer is no. Spot reduction is not possible (without surgical intervention). Training the area by doing high volume abdominal exercise will not make the “belly” smaller or flatter. Doing 10,000 crunches a day will not give you a flat stomach.
However (now for the long answer), there are 4 things to examine if you want to lose fat around your belly. When all of these variables are in check, you can and will lose belly fat – with consistent hard work, lifestyle adjustments, and diligent diet adherence. These 4 critical variables are diet, exercise, stress, and sleep/rest. Other factors that contribute to the appearance of a protruding or distended abdomen are weak core musculature (transverse abdominals to be specific) and poor posture.
For the sake of brevity, I will address these variables over the next 3 blog entries.
DIET – The MOST important factor
10 rules to lose fat:
1. Know what you are consuming – the only way you really know what you are eating is to keep a detailed journal. Learn to read food labels. Track your portions. Log your total daily quantity consumed (this could be in the form of blocks, calories, points, etc.). Remember to include liquid calories as well.
2. To maximize fat loss you should be eating just under what you are expending. The ONLY way to lose fat is by creating a caloric deficit. This is pure scientific fact. This deficit should be achieved by a combination of reduced caloric intake AND exercise. If you restrict calories too much, your body will more readily give up muscle and will hold on to fat. In short, your body will believe that it is being starved and store fat much like a bear does before hibernating for the winter. Maximizing fat loss and minimizing muscle loss is a slow process. A good recommendation would be to reduce your intake by 250 to 5oo calories a day below what you are currently taking in.
3. Choose and stick to a plan that helps you track your intake. There are many great “diets” out there that work. You should either choose one, combine a few, or design your own written plan. The Zone, South Beach, Weight Watchers, and Paleo are all viable, healthy options. The key is consistency – pick one that you like. Think of it as a lifestyle change as opposed to a diet.
4.Keep your blood sugar in check by eating small frequent meals that are balanced in macro nutrients. This will keep your metabolism up and prevent insulin spikes. Frequent meals keep your body from entering starvation mode. When the body is in starvation mode, it stores fat.
5. Reduce your sugar intake by cutting out refined foods. Fat (other than trans or saturated) is NOT the enemy, sugar is the enemy. Avoid foods containing high fructose corn syrup. Cut back on refined bread, cereal, rice and pasta.
6. Cut back on processed food – Sodium retains water (not to mention all of the chemical preservatives are bad for you). Some people, women especially, are sodium sensitive.
7. Eliminate foods that cause digestive issues and abdominal bloating. Many people have sensitivities or intolerance to wheat, gluten, dairy and/or alcohol. Try eliminating these foods one at a time and monitoring the results. If you eliminate all of them together, you may not know what was causing the abdominal bloat.
8. Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps to flush toxins and reduce fluid retention. Hydration is a must for your metabolism to function optimally.
9. Eliminate diet soda – artificial sweeteners have been shown to cause chemical reactions similar to real sugar laden soda. Additionally, these beverages contain phenylalanine which (in large quantities) may leach calcium from your bones.
10. Start now, not on Monday. Every time you eat is an opportunity to make a heatlhy choice. If you mess up, you are only one meal away from being on track. Avoid falling off the wagon by preparing your meals in advance and carrying emergency snacks with you. You are more likely to overeat when you are starving.
January 12, 2010
The primary reason that I have started this blog is to interact with the community. As a health and fitness professional, I take great pride in sharing with you my knowledge and experience. My wish is that each of you will pass this knowledge on in a meaningful way and help someone else.
Beginning this week, I will be answering one question a week on my blog. I will choose the questions that appeal to the broadest audience to answer in this public forum. I encourage you to ask questions about injuries, programming, specific skills, health, performance or even a specific challenge that you may be facing with a client. It is my hope that these questions and answers will begin a dialogue that we can all learn from.
If you have a question, please send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and specify “Question of the Week” in the subject line. Your identity will be kept confidential.
Please stay tuned for the first “Question of the Week” that I will be answering this Friday (1/15/10).
January 11, 2010
We are now just under 2 weeks away from the launch of my brand new gymnastics workshop. This one-day activity based workshop is designed to improve performance and basic gymnastics skills. Participants will gain a better knowledge of gymnastics exercise as well as how to teach and scale appropriately to ensure safety and maximize results. Focus is on core strengthening, injury prevention, and improved performance through practice and mastery of bodyweight movement.
The content of this workshop was derived largely from the needs and wants expressed by the CrossFit community. Many of you not only want to improve your own gymnastics skill but to become better coaches as well. In the past 2 years as a crossfitter , I have fielded more questions pertaining to gymnastics than any other topic. This workshop is my way of getting specialty knowledge and instruction out to the community at large. In addition to the workshops, I will be posting free instructional videos on my website.
