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Everything Works–For Six Weeks–Then It Stops Working

“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.”–Charles Kettering

One of the most frequent complaints from gym members and physical therapy patients is that they exercise but see no results.  They consistently ride the elliptical, attend yoga class, and run, but make no progress in how they look, move, or feel.  The common feature to almost all of these clients is that they have done the same activity at the same intensity for a prolonged period of time.  The human body is a master at adaptation and the only way it will change is if you alter your exercise activity on a regular basis.

In athletic training, the planned alteration in training stimulus is called periodization.  Periodization is a method of dosing your exercise workloads to promote peak performance.  The athlete works at a specific regimen for four to six weeks and then the program is changed before physical adaptation takes place and progress stalls.

Older and more experienced gym goers should alter their fitness routine every three to four weeks.  The changes do not need to be major.  Increase the weight you lift and lower the number of repetitions–four sets of six repetitions instead of three sets of ten repetitions.  Get off the recumbent bike and add some drills to improve your gait and enhance balance.  Expand your training tool box and learn how to use a new device– resistance tubing, medicine ball, kettlebell…

For fat loss, choose what strength coach Dan John calls inefficient exercise.  Over the weeks and months, the elliptical session you have been performing three days a week burns fewer calories because your body becomes efficient in that activity.  Find activities that are unfamiliar or that can be loaded to make them more challenging.  At Fenton Fitness, the Jacobs Ladder and rope drills are my first suggestions.

Most programming changes make training more difficult and produce greater delayed onset muscle soreness.  This is all part of creating a new stimulus that the body finds challenging.  In three or four weeks, the sessions will be less demanding and you will be ready for another alteration in the training cycle.

Change is good but frequently neglected.  The best results have come with regular alterations of fitness programming.  Remember that change can also be a period of rest.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Eight Habits for Long Term Fitness Success–#3 Work on Mobility/Stability

There are thousands of different workout programs and methods to use to become more fit.  These range from at home workout videos, to aerobic or yoga classes, to bootcamps and group functional training workouts.  Methods, benefits, and risks/drawbacks could be debated until our last breath and often are among fitness professionals.  One thing I’ve come to learn in my twenty years in this industry is that dogmatic approaches rarely pan out, and you are better off steering clear of anything or anyone who claims any one method of training is optimal and a cure all for everyone under every circumstance.  However, I do believe that there are some universal habits that will vastly improve someone’s fitness.  For the sake of this article, I will stick with habits which only involve movement, with an understanding that nutrition, rest, recovery, stress management, and body weight all impact fitness as well.

To know what habits will best improve long term fitness, we must first define the term.  There are three definitions of fitness. The first (and newest, brought on by the growth of the fitness industry) is “the condition of being physically fit and healthy.” This definition misses the mark as it uses the root of the word in it, and doesn’t really tell us anything.  The second definition is “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.”  This definition is a little bit better.  We can see here that the fitness required to be an NFL offensive lineman and the fitness required to run the Ironman in Hawaii is much different.  This still doesn’t get to what most of us think of when we describe someone as being fit.  The third definition, and the one I find to be most relevant to the general population, is “an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment.”  Put differently, your ability to reproduce and pass your genes onto the next generation.  At first glance, this may seem like a poor definition.  If we go back 100-500 years to a time where modern technology and medicine couldn’t “fix” everything, this definition is ideal.  If someone is over or underweight, they struggle with fertility.  If someone has major health complications, injuries, etc. they would have a hard time attracting a mate, defending themselves/home, or feeding themselves.  Certain lifestyle choices will absolutely reduce fertility rates (smoking, drinking, stress) therefore decreasing one’s fitness.  Operating with the biological definition of fitness, I find that the following eight habits will set you up for a lifetime of greatness.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Work on Mobility/Stability

Make sure you can move each joint through its maximal pain free range of motion.  On top of being able to move through that range, we also want to be able to control or “own” that range of motion.  This can be done by using full range of motion in your strength exercises, as well as incorporating some full body warm ups that address each.  At Fenton Fitness, we try to hit 2-3 hip stretches, 1-2 thoracic spine/shoulder stretches, and 2-3 activation/stability drills at the beginning of each workout.  If an individual has no restrictions, a good bang for the buck warm up can be seen in this video. This type of work can be done daily, but I would suggest a minimum of 3 days per week to maintain your movement quality.

 View the video here

Learn how some simple exercises can reduce or prevent lower back pain in Mike O’Hara’s article “Daily Lower Back Pain Meditation”.  Jeff Tirrell explains the importance of working with a qualified trainer in a small group.   Do you know the five fitness numbers everyone should know?

