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The Wisdom of Frank–Part IV

“Change It Up”

I met my friend Frank when I was 21 years old and working out at a local gym.  Frank was sixty-eight years old and in great condition.  He had been a professional boxer, army fitness instructor, and then a physical education teacher.  Frank was an incredibly well read student of fitness and human performance.  He was stronger, more agile, and fitter than most people in their twenties.  Success leaves footprints, so I was eager to learn from a master.

Frank was big on developing one set of skills for a defined period of time and then switching to performance parameters.  We would work hard on improving strength with squats, cleans, and pull ups for six weeks and then take a break.  The next six weeks would focus on speed and endurance–lots of jump rope, sprinting, and medicine ball throws.  I never got bored and I never got hurt.

The best injury preventative for athletes and fitness enthusiasts is a consistent change in activity.  Look at your training / competition schedule and alter your activity every six to eight weeks.  Better yet, take a week or two away from running, dance, yoga, lifting, baseball, or Zumba.  If you are older or more injury prone, that rest period might need to be stretched out to three weeks.

The popularity of the club system has young athletes playing the same sport year round.  In the clinic, we are treating young athletes with “old person” overuse injuries.  Playing multiple sports is infinitely more beneficial.  Taking layoffs from overused movement patterns and participating in a variety of athletic endeavors gives the body a chance to rebuild and recover.  It is no coincidence that successful professional athletes are the product of multi-sport participation.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

The Wisdom of Frank–Part III

“Leave Some In The Tank”

I met my friend Frank when I was 21 years old and working out at a local gym.  Frank was sixty-eight years old and in great condition.  He had been a professional boxer, army fitness instructor, and then a physical education teacher.  Frank was an incredibly well read student of fitness and human performance.  He was stronger, more agile, and fitter than most people in their twenties.  Success leaves footprints, so I was eager to learn from a master.

Frank said that it is always better to do too little than to do too much.  A training session should make you feel alive and awake, not beaten up and broken.  Frank recommended exercise sessions that involved about forty minutes of training and ten minutes of what we now call “recovery work”.  He often told me to take it easy, go home, eat well, sleep soundly, and enjoy being young.  “When you get to my age you will thank me.”

The latest trend in fitness is throwing your body into the propeller.  Lying on the floor gasping for air is a badge of honor and a sought after result.  As a physical therapist that treats the byproduct of this training method, I urge caution.  Most young athletes can only train super hard for eight to ten weeks a year.  Older clients have a much more limited recovery capacity and are unable to sustain that level of activity before an injury occurs.  The winner in the life long quest for health and fitness is the contestant with the fewest surgical scars.

Training related injuries are a tragedy.  It is easy to get swept up by the emotions of competition and the desire to excel.  As we age, maintaining an exercise habit that keeps us strong and injury-free is even more important.  I frequently remind myself to dial it down and then I say a silent “Thank You”.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

The Wisdom of Frank Part II

“Keep Your Legs In The Game”

I met my friend Frank when I was 21 years old and working out at a local gym.  Frank was sixty-eight years old and in great condition.  He had been a professional boxer, army fitness instructor, and then a physical education teacher.  Frank was an incredibly well read student of fitness and human performance.  He was stronger, more agile, and fitter than most people in their twenties.  Success leaves footprints, so I was eager to learn from a master.

Frank would work through some stretches, warm up and start in on the jump rope.  He was amazing with the rope.  Frank said an athlete was “nothing without his legs”.  “Power comes from the ground” and strong arms were useless without legs that could react.  He told me that keeping the “pop in your hop” was critical to successful aging.

Recent research on lower extremity power production and aging has proven Frank correct.  As we age, we lose lower extremity power nearly twice as fast as we lose strength.  Power production is what keeps us competitive on the field of play and safe during our daily tasks.  The current area of interest in exercise science has been the “discovery” of the benefits of lower extremity power training with older clients.  One of the best books on this subject is Bending the Aging Curve, by Dr. Joseph Signorile.  I read this book in 2011 and thought to myself, I heard all of this from Frank in 1979.

Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Olympic Lifts

Do We Really Need Them?

I had my first introduction to Weightlifting (often referred to as Olympic lifting) in my high school football days using the Bigger Faster Stronger program.  Power Cleans were a staple of this program and the Power Snatch was also introduced to us during a clinic our football coach put together.  Over the last several years, weightlifting movements have made a comeback into many gyms.  These movements include the Snatch (bringing the bar from the floor to overhead in one fluid movement), the Clean & Jerk (bringing the bar from the floor to overhead in two distinct movements), and their derivatives.  Though there are several reasons to include these movements in programs, there are far more reasons, in my professional opinion, not to.

