Category Archives: Fitness

Shock Your System

This is it. A new year and an excellent opportunity to re-new your determination and re-launch your fitness program. Whether you made it to the holiday season on top of your fitness goals, or determined to pick up the pace in 2013, there’s probably a good argument that can be made for trying something new and changing things up a little bit. You don’t need to do this for the whole year. How about for the month of January?

I’ve found throughout my career that people tend to get comfortable when it comes to their training and exercise plans, sticking to the same program or activities for way too long. The approach that may have worked for the first 6 months probably stopped getting results long ago, and likely they didn’t know how to adapt or evolve for continued success. If you’re thinking that you might benefit from shaking things up a bit with your training plan, I’d like to offer a few suggestions.

Of course there are some constants when it comes to fitness, like the fact that you need to get your heart rate up if you want to burn a lot of calories and improve your cardiovascular capacity, or that you have to overload your muscles if you want to see adaptive changes in size, strength and endurance. Nutrition is also a key component of fitness where there are trusted principles, but you can definitely benefit by trying some new things with your meal planning this year.

I know from experience that change can be a good thing when you’re striving for fitness results, so try something new, mix up your approach, and shock your system a bit. Always remember to consult your doctor before beginning or modifying your training plan, and never skip the warm-up before exercising.

Province Dynamic Ball PushupResistance training

I know some readers will already be training differently, but I’m going to suggest that the majority of exercisers are performing a typical strength-training program, with a list of gym-based exercises that they perform for a specific number of sets and repetitions. This can be a very effective approach to resistance training, but not necessarily if you’ve been taking the same approach for years. Because our bodies are excellent at adapting to any consistent stimulus, it doesn’t take long to start seeing diminishing returns on your exercise investment. As an alternative, why not try a new approach for a month or so, like one or both of the following:

Bodyweight – Train using only bodyweight exercises where you push, pull, press and lift your own body to target different bodyparts non-stop for a total of 20-30 minutes. Use your imagination and change angles, body positions and anything else you can think of. Do each exercise until exhaustion before moving to the next exercise. Keep moving so you’re always working. Perform up to 5 days per week.

Bands – Similar to the bodyweight workout, but using only resistance band exercises to work your muscles in as many angles and directions as possible. Complete 20-30 minutes of constant pushing, pulling and pressing to muscular exhaustion. Perform up to 5 days per week.

Province CardiovascularCardiovascular conditioning

Perhaps even more than strength training I find that many people do the same kind of cardio exercise for years, and sometimes even decades. The problem is, once your body becomes accustomed to an activity it will become very efficient, and get less of a conditioning stimulus from it. This may sound like a good thing, but if your goal is overload your system for calorie burn, or cardiovascular improvement, you don’t always want to take the easiest route! Instead, if you’re a runner, try swimming. If you’re a cyclist, try rowing. If you always use the elliptical machine, try skipping for a change-up.

Province Fuel 2013Fuel consumption

Despite the high volume of nutrition information available to the public I still believe that most people eat poorly. Sometimes this is because they don’t know any better, but usually it’s because they have developed bad habits that they have a hard time changing. Why not shake it up and try a serious change? You might just break some deep-seated habits and gain a whole new level of control over your nutrition. Here are a couple of options:

Go green: Take a month and try a vegetarian, vegan or raw diet. You might just find that you feel better, have more energy, or love the food. Of course, this isn’t for everyone, but a month should give you a good idea if it’s right for you, and there’s a good chance you’ll clean up some of your bad eating habits.

Be sugar-free: Do everything you can to limit your sugar intake for a month. This includes white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, honey, glucose, fructose, dextrose, invert sugar, syrups, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, and more. You’ll be surprised how much sugar is used in the food you eat.

Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for over 20 years and currently owns and operates Williams Health Group, a downtown Vancouver personal training studio and integrated health and human performance clinic. Rob is a sought-after posture and performance coach for celebrities and athletes of all levels, and has recently developed the Sport Posture and Movement Specialist certification program for trainers and coaches. Rob is also an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition. Contact him directly at rob@williamshealthgroup.com.

Playground Workout – Upper Body

Playground pushups – I sometimes wonder if my readers are concerned that I’ve included pushups in a number of my columns in the past, but then I remember that although I’ve been training steadily for almost 30 years, I still perform pushups during many of my workouts. With so many variations of the basic pushup, this functional activity is easily one of the top all-time exercises. When doing pushups in the playground, it’s not difficult to find a surface that allows for the appropriate level of difficulty. Just remember that the higher your hands are above your feet, the easier the movement. For stronger people, or advanced exercisers, you can even place your feet on an elevated surface so that they are higher than your hands for increased difficulty. Always maintain controlled movements and remember to engage your core muscles so that your body remains level and doesn’t sag through the middle. Try performing 2-3 sets to fatigue, with excellent alignment and control.

