Sunday, March 28, 2010
To understand the musculature of the abdominal wall, it would probably be helpful to review ‘Anatomy 101’. The drawing on page two illustrates a cross section of the abdominals. You will notice that there are two long bands of muscle attached to the fourth and fifth ribs which run all the way down to the pubic crest. This is the most superficial of the abdominal muscles known as the rectus abdominus. When an individual possesses a(sometimes dangerously) low body fat to lean body mass ratio, this muscle appears to be separated into four divisions. These ‘washboard abs’ are caused by thin bands of muscle tendon known as tendinous inscriptions.
The apparent divisions of the rectus abdominus by the tendinous inscriptions have given rise to the incorrect notion that there is such a thing as upper and lower abs. Entire abdominal routines have evolved around the notion that you can actually work one portion of the rectus abdominus in isolation. The best way to illustrate the actual functionality of the rectus abdominus is to picture yourself holding a large rubber band with one end in each hand. The rubberband represents the long muscle of the rectus abdominus. If you stretch the band from one end, is there any less tension at the other end? No, there isn’t, because it is one long band, not four individual bands. Although different motions will produce a sense of muscle fatigue in different portions of the muscle, it is very difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to isolate one small section of any muscle.
In addition to the rectus abdominus, the abdominal wall is comprised of the transversus abdominus, and the internal and external obliques. Of these muscle groups, the transversus abdominus is the most difficult target and strengthen. It is difficult to see the transversus abdominus in the illustration because it is the deepest layer of the abdominal muscles, but it actually wraps around the entire abdominal wall. It aids in childbirth, forced expiration(exhaling) and it holds in the abdominal contents(your internal organs). Remembering that the only effective way to strengthen a muscle is to shorten the distance between the muscle’s point of origin and point of insertion, you will understand that it is virtually impossible to design an exercise that will accomplish that goal in this instance. However, if you remember the barking commands of an army drill sergeant to “suck it in”, you’ll have the best chance of isolating the muscle. A good way to rehabilitate this muscle after childbirth or an invasive surgical procedure is to kneel on you hands and knees and just “suck it in” and hold until the muscle is fatigued. This is known as ‘prone stabilization’.
The internal and external obliques are often grouped together since they are virtually the same type of muscle, with one group in the front and one group in the back. The internal obliques insert at an angle which is often referred to as the same angle that your hands would go into your front pants pockets. The external then would be at an angle of ‘reverse pockets”. These muscles working by themselves help to rotate the trunk, while working together together flex the trunk on the pelvis. One of the interesting functions of the obliques is also the same as the tranversus abdominus in forced expiration. Remember the expression, “I laughed so hard that my sides ached”? That’s because your obliques become fatigued from laughing or hiccoughing. To effectively strengthen the internal and external obliques trunk flexion with a slight rotation at the angle of insertion would be most effective
So how many crunches and how often should they be done to get those highly touted washboard abs? Truthfully, most of us will never achieve that ’hallmark of fitness’. Those ripples are more a sign of a dangerously low bodyfat to lean body mass ratio, than of being in good shape. You must also remember that muscle strength and muscle hypertrophy are not equivalent. In other words, you could do three hundred sit-ups(because you have developed muscular abdominal endurance through repetition), but your muscles may not have gotten any larger . A good prescription to follow in your abdominal routine is to work your muscles like you would any other muscle group; to fatigue. This should take no longer than 10-15 minutes. Finally, remember to give your muscles that 48 hour rest-and-recovery period so that they actually can get stronger. Your ‘abs’ will thank you for it!
Saturday, March 27, 2010
1. Always wear a weight belt and gloves when participating in strength training unless advised otherwise by your trainer. The weight that you are lifting may not seem heavy to you. However, if the weight is heavy enough to effect change in your muscles, it is also heavy enough to hurt your lower back. Several studies have been published recently regarding the effectiveness of weight belts in preventing injury. Although these studies argue that weight belts may be ineffective in preventing injury, our insurance company believes otherwise.
2. Anytime the weight is lifted above the waist, the feet need to be in split stance. This distributes the weight, so that the lower back is not put through undue stress.
3. When doing exercises in a supine position, the feet should always be elevated. This forces the lumbar spine into imprint, reducing the risk of a pinched disk in L3-L5.
