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Will That Machine Help Me?

Home Gym Hints

Television ads, holiday gift giving, and the return of frigid temperatures brings out the “What cardio machine should I purchase for my home?” question.  Is it the bike with an internet trainer, the fat blasting high intensity elliptical trainer, or the Euro designed Nordic ski machine?  Many of these units sell for over $3000 and they wish to choose wisely.  Most of the questioners have no experience with any of these gizmos.  I have some pre-purchase questions they need to answer before buying that expensive cardio machine.

Can you currently walk for thirty minutes without stopping to rest?

If you answer no to that question, do not bother purchasing a treadmill, bike, or elliptical unit.  Focus all of your efforts on developing the strength and skill necessary to walk for thirty minutes without resting.  If pain is a limitation, get to the physical therapy clinic and resolve the problem.  Walking is the essential neuromuscular activity that keeps a body healthy and out of the assisted living center.  Leaning over on a treadmill, elliptical trainer, or recumbent bike is very likely to worsen those walking woes.

Do you have a prior history of consistent exercise?

Just owning a new high-tech training machine will not make you thinner or fitter.  You must use the machine three or four days a week for the next year.  Many people believe that locating the machine in the dwelling will jump-start the exercise habit.  If you answer no to this question, I have concerns that you will not develop a relationship with your internet connected mechanical friend.

Is fat loss the primary reason you are purchasing the home exercise machine?

The fat loss the exercise motto everyone needs to learn is; “familiarity breeds failure”.   The human body is a master at adapting to a physical stress and the forty-five minute spin class that burns 440 calories in February only consumes 180 calories in August.  The sad truth is that the same amount of exercise time and effort produces a weaker fat loss response.   The crucial components for fat loss are long duration meal preparation and high intensity portion awareness.  After you get those under control, progress to activities that you find challenging (difficult, not good at, loath, hate) and change the training modality on a frequent basis.  Using the same exercise device month after month will not produce optimal results.

Michael O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Wise Up Bone Head

Bicycle Helmets and Head Injuries

While on a much needed family vacation, Larry and his wife ventured off for a bicycle ride around the resort.  Larry is not sure what happened, but he woke up in the hospital with a severe wrist fracture and a concussion.  Larry was not wearing a helmet and his wife reported that he went over the handlebars during a low speed turn.  Surgical repair of the wrist and some therapy restored his ability to grip, lift, and carry, but his mental capacity has remained impaired since the fall.  He has been unable to return to work secondary to memory deficits and problems with planning.  Larry has difficulty remembering the names of his coworkers and neighbors.  His wife reports he is more emotional and that she cannot let him drive without a navigator to assist in the return home.  Every physical therapist has a number of these stories.

If you or your children ride a bike, take the time to read. Buckle Up a Helmet to Save a Life by Jane Brody in the October 23, 2017 issue of the New York Times.  Jane recounts her own helmet free tumble from a bicycle and the statistics on bicycle head injuries.

No helmet bike riders tell me they are “extra careful” and that they “stay off busy roads”.  They are assuming that people fall off bikes solely to due to pilot error.  Bike accidents happen because of bad roads, distracted car drivers, and more recently, other bike riders. People driving trucks, cars, and other bicycles are not looking for bicyclists.  They are on autopilot–listening to the radio, talking on the phone, and texting.  You need a helmet now more than ever.

As a physical therapist, I get to work with individuals who have suffered closed head injuries.  Nothing creates a more sudden and long lasting change in your world than an impact to your cranium.  It does not take that much in the way of force to permanently alter the way you move, think, react to stress, and function during the day.  If in the past you did not use a helmet because of the appearance, I urge you reconsider.  An eternity of cognitive impairment and an inability to find your way home should be more concerning than your bicycle style.