Horizontal pull-ups – Many people are challenged to perform a single full-body chin-up, let alone complete enough to make it a worthwhile exercise. This is why I have a lot of my clients work with a variation I call the horizontal pull-up. Just like pushups, there are numerous different combinations and variations that allow you to modify the difficulty depending upon your level of fitness. The angle of your body, the length of your legs and the width of your grip will all determine how hard or easy the movement is for you. In the version shown, Lorna actually has her feet as high as her hands, which makes this a challenging exercise, but we’ve bent her legs so she can actually pull herself up. Experimenting with these variables will allow you to find the right location and position that provides sufficient challenge for you. Ideally we’re looking for a position that will allow you to perform 2-3 sets of approximately 12-15 repetitions.

Bench dips – Although pushups and pull-ups work the major muscles of the chest and back, they also require a contribution by the shoulders and arms. This is part of the reason they’re such great exercises. Another excellent exercise that targets the triceps muscles on the back of the upper arm, is the bench dip. You’ve likely seen this before, and maybe even tried it, but I’m always amazed at how effective this exercise really is. The next time you’re at the playground, find a bench or step that is comfortable for your hands. Sit with your hips at the very front edge of the bench and place the heels of your hands on the front edge of the bench. Supporting your bodyweight with your arms, slide your hips forward off the bench, and begin to lower your body by bending your elbows. Be sure to keep your head and chest up as you raise and lower your body by bending your elbows, and avoid straining your shoulders by going too low. Perform 2-3 sets of roughly 15 repetitions. You can increase the difficulty by straightening your legs or lifting one foot from the ground.

Make or Break – Staying fit on your holidays

With Spring Break coming soon, many people are planning a one or two-week escape to somewhere other than here. Most will be taking off to a tropical destination, while the rest are hitting the slopes to take advantage of the piles of new snow. Something I wonder is, how many will watch their fitness and their diet during the break?

It seems a bit finicky to be concerned about whether or not you maintain a fitness program during the break, but it’s not the one or two weeks that I’m concerned with. More importantly, the tendency to throw discipline and consistency out the window while on holidays contributes to a much greater likelihood of falling off the exercise wagon altogether, potentially taking months or years to get started again.

Being realistic, If you’re trading 8-hours at a sedentary desk job for long days on skis or a snowboard I’m not going to give you a hard time if you don’t get to the gym during your holiday. But, if you’re planning on racking up some serious hours by the pool, or at the beach, there should be a little extra time in there somewhere that you can exercise.

And remember, it doesn’t take a lot of extra time or effort to eat smaller portions of healthy food than it does to gorge on pizza, nachos, burgers and fries or fondue. By keeping an eye on the fuel you put into your body you’ll feel better and have more energy. This alone should be enough to help keep you on a healthier path during and after the break.

Following are a few strategies that can help you to maintain, or even improve, your health this Spring Break.

1-    Keep walking. No matter where you vacation, take advantage of the opportunity to stay on your feet and keep moving. Walk the beach in the mornings, or take an evening stroll with the family through the ski village. The focus is on being more active than you are in your regular routine at home.

2-    Plan your fuel. The timing of your days can often get twisted around when you get out of the work and school routines. The problem with this is that people end up skipping meals or eating large portions far too late at night. One of the best things you can do is to take a moment to plan the following day, deciding on a healthy breakfast for shortly after you rise, and eating balanced meals every 3-4 hours throughout the day, until bedtime.

3-    Stretch it out. Even though you might not be opting for a strenuous athletic adventure this Spring Break, you’re likely to be doing different activities than you would at home. This means you’ll be using different muscles, which can feel stiff and sore afterward. To manage this, make time to stretch regularly and stay loose. Fortunately beach resorts have higher ambient temperatures, which are good for keeping the body limber. Ski resorts have hot-tubs everywhere, and there’s no better place to stretch out at the end of an active day.

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4-    Watch the snack foods. When you’re not in your daily routine of work and life it’s very easy to find yourself grabbing snacks throughout the day. Whether it’s a handful of nuts, a few chips, a piece of fruit or a glass of juice, snacking between meals adds unnecessary calories and compromises the digestive process.

5-    Hydrate. When you’re skiing or beaching, it’s easy to get dehydrated. Personally I know I drink less water when I’m in cold climates, so I have to make a concentrated effort to bring water with me when I ski, and drink a big glass or two right at the end of the day. And there’s no doubt that the heat in tropical regions causes increased sweating and evaporation, quickly leading to dehydration.