The primary reason one would or should be using Olympic lifting movements is to improve/maximize power output, or Rate of Force Development (RFD).  RFD is a primary determinant of success in many sports.  This is what allows you to accelerate quickly, jump higher/farther, and change direction quickly.  There are volumes of research on the Clean & Jerk, Snatch, and their variations which demonstrate that these movements work very well at improving power and RFD; however, these lifts are not the only means of accomplishing this.  Moreover, there are multiple reasons not to incorporate them:

Time

Weightlifting movements are incredibly technical and take massive amounts of time to learn and perform correctly.  Most successful weightlifters at the international level have spent decades learning and perfecting their craft.  It is not uncommon to see weightlifters performing upwards of 10-12 training sessions per week.  The only other sport I can think of that takes this level of technical prowess is gymnastics.  While this is admirable for those choosing to compete in these sports, the level of time commitment is not practical for the average fitness enthusiast.

Safety

Due to the speed and dynamic nature of the Olympic lifts, there is a much higher probability of something going wrong.  Additionally, the vast majority of the fitness population lacks the requisite mobility and stability to safely get into the required positions to perform these exercises. In some fitness circles, you will see these movements programmed in for very high repetitions.  When this happens, you are ramping up fatigue which makes proper technique/form nearly impossible and minimizes power/RFD adaptation which is the whole point of these exercises. These lifts should be programmed at 1-5 rep sets with 2-5 minute rest intervals between.

Efficiency

For most people, time is a constant barrier to improved fitness.  For competitive athletes, they must balance the demands of sport practice, strength training, conditioning, skill practice, and recovery.  For this reason, the primary goal of a quality program should be to maximize efficiency of training.  Due to the mobility demands and speed of the movements, the warm ups required can take 15-20 minutes.  Combine that with the longer rest periods required and you barely have time to get in enough quality work to see optimal adaptations.  It is not uncommon for a weightlifter to take 90-120 minutes to complete a workout.

You may be asking yourself how to maximize power if you can’t perform the Olympic lifts.  Many people feel these movements are imperative for optimal fitness and performance.  In February of 2017, I traveled to Ohio State University where I heard the head Strength and Conditioning coaches for the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and Arizona Cardinals speak.  None of them use Olympic lifts with their athletes.  If arguably the top athletes in the world don’t need these movements, then I think the rest of the population can get away without using them as well.

Over the next several weeks, I will introduce fourteen exercises that you can use instead to maximize speed, power, and RFD with less risk of injury, less technical skill required, and more efficiency.  Stay tuned for exercise descriptions and video demonstration.

-Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1

Get Sweaty and Get Smarter

The big benefit of a consistent program of exercise is the impact it has on the nervous system.  Muscle strength, flexibility, fat loss, and greater endurance are the happy side effects.  Immersion in a fitness program keeps the brain healthy and receptive to learning.

Anyone concerned with optimizing brain health needs to read Spark, by Dr John Ratey.  In this book, he discusses how brain function is enhanced by the habit of exercise.  Over the last nine years, more research has documented the positive effects of exercise on brain health and learning.  Read the recent *article from the New York Times on how we learn language more readily if we exercise.

* How Exercise Could Help You Learn a New Language, Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, August 16, 2017

View the article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/16/well/move/how-exercise-could-help-you-learn-a-new-language.html?_r=0

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Biomarker Reminder

Drs. Evans and Rosenburg are Tufts University researchers interested in the measurable parameters that keep humans healthy and fit over an entire life span.  They have determined that the top four biomarkers are:

  1. Muscle Mass.  The percentage of your body that is made of muscle.
  2. Strength.  Can you use that muscle to push, pull, lift and carry.
  3. Basal Metabolic Rate.  The number of calories your body expends at rest.
  4. Body fat Percentage.  What percentage of your body is composed of fat.

The authors named these top four biomarkers, the decisive tetrad.  They are the prerequisites to maintaining healthy numbers in all of the other essential biomarkers.