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Eight Habits for Long Term Fitness Success–#2 Get Stronger

There are thousands of different workout programs and methods to use to become more fit.  These range from at home workout videos, to aerobic or yoga classes, to bootcamps and group functional training workouts.  Methods, benefits, and risks/drawbacks could be debated until our last breath and often are among fitness professionals.  One thing I’ve come to learn in my twenty years in this industry is that dogmatic approaches rarely pan out, and you are better off steering clear of anything or anyone who claims any one method of training is optimal and a cure all for everyone under every circumstance.  However, I do believe that there are some universal habits that will vastly improve someone’s fitness.  For the sake of this article, I will stick with habits which only involve movement, with an understanding that nutrition, rest, recovery, stress management, and body weight all impact fitness as well.

To know what habits will best improve long term fitness, we must first define the term.  There are three definitions of fitness. The first (and newest, brought on by the growth of the fitness industry) is “the condition of being physically fit and healthy.” This definition misses the mark as it uses the root of the word in it, and doesn’t really tell us anything.  The second definition is “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.”  This definition is a little bit better.  We can see here that the fitness required to be an NFL offensive lineman and the fitness required to run the Ironman in Hawaii is much different.  This still doesn’t get to what most of us think of when we describe someone as being fit.  The third definition, and the one I find to be most relevant to the general population, is “an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment.”  Put differently, your ability to reproduce and pass your genes onto the next generation.  At first glance, this may seem like a poor definition.  If we go back 100-500 years to a time where modern technology and medicine couldn’t “fix” everything, this definition is ideal.  If someone is over or underweight, they struggle with fertility.  If someone has major health complications, injuries, etc. they would have a hard time attracting a mate, defending themselves/home, or feeding themselves.  Certain lifestyle choices will absolutely reduce fertility rates (smoking, drinking, stress) therefore decreasing one’s fitness.  Operating with the biological definition of fitness, I find that the following eight habits will set you up for a lifetime of greatness.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Get Strong(er)

Strength is probably one of the greatest indicators of longevity and quality of life that we have.  How strong is strong enough will get you different responses depending on what strength coach you talk to and what population we are talking about.  However, one thing is for certain.  You can almost always get stronger at something, and there is virtually no drawback to being stronger.  Most people will be best served by having 5-6 movements that they focus on getting really strong at, and keeping those in their training plan for 6-12 weeks at a time.  I typically recommend picking one movement from each movement category (Squat, Lunge, Hinge, Push, Pull, and Carry/Crawl) and getting as strong as possible on that given movement.  Pick movements that you feel comfortable with, are pain free, and of which you have maximal range of motion.  Stick with 2-6 repetitions, 3-5 sets, 2 times per week for best results.

Eight Habits for Long Term Fitness Success–#1 Move Daily

There are thousands of different workout programs and methods to use to become more fit.  These range from at home workout videos, to aerobic or yoga classes, to bootcamps and group functional training workouts.  Methods, benefits, and risks/drawbacks could be debated until our last breath and often are among fitness professionals.  One thing I’ve come to learn in my twenty years in this industry is that dogmatic approaches rarely pan out, and you are better off steering clear of anything or anyone who claims any one method of training is optimal and a cure all for everyone under every circumstance.  However, I do believe that there are some universal habits that will vastly improve someone’s fitness.  For the sake of this article, I will stick with habits which only involve movement, with an understanding that nutrition, rest, recovery, stress management, and body weight all impact fitness as well.

To know what habits will best improve long term fitness, we must first define the term.  There are three definitions of fitness. The first (and newest, brought on by the growth of the fitness industry) is “the condition of being physically fit and healthy.” This definition misses the mark as it uses the root of the word in it, and doesn’t really tell us anything.  The second definition is “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.”  This definition is a little bit better.  We can see here that the fitness required to be an NFL offensive lineman and the fitness required to run the Ironman in Hawaii is much different.  This still doesn’t get to what most of us think of when we describe someone as being fit.  The third definition, and the one I find to be most relevant to the general population, is “an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment.”  Put differently, your ability to reproduce and pass your genes onto the next generation.  At first glance, this may seem like a poor definition.  If we go back 100-500 years to a time where modern technology and medicine couldn’t “fix” everything, this definition is ideal.  If someone is over or underweight, they struggle with fertility.  If someone has major health complications, injuries, etc. they would have a hard time attracting a mate, defending themselves/home, or feeding themselves.  Certain lifestyle choices will absolutely reduce fertility rates (smoking, drinking, stress) therefore decreasing one’s fitness.  Operating with the biological definition of fitness, I find that the following eight habits will set you up for a lifetime of greatness.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Move Daily

