Five Fitness Tips: August 2012

Farmer's walks

This month, I weigh in on post-injury/training icing, a new exercise to add to your repertoire, a forgotten way to add muscle, and some advice to improve your deadlift and plank.

1. What is the deal with icing?

I have personally always been a advocate of icing a sore muscle or joint, and have recommended icing to my friends and former clients during my days as a personal trainer. Icing slows inflammation, and it is a crucial part of the R.I.C.E acronym (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). However, this post from the MobilityWOD a few weeks ago opened my eyes.

The intro:

“You should stop icing.  We were wrong.  I know.  I’ve even been guilty of advocated for short icing stints on this blog.  I was wrong.  For the past year, I’ve been engaged in a personal moral debate about icing that in retrospect, seems silly if not outright obvious.  We should not ice.  For the last year, I’ve advocated for no icing with every athlete  with whom I’ve helped  either  post-surgery or post-injury.   The outcomes have been nothing short of stunning.  “

The post goes on to mention a few scientific studies that have shown icing to have little-to-no benefit to the recovery from injuries and surgeries.

Here is an interesting video clip on the topic:

Kelly Starlett, the owner of the MobilityWOD, recommends replacing the R.I.C.E acronym with M.C.E (moving, compression and elevation). Give it a try the next time you have a sore muscle/joint after a workout or playing your sport.

2. Farmers walks – give them a try.

You will see huge gains in the gym from moving heavy weights around. Farmers walks are exactly that – moving heavy weights around. This post from Crude Fitness explains what the exercise is, what it does, and how to do it (along with some interesting variations).

“An exercise that should be included in all of your workout programs is the Farmer’s Walk. It’s a total body exercise that when done properly will strengthen your abs, back, legs, shoulders, and arms. Your grip strength, posture, and endurance will benefit too.

Unfortunately, few people do them regularly. My goal with this article is change that so you can reap the benefits of this awesome exercise. In it I will show you several ways to perform Farmer’ Walks, tell you what equipment is required, and give you ways to add them to your workouts.”

Here are the basics of the exercise. Give it a try the next time you are in the gym:

“Lift the weight by squatting down with your back flat and lift by tensing your abs and pushing up from your heels, just as if you are performing a deadlift or squat. Stand straight at all times with your eyes forward and chin up. This will keep your head in a neutral position and reduce your risk of injury. Keep your shoulders pulled back at all times. When you begin walking use your normal gait. Use shorter steps when you become fatigued to keep yourself walking.”

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3. The benefits of eccentric training.

Mark’s Daily Apple is a great site for nutrition facts and information, but it also contains some fantastic fitness and exercise related posts. Here is a guest post on eccentric exercising.

First, squashing a longstanding myth:

“Before digging into the details about lifting or lowering anything, it is important to address a common fear that exercising with heavy things makes women look like men and men look like bulldogs. The best way to address this fear is to understand our biology. Everyone has a gene called GDF-8, and that controls a substance called myostatin, which controls the amount of muscle we have and how much muscles develop naturally. The base levels of myostatin and muscle in basically all women and most men make it impossible for them to naturally build bulky muscles. It does not matter how much resistance we use. The majority of us—especially women—do not have the genes to build bulky muscles via any form of exercise.”

The eccentric portion of an exercise involves lowering the weight (the non-working part, in other terms). Why should you focus on it in the gym?

“Every exercise has two parts: lifting the resistance and lowering the resistance. Lifting the resistance is called the concentric portion of the exercise. Concentric is when the muscle contracts. Lowering the resistance is called the eccentric portion of the exercise. Eccentric is when the muscle extends. Lifting weights—the concentric action—gets the most attention, but research shows that lowering weights—the eccentric action—can get us more results since safely and slowly lowering heavy things enables us to generate more force. M. Roig at the University of British Columbia found that “Eccentric training performed at high intensities was shown to be more effective in promoting increases in muscle.” Why? E.J. Higbie at University of Georgia tells us, “Greater maximum force can be developed during maximal eccentric muscle actions than during concentric.” And N.D. Reeves at Manchester Metropolitan University echoes with, “Muscles are capable of developing much higher forces when they contract eccentrically compared with when they contract concentrically.”