* New York Times, Buckle Up a Helmet to Save a Life, Jane Brody, October 23, 2017 issue.  Read the article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/23/well/buckle-up-a-helmet-to-save-a-life.html?_r=0

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Spinning Wheel

HIIT Methods: Air Assault Dual Action Bike

The Air Assault dual action bike is a challenging metabolic disrupting machine.   For older fitness clients, heavier folks, and those of us with legs that are less tolerant of impact, the Air Assault improves cardio-respiratory capacity and minimizes joint stress.  If you are seeking an intense training experience, look no further than the Air Assault bike.

The number two reason people give for not exercising is limited time–lack of results is number one.  The Air Assault solves both of these problems.  Training sessions on the Air Assault are brief and very effective.

Set your seat for height and reach so at the bottom of the pedal stroke, the knee is bent about 20 degrees.  The arms should not fully extend at the elbows.  The bike is simple– increase the pedal speed and you push a greater volume of air.  Go slow—less resistance.  Go fast—more resistance.  Keep a tall posture to effectively drive with the arms and assist the legs.  I have outlined four of my favorite HIIT Air Assault training routines.  As usual, remember to perform a movement preparation warm up before launching into a HIIT session.

30 seconds on / 30 seconds off

Ride at an exertion level of 7/10 (1 is a stroll and 10 is sprinting away from a lion) for 30 seconds and then pedal slowly at a 1/10 exertion level for 30 seconds.  Repeat the cycle for ten intervals.  You are done in ten minutes.

45 seconds on / 15 seconds off

Ride at an exertion level of 7/10 (1 is a stroll and 10 is swimming to escape the alligator) for 45 seconds and then pedal slowly for at a 1/10 exertion level for 30 seconds.  Repeat the cycle for five intervals.  This workout takes five minutes.

Tabata Protocol

Twenty seconds on at an exertion level of 9/10 followed by ten seconds off at 1/10.  Repeat eight times.  This format is built right into the Air Assault bike timer.  Do not get discouraged if you have to stop well before completing eight intervals.  Work your way up to completing all four minutes of the session.

1.5, 1.0, 0.5 Mile Intervals

Ride for one and half miles and then rest 90 seconds.  Ride for one mile and rest for 45 seconds.  Ride for a half mile.  Record you overall time.

View Mike’s video on the assault bike: https://youtu.be/8Y3rmX2cF3s

For more information on the many benefits of HIIT read the The One Minute Workout by Dr. Martin Gibala.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

PDFTreadmills are found in virtually every gym.  Read the six treadmill facts you need to know.  Meet a Fenton Fitness member who learned how to manage her back pain, and read about the seven best TRX exercises.  Do you have limited time to exercise?  Be more efficient with HIIT.

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Fitness Freedom For All


This election marathon drones on, and neither of our present candidates has expressed an interest in the health or fitness of the average American citizen.  “Making Americans Strong Again” is the slogan of my candidacy and this is my platform.  All of these programs would cut the costs of health care, battle the obesity epidemic, and more equitably share the fitness wealth.

Triple the tax on all tobacco products.  Nicotine is the most addictive chemical on the planet and it produces a tremendous burden on the American health care system.  Use the tobacco tax dollars and the health care savings achieved with a reduction in the number of addicts to pay for all aspects of my program.  Currently 19% of the USA population admits to smoking and conservative estimates are that tobacco users add another 210 billion dollars a year to our health care costs.

Outlaw every aspect of tobacco advertising–no exceptions.  Tobacco is a horror that should have been dealt with years ago.  Spend some time with a patient afflicted with esophageal, tonsil, tongue, or oral cancer and you will understand.

I thank Dr. John Ratey the author of the 2008 book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain for the Brain Function Equation.

Consistent Exercise + Healthy Metabolism = Better Mental Function

More of the brain is devoted to movement than language.  If we wish to fully develop our intellectual capacity, we need to work on maintaining optimal “physical literacy”.  Dr. Ratey has documented how school programs use consistent exercise to produce better test scores in all academic subjects.

The healthy metabolism portion of the above equation is driven by nutrition.  Ask any coach who has worked on body composition goals with fitness clients and they will tell you that meal preparation is a lost art.  Cooking classes, instruction on portion size, and how to use an appliance other than a microwave would go a long way to improve the average American’s health.