  1. Aerobic Capacity
  2. Blood Sugar Tolerance
  3. Cholesterol / HDL ratio
  4. Blood Pressure
  5. Bone Density
  6. Internal Body Temperature Regulation

Drs. Evans and Rosenburg coined the term age related sarcopenia in their 1991 book Biomarkers.  It refers to the gradual loss of muscle mass that occurs as we age.  The keys to aging well, staying durable–no injuries, and maintaining control of all health parameters is maintaining or improving muscle mass / strength and eating properly.  An ongoing program of strength training and nutritional discipline are the foremost components of fitness and health.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Ladder Matters

Moving well is a combination of balance, coordination, strength, and power.  During everyday tasks, you must be able to plant, pivot, and shift your bodyweight over one leg to change directions or decelerate an impact.  Movement is a skill that we all take for granted until the day that it fails us.  “I can’t believe I can’t do that,” is commonly heard from people in physical therapy.  They are unaware of the level of motor control they have lost to age, injury, and a sedentary lifestyle.  The good news is that with some consistent training, most motor control skills can be restored.  For gym members, an excellent method of enhancing movement skills is the agility ladder.

Agility ladders help you move better.  How you move says more about your age than how you look.  Responsive legs that can react to a disruption in balance keep you durable and injury free.  Consistent agility ladder training develops the neural coordination that allows more graceful movement.

Rotation is the movement pattern that creates the distance in your golf drive, the pop in your punch, and the acceleration in your sprint.  Rotation is the missing movement pattern in most training programs.  Ladder drills improve cross body, shoulder, and hip rotation.

Ladders are the rehab bridge that allows the injured athlete to move from a controlled series of movement patterns to the chaos of competition.  Ladders are one of the best power production and injury prevention activities older clients can perform.

As a conditioning method, I call ladder drills “three-dimensional jump rope”.   Move through a few sixty second intervals of continuous ladder drills and your body heats up, respiration increases, and your metabolism is disrupted.  Ramp that up to 90 seconds and check your heart rate.  See video of agility ladder drills: https://youtu.be/CmLXGLeyGfE

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Heat Or Ice For My Shoulder?

Try Standing Upright

In the gym, at the golf course, and during a visit to the hardware store, I am asked my advice on abolishing shoulder pain.  What everyone wants is the magical exercise, miracle ointment, or newest thermal treatment.  What they need–and what they do not want to hear–is that they have to fix their horrible posture.

Sustained poor posture can alter the function of your shoulder complex.  The shoulder girdle has only one, very small, bone to body connection.  The entire system is an interconnected series of muscles and ligaments.  Sustained slouched over postures create a faulty length-tension relationship in these structures that places adverse stress and strain on the four joints of the shoulder and the nerves in the neck and upper back.

OMG I sit lmGm (like my GrandMa).  

Shoulder posture pain problems are happening earlier.  I do not know if it is more tech toys, less physical education in schools, or a change in youth activity levels, but in the physical therapy clinic we are seeing younger people with older people postural shoulder pain.  They sit on the treatment table in extremely slouched over positions and are unable to pull themselves up into a correct position.  Most are unconvinced that how they sit and stand could be the generator of their pain problem.

What exercises can I do?

Stronger muscles will help restore posture.  The shoulder evolved to pull, lift, and carry.  The muscles that keep the shoulder strong and happy are in the back of the shoulder.  They hold the shoulder in a healthy position on the body.  Most of us never perform any pulling or lifting activities other than hoisting our laptop or toting our smart phone.   Making your shoulder girdle muscles stronger will help, but being mindful of your posture during the day is the most important factor.  Physical Therapist and US Soccer Team Trainer Sue Falsone says “You can’t out rep poor posture.”

Start with how you work and live.

Eight hours a day for five days a week equals 2080 hours of computer / desk time a year for the average office worker.  Add in a daily one hour car commute and another two hours of television a day and we push the Monday through Friday slump numbers to 2860 hours a year (120 days).  We have spent millions on state of the art chairs, elevated monitors, slanting keyboards, wrist rests, and lumbar supports.  Office modifications, while well intentioned and generally a good idea, cannot compete with 2860 hours (this number is probably low) of sitting in a year.  In order to fight against the postural stress that creates pain, we need to get up and move.

Recent research on prolonged sitting has demonstrated that the amount of movement we need to stay healthy is greater than we once thought.  To combat the adaptive changes of prolonged sitting, it is suggested you get up and move every twenty minutes.  Set a timer, enlist the help of your coworkers, and work at this every workday for a month.  I believe you will be surprised by the results.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Less Is More

Understanding The Requirements Of Rest

The weight room at my high school was small and had only basic equipment.  It consisted of two Olympic weight sets, some mismatched dumbbells, a squat rack, and a chin up bar.  In the gym, we had a pegboard and a rope for climbing.  No bench press, curl bar, or pulldown machine.  It was the ultimate blessing in disguise.  We did not have the temptation of exercise variety for variety’s sake.  What we did have was solid instruction on basic lifts.  We performed the same exercises repeatedly and became more proficient at squats, hang cleans, overhead presses, and pull ups.  Four simple activities performed consistently with an effort to add weight to the bar on a regular basis.  The results were magic.