This is so simple, yet like many things in life, the simplicity of this basic habit causes it to get overlooked or ignored.  This is by far the most common habit among fit individuals.  Don’t over think it or complicate it–just move.  It doesn’t have to be strenuous or difficult.  When looking at the small number of individuals who are successful with long term weight loss, researchers have seen that doing 4-5+ hours/week of planned exercise/activity is a staple.  This comes out to 30-60 minutes per day.  Walk, ride a bike, kayak, paddle board, roll, carry, crawl, do a movement flow (as seen in the video) or whatever.  Just get off your butt and move around at least 30 minutes each day.  It doesn’t have to be all in one shot, but make it happen, and make it intentional.  Daily movement helps manage stress, regulate hunger, and has big cognitive benefits as well.  The only stipulation I would make is to avoid activities with high risk of injury.  After all, if you get substantially injured it makes daily movement a bit more difficult.

See video of some simple movement patterns: here

Five Fitness Numbers You Need to Know

Scale bodyweight, bench press maximum, some “girl name” and a time are all fitness numbers your hear in the gym.  If you are interested in optimal performance and health, I have the fitness numbers we all need to know.  Focusing on these numbers will keep you active and independent for a lifetime.

1) WAIST CIRCUMFERENCE

The location of bodyfat is far more important than the amount of bodyfat.  Visceral fat, the kind stored in and around the belly, is the hormonal driver of metabolic syndrome; the precursor to diabetes, elevated blood lipids, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease.  To optimize health, you need to monitor the diameter of your waistline.  The number you want to know is your waist to height ratio.  You want your waist to be less than half your height.  If your waist size is greater than one half your height, then reducing your waist diameter should be the primary goal of your fitness program.

2) SLEEP TIME

Sleep is the ultimate exercise recovery activity.  One or two nights of sleep deprivation has been shown to reduce gym performance by 25% – 40%.  We need seven to eight hours of restful sleep, each and every night.  The most important benefits of exercise are neural and hormonal.  Sleep reboots our neural software and replenishes the hormonal system.  Medications, respiratory problems, sleep apnea, and obesity all can interfere with sleep patterns.  Fixing these health issues and developing better sleep habits produces magical progress in the gym.  Read the book, Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.

3) FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT SCREEN SCORE

The Functional Movement Screen (FMS), developed by Physical Therapist Gray Cook and Athletic Trainer Lee Burton, is a seven-step dynamic movement based test that has become a standard of practice in physical therapy and sports performance centers.  The FMS helps prevent injuries before they occur by identifying risk factors.  Movement indicates how a body works and lets us know how the brain is controlling the body and how the joints and muscles communicate.  Just like a good medical work up, the FMS permits the trainer / therapist to make the proper decision about the clients’ most urgent needs and avoid gym activities that are detrimental.

4) GRIP STRENGTH

Recent research has demonstrated that knowing your grip strength is as important as knowing your blood pressure.  The PURE research of 140 thousand individuals revealed that a drop in grip strength is a strong predictor of mortality from all causes.  We will all face health battles and the stronger body wins while a weaker body loses.

5) NUMBER OF TRAINING SESSIONS PER YEAR

Exercise is ineffective absent consistency.  Even a haphazard program of exercise is beneficial if you perform it on a consistent basis.  The experts say a good goal is 150 training sessions per year.  That is three times a week for 50 of the 52 weeks in a year.  Link together several years of the consistency habit and amazing changes happen.  Most people overestimate the value of a month’s worth of exercise and greatly underestimate the value of a year’s worth of exercise.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Hang Up and Drive

While on a recent trip out of town, I witnessed a young man plow his car into the back of a delivery truck.  The young man was gazing down at his mobile phone and failed to stop when the truck in front of him stopped for a school bus.  The airbag did its job and the driver appeared to be unscathed.  The passengers in the back seat of his car did not fair as well and both were taken away in an ambulance.

The technology exists to turn off a mobile phone if it is moving in a car.  The most dangerous thing the average American does in their day is travel in a car.  Mobile phone use makes car travel dramatically more dangerous.  Educational campaigns and fines have not reduced mobile phone use by drivers.  Many people will never be able to control their impulsive addiction to the mobile phone.  Locking out cell phones while the car is moving is the only answer.

