Don't be left out!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Things I learned from my first years as a trainer

I am approaching the two year mark as a certified personal trainer.  I've been "in the industry" for almost five years as a group exercise instructor and wellness coach, but becoming a personal trainer has been the most rewarding experiences of my professional life.  There is nothing more enjoyable then watching people change not only their lives, but the lives of their family members as well.

While in the grand scheme of things, two years is minuscule, I've grown so much in that short time.  I've made plenty of mistakes and learned some lessons the hard way.  Here are the top five lessons I've learned in my first years as personal trainer:

The learning doesn't stop when you pass the test:  You spend all your free time reading your text book, doing the practice tests, going to workshops, and asking your personal training friends questions but that's just the beginning.  It's more than just signing up for continuing education classes to keep your certification current.  People pay a lot of their hard earned money to spend time with you and tap into your knowledge.  Take it seriously.  Read books, watch videos, observe others in your field.  Do whatever you can to help yourself help your clients.

Don't comprise your best judgement for what you think the client wants: Ugh, looking back at how I approached client programming (or lack there of) when I was just starting out makes me cringe.  I'll admit it, I was giving clients new workouts every single week because I thought that's what they wanted.  If I gave them what they wanted, they'd stick around right?  Not so much.  

The thing is, I knew better too but was too concerned with keeping a client happy.  Really, what makes (most) clients happy is reaching their goals and my variety workout of the week programming sure as hell wasn't going to do that.  The icing on the cake was that after four or six weeks they had six different workouts and stopped training with me because the message I was unfortunately sending them was that all you need are workouts.  Who cares about progression?  Improvements in form/technique/recovery?  Please don't make that same mistake.  

Trust your gut:  When that voice inside of you that tells you not to do something (or do something)- LISTEN.  One of my first clients came to me with a long list of health concerns, bodily aches and old injuries.  After an assessment, my gut was telling me to proceed with caution but as a new trainer I was so excited to help people, with their doctor's consent I pressed (gently) forward.  Despite giving them my full attention and writing their workouts to meet their current status to the best of my abilities at the time, they got injured doing one of the workouts. I felt terrible.  I should have called in reinforcements for a second opinion.  Thankfully they have recovered and are now progressing nicely.  

It's ok to say, "I don't know" and "no":  As mentioned above, it's ok to admit you don't know something and ask for help, especially when not asking for help means putting a client at risk.  Avoid answering questions you don't know the answer to with BS you made up or heard somewhere else.  I believe you can gain more credibility with clients with honesty than knowing it all.  

It's also ok to refer potential clients to another trainer who might be better suited to help them.  If your goal is to run a marathon, I'm not your trainer.  Of course I respect runners but I've never run a marathon and have no interest in running myself.  Trainers naturally seem to find their niche whether it's lifting, running. pilates or yoga.  You don't have to be a jack of all trades to have success.  Find what your passionate about that and spend your time and energy knowing everything about that topic.  

Other trainers can be a great resource, not competition: Granted I work at my local YMCA where we don't work on commission or have sales goals to reach but some of the best information I've received has been from other trainers sharing what they've learned with me.  It can be as small as a cue to use when coaching clients or as big as allowing you to intern with them.  Find the best trainer in town and ask to observe them with clients.  These people have been where you have been.  They're in the trenches with you, trying to help people reach their goals. And if helping you means you can better helping people,  then most trainers are willing to help.

I'm sure in another two years time I'll be sharing a whole new set of lessons learned.  Until then….
What lessons did you learn in your first few years at your job?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sports Drinks: Pros and Cons

Walk into any gas station and you're sure to find rows upon rows of sport drinks.  Designed to be consumed before, during and after intense workouts, the well known Gatorade was first to the market in 1965 and since then, many have followed their lead.

Almost 50 years later, and the sports drink market has come a long way.  Thanks to various studies over the last few decades, we have a better understanding of what athletes should be drinking, when they should be drinking it and how much they need to drink.

Most of us know that we should consume plenty of liquids throughout the day especially before, during and after exercise to keep us hydrated.  But what if you're not in the NBA, NFL or an IronMan triathlete?  Does the average gym goer need a sports drink during activity?

The answer is…it depends. It depends on the length of your workout, outside temperature and how much you're sweating.  For exercise over 60 minutes, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends, "drinking one-and-a-half to four cups per hour (more if you have heavy sweat losses) will provide you with both the fluid and carbs you need for endurance."

