it is what’s behind us

Don’t neglect what we don’t see.

We use it a lot. Every day, all day. And when it’s injured we realize the limitations we have without it.

I want to use this post to talk about muscles of the back and also to give you a picture of how these muscles work so you can have a better understanding and maybe that will help you the next time you work your back.

The main one

We have back muscles that start at the lower spine and run up, right up to the base of the skull. This group of muscles is called the Erector spinae. You can imagine them as large ropes running side by side in parallel with the spine, more or less. As they travel up the back they connect to the ribs and upper vertebrae. They are responsible for spinal extension (moving your back backwards like a big stretch), lateral flexion (moving the back to either side). These muscles help make up our core and if they are strong will add to performance increases and provide stability for the spine when needed.

Knowing that the erector spinae starts at the bottom of our spine and all the way up to the base of the skull we need various exercises to work the whole length of the muscles. Let’s look at what exercises we can do:

Spidermans: This exercise will place focus on the lower part of the back. Lying on the ground on your stomach, hands under your chin, raise your shoulders about 2 inches off of the ground. Focus on the lower back when doing this and try to feel the contraction. It’s a simple exercise but difficult to do only hitting the back muscles.  I would recommend that you have someone knowledgeable show you and work with you on this exercise.

Bird dog: This works more the length of the erector spinae since the muscle is used to stabilize you while carrying out the exercise. Get down on all fours hands at shoulder width and knees in line with yoru hands. Raise your right hand extending your right arm straight out in front of you.  Then slowly raise your left leg out behind you. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds and repeat on other side. Be sure to actively engage your core when doing this.

Stability ball back crunches: Start by lying on the stability ball with your stomach and chest. Your legs should be fully straight out behind you on the floor. Having your hands behind your head, contract your core and glutes. Slowly raise your upper body upwards for a movement of 2 – 3 inches. Hold at the top for 3 – 5 seconds holding onto that contraction. Lower yourself down until your chest touches the ball. Repeat about 8 to 12 times.

Close grip cable rows/ band pulls: Having your hands close together targets the centre of your back and being seated it also targets the middle area of the back. Think about half way between your waist and the bottom of your skull. I’m going to explain this one using the bands. Sitting on the floor legs straight out in front of you, having one end of the band against the bottom of your feet, with arms straight out holding onto the band, pull back until hands are close to your stomach. Hold for a second or two then straighten out your arms. Try to do this for 8 to 10 repetitions.

Now the next muscle I’m going to cover is technically a muscle of the shoulder girdle but I think we all look at it as a muscle of the back. This is the muscle that when developed gives you the highly sought after V look. Pop a couple of big shoulders on top of this V and you’ll be turning sideways just to get through the door. You got it, the latissimus dorsi. It starts at vertebrae T6 – S5 (around the centre of your spine) and inserts at our humerus bone. Makes sense right? If pull ups builds this muscle, the movement of the arms when we do pull ups is how the muscle contracts. The lats aid in pulling and lifting type movements and provide support to the shoulders.

What can we do to build the lats, keeping them strong? Good question.

Pull Ups: An awesome exercise over all since it’s a body weight exercise and also works more than just the lats. You can use a wide grip or a narrow grip target different areas of the muscles of our back. I think we all know what a pull up is so instead of explaining, I’m going to give some tips. If you cannot do a pull up because you can’t yet pull up your body weight, don’t worry. If you work out at a gym you are probably lucky enough that they have a machine where you can rest your knees and adjust how much weight is removed from your body when doing the pull up. Yeah that sounds strange doesn’t it. In a sense instead of adding weight we are removing weight so if you weight 200lbs, you can adjust the machine so the weight you are moving is 140lbs as an example.

A way to do this if you aren’t working out at a gym is to use a chair or something else to put your feet on (the tops of your feet will be on the chair, not the bottom). This allows you to push with your legs when doing the pull up. Please be careful if you do your pull ups this way! Be safe!