If you are interested in hosting me or attending an upcoming workshop please go to my Workshop page (you will find the instructional videos here). If you have any questions please send me an email at email@example.com
Here is a video on my six handstand progressions to develop a handstand. [wmv] [mov]
January 9, 2010
30 days post injury. The pain is mostly gone, my fingers and right arm have regained their sensation, my gross and fine motor skills seem to be fully intact. My strength is up to at least 85% and my fitness believe it or not has improved (…could I have been over training before?)
For the first week after the injury, I did not exercise – at all! I sat idle. I complained. I cried. I watched TV. I got frustrated trying to make small movements. Rinse and repeat.
During week 2 I focused on circulation, light range of motion and introduced therapeutic modalities (some passive and active stretching, very light shoulder, neck and back rehab movements – the focus was on restoring normal range of motion). I also spent quite a bit of time in a hot tub immediately followed by ice. Anything that elicited pain (especially referred pain down my arm and into my chest) was a no no. During the latter part of this week I added faster walking, stationery biking, light core work and air squats. I did a lot of transverse abdominal work and isometric contractions of all muscle groups that did not hurt. In short, I trained by feel. There were some good days and some bad days. By the end of this week I was starting to be able to lie down on my own without severe pain. My right hand and forearm were still numb, and I had tons of pain around my scapula and upper back.
Week 3 I made tremendous progress. I was able to introduce slow lifts, many bodyweight exercises, and running. I avoided all movements that compromised my cervical position. Dumbells provided a safer movement path for me than barbells and allowed me to train both sides independently. During this week, I introduced my first met-con – a modified Cindy. As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of 5 body rows, 10 push-ups, 15 air squats. I completed 23 rounds (paying very close attention to form) and was ecstatic. This workout was the first time that I felt capable in nearly 3 weeks. I didn’t do pull-ups and it was 5 rounds short of my Cindy PR but it felt like the greatest athletic accomplishment I ever had. During this week I made careful assessments of how I felt during the workout, immediately after and over the course of the next 24 hours. Once again, I used pain as my indicator. If I exhibited any symptoms that were distal (such as numbness in my forearm or hand) then I knew I had made a poor choice. I programmed for one day at a time based on how I felt.
Week 4 I experienced more physical improvements, but more importantly I was finally out of my “funk” and stopped feeling sorry for myself. My mood was better and my confidence was creeping back. I was starting to think of my injury as a positive and necessary experience that would make me a better trainer and a stronger person. I was able to reintroduce pull-ups, back squats, and nearly all movements with the exception of heavy deadlifts and olympic lifts. There was no exact science or manual that I read for this. Any movement that was causing me pain prior to the injury I was especially cautious with, and I introduced them one at a time so that I could gauge my body’s reaction. This week resembled a typical week of crossfit, some strength workouts, some met-cons, and even a 5k row (yucky!). At the very end of the 4 week period , 25 days post injury, I resumed the program I had designed for myself (see the New Program post from 12/07/09).
Yesterday, I did Diane (3 rounds of 21-15-9 of Deadlifts and Handstand Push-ups). I put my ego aside and used the women’s Rx weight of 155lbs for the deadlifts. I finished with a time of 5:11 which is nearly 3 minutes slower than my PR. I was cautious and exacting with my deads and I broke the handstand push-ups into several sets on the last 2 rounds. Oddly, I was not upset, I felt great about it. I’m back – new and improved!
January 8, 2010
Two blog entries on 2 consecutive days – a bit of a milestone for me. Let’s get down to the cause of my injury. Was there any signs that I ignored? Was it evident to all those around me that this day was coming? Well, the answer is yes to both of those questions.
For several months I was using what I call the “duct tape” method of training – temporary patches for anything broken. I had been suffering mild to moderate pain and discomfort since October. I let the lines between soreness and pain blur. I rationalized that pain is associated with maximal effort and hard work. The “duct tape” that I used was more comprehensive warm-ups pre-workout, more stretching, acupuncture, active release therapy, myofascial release, Advil, and just about anything that would allow me to get through another day and continue to forge ahead as planned on my workout program. This method is what enabled me to get through Operation Pull for Hope in November.
All of these above mentioned interventions are excellent methods for pre-hab and re-hab. However, I needed to rest. I was injured and I knew it. Once warmed up and in the midst of an intense workout my pain was often masked by circulation and endorphins. My poison and medicine were one and the same. The real kicker – I was working harder and getting weaker. My deadlift tanked, my right side would not cooperate on lifts. The ultimate sign was when I could barely knock out a set of 10 handstand push-ups (I know that might sound ridiculous, but I take great pride in being able to knock out 30 or more consecutive handstand push-ups on any given day).
I had made the assumption that I had a minor shoulder injury. Seemed logical – my right shoulder was weak and most of my pain was beneath and around my right scapula (initially). I thought it was all muscular and that I had adhesions that were preventing correct neuro-muscular firing patterns. You can talk yourself into believing anything! Three weeks before Operation Pull for Hope (my 100 muscle-up challenge) I became aware that my right side was experiencing a neurological deficit while training the muscle-ups. I kept this knowledge as my little secret and was determined not to let it show. Nothing was going to come in the way of my goal. Nobody was going to get to see a weakness. Silly, I know.