4. Always exhale when exerting force (whether this is pulling, pushing or lifting). Holding your breath while exerting force results in an increase in intra-thoracic pressure (known as the Vasalva Maneuver) . This causes a dramatic increase in blood pressure and can result in what we refer to as the three ‘H’s: hemorrhoids, hernias and high blood pressure.
5. The eccentric (or lengthening) phase of the exercise is always three times as slow as the concentric (or shortening) phase of the exercise. In a bicep curl exercise the concentric phase is the raising of the weight and the eccentric phase of the exercise is the lowering phase. You are actually three times as strong as the muscle lengthens than you are when the muscle shortens. This is due to the friction that occurs when the muscle rubs together as it tightens up. Most exercises are what we would call one to three ratios (expresses as 1/3 or one count up and three counts down).
6. Muscle training should always take place starting a workout with the larger muscle groups and working your way to the smaller groups. That is because the smaller muscles are all stabilizing or secondary movers of the larger muscles (i.e., in order to move the chest, we have to use the shoulders and triceps). If you fatigue the smaller muscles first, the larger muscles will never get a good workout. Upper body muscle workouts will proceed from chest and back, to triceps and biceps and finally shoulders.
7. Muscles are always worked in an agonist/antagonist fashion. That means if you work the muscle on one side of the body, the other side of the body must be worked next in order to maintain balance. While working the chest, the back is stretched. While working the biceps, the triceps are stretched. This holds true for most of the muscle groups throughout the body.
8. Exercises should be done with a minute between sets. That is because it takes the body approximately sixty seconds to replenish the energy supply in the muscle. If you wait longer than a minute, your body does not understand that it needs to increase the muscle’s energy storage capacity.
9. Muscles need to be worked until they fail (or are unable to complete the last few repetitions). This is perhaps the biggest reason why people do not see changes in their body when strength training. They do not push themselves enough. This is called the “Overload Principle”. If you never push yourself to the point of failure, your body never gets the message that it needs to change in order to accomplish the tasks you are asking of it.
10. You need to take a 48 hour rest and recovery period before working the same muscle group again. This period of time allows your muscles to rebuild themselves. For a brief period of time (averaging between 36-48 hours), the body becomes briefly stronger, This is known as supercompensation. Ideally we want to stimulate the muscles again during this period of supercompensation. However, overworking your muscles does exactly the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish. It continually tears down the muscles and builds more muscle endurance( a la BodyPump). This does not allow the muscle to hypertrophy .
11. If engaging in a moderate workout, men should attempt but not be able to achieve, three sets of 12, 10 and 8 repetitions. Because women respond better to slightly higher repetions, they should attempt, but not be able to complete three sets of 15, 12 and 10 repetitions.
12. Some programs have higher numbers of sets. The ‘Body for Life’ program incorporates four sets of 12, 10, 8 and 6 repetitions followed by a post fatigue set of 12 repetitions with lighter weight. This is immediately followed by a superset. The superset is an exercise targeting the same muscle group, but in a different way. There is no break between the post fatigue set and the superset. This is to totally fatigue the muscle. This type of program is not recommended for beginning athletes.
Although there appears to be a general decline in range of motion about a joint after adulthood is reached, there has been much argument over whether this diminution is due to physiological aging or the decrease in physical activity normally associated with aging. The second theory being the ‘if-you-don’t-use-it-you’ll-lose-it’ theory is rapidly gaining acceptance. At any rate, this decline in range of motion can be directly linked to an increase in several physiological problems. One of these commonly ignored affects is the added force felt by the spine when engaging in higher impact activities such as jogging or aerobic dance. This force would normally be absorbed by the joints distal(or below) the hip. As the muscles tighten up, the “give” normally present in these joints vanishes, forcing the spine to absorb more of the impact, resulting in lower back pain. Muscle injuries, muscle soreness and postural deformities are examples of other symptoms of decreasing flexibility.
To see the affects of extremely limited flexibility, you only have to look as far as a long-term care facility. Residents who aren’t given frequent range of motion or flexibility sessions will often lose the use of the muscle or limb involved. At severely advanced stages, the muscles can tighten up, leaving the resident in a fetal position. Granted, these cases are few in our society today, but it illustrates the importance of retaining the range of motion we already possess.
