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Muscle Preservation and Fat Loss

NY Times on Fat Loss

One of the adverse effects of diets is the loss of muscle that accompanies a reduction of body fat.  Muscle is the metabolic engine, injury preventative armor, and longevity enhancing elixir of human biology.  Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times has written an enlightening *article on the best method of losing body fat while holding onto valuable muscle.  The recent research reveals that a program of strength training produces optimal fat loss with significantly less muscle wasting.  Long slow distance exercise combined with caloric restriction accelerates muscle loss.  Your choice of exercise activity can have a profound impact on your physical performance and health.  Read the NY Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/well/move/to-maintain-muscle-and-lose-fat-as-you-age-add-weights.html?_r=0.

After the age of 25, the average American gains a pound of fat and loses a ½ pound of muscle every year.  If no action in taken to reverse this trend, the average American will have gained 25-30 pounds of fat and shed 12-15 pounds of muscle by the time they reach 55 years of age.  This 55 year old will stand on the scale 12 to 18 pounds heavier, but the true alteration in body composition is far more dramatic.

America does not have “an obesity epidemic”, it has a “muscle atrophy epidemic”.  We are not so much over fat as we are under muscled.  The simplistic notion of “losing weight” fails to improve health because it accelerates muscle loss.  Middle age muscle loss is the catalyst for many of the illnesses that plague us later in life.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

*To Maintain Muscle and Lose Fat as Your Age, Add Weights, Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, November 15, 2017

Discover the difference between muscle soreness following exercise activity and pain you should be concerned about in “Do I Have A Problem?”.  Jeff Tirrell gives advice for women on optimizing performance  and Mike O’Hara discusses training priorities for those over forty.

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Fitness training for those of us past 40 years of age is more complicated.  Physical performance and recovery capacity are dramatically different.  If you need proof, look for the forty year olds in the NBA or NFL.  The good news is that with proper planning, consistent performance, and the wisdom that comes with age, we can stay fit and active for a lifetime.  I have compiled a collection of tips for the forty plus fitness client.

Do Less Cardio

People often think that I don’t like cardio, or what most people call “cardio.”  This is not entirely true.  I do think that many older adults spend far too much time on traditional forms of cardio (running, elliptical trainers, recumbent bikes, biking, swimming, etc.) and not nearly enough time on the things that will make the biggest impact on their quality of life.  Traditional LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) cardio benefits only the cardiovascular system.  Comparatively, strength training works the cardiovascular, pulmonary, and musculoskeletal systems.  While popular, traditional cardio will do very little to preserve muscle mass and even less to preserve strength and power outputs (the three things that decrease the most as we age).

Strength is the base of all other fitness attributes and should, therefore, be a priority.  Research has demonstrated that HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), which uses full body strength movements in a circuit fashion with minimal rest, offers similar cardiovascular improvements to traditional cardio with far superior benefits to muscle mass, strength, and power outputs.031

Most people over the age of 40 would be best suited to spend 75-80% of gym time focusing on traditional strength training or High Intensity Interval Training.  No more than 25% of your total time in the gym should be spent doing traditional cardio.

-Jeff Tirrell, B.S., CSCS, Pn1

In a recent article on interval training, I mentioned my preference for “Crash Free” training modalities. Since that article, I have gotten several requests for more information on training methods that produce an optimal metabolic response with limited biomechanical wear and tear. The long-term goal of any fitness program should be to enhance movement and keep you in the fitness game for a lifetime. Training should never accelerate joint breakdown or destroy your ability to move. Take the time to read the May 16, 2016 Wall Street Journal article by Allan Ripp, “The Accidental Running Guru.” These are my top five Crash Free Cardio choices.

Continue reading

Are you getting better or are you getting worse? No one stays the same. Our children get standardized reading tests, math exams, and comprehension assessments to measure learning. Your doctor continually assesses your blood pressure, lipid profile, and indicators of inflammation to determine if prescribed medication and lifestyle changes produce a beneficial response. In physical therapy, we look at range of motion, strength, mobility, balance, and movement patterns to make judgments on our treatment programs. In the fitness world, assessment is generally absent. This wastes valuable training time and can lead to injuries. I have some suggestions on basic fitness tests we can all use to determine if our exercise program is helping or hindering our physical performance.

The best performance tests require minimal testing equipment and can be performed safely by most individuals. They produce a time, a distance, or a measurement that can be recorded and compared to future and past results. The results are used to guide the choices you make in your exercise program. If performance tests worsen, then what you are doing is not working and you need to make some changes. If performance tests get better, be happy and keep on with your present training.

In the physical therapy clinic, we frequently see patients who pass some performance tests with an A+ grade and get a D- in other tests. They are the equivalent of the sixth grader who reads at a college level but is unable to perform simple addition and subtraction. The deficit in performance is what created the pain that brought them to the physical therapy clinic. The long term solution for these patients is to create a program of training that brings the D- up to a B grade. More reading will not improve the student’s dismal math grade.

Performance tests are the cure for the “I am not seeing any results” issue. Many well-intentioned exercise programs destroy performance, inhibit fat loss, and reduce functional capacity. Consistent assessments alert us to problems before pain is created and too much time is wasted.