So lift eccentrically to gain muscle, strength, and shock your body a bit with something different. Get ready for some (good) muscle soreness the next day, though.

Also – don’t forget about recovery time!

“More Muscle Worked Means More Recovery Time Needed

If we cut grass lower, we can mow our lawn less often. That is not some too-good-to-be-true gimmick. That is common sense. The more grass we cut off, the more time is needed to grow it back. Similarly, if we’re working more muscle fibers by exercising with more force, we can exercise less often. The more muscle fibers we exercise, the more time we need to recover.

How long your muscles take to recover is a great way to tell if you are exercising your type 2b muscle fibers. If you are able to lower heavy things on Monday and then lower the same heavy thing a day or two later, then your first workout didn’t work your type 2b fibers. If it did, those fibers will not be ready to go again one, two, three, four, or even five days later. Research reveals that type 2b muscle fibers need at least six days to recover.”

4. Five more deadlift tips.

The deadlift is a vital exercise and should be a staple of most routines… but it is also very difficult to master from a technical perspective. Thankfully we have fitness experts like Tony Gentilcore to provide us with easy-to-remember advice.

Tony’s advice:

  1. Don’t lift heavy on Monday (assuming you take the weekend off from the gym, don’t start the week with your most difficult lift).
  2. Lift heavy more often. Above 90% of your maximum lift.
  3. Lift at the 70% mark, too. It is a great way to refine form and technique while still challenging muscles.
  4. Don’t forget about accessory work. Usually there is a limiting factor in each person, and shoring up those weaknesses will help deadlift form (and the benefits you see from doing it).
  5. Use straps. Straps aren’t really cheating, and grip strength is going to be the limiting factor for most people.

“Listen, most commercial gyms have really crappy bars with no knurling and you’re relegated to wearing a Scarlet letter if you have the audacity to bring chalk onto the gym floor.

It’s almost impossible to lift any appreciable weight when the bar keeps slipping out of your hands.

Back in the day I totally used wrist straps to help bring up my deadlift.  Granted, I tried to sneak in chalk whenever I could (even going so far as to make sure I wiped down the bars when I was done), but I didn’t think any less of myself.”

5. Three great coaching cues.

Eric Cressey offers three great coaching cues on exercises that most people do. These cues are great because they are easy to remember – a lot of times you will read something and then completely forget it when you get to the gym.

Make a double chin

I’m a huge advocate of teaching the packed neck during strength exercises, as a lot of athletes have a tendency to slip into forward head posture the second they get under load.  However, the common cue of “tuck the chin” really doesn’t work, as a lot of athletes will simply open the mouth or take the chin to the sternum.  Neither of these patterns are ideal.  Simply telling someone to make a double chin usually fixes the problem instantly, as it’s a pattern that is already in their existing schema; they’ve been making goofy faces every since they were kids.

This is a great cue – one I used to tell my clients was to pretend their head was a shelf and to think of pushing the shelf back in. Most people spend so much time with a forward head position (thanks to a desk and computer), that this is a really important one for all exercises.

Improve your bridge

Prone bridges are a tremendously valuable anterior core stability exercise, especially for beginners.  Unfortunately – and possibly because they’re so common in group exercise settings – the technique gets butchered all the time, as folks make themselves “too long” with their set-up.  When the hands are too far out in front of the body, the challenge improves considerably, and folks often drop into a forward head posture, “buffalo hump” at the thoracic spine, and lumbar hyperextension.

Cressey’s advice is great here – the plank is a widely used exercise, but a lot of times people are doing it incorrectly.

The hip hinge

The final cue is for the single leg dead lift exercise. If you aren’t doing the exercise, look it up. The benefits of it are many – coordination, proprioception, strength, and speed. It really builds the posterior chain well (back, glutes, hamstrings). Cressey’s cue is great and simple, which is important for such a complex exercise.

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