So now you’re convinced that it might be worth your time to spend a few extra minutes of your workout session in flexibility training, but what should you be doing? First you should realize that there are certain times during your workout that it would be more effective for you to stretch. That’s because when your muscles are cold, they are similar to rubber bands in that when you stretch them, they normally just bounce back to their original shape. That’s called elastic deformation. When you perform a type of dynamic stretching involving bouncy or jerky movements called ballistic stretching, this is normally the type of temporary deformation that takes place. If the momentum of the body becomes too great for the joint’s current range of motion(ROM), you can actually sprain or strain(tear) the muscle. If, however, you increase the core temperature of your body to 102°f, the muscle begins to display characteristics similar to taffy or plastic, for when the muscle is stretched it retains the lengthened shape. This is called plastic deformation. The best type of stretching to achieve permanent or plastic deformation of the muscle is called static stretching. Static stretching typically involves lengthening the muscle to a point of slight discomfort; when this point is reached the position is held for 15 to 30 seconds, and then repeated two or three times. Static stretching has also been proven to cause less muscle soreness then the aforementioned ballistic stretching.
So you know you should be stretching after your body temperature has been raised by some form of aerobic activity. You also know that you should be performing static stretches that are held to the point of slight discomfort for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat them two to three times. What you want to know is what exactly you should be doing. This is entirely dependent upon the results desired. You must target the muscles you are seeking to improve by imitating the motions you will be doing. This is referred to as training specificity. If you want greater range of motion in the patella/femoral(knee) joint so that you can bend down to better perform your gardening activities, then you should imitate that movement and hold for the required amount of time. If you are interested in improving the flexibility of your lower back in order to help the swing in your golf game, after warming up the muscles, you should imitate the stance you will be using, extending the body as far as you can in the direction you desire, and hold the stretch. It all seems very elementary, but it’s the component of physical fitness we often ignore until we experience a sports related injury.
Flexibility is something we don’t often notice until we start having unexplained pains or problems. Take a few extra minutes after the end of your game or workout and stretch. You may not notice a difference now, but someday your body will thank you!
Thursday, March 25, 2010
For the past 20 years, I have owned and operated a successful personal training business in the capitol city. I spend every waking minute trying to convince adults of the value in physical activity. A year and a one half ago, I was appointed as a member of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Nutrition, who’s sole goal is to make Iowa the healthiest state in the union. The Council was formed by the passage of the Healthy Kid’s Act, Senate File 2319.
In my capacity as a fitness professional and council member, I cannot remain silent as school budgets are slashed, and administrators look to the arts, music and physical education as viable candidates for elimination. And, whereas, there have been many proponents stand up in defense of the arts and music, few voices have been heard in support of physical education. This needs to be rectified.
With the current healthcare crisis, obesity epidemic and the recent passage of the healthcare bill, we, as a nation, need even more emphasis on physical education and disease prevention. “American society today clearly values health, clearly has increasingly serious health problems, and clearly needs the tremendous positive impact that physical education can have on changing activity habits of children. That emphasis starts with quality daily PE.” This quote was in the Chronicle of Physical Education in Higher Education in 1991, and rings even truer today.
Physical education in the K-12 school system has moved far beyond the dodgeball many of us remember. It fills a vital role in the overall development of our children. The American Heart Association states, “Schools can play a critical role in increasing physical activity by offering quality, daily physical education and other opportunities to recreate. Physical education not only gives children an opportunity to be active but it teaches them the skills they need to be active throughout their lifetime. Thus, investing in quality physical education in all schools for all grades is a logical and important step toward improving the health of the next generation.”
Listed below are some of the benefits that highlight the importance of physical education:
• Maintaining Sound Physical Fitness
• Overall Confidence Booster
• Inculcating Sportsmanship and Team Spirit
• Development of Motor Skills
• Enhancing Overall Cognitive Abilities
• Encouraging Budding Sportsmen.
• Promoting Healthy Lifestyle in Adulthood.
Physical education plays an integral role in the development of our children. It is as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. It is as vital to creating a well-rounded citizen as music or the arts. It helps to create a healthy individual. The World Health Organization has defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”
The AMA recently produced a statement on promoting physical activity among children and adolescents. Listed below are some of the policy and practice recommendations endorsed in this statement:
1. Schools should ensure that all youth participate in a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity during the school day, including active time during physical education (PE) classes.