The television fitness gurus have brought forth the latest craze of “muscle confusion”.  You change your exercise activity often in an attempt to stimulate a greater adaptation response.  The problem is that you never get the chance to practice the exercise long enough or with enough resistance to get stronger.  Getting stronger is the performance parameter that preserves muscle mass, speeds up your metabolism, and makes you more durable–less likely to get hurt.

I never want any of my muscles, nerves, joints, or any other part of my body to be “confused” when training.  I want the bodies of the athletes I train to perform better at every session.  My suggestion is that you pick five or six exercises and set a goal of getting better at each of them over the next six months.  The exercises you chose do not have to be a barbell or dumbbell exercise.  Bodyweight exercises will work just as well and are a better choice for most fitness clients.  Keep a record of your performance and work on improving the number of inverted rows, pull ups, or push ups you can perform.  Single leg strength training is a good choice for nearly everyone and works wonders for athletes. Athletes should choose exercises that not only improve strength, but also mobility—front squats.  Long term dedication to the mastery of an exercise will reward you with better body composition, enhanced mobility, less pain, and the strength you need to perform in athletics and daily activities.

This training approach requires mental toughness and a willingness to at times be bored.  Toughen up and get after the challenge.  Read this recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “We Need To Relax Like Roger Federer”.   Better yet, go out and buy the book Starting Strength.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

A Plea For Your Knee

In our physical therapy clinics, we treat patients with knee pain on a daily basis.  It has become more common to train younger clients with a history of knee injury and ongoing knee pain.  Jane Brody’s recent *article in the New York Times has some excellent advice on the care and management of knee pain problems.  I have some further suggestions and clarifications.

Less Mass

The mass portion of the Force = Mass x Acceleration formula needs to be at an appropriate level for your knees to stay healthy.  Carrying extra body fat creates an environment that invites knee wear and tear.  The common knee pulverizing mistake is to perform high impact exercise activities in an effort to lose fat.  If you are twenty pounds overweight, do not run, stadium step, soccer, tennis, or pickleball.  Start with strength training and low impact cardio.  Lose the fat first, and even then, the lower impact activity will be healthier for your knees.  From the overweight client limping into the clinic I get the “I need to move around to lose weight” protest.  I am sorry, but fat loss is primarily a function of dietary alteration.  Exercise has very little impact on body fat levels if you do not eat properly.

Train the Way You Wish to Play

A properly planned fitness program makes your knees more durable (fewer injuries) when you participate in your favorite recreational activity.  The training must be tailored to your activity goals.  If your goal is to play tennis, then you must perform three dimensional deceleration / acceleration activities as part of your training program.  Yoga will not prepare your knees for tennis.  If you want to water ski, then you must perform strength training for your back, hips, and knees.  Distance running will not prepare your knees for water skiing.  If hockey is your recreational past time, you need to be strong, well conditioned and competent in all planes of motion.  Long duration recliner intervals will not prepare your knees for hockey.

Look Above

If your hips do not move well, your knees will pay the price.  In this age of all day sitting and minimal physical activity, hip function is at an all time low.  Physical therapy patients with knee pain nearly always present with glaring restrictions in hip range of motion and strength.  If your knees hurt, dedicate some training time to restoring hip rotation and hip extension movement.  Learn how to perform some remedial gluteal activation drills.  Learn a proper hip hinge, squat and a pain free lunge pattern.

Think First

Participation in a single inappropriate activity can produce a lifetime of knee trouble.  That box jump workout of the day- maybe not.  The warrior, electric shock, mud hole, death run–bad idea.  Trampoline with the grandchildren–what were you thinking!

Be Proactive and Seek Treatment For Knee Pain

“Training through the pain” can take a graceful athlete and turn them into a lifelong speed limper.  The presence of pain changes the way your brain controls movement.  Left untreated, it can permanently alter neural signals and produce movement patterns that linger long after the pain has resolved.  Live with enough cycles of inefficient movement and you develop early breakdown in the knee.

Michael O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

*What I Wished I’d Known About My Knees, Jane Brody, New York Times. July 3, 2017

Read the NY Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/well/live/what-i-wish-id-known-about-my-knees.html?_r=0

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