Those close to me knew that I was headed down a dangerous path. My determination trumped my intelligence. My stubbornness reigned supreme. By golly, nothing was going to get in the way of my 20 plus years of consistent, unbroken physical training.
Well, now it is time for my big admission. It was my consistent, unbroken, relentless physical training that put me here. My injury came from chronic overuse and abuse. Years and years of pushing even when I knew better, working out when I should have been resting, believing that I was somewhat of a superhero (OK, that one might deserve a few chuckles), and turning every training experience into a competition against myself and others (usually men that were much larger than me).
My injury was a culmination - It was not an accident, not a poorly executed movement. In essence it was an acute expression of a chronic problem. My disc herniation (or any catastrophic injury) is not unlike a pack a day smoker getting lung cancer – inevitable.
In retrospect, I have no regrets. I have had two decades of tremendous, nearly injury free training- unheard of! My training journals let me fondly recall each and every workout that I have completed – they represent a time line of much of my life. I can place most major events and milestones in context with my training journals – I have books from high school, college, body building in my early 2o’s, early career life and so on.
The question now becomes – What will I learn from this and how can I use that knowlege to better myself and teach others? My injury was a wake-up call. It is time for me to close one chapter and start the next. I resolve to follow the advice that I give others – I am in this for life – Intelligent training and listening to my body will take the place of mindless determination. I have nothing to prove (I still think I am a superhero though, some things never change).
January 7, 2010
It’s been a long time since I have written a blog entry. I have thought of many things over the past month that I wanted to say but have not been able to bring myself to sit down and share in a public way. Interestingly, I wrote in my training journal everyday – a task as habitual to me as brushing my teeth. However, my training journal is merely a collection of raw data. I never truly get into the emotional and psychological aspects of sustaining an injury and coping with the aftermath – I just write down my workout (sets, reps, weights), time of day, location, who I am with, and a few words on what my body feels like.
Today is 4 weeks since I injured myself. On Thursday December 10th I was warming up for my first set of back squats and bent down to pick up a 25lb plate. As I lifted the plate and extended it slightly in front of me to place on the bar, I felt a pop in my back and excruciating pain and numbness spread through my chest, upper back, right shoulder, right arm, hand, and the right side of my face. I dropped the plate, stood paralyzed by shock and fear and then tears started to roll. I knew that I had sustained a disc injury.
Long story short (I am new to blogging so I have the tendency to write a novel, maybe if I blogged more often the entries would be shorter ), a nurse that came upon me thought I had a stroke and insisted that I go in an ambulance – that got me even more upset. I refused and my sister took me to HSS (Hospital for Special Surgery) in NYC. I knew that I needed to get the best possible medical treatment.
That 30 minute drive was the longest and most painful 30 minutes that I have ever spent in my head and body. Filled with fear, all of my thoughts were negative. What if can’t workout ever again?…What will I do for a living?…What if I can never feel my hand again?…Who am I if I am no longer the physical self that I used to be?….
Fast forward a little. My diagnosis was cervical and thoracic disc herniation – hopefully not rupture. The doctor gave me prednizone and valium and sent me home. She told my sister that I was absolutely not allowed to move for the next few days. For the first time ever in my life – even if I wanted to move, I couldn’t. I spent the first 72 hours awake and sitting. I could not move myself into a horizontal position.
A week later the MRIs confirmed that I had herniated my C5,C6,C7 and T1. I was told that I would feel better within 6 weeks. What does feel better mean? Does that mean that I could go do heavy deadlifts? Somehow I knew that wasn’t what the doctor meant. Patience and listening to my body would be crucial to my recovery. I would have to put my ego and exercise dependence aside and actually REST!
Rest was the only option by default the first week. I could not drive, pour a glass of water, wash my hair – you get the picture. But, as I started to feel better, rest was a concerned effort. I kept wanting to test it. I needed to know if I was going to get better. Thankfully, once again I had a very strong support system. The people that cared about me watched to make sure that I didn’t screw up. They kept my spirits up when I was inconsolable.
In the next blog entry, I will tell you about the cause of my injury (obviously the 25lb plate was only the straw that broke the camels back) and the warning signs.
The 3rd and final blog entry of this series will address what I have learned and how it could be useful for helping others. I will also talk about my road to recovery and where I am at one month post injury.
As a note I want to thank my sister, Mac Ward, my parents, Pat Manocchia, Dr. Jen Solomon, John Alsop, Dr. Marcus Forman, and Dr Rob DeStefano. These people were all critical in my physical and emotional care. I want to thank my friends as well for keeping me occupied when I couldn’t workout.