Pull Downs: The inverse of pull ups. You will need a machine for this but if you have one, use it. The nice thing about pull downs is you can adjust the weight. When doing this try not to sway your torso. Keep strict form.

Reclined Pull Over: Lying on the floor on your back, legs bent and feet on the floor, straighten your arms so they are stretched over your head like you are giving two high fives. Using a barbell or a dumbbell in each hand engage your core as you raise the weight up until your arms are perpendicular to the floor. As you raise the weights, keep a small bend in the arms. Hold at the top for a few seconds then slowly lower. Do this for 8 to12 repetitions.

The rest

There are other muscles that benefit from these exercises such as our trapezius, teres minor/major, posterior deltoid muscles, etc. I’ll probably get to some of these muscles in another post more specifically to do with their respective area such as the shoulder or rotator cuff.

Try these exercises out if you haven’t already. Build a solid back and rock that V like it’s no one business. Your back will thank you for it.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

虎穴に入らずんば虎子を得ず。

Koketsu ni irazunba koji wo ezu

No pain no gain. Words to live by, right? It depends. It depends when the pain happens. We need to experience pain from working out but that pain needs to be later, not during the workout. If we aren’t experiencing pain after the workout, we have not challenged our muscles significantly for them to grow and become stronger. What about during the workout?

Injury

Experiencing pain during a workout is your body telling you to stop, right away. The pain you are experiencing is because you have injured yourself and if you continue to work out, you will only aggravate the injury, possibly making it worse. Stop and treat the injury.

Understanding what is it

Some people make the mistake of taking being uncomfortable as being in pain, and tend to stop because of being uncomfortable. I’ve written a few posts on the power of the mind, and this is a case of the person become defeated by the mind. Being uncomfortable is not fun, most people prefer not to be. But we need to be uncomfortable to realize any gains from working out. You need to learn the difference between being in pain, a pain that is muscular or skeletal and being uncomfortable. If you never do, you will never experience the gains you are looking for.

What kinds

Muscular pain can be a pulled muscle, or worse a torn muscle. You can also experience injury of the connective tissues, the tendons. With these types of injuries you should follow the rule of RICE. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Rest. Stop what you are doing and get yourself somewhere comfortable. Relax and enjoy some downtime. Ice. Put ice on for 15 minutes and then remove for 15 minutes. Do this until swelling has gown down. You can make your own flexible ice pack by putting water and rubbing alcohol into a zip lock bag and throw it in the freezer. Or you can use a bag of frozen veggies. Compression. Use a tensor bandage to add compression. Elevation. Keep the injured area higher than the heart. If after a while you still have swelling, or are concerned about the injury, see a doctor.

Injuries to our skeletal system such as a fracture, break, or sprang should also follow the RICE rule. Again, if swelling remains or you are concerned about the injury, see a doctor.

If you have experienced any of these injuries you need to let that area recover. Give it the rest it needs. Coming back and training that area too soon can lead to extending the time to recover to 100%, or could lead to a more serious injury of the area. If you are someone who needs to workout, see what options you have that remove that injured area from the workout. See a personal trainer for ideas if you need to. An injured foot is a great time to train the core. An injured arm could be a great time to train the legs. Be flexible in ideas as to what you can do. But give the injured area rest.

Smart

Training smart. I always say it. Training smart will result in getting more out of your workout, and lessening any chronic aches and pains you may experience down the road. Train hard, hard enough that you do feel the muscles aching the following day, or two. That’s the pain you are striving to capture.

Listen to your body. Respect your body. Love your body and it will love you back.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Of all the words of mice and men

It’s not for the things you’ve done, it’s the things you haven’t done.

You have read the mission and you have accepted it. It might have seemed somewhat daunting, but you knew you were up for it. It’s something you have been wanting to do and have been having trouble doing it, or getting the anticipated results. But this time it’s different, this time it’s going to happen.

Where are we

About a week and half ago I wrote an article on what you can do to gain 5lbs of muscle in 4 weeks. I laid out things to do, and things not to do. Some of them easy, some of them more challenging. Things like getting an adequate amount of sleep. Yeah, we all wish this was easy to do. Getting the right amount, or even too much protein can be tough too. But I don’t want to talk about these things necessarily.

