Exercise is science – make lifting weights safe, effective, and efficient

A few weeks back I was given a priceless compliment – that I had provided THE BEST explanation for how exercises should be completed that he had ever heard. This came from a man who has been exercising and lifting weights for 30+ years.

I was flattered. I was proud.

The explanation

Exercise is a science – based primarily on physics and exemplified by Newton’s Laws of Motion. I will oversimplify these laws with the notion that all energy comes from somewhere and goes somewhere – it can neither be created nor destroyed. With that said, when lifting weights, where does the energy come from?

The ground!

I commonly describe the importance of grounding your body for lifting. For example, when you perform a lying chest press, it is important to drive your heels into the floor, tighten your quads and butt, draw in your navel, and pull your shoulder blades into the bench.

As the daughter of an electrician, it is only natural that I would use an electrical analogy. Electronics come with either a two- or three-prong plug. More often than not (in the United States), those with three prongs require greater amounts of energy. This third plug, the ground-fault circuit-interrutper (GFCI), was designed in the 1960s as a mechanism for safety and efficiency. The ground reduces the amount of energy lost and the risk of fire. (With GFCIs, individuals experienced fewer electrical accidents and had reduced energy usage and electrical bills.)

You know those guys you see who dance their feet around on the ground, struggling to push the weight up? They are losing energy.

Grounding yourself 

Grounding yourself during exercise ensures safety, efficacy, and efficiency. If the energy for exercise (remember Newton’s laws) comes from the ground, then you need a solid connection to that energy source. Ensuring you are mounted firmly to the ground, such as the chest press description above, increases efficacy and efficiency because your chest is doing the work (as intended) and not your legs, abdominals, or back.

Stop dancing

Individuals dance their feet while lying on the bench – whether it be for a chest press, triceps extension, or fly. The same goes for any seated exercises, for example a seated shoulder press or lateral raise. And do not forget about standing exercises! Plant your feet and tighten your legs, butt, and core for those biceps curls or front raises.

NOTE: You will be able to lift more weight for a comparable exercise while seated than while standing – you are close to your energy source.

I see the most dancing in group fitness classes. This is a good way to make a minimally effective workout even less effective. Walking or dancing around while performing biceps curls significantly reduces the safety, efficacy, and efficiency.

The bottomline

Exercise is science. We rarely think of it this way – I know that I never used to! I love training left-brained individuals who have a firm grasp of scientific principles, because I can use these crazy analogies and they actually enjoy them!

Sometimes we just need to hear something in a new way in order to understand it. Maybe this post does that for you – and maybe it does not.

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Response: A.M.A. recognizes obesity as a disease

I have seen a lot of responses to the recent declaration: Obesity is a disease. The responses are mixed. I am somewhat surprised that the ACSM supports it – but the announcement likely means more money in their pockets (with the Exercise is Medicine campaign). Who wouldn’t support an idea that puts more money in their pocket?

Me!! — I would rather see individuals succeed. A diagnosis of obesity does not set the platform for success – in fact it is counterproductive.

My reaction

I was initially outraged by this announcement. Obesity is NOT a disease. Suddenly, we are assigning another label to individuals. Supporters of the movement will argue that by defining obesity as a disease, those suffering with obesity will receive better medical assistance and insurance coverage for treatment. The problem? Sure, this could increase coverage for gastric bypass, lap band, etc – but is this really helping individuals? Is this a solution to the overwhelming problem?

Let me break this down to logical pieces and terms.

Obesity

Obesity is an abnormal accumulation of body fat, usually 20% or more over an individual’s ideal body weight. The most common measure used for obesity is BMI.

Disease

A disease is a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.

At first read, you might think that obesity does fit this definition. The above definition is quite vague and as stated could fit the equally vague definition of a disease. But one word jumps out at me: symptoms. Overweight/obesity is a symptom.

It is a symptom of overconsumption of calories (it is NOT the symptom of underactivity as a standalone).

It is the symptom of a metabolic condition.

It is the symptom of hormone imbalances.

With that said. Can a symptom of symptoms of it own? Or is obesity a symptom that correlates with other symptoms of a true disease or condition?

Symptom

Another vague definition. A symptom is: subjective evidence of disease or physical disturbance or something that indicates the existence of something else.

It is unclear to me as to whether a symptom and disease can be synonymous terms. I could get technical – since disease is used in the definition for a symptom and you cannot define a word by using the word itself in the definition, then symptom and disease cannot be one in the same.

Like my logic?

A Real Life Story

Let me put this into perspective. Medical professionals can now assign an individual with the disease of obesity (another wonderful label, by the way, for individuals already struggling with self-esteem, body-image, and stigma). How do doctors quantify obesity? Body Mass Index, or BMI. I have written about BMI and why it is not a good measure, please read the previous post by clicking the link.