(Keep in mind, 60 minutes of activity means you're actually active the entire time.  Doing a few exercise, chatting with some friends, going to the bathroom, then doing a few more exercises for a total of 60 minutes doesn't meet the requirement.)
Like many of us, my activities don't usually qualify me for needing a sports drink but I'm not really a fan of just plain water during workouts (or anytime really).  Because I don't need all the extra carbs/sugar, electrolytes, or calories to support my workouts, adding in a traditional sports drink will most likely just result in unnecessary calorie consumption.

In fact, some traditional sports drinks have so much sugar in them they are often classified as "soft drinks".  Multiple studies, like this one from the American Academy of Pediatrics have concluded that, "...frequent or excessive intake of caloric sports drinks can substantially increase the risk for overweight or obesity in children and adolescents. "

I recently had the opportunity to review one of the hottest newcomers to the sports drink market,  pHenOH 7.4 (pronounced fee-no).
A superior, healthy, ALKALINE alternative to conventional sports drinks. Phenoh has redefined the concept of a “sports drink” to reflect the needs of athletes and active individuals alike. Phenoh 7.4, with just 7 naturally healthy ingredients and a pH of 7.4, is everything that your body needs to stay balanced during stress and exercise. This is not an ade, this is pHenOH.
What I really like about pHenOH is how it stacks up against other sports drink competitors.  I looked into how pHenOH compared to comparable "reduced calorie" beverages, when it came to calories, electrolytes (sodium and potassium), carbohydrates, sugar and vitamin C per 8 ounce serving.

PHenOH is served in convenient 16oz bottles for easy on the go hydration.  Beverages like Gatorade and Powerade bottles often are available in 32 ounce bottles.  It's important to keep in mind that while I broke the drinks down into 8oz servings for comparison reasons, if you were to drink the entire bottle of Powerade or Gaterade you'd be consuming closer to 100 calories and 17 grams of sugar.  While pHenOH's sugar content is similar to that of some of the other drinks, it's derived from the lower glycemic sweetener- organic agave nectar.

PHenOH has a wonderfully refreshing taste, plus it's jam packed with actual vitamins.  Each bottle of pHenOH has as much potassium as two, TWO bananas.  Potassium aids heart function, muscle function, blood pressure and a whole lot more.  PHenOH also contains aloe vera which claims to aid digestion and provide antioxidants.

In addition, pHenOH is the ONLY sports drink on the market with a pH level of 7.4 which means it's an alkaline solution.  Unlike other soft drinks and sports drinks with a highly acid base (as a reference Gatorade and Powerade have a pH of 2.4-2.7), pHenOH supports my dental health.  Demineralization of tooth enamel begins at a pH of 5.5.  With a pH of 7.4, I don't have to worry about this drink eating at my teeth.  (Nice visual isn't it?)

As I mentioned above, my activities typically don't necessitate a traditional sports drink.  I appreciate drinks like pHenOH because I can enjoy them without worrying about consuming unneeded sodium, carbohydrates and calories.

You can find PHenOH online or use their interactive map to locate a retailer near you.

Your turn:  Do you drink sport drinks?  If so, what are you favorites?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Core Stability for Moms

***This post was originally written for and posted on Des Moines Moms Blog***

Whether you hit up the gym on a regular basis or not, it's safe to say that being a parent requires you to be in shape- a try to close the trunk, and carry a child on one hip with grocery bags in the opposite hand, while wearing a diaper bag type of shape.

Even if you aren't interested entering in the next big fitness competition and could care less about a six pack, increasing core stability can make tasks like swinging a baby carrier or loading a double stroller into the trunk easier.

Core stability is one of those fitness buzz words that's often used interchangeably with core strength but it's different than throwing in some crunches and bicycles at the end of your workout.  In fact, core stability exercises often don't look like you're even training the abdominals.  It refers to the ability to maintain proper positioning of your spine and pelvis throughout a movement despite what your extremities may be doing.  To do keep stability in the spine, the muscles that compromise your core (abdominals, back, hips and pelvic floor) work together to resist movement.

Adding just a few core stability exercises into your weekly routine can help prevent injuries, reduce back pain, improve posture, increase balance, as well as make many exercises and household chores easier.  In other words, it will make picking up an overtired, tantrum throwing toddler up from the floor less strenuous.  And let's face it, our kids aren't getting any smaller.

It's no secret that pregnancy can leave your entire core feeling like mush and whether you're a new mom*, a gym going veteran or somewhere in between try performing a few of the exercises below (listed in order from beginner to advanced) twice a week to increase your core stability.