6-    Maintain your muscle. If you are someone that exercises regularly, the last thing you want to do is lose ground because of a vacation. A simple program of push-ups, chin-ups, squats, lunges, etc can give your entire body a stimulus to maintain muscle mass, which will help keep your joints strong and your metabolism elevated. Large resistance bands, sometimes knows as safety toners, can be a great training tool. They’re versatile and lightweight, allowing you to perform dozens of effective exercises.

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7-    Party in moderation. A surefire way to make sure you don’t keep fit over the break is to get into the beer or cocktails heavily on the first day. By avoiding the tendency to ‘let loose’ and drink too much, you’ll feel better and stay sharp. If you appreciate this and are prepared with a strategy before the holiday begins, you’re less likely to have a boozy Spring Break.

8-    Have fun. Take advantage of free time to play hard and enjoy your health.

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Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for 16 years and currently operates an exclusive private training studio Mixx Fitness Studio, with a team of 10 trainers, as well as a multi-disciplinary posture facility, Performance Posture Clinic. Rob is an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition, and can be contacted at Williams Health Group.

Hockey Angles

Even more than most other sports, hockey is a game of angles. How efficient you are as a skater and player is determined by how well you manage those angles. To illustrate my point, with an example from another popular sport, consider a cyclist cornering at a high rate of speed. As the cyclist enters the corner and begins to turn, they must lean their body, and their bike, inward against the forces that are trying to carry them straight forward. At the tightest part of the turn, the rider’s body and the bike must be leaning inward on the same angle to maximize turning efficiency. Now consider what would happen to that rider if, at the apex of the turn, they suddenly leaned their body outward. I think its safe to assume the rider and bike would flip outside the curve and crash.

As a hockey player, your body is subject to these same forces every time you change directions or corner while on your skates. During the lateral change of direction with your skating stride, to carving around a corner, it’s important to make sure your body is in the best position possible to maximize movement efficiency, speed and strength. If any part of your body slides or collapses outside of it’s optimal alignment, energy and stability are lost.

One simple drill to begin training your body for efficient movement is lateral bounding, with control. This can be done side-to-side on the spot or traveling forward in a zig-zag pattern as shown in the attached video. The focus should be on maintaining a compact, neutral body alignment during the transitions. The angle of the spine should parallel the angle of the leg, with the pelvis and shoulders at parallel angles that are perpendicular to the spine.

It’s best to perform this drill in front of a mirror so you can watch your body mechanics. If you notice your hips sliding too far outside your landing foot, it’s likely your glute muscles aren’t doing their job. If your upper body and torso lean outward when you land, or wobble around too much on top of your pelvis, you probably need to focus on improved core activation for spinal stability.

Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for 20 years and currently operates an exclusive private training studio Mixx Fitness Studio, with a team of 10 trainers, as well as a multi-disciplinary posture facility, Performance Posture Clinic. Rob is an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition. He is a sought-after posture and performance coach for professional and amateur athletes and celebrities.

Reaching your weight loss goals

When it comes to health and fitness goals, there is none more popular or pervasive than weight-loss. Maybe there are a lot of people out there who are genuinely, 100% satisfied with their current body composition, but from my professional experience over the last 20 years, it certainly seems that the majority of people would like to have more control over their bodyweight.

For our purposes, I’m going to present this goal as ‘fat-loss’, because it specifically identifies the issue, and there’s no doubt it’s a serious one. Worldwide obesity levels are rising. Children are getting fatter and increasingly unhealthy. With all of the ‘diet’ and ‘fat-free’ products on the shelves, the countless books and weight-loss programs available and our advanced knowledge of the importance of maintaining a healthy body composition, the general population still struggles for control of their body-fat levels.

So let’s assume you’re one of the people who’s made the decision that you’d like to get rid of a little extra body-fat. Maybe it’s 10 pounds, or maybe it’s 50. The number doesn’t matter as much as the decision. Once you’ve decided it’s time for change, the last thing we want is for you to struggle or falter because you don’t really know how to go forward.

What I’m going to do is summarize and simplify the information necessary to help you gain control of your body composition once and for all. I do want to point out that achieving fat-loss goals can be difficult, even if you have all of the correct technical information, because it requires modification of habits. Again, this is where true experts like Larry Birckhead at The HabitShift Institute are invaluable.

