Monday, August 20, 2012

"Can't" vs. "Won't"

I have a client who wants to "get healthy."  He has a serious health condition that proper diet and exercise habits will help greatly.  He comes to see me once per week.  I have given him several exercise programs for him to do on his own, as well as given him meal ideas, made myself available for food consultations, given him avenues to keep him accountable for his dietary choices, and so on.  Every time I see him, we have a conversation that goes a little something like this:

Me:  So how's the exercise program going?
Him:  It's not.
Me:  How come?
Him:  Because I can't do it.  I don't have time.
Me:  How about after work?
Him:  I can't.  I'm too tired after work.
Me:  How about before work?
Him:  I can't.  I don't want to wake up earlier.
Me:  How about at lunch time?
Him:  I can't.  I don't want to get sweaty at lunch.
Me:  What if you did 10 minutes before work, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes when you get home?
Him:  I can't.
Me:  :-/
Me:  What about your food?  How's that going?  I haven't seen your food diary at all.
Him:  (gives me a sheepish look)

And so on.

He's not the first client I've had who "can't" manage to get the work done on his own.  And I'm sure he won't be the last.

But here's the thing:

There's a big difference between "Can't" and "Won't."

When it comes down to it, most people who "can't" find the time/energy to exercise and eat more healthfully can find plenty of time to do things they deem more pleasant.  There are very, very few people out there who can't spare 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there to move their bodies.  There's almost no reason why a person can't forgo a McLunch for a healthy meal brought from home (or purchased from a market/restaurant, if need be).

A lot of people don't know that for almost five years, I was a computer consultant.  I had to travel Sunday-Thursday most weeks.  I worked a lot of late nights and was in a lot of pretty health-unfriendly areas.  I had to spend hours in catered meetings and was surrounded by co-workers who dragged me to team dinners at unfortunate restaurants.  I know how hard it can be-- but also how possible it is.  I used to take advantage of hotel gyms or do bodyweight exercises in my hotel room.  I would say no to the candy and sweets my co-workers brought in all the time.  I picked up a lot of healthier provisions I could eat without much preparation (baby carrots, salads, etc) at local supermarkets.  During one project, I would drive 20 minutes to the only place in town that had vegetarian meals and stock up. When meetings were catered, I'd usually ask before they ordered the food if there was a vegetarian option, or, if not I'd just eat the fruit or salad that came with the order (if it existed)-- or I'd just bring a bag of almonds to snack on.  It wasn't ideal, but it was doable. 

So think about it.  Is it really that you can't?  Is your day really so jam-packed that you can't find an extra five minutes here and there to do a set of squats, maybe, or some pushups?  (Do you watch TV or surf the internet when you come home?  Heeey-- there's some free time you might think about using...)

Is the junk food and sedentary lifestyle so important to you that you are willing to sacrifice your health for it?  Is the idea of eating healthier food (which, by the way, does not by any means mean "less tasty") so repugnant that diabetes, fatty liver disease, a heart attack, low energy levels, faster aging, joint pain, low immunity, and so on seem like better options? 

Think about it.

Is it that you can't?

Or is it that you won't?

If it truly is the former, and your health is important to you, then it's time you made a change in your life so that you can start taking care of yourself.

If it truly is the latter, and your health is important to you, then it's time you made a change in your attitude and approach towards healthy habits and find a way to turn your "won't" into a "will."

Physically write exercise "appointments" into your schedule, even if they're just a few minutes long a few times per day.
Pack ready-to-eat healthy food with you when you travel or go to work. 
Pile on the veggies in lieu of fries, rice, chips, and bread at restaurants.
Say no to your co-worker's candy dish.

It can be done.

Your life depends on it.

Questions?  Comments?  Feel free to post 'em here!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Baby Got Back

A good friend of mine wanted tome tips on strengthening her lats/pulling muscles, so I thought this would be as good a time as any to share some of that information with anyone else who might benefit.  So, without further ado, here are a few basic exercises I recommend.

First things first:  Here's a good look at your back muscles.

Most people are fairly overdeveloped in the chest area (slouching over desks, computers, steering wheels, dinner, etc, or suffering from "I only train what I can see in the mirror" syndrome) and get a nice little slouchy, forward-heady posture as a result.  From an aesthetic point of view, training the other side would make you look less like a caveman.

And, of course, there's that added bonus of impressing all the people walking behind you when you're wearing a tank top. 

And then there are the overachievers.

From a functional perspective, it will make you have less pain, will give you stronger shoulders (look at the way the muscles drape, and you can tell why), and will make your lifts better.  How many of you lose it in your back pretty quickly when you deadlift?  Know what a deadlift is?  Lifting something heavy off the ground.  Do you maybe do that sometimes outside the gym?  Think about it...