*Please get your doctor's approval before returning to exercise

Your turn:  What are you favorite core stability exercises?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Online Black Friday Athletic Deals

There's no need to drag yourself out to the mall today, battling the crowds when you can score great deals online from the comforts of your own home….

in you pajamas….
while you entice your children to watch Wild Kratts….
so you can "shop" in peace….
with a cup of coffee…..
while your husband is at a football game……

Not that I'm doing any of that or anything.

I honestly hadn't even intended to write this post, but when I woke up this morning with an inbox flooded with great deals, I just had to share.

Whether you actually need new workout gear, shopping for presents, or just want to grab a few items in attempts to motivate you to move more (<--hey, it works for me!) here are some of the top deals from my favorite stores.  Feel free to add additional steals and deals in the comment section on Facebook!

Before I dive in, I'd highly recommend registering at Ebates before you shop online.  Ebates is an amazing website devoted to providing cash back every time you shop and it always list deals, coupons and offers available for the stores your shopping.  Simply register, search for the store you want to shop at, click on the store, and you'll automatically be redirected to the online store.  Four times a month Ebates will send you a check.  No scams, no contingencies.  Just money back.

Ok, here we go….

Lucy 30% off AND free standard shipping.  Ends 11/30
Gap 50% off everything with code BLKFRIDAY.  Ends 11/28
Athleta 20% off everything with code FIT20.  Ends 11/28
Old Navy Extra 15% on top of many promotional items with code GRAVY
Lorna Jane 20-30% off 2 or more items ends 11/28
Road ID tags 15% off.  Ends 11/28 (Makes a great gift for runners and triathletes!)
Moving Comfort 50% off all cold weather accessories.  Ends 11/30
Nike Extra 25% off clearance outlet items with code DOMINATE.  Ends 12/2 (Plus and extra 12% back when you shop through Ebates.  Just saying. )
FitDeck 25% off all eligible FitDeck products (excluding discounted Bundles). Enter code: BLACK 

Are you a Black Friday shopper?  What deals are you looking to score this holiday season?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Not Sexy

This past Sunday, the one and only, Science Babe, shared a status of mine on her Facebook page.

Almost immediately, my Facebook page started blowing up (relatively speaking).  I literally was in shock, not because of the increase in Facebook likes but because it meant an opportunity to encourage and help more people than I would have had otherwise. In addition, someone I respect, appreciated my thoughts, and that's an awesome feeling.

Shortly after the initial excitement, I began to worry.  Will people like what I had to say as much as Science Babe did?  Will people disagree with me?  Will people make fun of me?  What if they say something not kind? She referred to me as a "fitness pro"…am I really a pro?  Do I know enough to be considered a "fitness pro"? Do I look like a "fitness pro"?  What if people comment about my huge ass thighs?

Sharing information, experiences, and opinions so publicly on a blog and Facebook platform means you put yourself out there- open to the judgement, comments and critiques from anyone who cares to leave a comment.  I think of myself as a pretty confident individual, but this exposure left me feeling a little, well…. exposed and vulnerable.

Naturally, I clicked over to Science Babe's page to see what others had to say.  And there it was…..

Not sexy.

He was talking about me.

Given Science Babe's reference to "my guns",  I can only assume that he meant my muscles weren't sexy, but either way, I'm human and for a split second my feelings were hurt.

This wasn't the first time a stranger had made a comment about my figure or strength being unattractive, but it was the first time it's happened so publicly-- that is, if Facebook can be considered public.  Suddenly, I felt like I was back in fourth grade and all the cute, cool boys were making fun of me for being chubby.

His comment confirmed that all of my worries were legit and totally rational.

My knee jerk reaction was to leave a snide reply to this fella filled with equal parts rudeness and defense, declaring that the feeling was mutual.

I took a few deep breaths and decided that wasn't the classiest approach to take.

By the time I could collect my thoughts, a few comments had already been made pointing out that his comment was rude and in no way relevant to anything mentioned in my original status.  Wow, strangers going to bat for me.  That's pretty awesome.

Calm, cool, collected, I replied, "I understand muscles on both male and females are a matter of personal preference and (fill in dude's name) doesn't find muscles attractive.  That's cool.  I can handle that."

Why reply at all?  Because whether it's in person, in private or, in this case, on Facebook, people say rude things all the time. I wanted to lead by example and I certainly did not want people to interpret my silence as defeat.  I could let said dude's comment fester and stir up insecurities, worries and fears or I could note his not-so-constructive comment, and just let it go.

(are you singing "Let It Go" now? Me too)

I feel good about my body-what it has done, can do and will do for me.   Besides, my husband finds me sexy.  I'll be damned if I let a stranger take that away from me.

In the end Science Babe deleted the entire comment thread, because she's classy like that.