Building muscle reduces body fat

Build muscle – I’ve mentioned before, but since I end up in this conversation almost daily, it’s worth repeating here. In my opinion, the best thing about the Biggest Loser reality show phenomenon is that anyone looking to lose body-fat needs to be performing regular, high-intensity resistance training. For many of my clients over the years, we changed their bodies completely without doing any extra cardiovascular training at all. Just by stepping up the frequency and intensity of their strength workouts we were able to burn more calories and boost their metabolism enough that they leaned out and lost the extra body-fat. Of course we had to be careful with their nutrition plan, but if your goal is to lose fat, you should be closely monitoring your eating anyway.

The more you move, the more you burn, the more you lose.

 Burn calories – People who try to lose weight without exercise are truly at a disadvantage. Because they aren’t burning a lot of calories, they have to eat tiny quantities of food, which leaves them perpetually hungry and allows their metabolism to gradually slow down, making the process more and more difficult. I can understand how it seems like the best way to lose weight is to eat fewer and fewer calories, but a better solution is to burn more. Of course there’s a happy medium here. Assuming you’re taking in enough fuel each day for healthy nutrition without having any extra to store as body-fat (more on this later) then successful fat-loss is easy. All you have to do is make sure you’re burning more calories than you’re taking in, and there are all kinds of ways to burn calories. Treadmills, elliptical trainers and stationary bikes are all effective pieces of cardiovascular training equipment, but you can also go for a walk, run or do calisthenics. Just make sure your heart rate is elevated to safe levels and you keep your body moving as much as possible.

Fuel your body – As the most important aspect of successful fat-loss, proper nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated, and I’m going to simplify it even more. For myself, by eating 5 healthy meals of 400-500 calories each, at 3-4 hour intervals, I’m able to control my body-fat. If I’m really strict on this, I begin to get very lean. If I stray from this plan or start eating too many sugary foods, I start to gain fat. Because I’m 40 years old, over 200 pounds, and train with weights on a regular basis, I need more calories than most people. For smaller women I usually recommend portion sizes of roughly 300-350 calories per meal. For men it’s usually around 400. The trick is to start eating this way and see what happens. If you lose weight too quickly, increase the size of the meals slightly. If nothing changes within a few weeks, down-size the meals a tiny bit. Just stay consistent in your timing, and don’t snack between meals. Also, remember that proper hydration is essential for fat-loss and for a healthy body, so drink lots of water through the day.

Rob Williams is a Vancouver based business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is an entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, athlete, father, coach and mentor to many young athletes in the North Shore community. www.williamshealthgroup.com

Fitness Myths

Top 3 Fitness Myths

Maybe it’s the internet, or the late-night infomercials, but compared to my early days in this business, today’s personal training client is a lot more astute when it comes to the facts and fallacies of fitness. One example is the general understanding that weight training isn’t just for bodybuilders or narcissists, and that functional strength, better bone health and more stable joints are all among the benefits of resistance training. People have also come to accept the fact that personal trainers aren’t just for the Hollywood celebrities and filthy rich, and that there really is a benefit to having someone follow you around the gym telling you what to do.

Yet, in spite of the mass of fitness-related information on the world-wide web and in the popular media, there are still a lot of faulty notions and beliefs circulating among consumers. These mostly relate to what does and doesn’t work when it comes to success in a fitness program. I can understand how this has happened, because there’s been so much conflicting advice put forth, usually by someone trying to sell their ‘revolutionary’ diet or fitness product. In my experience I’ve probably heard at least a hundred different myths of this kind, but there are a few that seem to pop up more regularly than the rest, and that still surprise me in their persistence. Just to make sure I was on the right track I polled a couple of my other trainers and these little gems were among their top picks as well.

So, here they are, in no particular order. Some readers will laugh at the simplicity, while others will be shocked to read that I disagree with their deep-seated beliefs. In either case, I welcome comments and criticisms about my selection, as well as questions relating to other long-standing fitness theories.

Women should train hard and not worry about building too much muscle.

1- Myth #1 – Women should avoid lifting heavy weights or they’ll get too muscular.

This is likely the single most prevalent myth that I’ve come across in my career. In fact, the majority of women that have started training with me have mentioned this concern at some point. I usually promise them that I could train them as hard as they’d let me for the next year, trying to put on as much muscle mass as possible, and at the end of the year I’m certain that they would be thrilled with their appearance. The reason for this is that very few women have enough natural testosterone in their systems to facilitate significant muscle growth. Instead, intense resistance training develops firm, functional physiques.

2 – Myth #2 – You need to lose the extra weight before starting a strength-training program.

If you’re carrying a few extra pounds you’d like to get rid of, it’s essential to perform a smart resistance program in conjunction with regular cardiovascular workouts and healthy nutrition. Strength training activates your body’s muscle mass, elevating your metabolism and increasing your caloric output. Losing weight without strength training is more difficult and usually results in a loss of muscle mass. This lowers the metabolism and decreases the amount of fuel you can consume without gaining weight.

Losing the love handles takes more than just a good ab routine.

3 – Myth #3 –  Spot-reduction!

By now this myth should be long gone. Unfortunately consumers cling to it in hopes that 5 minutes of abdominal exercises each day will get rid of the extra body fat and give them the flat stomach they’ve always wanted. Training a specific muscle or muscle group will improve the shape and conditioning of that muscle, but won’t significantly reduce the amount of bodyfat covering it. Unless you’re already very lean, getting your abs (or any other muscle group) to show is dependent on losing body fat through intelligent calorie burn and optimal nutrition.

Rob Williams is a Vancouver based business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is a kinesiologist, posture expert, entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, athlete, father, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, coach and mentor to many young athletes in the North Shore community. http://www.williamshealthgroup.com/index.html

Better Bootcamp – Active Agility Exercises

Summer’s nearly here and the number of people looking to exercise outdoors is going to multiply quickly. Some will do it alone, some will be dragged out by their private trainer and a lot will sign up for a group training program commonly referred to as bootcamp.

Bootcamp programs are everywhere these days; in the parks, on the seawall, even in the children’s playgrounds before the kids are out of bed. Because of the demand for instructors to teach all of these classes, and the fact that sessions are often run during prime morning and evening timeslots, when full-time personal trainers are booked solid, the truth is that not all bootcamp instructors are the most highly qualified or experienced. There are some committed, educated professionals, but many are working day jobs in other industries, making extra cash teaching these fitness classes. Because of this, the level of knowledge and expertise about anatomy, biomechanics and athletic conditioning might not be what it should. Hopefully I can help.

With this Better Bootcamp series, I will provide useful information about a number of the common exercises incorporated in bootcamp classes. If you’re joining a group training program this summer, you’re likely to come across these exercises. Hopefully I can educate you about how to perform them safely and effectively. Some of the recommendations may seem a little picky, like when I talk about maintaining a neutral pelvis, but believe me when I tell you that this is the kind of stuff that makes the difference between a successful training session and an icepack on the low back.

Whether you’re doing these exercises on your own, or participating in a bootcamp group somewhere, make sure you warm up fully before performing the movements. Pay close attention to the recommendations and stop if you feel pain.

Try to initiate movements from your mid-section rather than your extremities

Lateral Shuffles

In bootcamp, lateral movement is often incorporated as part of the warm-up, which is fine. The reason I’ve singled this movement out is because it helps me to teach an overall movement strategy that can be applied to almost every exercise you do. This is the strategy of proximal to distal movement, which I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from well-known physiotherapist Rick Celebrini, and it’s an important one. I’ve touched on the concept in previous columns, and the easiest way to explain it is that all movement should be initiated from your core, and then transferred to your extremities, rather than the other way around. In lateral shuffles, this means that rather than casting your leg out to the side and then following with the rest of your body (Figure 1) you should lead with a small lateral movement at the pelvis and allow the leg come along as part of the deal. (Figure 2) If you do this properly, you stand a much greater chance of maintaining stability at all of your joints, while improving movement efficiency.

Proper core muscle activation can help you protect your spine

Star Jumps.

This exercise involves jumping from a position with arms and feet together, spreading out like a star while in the air, and then landing back in a closed position. There’s one technique point that can help to prevent stress through the lower back when doing star jumps. Often as bootcampers fatigue, they will begin to lose control of their movements, and what happens is that they will really start to throw their arms and legs. This exaggerated movement puts increased ballistic forces through the mid-section, where the muscles are also tired. In the star jump, this can cause hyper-extension of the lower back at the top of the movement. You can prevent this by activating your deep abdominal muscles (lightly draw your belly button inward and upward toward your spine) to stabilize your lower back and pelvis as you jump.

The leg thrust portion of the burpee can sometimes be the most challenging

Burpees (aka Squat Thrusts).

Because burpees are so dynamic, involving multiple muscle groups during the squat, leg thrust and jump portions, it’s not easy to break it down to highlight one aspect. The area that I find to be most challenged in this movement is the lower back. When doing the burpee, be certain that you’ve activated those abdominal and lower back muscles to stabilize your lumbar spine and pelvis and prevent hyper-extension or excessive flextion during the movements. If your instructor is asking for burpees and you’re not feeling up to the task, skip the leg thrust portion of the exercise and just do the squat and jump. Another option is to just kick one leg back, rather than two, alternating legs on each repetition.

Rob Williams is a Vancouver based business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is a kinesiologist, posture expert, entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, athlete, father, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, coach and mentor to many young athletes in the North Shore community. www.williamshealthgroup.com