The government should support the participation of its citizens, young and old, in health promoting activities.  The school systems are too stressed with the demands of teaching standardized math, science, and the latest version of history.  Americans should be given a tax incentive or vouchers toward instructional classes and training programs that are supplied by private businesses.  As physical literacy improves and the average citizen’s metabolism becomes healthier, perhaps we will become capable of picking better candidates.

America’s military readiness is impacted by the physical weakness of our citizens.  It is estimated that only one in four Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 meet the requirements for service.  The big barriers are obesity and fitness related health concerns such as hypertension and diabetes.  The US Army and Navy scaled back the physical performance requirements and are still unable to find soldiers that can pass the new standards.  As a nation, we need to address the profound loss of fitness in our youth.

Allow all Americans to fully deduct the cost of gym memberships for themselves and their families.  Permit businesses to fully deduct the cost of memberships for their workers.  We know citizens that exercise stay healthier, require less medical care, and place less fiscal stress on the American health care system.  Gym attendance makes health care in America more “affordable” by keeping citizens fit.  The government should reward the good behavior of the citizens attempting to take care of their health.

Our elected officials in Washington are provided with access to fitness facilities and trainers.  Separate facilities for the House and Senate complete with pools, basketball courts, saunas, and steam rooms are provided for past and present politically elected officials.  Our Senators and Representatives utilize state of the art fitness centers and their constituents (you and me) subsidize the payment for these facilities and services.  Our political leaders value fitness and have deemed it a necessary occupational benefit.  Let them help their fellow countrymen share in the benefits of fitness.

The technology exists that will turn off a mobile phone if it is moving in a car.  Please read the recent article in the New York Times* by Matt Richtel.  As your new president, this app would be beamed into every automobile.  The most dangerous thing an average American does in their day is climb into a car.  Mobile phones have made automobile travel much more dangerous.  For many people, the mobile phone is an impulsive addiction they are unable to control.  We will never get compliance without blocking the device.

I know, I am a technophobe, social media hater, and an old geezer who is just now using e-mail.  What I do hate is the driver who kills or injures a fellow American because they are distracted by the twitterverse.  Blocking the mobile phone while traveling in a car may have the unintended consequence of restoring the lost art of conversation–you remember talking, don’t you?  While cruising along on this brief bit of magic we call life, you do not want the final sound you hear to be the beep or ring from your cell phone.

There are many professions in which a person’s physical fitness is directly related to job performance.  Fire fighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, and construction workers all have physically demanding jobs that require a higher level of strength and mobility.  It seems logical that maintaining a strong, well functioning body would be an occupational expense not dissimilar to many of the other permissible tax deductions currently available to business.  A yearly fitness voucher for these professionals would decrease the cost of worker’s compensation, improve job performance, and enhance productivity.  These vouchers could be used to hire fitness professionals or pay for gym memberships and fitness programs.

A “shovel ready” project that requires little in the way of engineering and creates ongoing health benefit is bicycle path construction.  A bicycle path keeps riders and runners a safe distance from cars and encourages a fitness activity that is also very “eco friendly”.  Most European countries have invested heavily in this infrastructure, and the use of bicycles is far more prevalent in areas that have developed a bicycle path system.  I propose a USA Pathway Project that would create jobs, make Americans healthier, improve bicycle rider /pedestrian safety, and reduce our carbon footprint.

Many Americans live in what I call “fitness deserts”.  There is no safe place to walk, no park, no gym, and no recreational facilities.  I was fortunate to grow up in a town that had a city run summer recreation program.  We had access to basketball courts, tennis courts, and playgrounds with swings, monkey bars, and slides.  Elect me your next president and construction would begin on day one.

If exercise could be packaged as a prescription pill, it would be the most widely utilized medication in the history of health care.  Doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants counsel their patients that they need to exercise, but they are unable to provide the type of instruction and support the patient needs to be successful.  Our health insurance companies face mandates for medical coverage of many diseases and illnesses that would be reduced or alleviated with consistent exercise.  Insurance companies should have to pay for the medically prescribed exercise programs as part of our new “mandatory health care coverage”.