For me, working outside of my comfort zone (which most of this blog/Facebook stuff is) is a constant tug of war between feeling awesome and feeling like a fool.

A favorite body image expert of mine, Erin Brown, noted this struggle as well after she released her first book, "As Is".   She made a comment recently that stuck with me, "People will be critical. Do it anyway."

People might make unkind comments.  They might challenge my fitness knowledge, and they may even make a note about my tree trunks.  And most likely, considering the growth of my blog it's probably going to happen more and more often but…..

….. I will do it anyway.

Monday, November 24, 2014

How Deep Should You Squat?

"How deep should I squat?"  isn't a question I get very often.  I'm guessing because not many people want to hear the answer for fear they might be required to drop a little deeper into the bottom of the squat.  And, if you've spent anytime sitting in the bottom of a squat, you know it's not exactly comfortable.

As someone who bombed (meaning missed all three squat attempts) in their first powerlifting meet months ago due to not reaching proper squat depth, this is a topic constantly on my mind as both a lifter and a trainer.

After spending a few hours with girls new(er) to strength training at a Fuel event held at 22nd Street barbell this weekend, it got me thinking about the typical gym goer.  Pictures of high squats are all around us- magazines and fitness program marketing.  Heck I did a quick search for "squat stock photos" and here's a sampling of what I found….

High, high, and high.  So how deep should you squat?  Parallel?  What's parallel?  Hamstrings parallel to the ground?  Quads parallel to the ground?  Below parallel?  What's below parallel?  Ass to grass?  What about partial squats?  Ya know, those squats where I think I'm getting to depth but my hips and butt are four inches too high?

The general population will probably give an answer that sounds something like, "your thighs/femur parallel to the ground." According powerlifting standards, proper squat depth is reached when the crease of your hip is below the top of your knees.  And while I'm not certain about CrossFit standards, I assume that with increasing popularity in the phrase "ass to grass" that squats performed in crossfit boxes are even deeper.

I realize not everyone is a powerlifter but there is evidence to support that reaching proper depth-hip crease below the top of the knee- activates your glutes up to 34% more than squats above or even right at parallel.

Check out the muscle activation in the concentric (way up) and eccentric (way down) phases of the squat from a similar study on the muscle activation at various squat depths (2002).  The full squat clearly produces more demands from the glutes on the way up, when compared to the partial or parallel squat.

In addition, in both the concentric and eccentric phase the vastus medialis and laterals (both found in the quadriceps) activation readings are much greater in the partial and parallel squat when compared to a full squat. 

While greater quad activity may sound like a good thing, squatting high over and over and over on a repeated basis may cause a muscle imbalance between strong quadriceps and weak hamstrings.  This could put you at greater risk for knee pain and injuries.

Speaking of knees, squatting deep(er) is not bad for your knees. Brad Schoenfeld debunked this popular belief in a paper for the National Strength and Conditioning Association,
"ACL and PCL forces have been shown to diminish at higher degrees of knee flexion. Peak ACL forces occur between 15 – 30 degrees of flexion, decreasing significantly at 60 degrees and leveling off thereafter at higher flexion angles (7, 11, 16). PCL forces rise consistently with every flexion angle beyond 30 degrees of knee flexion, peaking at approximately 90 degrees, and declining significantly thereafter (10). Beyond 120 degrees, PCL forces are mini- mal (12)."
What do all of those numbers mean?  Simply put, the majority of the stress put on the knees in a squat happens in the first 30 degrees at the top of a squat and decreases dramatically at parallel and even more so at below parallel depth.  Assuming you've got a doctor's approval, and no previous injuries, squatting deep is not bad for your knees.

What is bad for you knees?  Improper form.  This article from Greatist has some great tips on how to avoid common mistakes.

With all of that said, individual anatomy, mobility, and current strength levels all play a part in how deeply we squat.  Of course mobility and strength are both factors that can be improved.

If I'm really being honest, when it comes to the average gym goer, there is a part of me that agrees with every thing Jason from Any Man Fitness has to say in his article titled, "I Don't Care If You Squat To Parallel".   I do believe you can still have success reaching general health and fitness goals without ever squatting to parallel.


But I'm also not suggesting you just stop trying all together.  And I'm certainly not going to give you a snarky look for trying to squat, high or not.

As someone who spent a great amount of time squatting high, I can say personally, it was a matter of checking my ego at the gym entrance.  I had to reduce my weight and rebuild my squat to reach proper depth.  I squatted high because squatting deep was harder and uncomfortable.  Don't make that mistake.  The easy route, in general,  never works out better.