Physical therapist clean up the physical damage created by drivers distracted by their cell phones.  Auto accidents often create pain and performance problems that never fully resolve.  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 ring from your cell phone.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Seven Habits for Long Term Success–Part 4

There are hundreds, if not thousands of diets that have been used throughout history. The intent of most diets is to lose weight and bodyfat. Diets that “work” will reduce your intake of calories. This can be done by reducing or eliminating certain food groups, types of food, or macronutrients. If the diet reduces caloric intake enough, then an individual will lose weight and body fat. A good diet will encourage the intake of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and lean proteins, but these aren’t mandatory for weight loss and fat loss. The problem with dieting alone is that good nutritional skills and habits are not typically emphasized so they do not last. Once the “diet” ends, then we revert back to old broken habits and lose all of our progress.

At Fenton Fitness, we utilize the Precisions Nutrition system of habit-based nutrition coaching. We know that in order to change, our actions need to change. And in order to make lasting changes, actions need to remain changed. This is where a habit-based approach comes in. Most people know how to eat better or what they can do to lose weight. What they lack are the skills and action steps to make that a reality. With our Nutrition Coaching clients, we have a 52-week curriculum that helps clients work through obstacles and motivations. We introduce new habits every two weeks along with daily lessons that reinforce and teach the importance of each habit. Each habit builds off of the previous one, mastering one before moving on. For most people, two weeks is a good time frame to get a good grip on each habit, but If there is difficulty, we simply spend more time on that habit until the client is ready to move on.

The six habits which back up the foundation of our program will take most of our clients twelve weeks to work through. These six habits will serve anyone looking to improve their eating habits and can be adapted to virtually any food preference and goal. This series will describe the basics of our program.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Healthy Fats and Portions: (week 10-12)

Healthy fats help with hormone synthesis, recovery, key metabolic tasks, regulate appetite and satiety, and make food taste good.  Healthy fats are best found in whole, minimally processed foods.  We need a balance of healthy fats to feel and function at our best.  This is an “easy” habit to understand, but a little harder to do properly since it’s easy to overeat fats.  It’s important to understand that there are different types of fat with different effects in the body.  Add healthy fats to your shopping list choosing which healthy fats/fat-containing foods you like and will eat.  Buy, prepare, and have healthy fats/fat-containing foods on hand, easily available.  When setting up your menu make sure you incorporate healthy fats at each meal.  Understand what an approximate serving size is.  Women: 1 thumb of fat per meal, Men: 1-2 thumbs of fat per meal.  Portion sizes may need to be adjusted based on activity level, goals, and meal frequency.  Understand that healthy fats, while nutritious, are still energy-dense and should be used sparingly.  It is easy to overeat this energy dense macronutrient.

Closing Thoughts

Keep in mind long term change requires skills and habits.  These skills must be practiced daily.  Most people will need to spend a minimum of 2 weeks on each habit before becoming competent enough to build and add on the next habit.  The Precision Nutrition system that we use  at Fenton Fitness allows us to guide you each day of the journey with your habit and a daily lesson to help you practice, understand, and troubleshoot difficulties.  Though initial progress may be slower, long term progress and sustainability put this habit based approach far ahead of any other system or diet plan in existence.  If you’re  interested in more information about our program and to see if we have any current openings, please feel free to contact us: jeff@fentonfitness.com

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1 

Anti Extension Progression

An interconnected team of muscles holds our spinal column stable.  If you wish to be strong in all endeavors, you need to develop isometric (no movement) torso strength that resists flexion, resists extension, and resists rotational forces.  Most people have poor anti extension torso strength, and many of them show up in the physical therapy clinic with lower back, hip, and neck pain.  Presented below is a time-tested progression of training activities that will improve anti extension torso strength.  Watch the video and make these exercises a part of your training program.

Anti Extension Torso Strength Program

  1. Wall Planks
  2. Bench Planks
  3. Push up Position Planks
  4. Push up Position Planks feet elevated
  5. Ball Roll Outs
  6. Ab Wheel Roll Outs

Initial anti extension exercises are all a version of planks that are scaled from easiest to hardest–wall, bench, push up position, and then push up position feet elevated.

Weaker people require more practice to develop the neural connections that improve strength.  They need two sessions a day to drive a reboot of their neural system.   Start with the wall planks for two holds of twenty seconds.  Gradually increase the time you hold the wall planks from twenty seconds to forty seconds.  When forty seconds gets easy, move to the next progression–bench planks.  Return to twenty second holds for two planks after each progression.