I fluctuate between being overweight and obesity on the BMI scale – depending on the season and what I may be training for. However, my appearance and my body fat percentage clearly indicate otherwise. Does this mean that the doctor would approve liposuction for me as a non-elective alternative? In the past, I have had a doctor tell me that I needed to lose weight – because she did not bother to actually look at me and only looked at my BMI. Today, that same doctor would have labeled me obese, and that would have gone in my medical history and I would be dealing with the long-term effects of that being on my medical record (and there are implications! I have learned this, having arthritis in my medical record from age 16 – it creates huge battles with the insurance companies).

The bottomline

I have given a lot of thought to whether obesity is a disease – long before this announcement. It is not. And sadly, this new definition will not solve the nation’s obesity epidemic. We have added stigma to an already debilitating label.

What about self-esteem?

What about self-worth and empowerment? A disease implies there is not much one can do about it – when the number one method of prevention and treatment of overweight obesity is empowerment. Seems to me that we may be going in the wrong direction with this diagnosis —

But some people will be making a lot of money.

Attacking life as an obstacles course

Last week, some friends, strangers, and I completed an obstacle course workout at TNT Fitness. Amazing! Looking at the obstacles from a distance was a bit daunting. My heart raced. I was concerned that my knee, hip, and shoulder would inhibit my ability to successfully complete some of the obstacles. I worried that I was not strong enough to conquer the obstacles ahead.

photo (37)

Strong – there is no other choice

I did not feel strong enough for the obstacles laid out before me. I did not feel equipped.

As usual, I put my game face on and I prepared for the obstacles. Do not think, just DO IT!

Those who know me personally, know that I overthink. I was thinking about the hip that was sore. I was thinking about the calluses that I had recently ripped off my palms. I had to center myself and stop thinking. When I find this space of not thinking is when I find my strong. photo (38)

Not traversing the wall was not a choice. Not flipping the tire was not an option. Skipping or avoiding obstacles was not an option. Digging deep and being strong was the only choice. And we worked as a team to help others get up and over – sometimes lending a helping hand and often cheering and encouraging one another. My strength came not only from digging deep within myself, but also from trusting others.

“Mini Mt. Everest” was a mental challenge for me. I was afraid that I could not do it. My friend Mo went first – and he stood at the top waiting for me to come. I was confident that if I did not make it, he could reach for my arm and help to pull me up and over. The best part, this gave me the confidence to do it.

With my physical strength, I managed to overcome that obstacle alone. But I drew my confidence and mental strength from others.

Translating this strength onto life’s obstacles

My life has changed pretty significantly these last few weeks – in positive ways. But there have been numerous obstacles. One after the other. And there will continue to be one after another.

Just like last week’s obstacle course workout, not attacking those obstacles is not an option.

I have a vision for my life – my personal and professional endeavors. I have a rough timeline for where I would like to see myself in 5 or 10 years. There are education and experiences I desire to obtain. But God and friends have a different plan and timeline for me. The vision, the same, but put on fast forward.

I do not feel strong enough. I do not feel equipped. These are the same thoughts I experienced prior to the obstacle course workout.

The bottomline

Life is an obstacle course – and I need to learn to treat it like the one that I recently conquered. I conquer fears one at a time, and I suppose obstacles in life are to be overcome in much the same manner.

Much like the obstacle course workout, I have friends who are reaching out to grab my hand – ensuring that I do not fall or hit my face. The faith others have in me today, helps me to build my confidence and push forward with determination. The obstacles are inevitable, but I know that the hands are there to grab onto.

I am ready to attack this life as the obstacle course that it is!

Are you with me?

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How much can you improve your fitness in 6 months?

My 2013 six-month fitness check-in. With many fitness goals, I am using the bodyweight baseline workout to assess where I am at.  I did not review my previous performance before heading off to the gym – I had no idea what I was trying to beat and I did not want to psyche myself out. I just wanted to do it. I put my game face on and I went.

It is done.

It was relatively brutal.

I did not go into the workout with confidence. Honestly, I had forgotten about my assessment workout, until I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized it was July. My workouts have been on the back burner lately – lacking focus, intent, and energy. This made me nervous, but I knew that I needed to complete the assessment and know the results – the good and the bad.