I wanted to focus on some very basic exercises-- before the pullups, before the rows, before the deadlifts-- to get those posterior complexes stronger so that all those other movements can improve.  Here are some of my favorites.

Scapular pullups/rows:  These are important because they teach your body how to properly retract the scapulae, and strengthen the muscles there as a result.  In most pulling motions, retracting the scapulae for the pull is an important step.  The idea is to pull your shoulder blades down and back (like you're putting them in your back pockets) while you're keeping your arms straight.  You can do this with your arms in most directions.  I'll demo here from a pullup position (side and back view) and a straight row position.

Scapular pullup, side view:


Scapular pullup, back view:


Scapular row:


Batwings: I learned about Batwings from the amazing Dan John many moons ago.  The idea is to lie on your belly on a bench.  Then you do an end-position row with two heavy weights (I like to use kettlebells for this), hold for 5 or 10 seconds at the top, and lower again.  It's not a big motion-- it's just a short row to the top end of your personal ROM, squeezing your shoulder blades together and pulling your elbows up as far as possible.  Try to stick your thumbs in your armpits.  Sortakinda like this.

So there you have it-- some good foundational exercises to get those muscles in that back of yours firing properly.  Hope this helps!

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Relaaaax, Dude.

Selective relaxation is really important in training.  Try this, for example:  Try to jump as high as you can off the ground.  Now do it again, but tighten up every single muscle in your body, from your face to your arms and shoulders, etc. 

What's that?  You can't jump like that?


That fun little drill demonstrates the value of selective relaxation.  You can apply it to all kinds of things besides jumping.  Running is one.  Now, I am not a runner.  I hate running.  It is not fun for me.  I do it once in a while for my dog, or I'll run sprints to mix things up, or if someone challenges me, I might be talked into running a 5 or 10K (but the chances that I'll train for it are pretty slim).  If zombies are chasing me, I'll probably run.  But that's about it.  However, I know a lot of people adore running, and if you love it, and it's not hurting you, by all means, keep running.  In my massage practice, I get a ton of runners who come in with very sore shoulders/traps/necks/jaws after a run.  This is a sign that they are tensing up their upper bodies when they run.  I believe (and note that I have not seen this proven scientifically, but this is my belief, so take it with a grain of salt) that the body has a tendency to associate running with fear.  As far as your body is concerned, sez me, running is for escaping dangerous situations.  That is why (I think) the tendency for the majority of people is to automatically stick their shoulders in their ears when they run.  It's the body protecting the face from a potential threat. 

Is he deadlifting, or is he watching a slasher flick?

In weightlifting, it's really common-- and I'm as guilty of this as the next guy-- to grit the teeth, shrug the shoulders, and do all that other stuff that happens when you get stressed out and your body goes into fear mode.  Your body, I believe, translates either the weight you're lifting, the movement you're doing, or the face you're making, to the idea that you've been threatened and have reason to be afraid.  Your form often becomes less than optimal as a result.  In addition, when your body senses a threat,  it will generally try to keep you from doing the things that put you in that position.  So it will give you pain, stiffness, sickness, weakness, and other such physical limitations so that you can't get threatened again.  And you'll end up on my massage table, or home watching soap operas, or trying to train with less than optimal movement patterns (which will lead to more pain, and so on and so forth).

The best way to resolve this issue is to get to the point where your body no longer sees what you're doing as a threat.  Breath work will go a long way in helping you do this.  Breathing through your belly instead of your chest, breathing deeply and slowly, and breathing rhythmically and methodically in a way that makes sense for you throughout your activity can make a world of difference. 

Another good practice is to try to relax your face when you're lifting/running/etc.  If you watched the Olympics, you may have seen those slow-motion closeups of the sprinter's faces where their faces bobbled around like Jell-o.  Besides being hilarious, this was actually a great lesson in selective relaxation.  These guys are not threatened by the sprinting they do.  If they were to stiffen up, their speeds would most likely go down significantly, so the only way they can be as phenomenally fast as they are is to stay as selectively relaxed as possible.

If you're trying to train through pain, your body will absolutely create new motor patterns that won't be in your best interests, and will stiffen up when it expects to hurt.  If you're hurting, resolve that issue before you try to lift anything heavy or pound the pavement.

Do you apply selective relaxation to your training?  If so, how, and does it make a difference for you?  Post your secrets in the comments section below!  :)

By the way, I will be doing a mobility drills workshop on August 25 that will cover breathing and tons of ways you can play around with your neurological system to move better in your everyday life, so let me know if you'd like to join us!