2. Schools should deliver evidence based health-related PE programs that meet national standards at all school levels. These programs should provide substantial amounts of MVPA (50% of class time) and teach students motor and behavioral skills needed to engage in lifelong physical activity.
3. States and school districts should ensure PE is taught by certified and well-qualified teachers.
Far beyond the dodgeball and jumping jacks many of us remember, PE is essential to developing a healthy well-rounded student that will one day become a healthy, well-rounded adult.
President John F. Kennedy said it best noting the importance of physical activity and physical education when he stated, “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
There are basically three energy systems(or sources of energy available for muscular activity) found in the body: the aerobic system, and two anaerobic systems; the lactate system and the creatine-phosphate system. These three systems create energy by manufacturing something called ATP. ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate which is an energy source used in many metabolic reactions, especially those involving muscular activity. Each of these systems respond to very specific physical conditions.
The most efficient energy system in the body is the aerobic system. Aerobic, in this use, simply signifies that the energy is produced utilizing oxygen. The aerobic system burns both fat and sugar(glucose) to manufacture ATP. Each time a fat cell is broken apart, water and CO2 are produced. That is why you lose so much water weight when you begin to exercise aerobically. The fat cells are veritable storage batteries of energy. Each cell can generate up to 36 units of ATP, As the aerobic system improves through exercise, it becomes more efficient and burns a greater percentage of fat cells even at rest. Therefore the aerobic system can produce almost limitless amounts of ATP and is used for endurance exercise.
The lactate system is one of the anaerobic energy systems. Anaerobic signifies that the energy production takes place without the presence of oxygen. This system produces ATP by burning glucose, which is a simple sugar complex found in muscle tissue. Glucose can only generate approximately 4-9 units of ATP. The byproducts of anaerobic gylcosis include ATP and Lactic Acid. As lactic acid production increases the muscle soon reaches an overload wherein continued contraction becomes impossible. Lactic acid is thought to be the principal cause of immediate soreness(the “burn”) in an exercising muscle.
The creatine-phosphate system is the other anaerobic energy system.system. This system consists of a molecule that can be broken down very quickly into ATP. It is utilized for short bursts of energy. The major limitation of this system is that it is rapidly depleted. It takes no longer than ten seconds to exhaust the entire available supply of creatine-phosphate.
When your body is at rest it is actually relying on the aerobic energy system for production of ATP. That means that about 50% of the calories you are utilizing are coming from fat cells(for an athletic person that jumps all the way up to 70%). Unfortunately, when you are sitting on the couch, you are not burning that many calories(less than 200 calories per hour), so the fat burned is negligible.
For the first couple of seconds of exercise your body utilizes the creatine-phosphate energy system. Within the first three seconds your body has depleted the entire readily available store of creatine in the cell and begins to re-manufacture replacement molecules. Within ten seconds, the secondary supply is also depleted. No fat is consumed during these initial bursts of energy.
For exercise that lasts from ten seconds to seven minutes, the lactate system takes over. This exercise could include anything from the stop-and-go routine of weight lifting, to running a fast mile. This system burns only sugar(again no fat is consumed). Since oxygen is not needed for energy production, it is not breathlessness that makes you stop. It is the inability of the muscle to rid itself of the byproduct, lactate.
For exercises lasting longer than seven minutes, oxygen is a crucial component of energy production. That’s because the aerobic energy system gradually takes over as the main source of ATP. Aerobic energy production utilizes glucose and fatty acids. This means fat burning. As you increase the duration of exercise, the percentage of energy consumed from fat gradually increases to 80% . This percentage levels out after twenty minutes of continual exercise. For your body to take 100% of its’ energy requirements from fat, you would have to exercise for one and one half hours.
If you are interested in becoming a “fat burning machine”, duration of exercise seems to be the key. Gradually increase exercise duration to 50 to 60-plus minutes at least three to five days per week and raise the intensity as high as you safely can sustain it. If high intensity is not an option, try interval training to sustain the exercise session for as long as possible. Remember, total calorie expenditure during exercise ultimately determines the amount of fat used, and the longer you exercise, the more fat you will burn.