The results

Exercise

Jan. 2

Apr. 1

Jun 2

Percent Improvement

Pushups

55

63

68

23.64%

Squats

206

219

233

13.11%

Pullups

11

18

20

81.82%

Burpees

25

39

36

44.00%

Traveling Lunges

98

112

122

24.49%

BB Inverted Row

42

44

59

40.48%

SB Plank

:35 sec

:55 sec

1:10

100.00%

KB Swings (20kg)

81

90

98

20.99%

Following this workout, I completed my 1-mile run in 8:53 minutes, improving from 9:18 in April (and having not completed the mile in January).

Lastly, I weighed myself for the first time in a very long time – I am up 4 pounds from April and back to the same weight I started at January 1 – still within my body’s happy range. (And unfortunately I have not had a trustworthy body fat analysis to determine any changes in body composition.)

The response

I am surprised with my improvements. I am not surprised with my decrease in burpees since April, as I have been experiencing more back pain these last few weeks (no more Insanity experiments). 

The 3 minutes of pullups were frustrating, as I was only able to perform one at a time. All I could think about was my goal to perform 10 consecutive and the fact that I have not been training for it as diligently as I should be and that is why it was so hard. Mind games!

All in all, I am pleased. 

The bottomline

I did better than I thought I would. A lesson to be kind to myself.

Where do you go for fitness advice?

We are bombarded with health and fitness information. Infomercials, magazine ads, and the latest and greatest books and workout DVDs. On my way into the gym to teach a group class this morning, the TV caught my eye – Tony’s 10 minute workouts. Oh Tony! The 10-Minute Trainer series boasts the ‘breakthrough’ super-stacking technique and promises rapid results. I stopped to watch a bit (mostly waiting to see the name of the program to look it up later). Another marketing scam — ?!?!!!

Do you go to Tony Horton and Beachbody for advice?

Who do you trust?

This past weekend I was invited to participate in a group workout at the park. I provided some of my expertise, but I was truly there as a participant with a goal to meet other individuals interested in fitness. Towards the end of the afternoon – I sat back and watched and listened. A fitness enthusiast provided ‘training’ to inexperienced individuals.

(If you do not know much about fitness, an enthusiast who has been working out and is excited might seem to provide some good advice. Unfortunately, very few can offer sound advice. And remember, we are talking about YOUR BODY here. You only get one body in your lifetime. So I ask, who do you trust?)

It is not that he was giving bad advice or guidance. It was incomplete. Exercise form and technique were a disaster – I had to turn away and bite my tongue. I could not watch. While I do not want to see anyone get hurt, I was focused on placing myself in his shoes and I would not like it if someone stepped in to correct (whether the individual was right or not). And given the situation, I knew the risk of injury was low.

If you are a fitness professional – what would you do?

This situation has me thinking about who we trust for advice and how I can continue to educate and share – reaching one person at a time.

Who do you go to?

It is easy to trust friends and family when it comes to health and fitness advice. We trust them with many decisions in life – relationships, occupations, financial investments, etc. But do they have the answers?

Do you have a friend who has successfully lost weight and kept if off?

Do you have an uncle who coaches high school football and loves to workout?

Do you have a sister who has always been thin (but also never eats and possibly struggles with disordered eating)?

While any one of these individuals could have valid and helpful advice, I will strongly advise against allowing them to become your expert and your go-to for health and fitness advice. Health and fitness is a science – requiring education.

Qualified professionals

I have a post dedicated to qualified fitness professionals, please read it. Not all ‘professionals’ are created equal. Further, not all fitness facilities require trainers and staff to be educated and certified. While education and certification are not everything, they do provide validation that the individual has studied the science. (Note: not all certification are created equal, you can read about that in the above post as well.)

If/when you hire a trainer – ask about and verify his/her education and certification.

Food for thought

The Biggest Loser receives a lot of publicity. The trainers have been deemed experts – and they sell millions of books and DVDs, appear on numerous talk shows offering advice, etc. I personally would not trust any of the trainers with my life. These trainers qualify as fitness enthusiasts.

Jillian Michaels – no degree and no current certification (and not a respected certification)

Bob Harper – no degree, AFAA certified (has a degree but I have not been able to find what he studied)

Dolvett Quince – no degree and no certification

On the other hand, Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition’s Chris Powell is a former athlete with  a degree in Exercise Science, with concentrations in biomechanics and physiology and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

You can read my reaction to the beginning of the most recent season of The Biggest Loser.

The bottomline

I feel like I am beating a dead horse at times. I will write about it and talk about it over and over. More than likely, your friends and family are not your best source of health and fitness advice – regardless of how much time they spend in the gym. It is important to trust your body – the only one you get – to a qualified professional.

Beware of fitness enthusiasts – many do not know the proper form and technique and regularly suffer personal injury.

Beware of celebrity experts – many are just that, celebrities.

You only get one body – it deserves the best.

Treat it kindly. Treat it wisely.

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