Once you can perform forty seconds of the push up position plank with feet elevated, move to the ball roll out exercise for five repetitions.  As your strength improves, gradually increase the repetitions until you can complete fifteen repetitions of the ball roll out.  The final progression is the ab wheel roll out–start with five and work up to fifteen repetitions.

View video of these exercises: here

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Seven Habits for Long Term Success–Part 3

There are hundreds, if not thousands of diets that have been used throughout history. The intent of most diets is to lose weight and bodyfat. Diets that “work” will reduce your intake of calories. This can be done by reducing or eliminating certain food groups, types of food, or macronutrients. If the diet reduces caloric intake enough, then an individual will lose weight and body fat. A good diet will encourage the intake of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and lean proteins, but these aren’t mandatory for weight loss and fat loss. The problem with dieting alone is that good nutritional skills and habits are not typically emphasized so they do not last. Once the “diet” ends, then we revert back to old broken habits and lose all of our progress.

At Fenton Fitness, we utilize the Precisions Nutrition system of habit-based nutrition coaching. We know that in order to change, our actions need to change. And in order to make lasting changes, actions need to remain changed. This is where a habit-based approach comes in. Most people know how to eat better or what they can do to lose weight. What they lack are the skills and action steps to make that a reality. With our Nutrition Coaching clients, we have a 52-week curriculum that helps clients work through obstacles and motivations. We introduce new habits every two weeks along with daily lessons that reinforce and teach the importance of each habit. Each habit builds off of the previous one, mastering one before moving on. For most people, two weeks is a good time frame to get a good grip on each habit, but If there is difficulty, we simply spend more time on that habit until the client is ready to move on.

The six habits which back up the foundation of our program will take most of our clients twelve weeks to work through. These six habits will serve anyone looking to improve their eating habits and can be adapted to virtually any food preference and goal. This series will describe the basics of our program.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Eat at least 5 colorful servings of Fruits & Veggies: (week 6-8)

Eating more colorful fruits and vegetables improves nutritional quality and helps you feel more satisfied with your food because of the fiber and nutrient content.  Like the previous habit, we are adding food instead of taking it away, reducing any sense of deprivation.  This is another relatively “easy” habit. Most people are pretty much sold on this one even if they struggle with it. Very few will ever argue about the value of vegetables.  Strive to “eat the rainbow”, getting as many colors as possible.  Create a shopping list before going to the store with all the fruits and veggies that you enjoy.  For now, it doesn’t really matter what specific foods you choose as long as you get into the habit of “eating the rainbow”.  Prep food that requires prepping ahead of time so that convenience is never the limiting factor when it comes to getting your fruits/veggies.  Look over your weekly menu and ensure you are incorporating fruits and veggies into each meal. Understand what an approximate serving size is–Vegetables: 1 fist, Fruits: 1 cupped handful.  As you get better at this habit, try to venture outside of your comfort zone and try some new fruits and veggies, experimenting with different ways of preparing them.

Smart Carb choices and portions: (week 8-10)

Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap over the last decade largely in part of some popular and trendy diets such as Paleo, Keto/Atkins, and Carnivore diets.  Carbohydrate dense foods have lots of great health and performance benefits.  What’s important to understand is what carbohydrate sources are best for you, have the highest nutritional value, and how much you need for your goals.  Almost all clients benefit from having some carbohydrates in their diet.

“Smart carbs” are slower-digesting, higher-fiber, and nutrient-rich. These include such foods as: whole grains (e.g. brown or wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.), beans and legumes, fruits and starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas and plantains, etc.).  This is a “difficult” habit for some people that comes after two “easier” habits.  “Low-carb” is not ideal; most people look, feel, and perform better with some carbs in their diet, even if they’re trying to lose weight /fat.  Not all carbs are created equal: slow-digesting, high-fiber, nutrient-rich “smart carbs” are a great nutritional choice and not the same thing as highly processed sugars.  Just like the previous two habits, create a spot on your shopping list for healthy carbs that you enjoy and make sure they are in your house.  Come up with at least 4-5 different carb sources that you enjoy and are willing to eat.  At first, it doesn’t really matter what specific foods you choose as long as you get into the habit of choosing smart carbs.  Buy, prepare, and have smart carbs on hand, easily available.  When planning your weekly or daily menu, find a way to incorporate your carbohydrate sources.  Understand what an approximate serving size is: Women: 1 cupped handful per meal, Men: 1-2 cupped handfuls.  Portions may need to be adjusted based on goals, activity level, and food tolerance.

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