It’s been 11 days! Well, eleven since I wrote the post. Where are you in project five lbs? 4 days, a week, or 11 days? How are you making out? Have you been weighing yourself? If you have, relax if you haven’t gained weight yet. The body may not necessarily respond right away. It might take two weeks to see an increase of 2 or 3 lbs. The worst thing you could do is start to worry. When we worry, or create stress our body responds by releasing cortisol, a hormone that can be harmful if we don’t handle the stress correctly and do away with it. Don’t sabotage the work you have been doing.

Keep going

If you have hit a stumbling block, don’t quit! Keep going. Push out your date if you have to. Reevaluate that roadblock and put together a plan to deal with it in the future. It’s not the end of the world (that stress thing again). Instead, focus on the positive things you have been doing. Feel good about them. You should.

A slice in

It’s a small slice in time to see what you can do when training specifically, for a specific goal. Try to manage things so you are able to keep on track.

If it’s late, and you haven’t worked out, do it anyway. Once you are into it you’ll feel better and you’ll feel better afterwards, nah, you’ll feel fantastic because there won’t be any guilt! You’ll then go into the next day carrying that high you felt from your workout. Believe me, it’s a great feeling.

But don’t sit there contemplating it. Sometimes you have to say f*ck it, and just get it done. That’s it.

4,3,2…

Week 4 will be here in no time. Fly by just like that. Welcome that week with that 5 lbs. of muscle on your frame. Who knows what comes after that. I’m thinking another 5.

Yours in health

Darryl

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

A little death…

The mind can be powerful, and the mind can be weak. It can propel us to unimagined heights or it can make us feel like a loser. Sometimes the outcome, or how we feel, can be determined by what we do before a large event, or before an event that requires the mental strength.

Why

We have to take ourselves to that place where our mind will quit, or we will not be successful. We have to do this in order to grow. If we never take ourselves there, we end up becoming stagnant, or we end up plateauing. Taking ourselves there also gives us motivation. How many times have you surprised yourself by accomplishing more than you thought you would because you went pass that point your brain told you to stop. It felt really good, didn’t it. In fact, it felt great. You will never know what you can accomplish if you quit at that first moment the thought enters your mind, ‘this hurts, this feels uncomfortable, I want to stop’. We cannot go on living in our comfort zone. We are more than this. We need to grow. We need to be satisfied. We need to break out of that zone so we can grow, so we can become what we are supposed to be. If you don’t take that chance, you will always regret it. Won’t you?

Caution

Having said that, we need to be aware that that voice we hear, telling us to stop is not there for no reason. If we are pushing ourselves to the point that we could do physical damage to our body, the voice is there to get us to quit before we could do damage to our body, specifically our organs. If you  have never run more than 3km’s, and decided to run a marathon at a time under 4 hours, it might be a good idea to listen to that voice. You haven’t prepared your body for this type of event and the voice telling you to quit is probably right.

Be prepared

So what can we do to minimize the impact of this voice and continue our workout, our event or whatever it is you are doing when your brain starts to question what it is you are doing.

 

  • Be prepared – I like to use the analogy of having an exam to write. I know with myself, I am much more nervous if I feel I’m not prepared, I didn’t study enough. If I have put in enough study time, I go into the exam feeling confident, and not as nervous (there’s always some nervousness, it is an exam). If you are competing in a big event such as a marathon, or tough mudder, try to include into your prep something that mimics what it is you are doing. For example, if your event is a marathon, be sure to include a distance run that is about 90% the length of the marathon. This way you will go in to the event confident knowing that you only have to run that 10% more than your longest run in training. You’ve eliminating the unknown which can lead to fear.

 

  • Nutrition – Make sure you are properly fueled. If you aren’t, you will exhaust yourself so much sooner, and this can lead to a drop in confidence and motivation leading to our friend the brain telling us to stop much sooner than you should be. Be sure to eat a couple of hours before your workout and try to have something high in carbs about 30 minutes before hand, something such as a banana or an orange. If your workout is intense, and lasts more than 60 minutes you may also want to replenish your glycogen stores by consuming something high in carbs such as dates, or figs. You can even try the gels that runners use. This will keep you going and lessen that voice telling you to quit and give in.

 

 

  • The zone – Time to stop thinking about yourself, about the pain, about the fatigue. Try to think of something, anything else besides the work you are doing. You should find that your mind gets focused on this instead of the workout. I’ll do this when I’m running, I’ll think about the workout I need to put together for class, or I’ll think about my next blog post. Before I know it, I’ve completed about half my run. If the mind is busy with other things, it won’t be focused on everything that comes with the workout.

 

  • Feedback – We do need to listen to our body when working out, we can’t totally ignore it. But, we need to listen to the important things. Finding yourself more tired than normal may be your body telling you that you need to consume some carbs. If you feel pain don’t ignore it! Pain during a workout is never a good thing. Typically that means you have injured yourself. Pain after a workout such as muscle pain is ok since this means you have been successful in creating micro tears in your muscle fiber which now need to be repaired. This is what leads to increased strength and muscle growth.

 

Do you want it

You desire it, but do you really want it? It would be great if we could just take a pill and just like that our cardio would be top notch, or we just added 10 lbs of muscle. Or would it be great? If you are someone who trains regularly, leaves your workout exhausted and sweaty, feel good about that because 70% of everyone else are doing nothing. Then there are those who do something but really will never see any gains because they never get out of their comfort zone.

I know you want it. I know this because you are hear reading this, reading my blog and I like to think I’m honest in what I say in my posts. If you keep coming back to read more, you are probably someone who wants to get the most they can out of life. Do it then. Don’t give in. You know what you want, go out there an grab onto it. You’ll embrace it with open arms knowing it’s right.

Yours in health,

Darryl

mind over matter

Defeat is a state of mind; no one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.

I’m sure you have heard the proverbial story about strength and focus when a mom comes across their child trapped underneath something really heavy, typically a car, and they all of a sudden have super human strength and are able to lift the heavy object off of their child, saving their child from certain doom. Is this example or other examples of superhuman strength authentic? Did they happen?

There are documented cases of what is termed superhuman strength where typically someone can lift a large amount of weight when a life is in danger. So why are they able to lift more weight than they ever could in a normal situation? Some people call it the fight or flight scenario, or it is also referred to as being motivated by fear. Regardless, the mind is telling the body that there is a crisis and the body needs to react. The body reacts by the adrenal gland dumping large amounts of cortisol and adrenaline into the blood stream. The heart races, blood pressure rises and oxygen and energy are delivered to the muscles. Think of it like stepping on the accelerator of your car.

I’m sure you are thinking how this applies to fitness, working out. Don’t worry, I’m not floating some new idea where your trainer throws you into a crisis to increase the amount of weight you are using. That would be just too hard to do. What I do want to focus on is how the mind plays into this scenario.

A powerful thing

Let’s look at two measurements from a study: absolute strength, the force our muscles are theoretically able to apply, and maximal strength: the maximum force they can generate through the conscious exertion of will. This can be looked at as the force our muscles are theoretically able to apply.

Research has shown that the average person can only utilize about 65% of their absolute power when training, yet a trained athlete such as a power lifter can exceed 80%. Why is this? Is it technique, nutrition, or something else?

The research has concluded that the more intense the competition, the higher the performance will increase. If you have watched the Olympics you may have seen it where athletes are crushing their personal bests. World records smashed. I recently read an article that talks to how people tend to perform at a higher level when working out with a group. It seems that part of it is ‘we are all in this together’ mentality or the competitive attitude that they are not going to be beat by their peers.

So knowing this, the ability for the mind to increase our performance, how can we incorporate this into our workouts?

Application

When we workout, whether it’s cardio, or resistance training, are we actually paying attention to what we are doing, or are we just going through the motions?

Today when I was running on the treadmill, my mind was busy thinking about what I could write today for a post. Different ideas were going through my head, I would analyze each idea and try to expand on it. Alright, got it figured out. I know what I’m writing about today. Then as my mind came back to why I was on the treadmill I noticed I was landing on my heels during my run. I had to consciously think about landing mid to fore foot to correct myself. If we lose thought of what we are doing, we probably are not doing it as best as we can.

When you are doing a pushup, or bench press, or any other type of resistance training are you thinking about the muscles contracting as you extend your arms, or is your mind wondering off to somewhere else, waiting for the exercise to be over? It’s common for this to happen. If you look at how elite athletes train, they have many coaches. Coaches for nutrition, technique, resistance training, and it wasn’t until not a very long time ago that coaches were hired to work with the athlete to visualize their performance and to focus on achieving their goals.

Someone realized that there was a benefit in having their athlete visualize achieving their goal, blocking out any thought of not achieving the goal. Did it work? I guess it did as most professional athletes and teams have on staff sport psychiatrists.

Getting back to how this can help us train, when working out try to focus on what you are doing. Focus on the movement, the muscles involved and executing the movement. With your mind actively involved, you will perform better. You will be able to exceed your performance from last time.

Now, before you get on me for focusing on numbers since I have been known to talk about not to get hung up on numbers, this is different. Think of the performance increase you will have if you are able to recruit more strength during your workout. It’s not necessarily about the increase in weight, or repetitions. It’s about the ability to do more with your body, taxing the muscles to a higher level which will result in muscular growth and increased performance. The same can be applied to your cardio workout. When running as an example, focus on your arms, your legs, how your feet are landing, is everything working together. When running at a sprint speed, are your arms pumping up and down helping to push yourself forward. Do you feel everything working together. For me, when I do this, it’s like I can feel everything clicking, everything coming together, working as one.

Don’t be surprised if you feel like you have just had the best workout.

It’s doable

One more thing. When you head into the gym or wherever for your workout, walk in knowing in your mind that you are going to kill it. Keep that in your mind as you progress in your workout. You may be surprised at the end.

Yours in health,

Darryl

paying the price and pain is my currency

I have dug down deep and have fought every inch of the way

It’s another intense workout, although this time it’s even more intense due to some previous workouts being missed. You’re working really hard, your lungs are working really hard, so hard in fact that they hurt. You don’t recall eating metal, yet you definitely have a copper like taste in your mouth. What the hell is going on? Why do your lungs hurt and why is there a metal like taste in your mouth?

Not uncommon

Don’t worry, it’s probably OK. It’s the body reacting to the hard work and reacting to your breathing. With the intense exercise comes the fact that your lungs have to work harder to get the oxygen required to fuel the work. Generally this should only last a few minutes. If it lasts longer, or if it happens after every workout, you are probably breathing incorrectly, or could have exercise induced asthma or another underlying medical condition that requires immediate medical attention.

When you exercise intensely and are breathing through your mouth, your brain thinks carbon dioxide is being lost at in excess. Your body reacts by creating additional mucus which has the effect of slowing your breathing and constricts your blood vessels. This can make catching your breath more difficult resulting in the pain and burning sensation. This usually is temporary and goes away as you gain more experience working out at this intensity.

Having a metallic taste in your mouth following intense exercise is not uncommon. Dry air, asthma, or sinus issues can result in this. It can also be caused when blood is forced through membranous tissue in the lungs, or up into the bronchial tree. This is because you are pushing yourself to the threshold of the anaerobic state. Although not harmful, if you have concerns you should limit the frequency of your intense workouts. You may also want to see your doctor to ensure everything is fine.

It’s intense

Working out at that intense level can be hard on our body, and our body reacts. Be sure to give yourself adequate rest between workouts to prevent over training. If you are a mouth breather, I’m not being offensive, try to start breathing in through your nose to slow down your breathing so the lungs have time to process the oxygen. It’s tough, but practicing will get you there eventually. Lastly, if any of these things concern you, please see your doctor.

Yours in health,

Darryl