Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Clean your room!

Have you ever woke up one morning knowing that you had to clean your house/apartment /basement/garage etc?  That unexcited feeling we all get when we have chores to do, but don’t really want to.  However, we end up talking ourselves into it because we know its for the best.
  Its hard to get started but being the responsible and sensible adult that you are, you get off your butt and start moving.  You are a little choppy at first: not sure where the cleaning supplies are, what part of the house to clean first, where to store things you thought you had lost etc.  Then you start to get in the zone.  Things move like clockwork.  You know exactly what you’re doing and where you’re going.  It flows.  Time flies because you are focused on what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.  You want it to look nice, feel nice, and have the ability to operate properly…..after all its YOUR home! 
And then, just like that, you realize that you’re done.  You’re tired but you feel accomplished.   You realized how simple and painless it actually is.  You realized that you’re actually pretty good at it too!  Most importantly, the organization that you just created makes EVERY SINGLE PART of your life that much easier.  Things work easier, you know where you stored things, you can move around the space more efficiently and effectively.  And for the amount of work you actually had to do, you appreciate how worth it, cleaning was.  Finally, you think how silly it was that you were anxious and annoyed about doing it in the first place.

So why don’t you just treat your exercise routine the same way?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Law of Diminishing Returns

Warning: this blog post is longer than I expected.  If you don't feel like reading it skip to the bullet points at the bottom .

When step counters like the Fitbit came out, everyone was counting their steps thinking it would lead to weight loss, more activity, and a healthier lifestyle!  And to be perfectly honest, in most cases, it did just that!  For the extremely sedentary, getting a certain number of steps each day increased their physical activity enough that it created a caloric deficit(weight loss benefits), a release of endorphins(mentally pleasing), and in increase in heart rate due to exercise(heart healthy).

However, just like any fitness gimmick (yes, the Fitbit is a gimmick as well as every single new invention that comes out promising to help you lose weight) the effects that it has on all the systems of the body starts to diminish after of few weeks.  Why though? I am still getting in my 5000 steps per day!  Shouldn't I still be losing weight, feeling more mentally alert, and making my heart healthier and stronger??  Actually NO. At some point in ANY exercise routine, you stop reaping benefits (making gainz for all you meatheads) and you actually start to increase risk of overuse injury.

In order to understand this, I will start by giving you an example of how over doing one form of exercise stops working after a while, then I will attempt to explain basic anatomy and physiology adaptations, how they can beneficial for a time and then detrimental at somepoint, and finally how we can fix this issue that is inherent to EVERY SINGLE exercise modality.

I would like to introduce you to "The Mailman Paradox" also called "the Train Conductor Paradox".  I need to state that I did not make this up and I read it on another fitness blog years ago but cannot remember exactly where.  Therefore, I am not taking credit for this as an original idea and if anyone knows where this is from please message me and let me know so I can site it!  The mailman paradox specifically refers to mailmen & mailwomen that walk for miles everyday around city streets delivering mail.  Their Fitbits might explode from the amount of steps they take!  They must be the healthiest group of people on the planet!  Well not to take anything away from anyone in the mail service industry as I am sure there are plenty of healthy people that work for USPS but what about the mail people who aren't super thin, don't feel the endorphins being released after their walks, and are on the verge of having a heart attack?

Why at some point do the benefits of doing the same thing over and over again start to decrease and the risk for negative effects increase?  The body adapts specifically to the task it is required to do.  In this case, it is required to walk a certain number of steps every day, and eventually the systems of the body that are required to do this task will adapt to make this task less taxing on the body and able to be performed more efficiently.  It will continue to make it easier until you become a master at walking that specific amount of steps.  And then what happens?  There is no reason for the body to continue to drop weight, increase heart rate, or release endorphins because walking is no longer a difficult task, it's just part of the normal routine. 

So then what about all the people that continued to walk the same amount of steps every day even after they have reached their peak performance?  They must surely still be doing something healthy for themselves and maintaining a certain level of health!  To the statement that they are maintaining some level of health, I AGREE completely.  However, if the question is, "are they doing something healthy?" I argue that in most instances, the answer is NO.  If the person continues to do the same exercise (in this example walking), without change or addition of supplemental exercise, over and over again, it will actually become detrimental to their health in the long run!  Remember, the body is composed of systems so although it may be keeping the cardiovascular system at a good homeostatic level,  think about what its doing to the connective tissue system, or the muscular strength system, or the the lateral movement system.  Read on to find out!

In order to understand this we must understand some basics of anatomy and physiology.  The body is composed of hundreds of "systems" all having the possibilities of carrying out various tasks.  In everyone, some systems are highly trained and some are not.  When one system gets really strong due to focus of training another system naturally has to be neglected and possibly even weaken.  You cannot be the best at everything people! This is why generally the best marathon runner wouldn't be the best power lifter.

So what systems need to be strong in order to walk?  Well to put it simply, we need to be good at moving in a forward in a straight line, without any external load, presumably over a basically flat surface.  Our foot, ankle, calf, and spinal muscles (with the help or detriment of our shoes) need to stabilize our body while our shoulder, hip and pelvic muscles move in a repetitive pattern.  This number of steps also requires the muscles to be more endurance based (type 1) rather than power based (type 2), and finally long walking requires our cardiovascular system to become very good at moderate intensity long cardio which taxes the aerobic system(as opposed to anaerobic).  Without getting too deep into gait pattern and theory, the repetitive movement associated with walking also makes the motor control aspect of walking become very efficient.  Therefore, your brain becomes really good at sending and coordinating signals to certain muscles to contract and relax in a certain order so that it becomes second nature and requires less effort.

What systems become weak if your exercise routine only consisted of walking?  First, any lateral or backward movement.  Not only does your body become less coordinated to do those movements but the stabilizing muscles mentioned above become weak in those planes of motion.  So think you have to side step or back step out of the way of a moving car, you may be more likely to roll an ankle since the joint hasn't been trained well to accept load in the direction.  In terms of individual muscles, typically in walkers, we will see "tight" calves, hamstrings, and hip flexors.  This may limit range of motion or ability to walk up stairs, walk inclines, sit and stand from a chair or the floor.  Repetitive walking on hard surfaces (concrete) also puts a lot of stress on the joints leading to increase in osteoarthritis if proper deload weeks are not programed to allow for regeneration of these tissues.  Finally since there is theoretically no resistance in walking on flat surfaces (physics would argue this) your muscles learn that they can be produce a relatively small amount of force and still be succesful at what is required of them.  They become weak and as soon as I ask you to walk with a 20 pound backpack or with a 130lb dog on a leash, your spinal muscles crumble,  the intrinsic muscles of your foot collapse, and your shoulders and neck have stressors on them never experienced before.  Another life example is this: as soon as I ask you to lift a 10 pound box from the floor and put it on the top shelf of my closet, you cannot produce the force to lift it, the movement pattern required to get something from floor to overhead is foreign to you, and the stabilization required to maneuver the box hasn't been trained.

Lets be clear, this is an extreme example, and the negative effects of walking will take years to manifest themselves as pain or dysfunction in the body.  If you can, take this walking example and connect it to sitting.  The act of sitting in itself isn't bad but rather its the amount of sitting that we do that causes anatomical and physiological changes over the course of years with the absence of physical movement.  This is exactly why sitting gets a bad reputation.  We overdue it, it gets to be highly detrimental to some systems of the body, and may lead to chronic pain. However, the example of overuse with walking or sitting can be applied to ANY AND ALL exercise routines performed continuously over the course of years: yoga, powerlifting, bodybuilding, gymnastics, running, Cycling, boxing, pilates, crossfit, swimming, circuit training, etc. 

So what is the fix to this problem of diminishing returns? Crossfit got it partially correct in explaining that variance in programing is key, however where they go wrong is to much variance day to day doesn't allow for the body to learn or improve at anything.  So you just stay mediocre at everything and never get any better.  However, if you were to focus on something in particular for a certain amount of time, lets say 4 weeks (the length of a standard mesocycle), or enough time to grasp the concept and become somewhat proficient at the movement you could theoretically learn a new skill and then progress it.  The following 4 weeks could be something relatively similar to build on the original skill or something completely different that eventually could be combined with the original skill to form a completely new and advanced skill!

Example 1:  Charles walks for 4 weeks gradually increasing his speed but keeping his distance the same.  Then he deadlifts for four weeks with the goal of increasing strength and force production of his legs.  Finally, in his 3rd mesocycle (4 week cycle), he is stronger and he knows he can walk a certain distance for x time.  So Charles decides to find out if with his new strength he can run that distance in an even shorter time.  Lo and behold he can because running is dependent on force output from the legs and proper gait patterning similar to walking.  Combine walking and deadlifting, you should theoretically get better at running (over simplification but hopefully you get the point)

Example 2:  Mary has been sedentary for a year.  She started beginners yoga and has done it every day for 8 weeks.  Her body feels great to move again, she has become more mobile in her joints, and she has lost body fat.  But now Mary has plateaued in weight loss, she doesn't get the same mental stimulation from yoga as she did before because she has become more proficient at the movements, and she finds it difficult to move heavy boxes around her basement.  Mary should probably start a resistance training program and try to put on some muscle on her frame.  This will help her stabilize her new found range of motion from practicing yoga, learn new and exciting movement patterns that are different from the ones she has been doing for 8 weeks, and increase her resting metabolic rate(a product of more muscle mass) to push through the weight loss plateau.  She also becomes more independent since she is more mobile and stronger allowing her to lift a heavy object from the ground safely!

Example 3:  Joe has always been strong however he started seriously powerlifting a year ago.  His numbers in the 3 lifts increased quickly but now he is always sore, stiff and achy.  This is probably related to the fact that the 3 main power lifts (squat, dead lift, bench) are simple, linear movement patterns and since Joe has gotten really good at them relatively quickly he neglected the thousands of other movement patterns and hundred of other systems the body uses to operate.  The fact that Joe's numbers increased quickly it is likely that his neurological and muscular system adapted but his connective tissue (ligament, tendon, joint capsule, cartilage, fascia etc) system didn't have adequate time to adapt (some estimate it takes 9x longer for these tissues to adapt to a stimulus when compared to muscle tissue).  First, Joe should think about doing some calisthenics in order to lighten the external load.  Next, Joe should work on mobility since he is probably immobile in all of his joints except in the required range of the three movement patterns that he over trained for a year.  He should not neglect strength but just continue to train it in other ranges and planes of motion that powerlifting typically neglects.

This blog post has already become much longer than expected and taken me way too much time to write.  So here are the basics to take away from it:
1. No movement or exercise is inherently bad or good for you!
2.  Movement or exercises are like drugs, at a certain amount, they can be very beneficial, however if you take too much, they can be highly detrimental!
3.  Your body operates using hundreds of systems coordinating functions together.
4. These systems can grow stronger or weaker depending on how they are used and trained.
5.  Try different modalities of exercise as they all have benefits and they all have detriments.
6.  Find a trainer or movement specialist that "trains the body not the exercise" (quote from an a beloved teacher of mine and a brilliant trainer Mike Smaltz).
7. Finally, if you suck at or hate a certain movement or exercise or modality it probably means you should work on it for a while to bring your limiting factor up to par with all the things you're good at.

Questions, comments, concerns?

-Steve Cornely
Triad Wellness Philly