Screw trying to keep up with reps counts in group exercise, or adding weight just for the sake of adding weight.  Ease into reaching new depths and aim to do your best to reach proper depth, with great technique and form every….. single….. squat.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Smith Machine

The Smith Machine is a resistance training machine commonly found in many commercial gyms.  It is a unit in which a barbell is attached to rails thus allowing the bar to move in a vertical motion.  It was developed in the 1950's and has been used for a variety of exercises including squats, lunges, chest press, calve raise and rows.

Popular for having a "built in spotter" with a catching mechanism, the Smith Machine may appear to be a safer and easier way to perform your favorite barbell movements but contrary to the popularity of this machine there are a few downfalls.

And, before you Smith machine lovers get your pants in a bunch, keep in mind this is my preference as a personal trainer (for the reasons I mention below), there are a few exercise I do enjoy using the machine for, and understand that everyone starts somewhere and this may help them to ease into barbell movements (see suggestions below).

The primary downfall of the Smith machine is that it's commonly used in place of barbell exercises but it doesn't actually move like a barbell.

The Smith machine is a machine.  Although many use it as a free weight barbell, it is still a machine. As I mentioned earlier, due to the fixed plane of motion, the 15 pound bar on the Smith machine can only travel in a vertical movement.  Mostly likely, in order to perform a squat on a Smith machine you're going to have to adjust your foot placement, which in turn will add additional (and unnecessary) stress on your knees and potentially cause your back to round at/near the bottom of the squat.

In addition, the fixed plane it also inhibits the body's ability to stabilize the weight as it's done the majority of the work for you.  Specifically speaking about the squat, studies like this one have shown that muscle activation was 43% higher in a barbell squat compared to a Smith machine squat.  In other words, a barbell squat naturally forces you to work harder to perform a similar movement. Similar studies found the same to be true for bench press as well.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not hating on the Smith machine.  Statistics like these are a dime a dozen in favor of free weights vs. all machines, not just the Smith machine.

Another downfall is that movement patterns of foundational movements developed on a Smith machine don't always transfer well to similar exercises down with a barbell. It's like trying to compare apples to oranges.  A Smith machine squat/press/deadlift and a barbell squat/press/deadlift are not that same thing.

If I squatted with a barbell the same way I approach squatting on Smith machine I'd probably fall on my arse.  In fact, just to be certain, I tried it.  I found it nearly impossible to squat in my typically barbell back squat position without leaning into the barbell for support.  Many will move their feet further out in front and lean back into the barbell on the Smith machine.  This can be really great at placing a lot of focus and tension on the quads but also a lot of stress on the knees.  I'm not saying it can't be done, but if you're squatting on a Smith machine, know that adjustments will have to be made if/when transitioning to a barbell squat.

Mark Rippetoe, a well known strength coach with decades of experience wrote in his book, Starting Strength,
 "…barbells require the individual to make these adjustments, and any other ones that might be necessary to retain control over the movement of the weight.  This aspect of exercise cannot be overstated- the control of the bar, and the balance and coronation demanded of the trainee, are unique to barbell exercise and completely absent in machine-based trained.  Since every aspect of the movement of the load is controlled by the trainee, every aspect of that movements being trained."  

On that note, if you're utilizing the Smith machine in hopes to gain confidence and move towards barbell movements, I'd recommend you skip the Smith machine altogether and start with body weight and/or dumbbell/kettlebell exercises instead.

Finally the comfort being the ability to rack the bar at any point in the lift on the Smith machine is a bit of a farce.  I've seen the bar plummet to the ground before, it's not pretty.  You can get hurt on a Smith machine, just as you can with any piece of equipment.  If you're worried about lifting safety, it's a better idea to ask for an actual spotter as opposed to relying on the machine to bail you out.  In addition, most squat racks have safety racks or pins you can adjust to protect you if you should fail on a rep.

With all of that said, there is no doubt that one could utilize the Smith machine to isolate muscle groups.  For example, I've seen many creative ways of using this machine to target the glutes and quads. There are many options for accessory type exercises with the Smith machine.  I personally find them great for rack chins (see first video below), incline push-ups and inverted rows.

And of course, I realize that sometimes, women especially, just need to feel comfortable in the weight room before they have the confidence to progress on to something else.  If the Smith machine can help you to take that step, rock on.

If you're currently using the Smith machine for various exercises and are happy with the results, by all means, continue.  But because you know I'm a barbell girl to the core, I'd encourage you to step away from the Smith machine and at least give barbells a try.  Start slowly with body weight exercises, progress to kettlebells/dumbbells and when you feel ready, grab a spotter and try a few barbell movements.

Your turn:  Do you prefer the Smith machine or a barbell?