The elected representatives that have given us mandatory health insurance coverage should have to live with the same plans now available to the average American citizen.  Let them enroll in the programs available in the states they represent.  Let them pay yearly 15 – 25% increases in premiums.  Let them carry a $4000 – $8000 deductible for each member of their family.  Let the Congressman and Senators families wait for a pre- approval of diagnostic tests and specialists.  Instead, they are provided with a lifetime of the finest medical coverage while the citizens they represent must figure out how to manage shrinking benefits and rising costs.  This simple piece of legislation would greatly improve the level of attention given to the quality of health care coverage in this country

I have been sharing these ideas with politicians for years but have never gotten any response.  They are probably very busy working out at the gym.

*The New York Times, “Phone Makers Could Cut Off Drivers. So Why Don’t They?” by Matt Richtel, September 24, 2016. View the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/25/technology/phone-makers-could-cut-off-drivers-so-why-dont-they.html?_r=0

-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

One of the more common questions I get from fitness clients is:  What is the best exercise to get rid of my Muffin Top? Belly Fat? Love Handles?  The answer is always the same.  The table push away is the single most important movement pattern you can practice on a daily basis if you wish to decrease stored subcutaneous body fat.  Great abs are made in the kitchen and not the gym.  Exercise alone does not stand a chance of “making your middle ripped” if the base of your food pyramid is Doritos and Oreos.  The good news is, that once you get your dietary life in order, a proper exercise program creates the magic that makes you leaner for a lifetime.Ice_cream

Breathing Fire

Once you have become proficient at the table push away you are ready to begin the fitness activities that produce the hormonal changes (more growth hormone and less cortisol) that assist in metabolizing body fat and increasing muscle.  These activities are simple and require a short time commitment, but they are unfortunately difficult.  There are many great fat metabolizing modes of exercise.  These are simply my favorite five.  Give each of them a try and let me know how the experience goes.

Dual Action Bike Intervals

This is a good, fat-burning activity for those returning to fitness.  It creates minimal joint stress and extreme metabolic disruption.  Perform this at the end of a strength training session.  Adjust the seat, hop on the bike, and give it all you’ve got for eight cycles of 40 seconds with 30 seconds of recovery.  Perform this program two or three times a week.

Sled Push

Load up a sled with a weight that you can push at a pace that is slower than a sprint but faster than a plow horse.  Push the sled twenty yards and then move the handles to the other side and push the sled back.  Rest as needed.  Record how many trips you can make in ten minutes.

Five Minutes of Kettlebell Swings

If you are proficient with kettlebell swings, give this routine a try.  Grab a kettlebell (men 20-32 kilos and women 12-20 kilos) and set a timer.  See how many swings you can complete in five minutes.  Do not start too fast.  Perform sets of ten swings and take a brief rest.  Once you can get 100 repetitions in five minutes, increase the weight of the kettlebell.

Overhead Slams

If you are able to perform a proper squat (see Jeff to get a functional movement screen assessment for the answer) you can get into slam ball throws.  Choose a slam ball (non- bouncing ball) that allows you to perform ten overhead slams without much difficulty.  Perform ten sets of ten throws with fifteen seconds of rest in between.


Most fitness clients want a body that looks more like a sprinter and less like a marathoner.  Sprinting does create some joint stress, so venture into this area of training slowly.  All distances work well.   Most fitness clients will do better with a gradual increase in running pace that ramps up to an 85-90 percent max effort.  Sustain that effort for fifty to sixty yards.  Better yet find a 30 degree incline and perform hill sprints.  Warm up with some movement prep and perform a program of six to ten sprints once or twice a week.

Each of these activities takes less than fifteen minutes to complete.  No need to spend 45 minutes in the “fat burning zone”.  Invest the time you save in food preparation and a program of strength training, and you will see even greater body composition changes.

-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS