Monday, November 26, 2012

All Work and No Play

       Most people are well aware of the fact that muscle growth doesn't occur during a tough workout.  Muscle growth happens long after your last rep and what you do during the post-workout period can be just as important as what you did for exercise.  Since getting sufficient rest in between bouts of activity is proven to be essential in the success of fitness programs there has been no end to the vast information released in regards to the best ways to spend time outside the gym.  There are plenty of questions to answer:  "What should I eat?"  "What should I drink?"  "How should I stretch?"  "How many days per week should I strength train?"  "Should I do aerobic training on non-lifting days?"  "How much sleep do I need?"  Even though everyone has their unique wishes and concerns, you can begin to respond to your own by learning more about the science behind about how the body responds to exercise. 
                One of the first puzzles involves figuring out when to train and when not to train.  It is important for us to engage in some physical activity every day, such as walking, gardening, or general labor.  We can run into a problem when we push ourselves past comfort zones in more demanding activities such as running and weight lifting.  It's not that trying pushing ourselves past physical limits does more harm than good.  It's that when we put ourselves through the same "recreational stressors" (e.g. chronic cardio, bodybuilding, digging holes) over and over again, without enough rest in between, we begin to lower the bar.  We want training to raise the bar and it can when we work with our bodies, not against them.
               After a workout the body doesn't just repair damaged and torn fibers to their former condition.  It actually takes extra precautions during the repair process so it will be better able to handle similar stress in the future.  In other words, there is a certain period of time after you've fully recovered from a workout that you're stronger than you were before.  Some fitness professionals refer to this as thesupercompensation period.  Learning how to balance work, rest, and everything else in your life is key to getting the most benefit from your workouts thanks to this physiological phenomenon.   
               We can't benefit from supercompensation until we fully recover from a workout and the body is ready for more stress.  One of the general signs for telling when you're sufficiently recovered is when delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) has subsided.  Muscle soreness from activity usually last anywhere from 24 to 72 hours.  It can last longer but this all depends on the volume and intensity of an activity.  Working around DOMS is one of the reasons many strength training programs follow a 2-3 day schedule where rest is taken at least a day or two in between workouts.  This gives muscles ample time to rebuild completely so they aren't broken down again while they are still in a weakened condition.  For many people, taking 24 to 48 hours off in between workouts is an easy to follow rule-of-thumb, yet does that leave us with 24 to 48 hours to completely ignore a fitness program?  No, and learning what to do with that time in between can help keep you from missing out on any gains that can be made from your workouts. 
               In some cases, we may really need to completely take a load off.  Yet, in others, participating in other forms of physical and healthy activity may help reduce DOMS and speed up recovery.  Gentle stretching, massage, and mobility work will help because those activities are intended to lengthen the tissue surrounding muscles which has a tendency to contract into defensive knots after receiving too much damage.  The knots restrict range of motion (ROM) for the sake of protecting the body from further damage.  Even though this response is intended to help the body adjust to its environment it cannot tell when it is doing more harm than good, perpetuating a vicious cycle where muscle damage restricts ROM making us more vulnerable to injury than we were before.
               The other thought of simply going cold turkey from activity in order to recover may be good when a lot of pain and inflammation is present.  However, complete avoidance of activity may not be recommended if soreness from a workout is manageable because muscles have tendency to repair themselves where they are left off.  If they're left in a highly contracted and shortened position, then that will be the starting point for the following workout granted nothing is done to maintain their length.  To put it briefly, it is important to keep moving during the days in between workouts because it will keep your muscles from turning to stone.  
             Finding a balance between what you do inside and outside of the gym is an on-going process that will always change.  Some days you may just need some yoga.  Some days you may feel more suited for a jog.  Some days it's nice to not have to bear any weight at all.  It's your choice but variety helps.  It also depends on what all you do during the week.  As an example, going for a 3 to 5 mile road-run every day in between workouts may not be the best plan if you want to develop lower body strength and power.  Taking it down to just one or two runs a week with sufficient rest in between may be more manageable and just as beneficial.  
            We know there is a lot more that can be said about organizing a weekly fitness program.  We hope that some of this information may at least push you to sit back and think about what all you're doing during the week and reflect on why you're doing it.  If the activities don't correspond to your goals then you need to change them.  If they do, but you're still not seeing results, then you may need to take a look at what else you're doing that could potentially interfere with your results, such as not taking a break.  

Noel L. Poff, CSCS, CPT, LMT, TMI  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Undulating Periodization Training

               How many times have you felt like you needed to freshen things up a bit at the gym?  How many times have you completely overhauled your exercise program?  If you did, what did you change?  If you didn't  why haven’t you changed?  Aren't you trying to develop new strengths and skills?   Even though daily activities such as going to the gym promote health and wellness they have a tendency to become addictive and when that happens there is a strong chance you’ll hit a wall where you don’t get any faster, stronger, or healthier.  One of the knee-jerk reactions to hitting a plateau is to find newer and more exciting activities and exercises. 
              When you continually swap out exercises you sacrifice your ability to develop strength and improve conditioning.  In other words, when you change exercises too frequently you train your body more to do new tricks rather than develop structurally in order to handle greater physical demands.  This is where “periodization training” comes in.  Periodization training is the smart way of adjusting workouts in order to pass plateaus, experience measurable gains, limit fatigue, reach performance goals, and avoid boredom.  Because of its effectiveness in helping people reach their fitness goals over the course of a year (macrocycle) many athletes use periodized exercise programs.  Cycling through different variables in workouts improves and helps to maintain an athlete’s levels of physical conditioning during the off-season while at the same time preparing him or her to perform at peak levels on game day.