2 Mile Assault Bike Ride

Nearly anyone can take this fitness test. Unlike running on a track or a treadmill, minimal skill is required. The bike guides your movement. The bike records the time, so you do not need a partner or a stopwatch. The 2 mile ride is a good measure of work capacity. Work capacity is correlated with better performance during activities of daily living and moving well for the entirety of your life.

I like the dual action Assault bikes because they inflict minimal orthopedic stress on the legs and spine and, at the same time, deliver an intense metabolic training stimulus. Efficient exercise is the key to fat loss. The Assault bike never feels like it gets easier.








Adjust the seat for comfort. Everyone is different in this regard, but a good rule is to set the height so the knee remains bent 15-20 degrees at the bottom of the stroke. Start pedaling and record your time when you cross the 2 mile mark.

Perform this test once a month. Getting a stronger upper body is often the key to getting faster times on the 2 mile test. As body composition improves, scores on the Assault bike get better. Keep track of your 2 mile test time and use the score to assess whether your exercise program is working.

-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Click on the link below for video demonstration of the Assault Bike Ride:



We all have limited time to devote to exercise. We want optimal results for the time we spend in the gym. We want to avoid injury and train for a lifetime. For these reasons the dual action Air Assault bike should be part of your fitness program.

Dual action bikes use a fan to produce resistance. The faster you pedal, the more air the fan must move making the exercise more intense. All four extremities participate, so this creates a tremendous cardiovascular response you cannot get from other devices.

The Air Assault produces minimal orthopedic impact. Less joint stress is a good thing for most fitness clients and athletes. If we can rev up the metabolism and, at the same time, reduce impact on the joints, we can train for a lifetime and avoid visits to the physical therapist.

I have owned and consistently trained on the Schwinn Airdyne for many years. The Air Assault bike is significantly more challenging. Throw out your Airdyne times, there is no comparison. While the Air Assault is suitable for all ages and fitness levels, it can be one of the most intense training sessions you will ever experience.

Over the last year, I have developed several metabolic routines using the Air Assault. They are very effective for clients interested in improving body composition- less fat and more muscle. As is common with most great training programs, they are simple but not easy. Keep track of your results and try to set new records. Give each of these sessions at least one trial and let me know how it goes.


Air Assault Set Up

Set your seat for height and reach, so at the bottom of the pedal stroke, the knee is bent about 20 degrees. As you increase the pedal rpm’s, greater resistance is produced by the air displaced by the fan. Go slow—less resistance. Go fast—more resistance. You must stay tall in the saddle in order to effectively drive with the arms.

Fenton Fitness Fantathalon: Jacobs Ladder 400 feet followed immediately by a one mile Air Assault ride and then a 120 yard sled push with your bodyweight loaded on the sled. Record your total time. This is a once a month “my idea of fun” challenge.

Bike Up and Row Down: Begin with a 3 mile Air Assault ride followed by a 1500 meter Concept 2 Row. Record your total time. Once a week try to beat your best time. Set up the bike and rower ahead of time. You only get 20 seconds for the switch.

Calorie Conqueror: Set up the Air Assault bike and the SkiErg. I suggest that you completely close the damper on the SkiErg. Ride the Air Assault for 5 minutes. Record the total calories on the display and rest thirty seconds as you switch to the SkiErg. SkiErg for 5 minutes.   Record the total calories on the display and rest thirty seconds as you switch back to the Air Assault. Bike for 5 minutes. Record the total calories on the display and rest thirty seconds as you switch to the SkiErg. SkiErg for 5 minutes.   Record the total calories on the display. Add up your total calorie count for your twenty minutes of work.

Click on the link below to see video demonstration of bike set up and performance:

-Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Huffin’ And Puffin’

Conditioning Sessions: Better Results, Less Time, And Fewer Injuries

sledFor most of the fitness clients I work with, long duration cardio training—thirty minutes on the treadmill, forty minutes on the elliptical, and any time on a recumbent bike is a waste of training time.  It does nothing to move them toward their fitness goals.  A far better choice is to perform strength training followed by a conditioning session.  Conditioning sessions are very different than long duration “cardio”.  Conditioning work is performed for short durations at high intensity.  You link different drills together in a series to produce a metabolism boosting session that lasts ten to twenty minutes.

Conditioning Benefits
Conditioning sessions speed up your metabolism–your body uses more calories just walking around, sitting, sleeping, etc.
It improves your capacity to perform functional tasks such as lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling.
It is never boring–changing the stimulus changes your body.
Conditioning sessions maintain the physical properties we lose as we age–muscle mass, bone density, and power production.
Conditioning is time efficient–a properly designed session takes ten to twenty minutes and you are done.
You are far less likely to suffer an injury because you are not performing the same movement patterns for multiple hours every week.
Proper programming of a conditioning session will allow you train around an injury.
Conditioning can be scaled to any fitness level.
It is fun.

Conditioning Drawbacks
It will never–and should never–get easy.
You will need a new wardrobe because all of your pants will get looser.
You will not be able to watch TV while you exercise.
It will get you kicked out of Planet Fitness.

Since most gym goers are unfamiliar with conditioning training, we will be posting information on our favorite tools and a monthly conditioning session.  Give these a try and let us know how you do.

Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS