Sunday, December 28, 2008

Keeping Kids Active

Christmas brings lots of toys — including those that make the players very sedentary.

Remember to take a break and get the kids up and playing — and keep exercise fun for the children.

Throw a ball, take photos while they ride their new bikes (or join them yourself on your new bike!), play basketball, take them to the playground and make sure they run their energy off.

When the weather becomes less accommodating, remember that malls have play areas that let them jump, dash about and play on soft, safe "toys" (such as oversized breakfast food, like the one in my neighborhood).

For those who have gym memberships, take the tykes with you. Most gyms have special programs for younger members. For those who are too young to play "big kid" games, make sure their babysitters provide activities that will help them burn off their energy.

At the end of the day, everyone will sleep well.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Supplements: Glutamine

Sixth in a series

If you are considering using supplements, make sure to conduct thorough research before beginning your new regimen.

I recently read an article about glutamine in the magazine Fitness Management that adds interesting information to our discussion on supplements.

Written by exercise physiologist and dietary supplement investigator Joe Cannon, "Meet the Experts: Supplement FAQs" (Fitness Management, August 2008), reveals how glutamine is used for healing.

Cannon, who also is a personal trainer, noted that glutamine is used to speed up recovery after an intense workout. Clinical studies have proven this to be true. What you need to be aware of, according to Cannon, is that clinical tests use injections to deliver the glutamine to the test subjects.

It's time to do some research:
  • What is the concentration difference between the injections and supplement powders?
  • Is there a difference between oral delivery versus an injection?
If you have some thoughts on this subject or can shed some light, please let us know.

Next: energy drinks

Monday, December 15, 2008

Supplements: Creatine

Fifth in a series

Let's start with creatine, a natural amino acid found in the body.

The main purpose of creatine is to aid in muscular energy. Some studies have suggested that with more energy in the muscles, we can have greater workouts — thus receive better results.

Because this a natural compound, there is no evidence of side effects.

For more information on creatine, visit

Next: Glutamine.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Protein Shakes, Part Two

Fourth in a series.

On our last blog, we talked about the criteria for the use of protein shakes. We discussed protein requirements based on our training.

I need to add one more point to this before we move on: remember, along with the contents of the shake itself, you also are consuming more calories. Depending on serving size and what you mix it with (milk or water), you can take in anywhere from 150 to as much as 300+ calories.

If you are trying to lose weight, my recommendation is to stay away from protein shakes.

Here is my experience with protein shakes as a 48 year old male who is 6 feet tall, weighs 205 pounds and works out almost everyday. I have experimented with shakes on three separate occasions. The shakes I used did have more to offer than just protein, but there is not enough space on this blog to list all ingredients, benefits and side effects.

I was lifting almost every day and doing 30-60 minutes of cardio three or days a week. I was consuming shakes after weightlifting sessions that I knew to be hours before my next main meal. Despite the fact that I continued to watch my calorie intake, I put on weight — and it was not muscle because I got bigger around my middle.

The second time I used shakes, I was taking them before my workouts because I figured the carbs would help fuel my workout and the BCAAs (amino acids) would help to preserve muscle mass while I lifted. Also, ideally, we should consume our biggest meal of the day 30-90 minutes before a workout. My results were the same: I put weight on across my middle.

The last time I used protein shakes, I was only taking them when I felt I just did not get enough calories through the course of my day. Guess what? Same results: weight across my middle.

This does not mean I definitely don't recommend using protein shakes. However, I do recommend taking a careful look at the label. Before purchasing or consuming any supplements — and protein shakes are supplements — go online and research the supplement in which you are interested. Look up all ingredients on the shake label, weigh the benefits versus the side effects (if any), then decide if that protein shake is right for you.

Here is my final thought: if your metabolism is naturally fast and calories are not a concern, you may want to try a shake in order to put on some extra muscle.

If that does not work for you, remember: there are other excellent sources for protein "supplements." Back in the day before shakes, weightlifters ate cottage cheese to fulfill their protein requirements.

Next Creatine

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Protein Shakes, Part One

Third in a series

And now the moment you have been waiting for: part three on supplements. Today we talk about protein shakes.

Because there are so many people improperly using shakes and other supplements, I thought — actually, Chris thought — this should be two blogs. The first part will be, "Is a protein shake for you?"

Serious weight lifters, or people who lift weight seriously, need enough protein in their diets in order to repair the physiological damage caused by weightlifting.

Lifting weights creates tiny tears in our muscle fibers. Proteins in our bodies fill in these tears and repair the muscle — but with a little more thickness in order to avoid future tears. Without enough protein in our system, these repairs cannot take place.

I usually recommend my clients eat a light carbohydrate protein meal an hour before working out and eat protein after a workout. (More on carbohydrates later.)

Now you are probably thinking: Okay, I lift weights on a regular basis and you are telling me I need extra protein. So, how much do I need and where do I get it?

This is where we try to figure out if a protein shake is for you.

According to Dr. Douglas Anderson at — the Chiropractic News Source, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) is:
  • for the average person: 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
  • for athletes: 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
  • for power lifters: 1.4-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight

To figure out how much you need, take your body weight and divide it by 2.2, then multiply that by 0.8. For example, I weigh 200 pounds:
(200/2.2) x .8= 292 grams of protein a day

Keep a daily food diary to see if you are getting enough protein. If you are not getting enough protein in your diet, take a look at the content of a variety of protein shakes to determine which one will suit your needs.

Only supplement what you are short in your daily needs. Remember, more does not always mean better.

Next: protein shakes, part 2

Sunday, November 9, 2008

After Injury, Give it Two Weeks

Despite our best attempts at remaining fit and healthy, sometimes we fail. Something as simple as stepping off the curb can take us off our feet for three months.

So, what should we do?

We should listen to the the medical authorities.

I know it's not a popular suggestion, and not one you'd think I'd advocate. However, physicians are getting wise to people like me. Rather than saying, "Yeah, that's a nasty break. You won't be putting any weight on that foot for three months, young lady," they let me heal in increments. I couldn't bear the thought of three or six months off running, but I could handle two weeks, and two weeks, and.... you get the picture.

Doctors offered incremental steps to give patients (a.k.a., me) the illusion of progress and control. That, and excruciating pain, all kept me honest in my seemingly endless recuperation from injury and surgeries.

Here's how it worked out for me: after going home from the emergency room with crutches I can't use to save my life and painkiller I most likely won't use, I found myself in front of my orthopedist, listening to yet one more doctor say, "Wow, I never see that bone broken." The new smart doctor takes another x-ray, points to the break. "Looking great — see how the break is mending? Let's keep up the good work. We'll start PT, but stay on crutches until our next appointment in two weeks."

Two weeks later, PT is moving along, but if he touches that spot again I might have to share the pain. No weight yet, we agree, but let's see what happens in two weeks.

After a few more cycles of this and "does it hurt here" stops being a practice borrowed from Torquemada, I can go ahead and rest the foot on the floor, but no full weight yet.

Next thing you know, it's been three months, PT is over, I'm wearing two shoes and the cane is resting next to the couch even when I'm not there myself.

I don't like being told what to not do. It's a thing. I drive my friends nuts chafing against restrictions, and doctors probably have heard it all before. Whether they do it in self-defense or whether two weeks could make that much of a difference, I don't care. I appreciate the illusion that allowed me to keep my sanity.

Once I'm back in fighting form, may I not have a doctor tell me "two weeks" for a very long time. However, if I must, may I be patient — or at least chafe only a little.

- Chris

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Second in a series

In this blog, we are talking about supplements -- specifically, Hydroxycut.

I took Hydroxycut according to the instructions on the bottle, and I found that this product definitely raised my metabolism. I was so hungry 24/7 that on more than one occasion I thought I would eat my sneakers and socks. (My children will attest to what a hazard that would have been.)

I did not lose weight while using this product, but I discovered it does deliver on part of its claim. My workouts were a bit stronger. Hydroxycut did raise my metabolism -- enough to where I had a hard time balancing my calorie needs. I needed to eat more because my metabolism was in overdrive, but had I eaten as much as I had an appetite to, I would have gained weight.

While increased metabolism might seem like a good thing, the side effects can be a problem. Increased metabolism can increase a person's blood pressure and resting heart rate. I did not have these issues, but because these side effects could happen even to a healthy person, a trip to the physician before taking Hydroxycut is advised. (Frankly, visiting your physician before starting any new exercise program, diet or supplement program is strongly advised.)

A woman I work with swears by Hydroxycut, saying she said she has lost weight in a hurry while using it.

Bottom line: don't look for miracles. This product isn't that good. It may assist you in losing weight, but check with your physician. With as much as this product raises metabolism, blood pressure and heart issues may be a concern.

Next: protein shakes

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Supplements: Multivitamins

First in a series

Like everyone else, I do read the muscle building and men's topical magazines. I am reading them less and less, though, because of the infinite amount of advertisements in each magazine. (That's a whole different story.)

Because of these ads, I am getting more and more questions on supplements, so I decided to do a series of articles on supplements.

Normally, I believe we should receive all our nutrients from natural food sources, with few exceptions. With all of the ads I see and client questions I have been fielding, I figured it was time to take the plunge and see for myself.

So I thought I would share my experiences, but first you need to know what I do to work out. My schedule varies week to week but I normally get in swimming, walking, running (when my calf allows), Pilates, tai chi, and lifting on at least alternating days. The cross-training changes daily, along with my schedule.

I do use and recommend a multivitamin every day.

We have a tendency to eat the foods we like more than what's good for us and not eating enough variety of fruits and vegetables; therefore, we don't always get the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals in our system.

I decided to try a different brand of vitamin (based on a salesperson suggestion). Now, keep in mind this was one store of a national chain of health stores. After a few days, I found myself so tired and worn out I had to take breaks during the day in order to sleep in my car. I did this for a couple of months and was very frustrated. Here I was working out at least once a day -- sometimes twice -- and I was putting on weight because my metabolism completely crashed.
My workouts were not very productive, either, because I was just going through the motions, my body was just to tired to lift properly. I stopped taking the offensive vitamins and a week later, I started to feel better and the weight started to come back down.

So, what did we learn from this? Stay with a name-brand vitamin. If that is to pricey, compare bottles while you are in the store. I think you will find a generic version very close to a name brand.

One last note: RDA recommendations are the amounts you need in order to avoid most diseases.
For example: According to the Linus Pauling Institute, the RDA for Vitamin C is 75 mg for adult women and 90 mg for adult men. These numbers climb slightly if you are a smoker: 110mg for women and 125mg for men. That means to prevent scurvy or other Vitamin C deficient diseases, this is the recommended dose.

Visit NutritionData for more information on vitamins and minerals.

Next: Hydroxycut

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Okay, You Have Gotta Be Kidding

I am still in shock, and I am not sure where to begin.

Finally I have seen the worst, most dangerous variation of an exercise to date.

Picture this if you will: There is a young lady on a stair stepper machine (not a stair climber; those are much wider). She is holding a 30 pound barbell on her shoulders.

First of all, the balancing act on the machine with a barbell is unsafe enough, but to make matters worse there is a person to her right and her left. If she had fallen, she would have definitely taken someone else out with her.

Depending how you use this machine, you can be anywhere from three to eight inches off the floor. This doesn't sound very high -- however, turn your ankle the wrong way, keep your hands full and add weight to your shoulders and you are heading for disaster.

Now let's add a couple of people around you, and you get the picture.

C'mon, people -- please use your heads when working out. Ask yourself: is what I am doing safe? Is it safe for others in my immediate vicinity?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Great exercise

After seeing negative stuff at the gym all day, usually I come home and blog about it. So today for a change I want to tell you about something I saw that was really worthwhile.

There is a young guy who works out at one of the gyms I work at. He too worked at this gym at one time. I watched him do a great variation of an old exercise.

Normally, you would hold a dumbbell and curl it to the inside (in front of your chest) in order to work the lateral head of the bicep. This is a great exercise for getting better definition between the middle deltoid and the bicep.

Try this variation next time you are in the gym, and let me know what you think:
  • Take a the double-braided rope with the knobs on the end (usually used for tricep extensions or tricep pulldowns) and place it on the bottom of a cable cross machine.
  • Pull up, then out, at the top of the movement.

Training a muscle from all angles is extremely important to be fit and have great definition.

This particular exercise may be off the beaten path, but it may be the odd angle you have been looking for.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Achieve More Power in Fighting

All martial arts do have a few similarities, which I have discussed in earlier blogs.

For all external martial arts, true power is gained by four principles:
  • flexibility
  • core focus/strength
  • speed
  • technique/follow through
Lets take a look at each principle separately, starting at the top of the list.

Flexibility -- If I throw a straight punch, I need to follow through my target for maximum impact. Tightness in my anterior deltoid ( front shoulder) or countless other places in the shoulder cavity can cause the arm not to fully extend -- thus causing the arm to fall short of its mark.

Core focus and core strength -- Here is the true reason for writing this particular blog. Last weekend, I was talking with my daughter's boyfriend about a person he saw on television who was breaking stones with his shoulder. The only time the breaks were successful, he said, was when the person doing the breaking yelled on impact. When the breaker didn't yell, he said, the stones did not break.

Let us look at this from an anatomical viewpoint: the breaker ran into the blocks with his shoulder. Power was generated from the floor as the breaker shifted his weight forward onto the balls of his feet. Next, the breaker yelled, thus tightening his core -- and the break was successful.

By tightening his core, the breaker did not leave space in his body to absorb any recoil. All power was generated outward. If his core was not braced for impact, there would have been recoil through the body.

It is similar to holding two poles, one solid and the other with a spring in the middle. If I were to take both poles and bang them on the wall with the same force, the solid one would do more damage because it would stay stiff while the pole with the spring will give in the middle and create some recoil.

That brings us to the concept of speed.

Speed -- Good muscle memory (lots of repetition) allows for speed of movement. As we learn a new movement and develop the ability to do it smoothly without thought, we gain speed in the movement.

Speed as it pertains to power is simple. Einstein's theory (E=MC2) tells us that power is equal to velocity x mass squared. So assuming my punches do not change in mass then to increase power I need to move faster.

Lastly, we need to look at technique.

Technique -- This really incorporates a few different things, but for our purposes on power we look at proper follow through (which I mentioned briefly earlier in this entry).

With the same straight punch I spoke of before, as my hand reaches full extension on impact of my target, all power is diffused just as my hand hits its intended target.

The best example of this is a batter in baseball. If a batter swings to early on the ball, the bat is fully extended on impact. The outcome is the ball gets hit as the bat is almost perpendicular to the batter. The bat has already begun to slow at this point and power is lost. In order to get proper follow-through, check your distance and be sure you punch or kick through your target.

So, if you feel you are not getting enough power in your fighting ask yourself these questions:
  • Are my kicks and punches losing form before the end of the technique? If so, work on your flexibility.
  • Is your target moving on impact or are you falling backwards when you kick? If this happens, chances are your core is not stable. Work on core strength or make sure your body is moving in total unison.
  • Is balance decent and technique extension good? If so, practice speed drills for a little extra momentum.
  • Lastly, what if everything feels good but there is just no power? You definitely are not following through on your techniques. Practice by standing slightly closer to your target. You will feel the difference.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Takin' it Easy

When I exercise, I go full-tilt. Why run three miles when you can do five? Why stop at five? Why stop at all?

Which is all well and good when athletes are hale, healthy and hearty. But what when they aren't?

There are lots of reasons to stop exercising. The most serious of them is health. Illness or injury can sideline even the most dedicated athlete. Thankfully, those times are rare.

However, when that happens — when ill health prevents you from exercising — you have an obligation to do one thing: listen to your body.

You probably should also listen to your physician; after all, that person knows more about medicine than you do. If Dr. No says, "No running for two weeks," then consider not running for two weeks.

I have found, however, that physicians have stopped passing such edicts. Dr. No has turned into Dr. When-You-Feel-Like-It. After my shoulder surgery five years ago, my orthopedist wisely told me I could start running again when I felt like it — and I didn't feel like it for two weeks. Now, had the good doctor forbid me to run for that length of time, I would have been chafing at the bit. Instead, he let me make the call and I healed in peace.

This summer, I did not walk for two months. Again, that doctor was wise: I would return every couple of weeks for evaluation, to see if there was a chance to put my foot down. As much as I wanted to get back on my feet, the pain (and additional complications) kept me from doing just that. At each visit, we would agree that it wasn't quite the right time.

Even once I was allowed to put weight on the foot, I edged forward tenderly. I like my feet. I like them even better healthy. After nine weeks, I figured another week in the boot or another couple of weeks with the cane wasn't going to kill me. When I was ready, I put the boot aside cautiously and, later, tried out my feet without a cane. So far, so good (though I think I'll employ my natty cane for just a tad longer).

However, I am not out of the woods yet. If the edict comes down that I'm doing too much, the boot, cane, walker all get put back into rotation as needed. (The crutches, however, are history, no matter who says what.) My ego is not greater than my fear of going backward. I have put too much into healing to mess it up now.

So, when it comes to injury, take it easy. I know it's easier said than done, but remember: it's easier to do it right the first time. Patience pays off. Trust me on this one.
- Chris

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Qi Gong Tai Chi differences

Someone asked me recently to explain the difference between Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong.

Very simply, the main difference in all Tajji-based martial arts is the speed in which they are practiced.
  • Chen-style Tai Chi is practiced with speed in its kicks.
  • Yang-style is practiced slowly throughout the form.
  • Qi Gong I have seen practiced at different tempos — even to go as far as pausing, so postures are held for better muscle memory and strength building.

The instructor and where the instructor learned his/her craft will determine form sequence and mode of practice.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Art of Not Arching

Sorry, folks, I know I've been slow getting articles published, but you won't believe what has been going on.

Chris broke her foot coming back from our honeymoon — and if that's not enough, a couple of weeks later she had emergency surgery for a leaky intestine. (Don't worry, she's on the mend now.)

However, to correct the huge injustice caused by this, I will attempt to write a couple of extra articles to make up for the break in the action. Also, please feel free to chime in and let me know what articles you want to see on this blog. (You can either comment at the end of this blog or e-mail me.)

O.K. 'nuff said. Here we go.

I have used this particular analogy with frequency as of late:

If you place a plank in the ground so the plank is vertical, then place a 50-pound weight on top of the plank, it probably would not break.

However, if you were to bend that plank and place it in the ground to make it vertical, chances are that it would snap.

The human spine is no different than the plank. When we lift, we need to be mindful of neutral spine.

Remember: if you have to use muscles (i.e., arching your back) other than the ones you are targeting, chances are you are using too much weight for that exercise. Good form and safety go hand in hand on the gym floor.

As the weight rises above your head during a shoulder press with dumbbells or a barbell, concentrate on keeping your back straight. Don't put more stress on the spine than necessary.

This also holds true for one-arm tricep extensions. Too often I watch in absolute horror as weightlifters' backs arch while doing this exercise.

Even something as easy and seemingly innocuous as bicep curls (and many others) can be done in a way that causes the back to arch — and introduces the possibility of serious injury.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Get Your Weight Training In

For those of you who keep track of this blog — both of you — I apologize for the long wait for an entry. I got married and went on a honeymoon, then my bride broke her foot and has required assistance. However, I have extracted assistance in return: typing. So, thank you, Chris, for being my hands while I am your feet.

Back to business.

The most effective way to change the shape of your body is to make sure to get in your weight training. After a weight training session, your body continues to burn extra calories for a couple of days afterward. This is due to the repairs that the body makes after the muscles have been traumatized.

If you find you still need to get a little leaner, add in some cardio after your weight training. This will burn extra calories and fat.

Conversely, if you are doing all cardio and your weight loss has stopped, add weight training to gain more muscle mass — because muscle burns more calories throughout the day. So, by adding muscle, your body becomes more efficient, therefore you burn more calories — which allows you to get leaner.

Each pound of muscle burns roughly 35 calories a day. Fat burns none. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn in your resting state. (Which would not be Florida.) So, if you find that by dieting and/or doing just cardio that your weight comes right back on, you aren't doing anything to increase your metabolism and burn more fat: add muscle.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Working Through a Plateau

Three months ago, I trained a gentleman for three sessions. When I ran into him recently, he wanted to know why he was not yet seeing a difference in his muscularity.

I asked him what he had been doing since our sessions. He said he was doing the same workout as the one I originally showed him with only one variation: he added a little weight to each exercise.

For him — and for those of you reaching a plateau — here is one way to break through.

After three months, the exercises become easy because of muscle memory, which is ease of movement through practice and repetitions as well as getting new muscle fibers involved in your practice of weight training.

Now we're ready for the second step in bodybuilding: add enough weight where you can reach only six repetitions. Do four sets of each exercise. When you work your way back to 12-15 repetitions, add more weight. The most important factor is that the last couple of repetitions in each set should be very difficult. But be careful — be sure to maintain form and, if the weight feels at all clumsy, drop down a little bit in weight. Safety always comes first.

This should help you work through your lulls. Happy lifting!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

General Lifting Rules

Jessie asked good questions about lifting. How do we know how many sets, how many reps per set and how much weight should we use for toning?

Okay, so it's been a few years since you lifted. No biggie. Here are a few pointers:

  • Start light. Let your muscles remember the movements.
  • For general toning, do three sets for each exercise.
  • Do 10-12 reps per set.
  • The proper weight is when you struggle to get to the 12th rep. If you can't reach 12, you are using too much weight. If you blow through 12 reps, there is not enough weight.

Machines are good, but don't shy away from free weights, especially dumbbells. They allow you to use muscles independently, thus causing fewer imbalances.

As far as stretching goes, check out Sport Stretch: 311 Stretches for 41 Sports by Michael J. Alter. This great book details how to stretch and explains sets and duration of each stretch.

I hope this helps. Let me know, Jessie!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Do Not! Do Not! Cut Carbs Out Of Your Diet.

Here is a diet tidbit for you from my private Magic Bullet Kit.

If anyone says the words I am going to cut carbs out of my diet in order to lose weight, I will barf. This is the newest diet fad and I can't wait to publish my new book on this topic.

As long as there is no insulin imbalance in the body, carbs do not make you put on weight.
When we think about carbs, we tend to think about white bread, white rice and other processed foods. When these foods break down, they consist of sugars with little other nutritional value.

To choose proper carbs, always check the nutritional labels.

Look for fiber and carbs versus sugars. The higher content of fiber and carbs, the better.

Look to fruits and vegetables as a great source of carbs. As a double benefit, you also get vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

According to Susan Kleiner, author of the book Power Eating, "Bodybuilders practice low carbohydrate dieting because they believe it promotes faster weight loss. The problem with these diets is that they deplete glycogen, the body's storage form of carbohydrate. Once glycogen stores are emptied, the body starts burning protein from tissues. Including muscle tissue, to meet its energy demand . You lose hard earned muscle as a result."

When carbs break down they become ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the fuel your muscles run on.

If you are going to work out and work your muscles to their full potential, give them their preferred fuel source.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Exercise Really is a Cure-All!

Alright, it's a bit of an exaggeration. But not by much.

According to Marilyn Moffat, a professor of physical therapy at New York University, exercise goes a long way toward healing what ails you ("You Name It, Exercise Helps It," New York Times, 4/29/2008).

If you suffer from an ailment such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, dementia, depression, cancer or erectile disfunction, exercise can help.

Congestive heart failure? Multiple sclerosis? Diverticulitis? Yep, you, too.

It's not a panacea, and you do not leap off the operating table to land at the marathon starting line. Moffatt is much more restrained than I would be. Moderate exercise, as much as one feels comfortable doing, is the key.

A lot of times, would-be athletes are self-conscious about their body shapes — which might make them less inclined to go to the gym, the pool or wherever else exercise might include stretchy pants.

Others may not think themselves athletes, or have not felt strong enough to consider themselves capable of athletic activities. The thing is, they are. Everyone can be an athlete. Remember, you don't have to run a marathon to be a "runner."

There are lots of reasons to not exercise — such as when the physician recommends against it, or when you truly do not feel capable. After my shoulder surgery, Dr. Thal told me I could start running as soon as I felt like it. I took off two weeks, which I would have fought against had the good doctor said that very thing. And it was heck starting again, but I didn't give myself a choice. Not running, for me, was worse than re-starting.

Exercise is not easy, especially when athletes are starting a new regimen. However, even a beginning athlete knows the difference between sore muscles and their illness. They also know the difference between "not feeling like it" and being unwell.

Always consult with a physician before starting an exercise regimen — but start one. Do it for the endorphins, do it for the muscle tone, do it for the confidence it will give you. But do it. Your body will thank you.

- Chris

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Summer is Almost Here! Time to Show Off Those Abs!

My entire family from all over the country is meeting in Florida the last week in June. Consequently, my daughter Valerie wants to know how to add definition to her tummy.

So let's start with the basic crunch.
  • Lie flat on your back. Keep your hands folded across your chest, and flex your spine so your shoulders come off the floor. (Keep your neck in place and relaxed.) Once your head and shoulders come off the floor, engage your abs and crunch. Make this movement only about eight inches. Try three sets of 15 to see how you do.
Need a little more challenge?
  • Sit upright and place your feet under the couch or chair, knees bent. Now, lower your back as slowly as possible down to the floor. (A count of 12 should do it.) Then come back to your starting position. Repeat 12 times.
  • For the people who can't get enough punishment, attempt to raise yourself back up from the floor for a count of 12.

Okay -- still too easy?
  • Lie flat on your back with your feet in the air. Keep your arms straight in front of you and try to touch you toes. (Yes, Val, I am serious.)

This is for the more hardcore:
  • Lie flat on your back. Have someone stand with their feet at your shoulders. Raise both feet with some force and have your partner (not to worry, Jesse, you shall remain nameless) shove your feet back to the ground -- but don't let your feet hit the ground.
  • Your parnter also can shove your feet to both sides to work your obliques.

When you get good at these, let me know and we can increase the difficulty.

In the meantime, let's enjoy the summer and show off those abs.

Thank you for the suggestion, Val. This also gave me more ideas for the blog. I can give tips on a specific muscle for each month. What do you think?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Growning Older, Staying Fit With a Personal Trainer

As we grow older, we need to continue exercising on a regular basis for many reasons, including to:
  • keep metabolism consistent for weight control

  • sustain bone density

  • preserve movement functionality

  • build muscular strength and endurance
Many insurance companies now provide reduced rates for gym memberships to clients whose employees are members of a gym or fitness center.

This was very well received. Consequently, the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP), which provides insurance supplement for seniors, began offering discounted services for personal trainers through the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

I can tell you with authority (as the employee of two gyms) that AARP's rates are less expensive than those found in most fitness centers. ACE is a nationally accredited organization with thousands of accredited personal trainers nationwide, so it's easy to find a trainer nearby who can help you stay fit and reach the fitness goals you set.

Click here to let AARP help you find an ACE-certified personal trainer near you.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


If you want to get fit, consider Zumba.

And if you are going to consider Zumba, consider Lois Kirkpatrick's class, held from 6-7 pm Fridays near the Dunn Loring Metro station.

David and I recommend Lois' class for this fun fitness craze that mixes Latin dancing with aerobic dance. Lois is a high-energy teacher with great flair and fun. I've seen her at work, and I plan to sign up for her class, too.

Visit her blog at for more information.

And get Zumba-ing!

- Chris

Saturday, April 5, 2008

All Trainers Are Not Created Equal, Part Two

Currently, I work with a gentleman who is probably one of the most educated people I know when it comes to muscle anatomy and kinesiology. He really knows how to work and isolate all muscle groups.

I was really thrilled to have a chance to observe him train with a few clients. Here is what I observed. (The names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

The first client (whom I will call "Client Number One") was working on his bench press and holding his breath between reps. I couldn't believe this trainer did not make the obvious correction to teach proper breathing.

The "Second Client" I observed was performing a lat pulldown. A proper lat pulldown should have you with a slight backward lean in order better isolate the latissimus dorsi. This particular client, however, was sitting perfectly straight and using more arm and shoulder than anything else.

The "Last Client" also was working on the bench press. The trainer was spotting the client with one hand while carrying on a conversation on his cell phone.

This trainer absolutely knows better in all three cases.

So here is another tip on picking a trainer: before you agree to have someone train you, spend a little time observing.

Ask yourself a few questions:
  • Does the trainer demonstrate proper technique?
  • Does this trainer stay attentive through the training session?
  • Does the trainer give cues and guidance while the exercises are taking place?

When the training session is completed, you also may ask the client if s/he is still getting results with this trainer. Has s/he hit any plateaus and what did the trainer do to overcome them? Has s/he gotten bored with the routine? Remember, how trainers deal with current clients is the same way these trainers will deal with you.

Do not hesitate to ask questions of both the trainers and their clients and try to observe your trainer at work when possible. You are working hard and spending good money to become a healthier you. You deserve the best the fitness industry has to offer.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Breathing and Tai Chi/World Tai Chi & Qi Gong Day 4/26

In celebration of World Tai Chi & Qi Gong Day April 26, I thought it fitting to post a blog.

During a class I taught recently, someone asked why we were learning relaxation techniques and proper breathing.

Good Tai Chi involves energy flow which comes from breathing correctly, we learn to relax in movement so the energy we create can flow freely inside us.

When practicing Tai Chi, we need to be mindful of the all the benefits it gives us:
  • calmness through concentration,
  • better energy flow resulting in better physiology responses through out the body,
  • flexibility, and
  • muscle tonicity from practicing the movements over time.

This is the paradox of Tai Chi: on the outside, it looks very simple — but there are many subtle nuances.

Remember, too, that Tai Chi is a martial art. The movements you learn and practice in this form all have meaning and importance.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Guys, Please Don't Teach Your Girlfriends How to Lift

As you know by now, those of you who read this blog, I write about things I see in the gym on a regular basis.

So this article goes out to all you men out there who are trying to make their girlfriends more healthy by having them lift weights.

Although in theory, this is a great idea and one of the nicest things you will ever do for your loved one, don't do it.

I was working with a client when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a very nice young man attempting to teach his girlfriend how to lift weights. They were working on an arm curl with a cable machine -- normally a safe exercise and not too difficult to do.

The girlfriend was arching her back and rearing back to lift the weight. Obviously, this was too much weight for her to handle.

So, being the safety-minded consciencious person I am, I approached the gentleman. I mentioned to him the fact that it was a very unsafe motion: she was arching her back too much. He said, "Thank you," then proceeded to put a weightlifting belt on his girlfriend instead of reducing the weight.

As I left, she was still arching her back, and I was concerned about the possibility of her tearing muscles in her arms from using that much weight.

Gentlemen, women do not train like we do. Their needs for their bodies are completely different from ours. The weightlifting regime that works for you will not work for her.

In case you haven't noticed, she is built differently than you are. Loading a woman up with heavy weight is not the way to get her to look the way she wants to look. Your way of lifting might get her there (depending on her body type) -- but chances are, she is going to get hurt before she gets the results she wants.

So if you're thinking about training your woman, don't.

By the way, men, you also should not do the following exercises, let alone teach them to your women:
  • upright rows
  • behind-the-neck military presses
  • lat pulldowns behind the head

These exercises are no longer recommended because of the extreme stress they put on the rotator cuff muscles. They are dangerous for the experienced lifter -- so put too much weight on your girlfriend's bar and she is going to tear muscles in her shoulder. All too often I've seen these exercises done in the gym, and I cringe when I see anyone do them.

So guys, leave these exercises for the foolhearty -- definitely not you and your loved ones.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Thoughts on the Origins of Mixed Martial Arts

Did you ever wonder where mixed martial arts came from? I don't think anyone really knows the answer, but I do have a few thoughts on the subject.

A modern popular references was in "Karate Kid II," when Mr. Myiagi taught Daniel a technique famous in the Miyagi family in Okinawa. When Daniel asked where the technique originated, Mr. Miyagi said his father took a trip and got lost in China.

This is a fictitious example, of course, but now we can take a look at one example that is real, so we can see how martial arts change and adapt.

The first person who made mixed martial arts popular was Bruce Lee. As we all know, Bruce Lee got his start in martial arts with Yip Man, who was a wing chun master. He took much of his jeet kun do footwork from Muhammad Ali (who, by the way, Bruce Lee held in high regard as the best fighter of the time).

Because Bruce Lee's fighting theories were based on many martial arts, so became the realization that to be a complete fighter, a student could stray from a single traditional style of fighting.

About the same time as Bruce Lee was beginning to get popular in the United States, martial arts tournaments also started to evolve. Tournaments started with instructors of the same style of martial art who were familiar with each other. Soon after this, tournaments in the 1970s became open invitation to all styles — however, the styles were not yet mixed. (Interestingly enough, the art that was winning most of the tournaments at the time was kenpo karate, which is Chinese in origin.)

Then came the ultimate fighting championships and the mixed martial arts tournaments. the rules were changed here to allow more ways to collect points and defeat opponents. For example (and without getting into too much detail), arm locks and throws were not allowed in karate tournaments. Punches and kicks were not allowed in judo tournaments. Now, however, these ultimate fighting championships and mixed martial arts tournaments allow it all.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Slow Down Aging by Staying Active

If you want to live forever, take up running.

Okay, that's my personal take on it. However, ask Vonda Wright, an orthopedist at the University of Pittsburgh, and she will tell you the same thing. Almost.

According to Wright's recent study, those who continue with or even take up athletics in their later years slow down deterioration that appears to be the hallmark of aging: loss of balance and bone density, slowing movements, loss of flexibility and more .... or less.

Most importantly, it's not just the lifelong athletes who benefit from this. Indeed, those who take up sports later in life — middle age or later — show signs of benefit.

And don't say an old dog can't learn new tricks: many older athletes are training harder and performing better than their younger counterparts, according to "Staying a Step Ahead of Aging" (New York Times, 1/31/2008).

Now that doesn't mean you dash out and play daredevil soccer with your local cutthroat teen team, of course. Train smart, train safely — and start out with a full physical before taking up the hurdle or lance. That's just common sense for any age athlete.

Many athletes train to the pain. I'm of two minds. I've been running nearly non-stop since I was 13 (and boy, are my arms tired! er...). I've tried the whole pain thing. In fact, I'm trying it right now: I've begun running again after a month on a stairclimber (due to cold weather and illness). I work out hard on the machine, sweating buckets and making my muscles tremble.

And yet, there's nothing quite the same as propelling myself down the street with no handles to balance against when I am weary. (I didn't cheat by draping myself all over the machine, but I might have relied on balance aids from time to time.) Work to the pain? No, thank you. I'll work hard and push myself, but not to where my muscles are begging to crawl off my body and be folded with my pajamas. I'll do interval and weight training, I'll mix up my workouts, I'll change distances and terrain, but I don't want to hurt like this again.

And yet I am in awe of retirees who run faster (and train harder) than I do. A 74-year-old man ran a marathon in less than three hours. Yes, my retired elders have more time to train and work out than I do. Yes, they have muscle memory that makes me look like a young'n. They also have the good sense to work with a personal trainer and listen to their doctors. (Maybe with age comes wisdom.)

This youthful vigor may not last forever. In time, we all slow down to a certain extent. Reduced lung capacity and reduced blood flow to extremities will happen, no matter how strong the ticker is. In the end, our bodies age, and our performance will change.

We just don't have to go willingly into doterage. We can stay healthy and fit, active and flexible — and feel better — for longer. As our longevity continues to increase, I am glad to see this trend, and I hope to continue it as I join the ranks of the older athletes.

- Chris

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Never Too Cold to Exercise

On days like today, when the Green Bay Packers are playing the New York Giants in temperatures of -23ºF, one can wonder if there is ever a time when it's too cold to exercise.

The answer from experts: No.
(The answer from my friends Alicia and Karen: Chris, are you out of your mind????)

But back to the experts. John W. Castellani, an exercise physiologist at the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, says heat causes more injury to athletes than the cold ("Too Cold to Exercise? Try Another Excuse," New York Times, January 17, 2008).

The key I have found, and experts agree, is dressing for success. Wear the right clothes: warm and dry makes a difference. Layer to prevent overheating with layers that can be adjusted as the athlete warms up, wear a hat, consider gloves and wear lip balm.

(Hint: cotton t-shirt under a cotton sweatshirt covered with a windbreaker won't help, no matter how many t-shirts you wear. Trust me on this one; some of us make mistakes so others don't have to. Sweat means wet clothes, and wet means cold. Remember that sweat is designed to cool down your body.)

Layers should include clothing that wicks away moisture. Check athletic stores and catalogs for suggestions.

Never underestimate the power of the hat. The body's heat quickly escapes from your head, the part of your body that always has plenty of blood supplying your brain. Even on cool (not cold) days, I wear a headband that keeps my ears warm.

I don't wear gloves, but my shirts all have really long sleeves. Wait, I take that back: I wore gloves in Central Park when the temperature didn't quite reach the 20s.

When you step outside, you should be cool — not toasty warm, or you'll overheat.

If you're worried that you'll freeze your lungs by breathing frigid air, don't. Your body warms up your breath before it reaches your lungs. Dry air, however, is a problem, no matter the temperature; athletes with respiratory problems should visit their physicians for guidance.

Freezing air can be dangerous for extremities, such as ears and fingers. Beware frostbite and protect yourself with gloves, hats and, if it's bad enough, balaclava. However, watch for overheating (as noted above).

Finally, experts say to keep moving. Hypothermia occurs when the body's core temperatures drops below 96ºF, and exercise generates heat. Water, or sweat, takes heat away from the body, so don't overdress and don't wear clothing that stays wet from sweat.

So, don't stay inside out of fear. Take to the road, the field, the diamond, the track — and be safe and smart.

See you outside!
- Chris

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Brazilian Jui Juitsu: What's Up With That?

My 15-year-old son P.J. and I were watching the ultimate fighting championships and it seemed to me that most competitors were practicing what is known as Brazilian jui jitsu.

I also have seen athletes using Brazilian jui jitsu in many other sports competitions and contests.

I don't want to take away from these very talented, very dedicated martial artists. However, after doing further research and watching the ultimate fighting championships, I can't believe that these practitioners continue to win tournament after tournament.

To be a successful all-around fighter, grappling and groundwork are essential tools. However, I find it hard to believe that this in itself is a fight-winning practice. Most of the fighting begins with one opponent making a low reach to the other opponent's knees. I cannot imagine that no one has found a defense against this -- like simply jumping backward or kicking your opponent in the face when he goes down to grab your leg.

I know these fighters are tough and they train hard, and I really would not want to fight any of them. However, I find it hard to believe that Brazilian jui jitsu is considered one of the best combat forms of martial arts.

For the fans of the ultimate fighting championships, note that you never see a true kung fu stylist, aikido stylist or even a true muay thai fighter. There are better fighters out there who just are not competing.

So take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of all martial arts before deciding Brazilian jui jitsu is the ultimate.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Thoughts on Fencing (per Reader Request)

I was lucky enough to do a little fencing many years ago. We practiced with foils.

Fencing teaches good balance and body posture. What I find most fascinating about fencing, however, is that the footwork is linear but the foil manipulation is circular.

If you have ever practiced Chinese martial arts, you have used techniques where you block a punch with a circular block then slide the blocking hand in for a strike. I think you will find some of these same principles in fencing.

Good luck, have fun and thank you for your comments.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Picking the Right Martial Art for You

It's been a while since I have done a martial arts blog, so the next few entries will be martial arts-focused.

For the person just getting started: unless you are living in a big city, the styles of martial arts available for instruction are slim. However, with a little bit of knowledge, you can find the right martial art for you.

When determining which art you might want to study, take into account your personality type and body type.

Would you consider yourself a high-energy personality or low-energy personality?

If you are a high-energy person, first look at the external matial arts: judo, jui juitsu, tae kwon do, shotokan and ishin ryu. (These are the most common. There are others.)

Judo and jui juitsu are more wrestling styles than punching and kicking styles -- so if you are stocky and enjoy falling, throwing opponents and wrestling, these are the arts for you.

The other arts mentioned so far fall under "karate." What we need to know here is that tae kwon do is 70 percent feet and 30 percent hands. If you are more of a puncher than a kicker, this art is not for you.

There are differences in the other arts already mentioned, and I can discuss this further in future entries. All I will say right now is that some arts are more circular in motion while others move in a more linear direction.

For those of you with a low energy level -- luckily, there are only a few true internal martial arts: tai chi (including qi gong) aikido, hsin i and pa qua.

If punching and kicking are for you, I recommend tai chi or hsin i.

If you prefer to control your opponent with wrist locks and throws, you should try aikido.

Pa qua has a reputaion as being a devastating martial art with complex footwork.

If you are on the more agile side or have experience try to find a pa qua sifu (chinese teacher).

I could spend many bytes discussing this topic, but I hope this entry gave you some good basic information.

If you need more information, please leave comments below on this entry and I can provide more information in the future.

For M.C.

Sorry this took so long to write, MC, but here ya go.

Any time people go on a diet or start an exercise regime they almost always see results immediately. More times than not, however, they are going to plateau.

Here are a few key ingredients to lose that stubborn weight:
  1. Add weight training. This is the only true way to change the shape of your body. Weight training also allows your body to burn more calories for an extended period of time after you lift.
  2. On the days you do lift, lift before you do your cardio. This will allow your body to get to the fat burning stage of your cardio workout faster. Remember: it's really about a calorie balance. If you take in less than you burn, you have to lose weight. I also want to add: while you are at a heavier weight, the workout load is more intense. As you lose weight, the activity becomes easier -- hence the plateau.
  3. On all cardio workout days, be sure to add interval training. For example, while jogging, take a minute or two every quarter- or half-mile and add a sprint for a minute or two. This burns more visceral fat.
  4. This is for MC's friend: for your special medical concerns, be sure to drink extra fluids to stay hydrated. Also, do not run outside when the temperature drops to the 30s to preventexcessive (and possibly dangerous) dryness in your eyes and mouth.
If you need anything else please do not hesitate to ask. Just click on "comment" at the end of this entry.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Calories: A Primer

Happy New Year!

A lot of people will begin the year with a pledge to get in shape and improve their health.

Those are worthy goals — but ones that, from the fitness guru messages, workout DVDs and self-help and health books on the shelves, appear to be harder than it should be.

So let's start the year with a simple formula: calories = weight. It doesn't matter whether your calories come from sausage, bread, watermelon or latte after latte. Calories equal weight. If you consume more calories than you burn, you gain weight.

Cut your calories, you lose weight.

Boost your metabolism with exercise, burn more calories and feel better, and lose weight.

Now, having said that, realize that not all food is equal. Some food has a higher nutritional value than other food. The key is to eat food with a higher nutritional density: you can consume fewer calories while still ingesting the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy. Make sure your plate has a good balance of color and texture.

Don't diet! "Diet" translates to "deprivation." Instead, increase the amount of healthy food you eat every day and decrease the food with little nutritional value — but don't deny yourself your favorite treats. Rather, allow yourself a taste from time to time. You don't have to have a sundae every night, but a spoonful or small scoop of strawberry ice cream (or better: ice cream with fresh strawberries, or frozen yogurt with fruit) a couple of times a week will curb your cravings and won't cost you all that much.

If you're really serious, keep a food diary and write down every single thing you eat — including the sugar in your coffee and those lemon drops you mindlessly consume every time you pass your co-worker's desk to get to the copy room. Once you see what you're really eating, you'll see how to adjust your food consumption accordingly.

So, go take care of yourself. Be honest with yourself, love yourself and put your health first this year. You deserve it.

- Chris