In a nutshell, periodization training is a form of exercise training that adjusts training variables such as the duration of a workout, types of exercises performed, number of sets and reps completed, and the level of intensity put into each movement.  It makes these adjustments each training period of about four to six weeks (mesocycle).  What changes are made is determined by the specific goal of an athlete such as being in tip-top sprinting shape for a 100 meter dash.  Even though it’s a great training method for professional athletes, this training style isn't limited to people with unique performance goals.  Periodization training has been embraced by non-competitive athletes as well in order accomplish other things such as weight loss, muscle gain, or improving the ability to perform basic human movements.  The only difficulty is trying to use a sport specific training style that requires a great level of commitment as the basis for a program for someone who doesn't have an “off-season”.   

So what’s the alternative?  Perform a random jumble of exercises from bird dogs to barbell snatches in each workout?  Well…yes, but we wouldn’t call it random, nor would we call it a jumble.  We call it undulating periodization.  Like the regular rise and fall of undulating waves the intensity of the workouts rises and falls over the course of the quarters, weeks, and days of training (mesocycles within a macrocycle).  In a standard periodization model a person would go through an initial endurance/stabilization phase of training in order to establish a solid base that is prepared to handle to stresses of the phases that follow.  The purpose of the following “strength” phase is to build upon that foundation towards goals such as muscular hypertrophy.  Then, if he or she is concerned about performing at peak season, a power phase follows where the volume and time of the workouts are shortened for the sake of increasing intensity and training larger and stronger muscles to fire quick enough to jump the gun while on the field.  For the general population, we apply these phases all in one week that undulates for an entire quarter (i.e. about three months).  By revisiting workouts every 4 weeks we can keep track of improvements made over the course of an entire program.  People usually do see significant improvements because the body has plenty of time to practice on, adjust to, and benefit from the workouts. 

Every week at LTS includes three workouts follow an easy to follow three-day-split strength training routine (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).  One of the workouts is intended to improve endurance, one builds strength, and the other develops power.  We know that everyone isn't willing and ready to do jump squats or power cleans within the first week of training and that many people do require a certain amount of work at a stability level in order to develop a solid foundation whether they want to move on to developing power or not. Everyone, regardless of training level, should also revisit the stabilization phase of training in order to rest the body after a year’s worth of consistent work.  This gives the body time to adjust to the upgrades made on it over the entire macrocycle.  After you break the ice between mind and body there should be no reason other than injury preventing you from modifying your workouts intelligently in order to be at peak performance year-round.  You never know when you might need the endurance to climb a few flights of stairs, the strength to carry a sofa up a flight of stairs, or the power to catch yourself from falling down a flight of stairs but we all know life isn't about how well we handle consistency; it’s about how well we respond to waves of unpredictability.  

- Noel L. Poff, CSCS, CPT, LMT

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Power of Touch

Why does being touched instantly cause a positive surge in energy?  It may be the same thing that can make people spend an arm and a leg in exchange for an hour long rub down by a complete stranger.  Aside from massage being considered as just another way to escape from the woes of day to day life it does have several definitive physiological benefits which support the movement to consider it a necessity rather than a luxury.  

Professionals in bodywork often take the power of touch for granted.  We spend most of our days in close contact with others in effort to promote things such as relaxation or alignment.  Being able to make therapeutic contact with others is an art among bodyworkers and it is rare to hear of a trainer or therapist who doesn't receive professional touch as well.  Still many people not involved in bodywork can go through an entire day without ever experiencing physical contact from another human being.  Then they wonder why they experience symptoms of depression, fatigue, and loneliness despite regularly interacting with hundreds of people daily.  These could be the effects of other psychological and physical problems but there's a greater chance that these are signs that the physical barriers they place in between themselves and others isolate them from stimulation.  When bodies aren't stimulated they have little to no reason to continue functioning in an environment   They will eventually shut down, but not before descending through levels of fatigue.  This is not an attempt to diagnose any serious physical or mental condition.  This is an attempt to introduce the benefits of touching and getting touched regularly by friends, family, and professionals.

Numerous studies have shown that touching (e.g. massages, back pats, holding hands, high-fives, et cetera) does several things for us as living organisms:

  • Improves immune function
  • Reduces feelings of anxiety
  • Promotes blood circulation and lymph flow
  • Causes the release of pain-killing, stress-reducing endorphins 
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves sleep patterns
  • Helps to increase weight gain in premature infants
  • Improves tissue strength and elasticity
  • Promotes sense of well-being
  • Improves posture and alignment
  • Promotes kinesthetic awareness in other regions of the body

When massage is performed by the hands of a masseuse (professional or non-professional) or foam roller this gives muscles a chance to relax from stressful activity while blood and lymph continue to circulate in and out of the inflamed tissue by pumping, pushing, and rolling.  An increase in blood and lymph circulation thereby increases the amount of nutrients and chemicals transported in and out of muscle fibers.  Not only does this lead to a speedy recovery but it also helps to strengthen muscle which is lengthened during training by removing waste products and pulling in nutrients as materials for repair.

The key to an effective workout is to break down muscle tissue.  Then the real trick to getting results depends on how well you're able to mend them back together.  The effect of the body adapting itself in order to endure a greater level of stress in just a couple of days after an intense workout, sometimes referred to as a period of supercompensation, cannot occur without adequate rest and giving sufficient room for muscles to rebuild.    So, it is important to keep the rebuilding zone as free of clutter and debris as possible (e.g. fascial adhesions) and one of the easiest ways to do that can be just as simple as asking someone for back rub or taking a roller out and doing it yourself.  If you just have time for a little mood booster, then why not give someone else a pat on the back?  Giving can oftentimes be just as good as receiving.

Noel L. Poff C.S.C.S, C.P.T, L.M.T