The Ultimate Resolution Solution

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Get there, this year!

By Raymond Onyango.

New-Years-ResolutionI hope you all had a great start to the year 2013. I know that many of you have made fitness resolutions this year, like every year before it, and I also know that the vast majority of you will fail to keep those resolutions. This is not prophetic, its fact. Exercise attrition rates are notoriously high within the global health and fitness industry.New Years Resolutions Are Easily Broken Here in United States of America it is estimated that up to half of all individuals that take up an exercise program at the beginning of the year drop out within the first 6 to 8 weeks of commencing their training.

This is what we are going to address over the course of this article, and it is my hope that when you’re done reading this you will be armed with a few ideas to keep you from faltering along the way. Maybe 2013 will be the year when you finally make it happen, and here is how:

Get Social

Get SocialSocializing is the key to long-term exercise success. As a matter of fact, one things I do religiously with all my personal training clients is to introduce them to as many other gym members as possible. Even in my group exercise classes I make a point of learning my students names and referring to each individual by name throughout the course of the class. I do this because I realized early in my career that my most successful clients were invariably the ones who had a strong social support network. I learned that connecting my clients to other gym members in a meaningful way gives them a strong sense of belonging, helps to make them feel more at ease on the gym floor and ultimately leads them to cultivate an more enduring fitness habit. Friendship is a powerful thing, and when you have friends at the gym, who are Friends Help You Maintain An Exercise Habitcommitted to exercise you will be more inclined to go there often rather than duck into a pub immediately after work. Your gym friends will look out for you when you don’t show up and they will encourage you when you feel like giving up. So this year when you go to gym, leave your Ipod behind and avoid the temptation to plug the world out; instead go out and make the effort to meet new people. Join a group class, pick up a sport or get a personal trainer. Anything that will allow you to expand your social circle and take the monotony out of exercise. Trust me, you will be more successful for it!

Watch your Sugar Intake

Fat FreeFat has long been the whipping boy of the fitness industry; so much so that a whole industry has been born with regards to fat reduced food. We now have fat free milk, low fat cookies and fat reduced yogurt, just to name a few. Labeling foods ‘fat free’ has been an outrageously successful marketing gimmick, but it has so far been unsuccessful in stemming the tide of rising obesity rates worldwide because most fat free foods are laden with sugar to substitute for the loss of flavor when fat is removed. Here in the United States of America you will find a form of sugar known as high fructose corn syrup in just about every food product on the supermarket shelves form macaroni and cheese to ketchup and bread. The result is that Americans onRethink Your Drink average consume about 22 spoonfuls of sugar everyday. It’s no wonder that almost half of the entire American population are classified as obese. This over consumption of sugar spikes your body’s production of the hormone insulin, which in turn controls your blood sugar by mopping up the excess sugar and converting it to fat. This means you can eat all the fat free products you like, but inevitably you will still gain weight unless you make an effort to reduce the overall amount of processed foods in your everyday diet.

Drop your goals

Yes you heard me right! Throw out the scale, ditch the tape measure and put away the fitness magazines. The best thing you can do for yourself right now is to make the commitment to move everyday. Fitness goals are great, for motivation, but they can also create a disconnect that leads us to think of exercise as something that is separate from our everyday lives. I know for a fact that 90% of the battle to stay in shape comes down to lifestyle change. We are not talking killer workouts in Aim for consistencythe gym here; we are talking about creating opportunities for movement in your everyday life. Walking when you can as opposed to driving everywhere, getting active with your kids or spouse by turning off the television and playing a game of touch football or taking the dogs out for a walk. Many countries in the developed world have virtually engineered movement out human life. I still shudder every time I walk into a supermarket here in America, where they even have motorized shopping carts for individuals who are literally too obese to get around a supermarket on their own feet! It’s shocking!

Daily activity is what serves to bridge the gap between the amount of calories you take in and the quantity that you burn. You want to make it your first aim to accumulate at least 30 minutes of physical activity of whatever kind everyday. If you can do that and then throw in 3 supplementary, hour-long workouts every week, you will see the pounds drop off without too much fuss.  My overall philosophy in fitness is to strive for consistency and not to worry about numbers. If you dwell on pounds and inches you become shortsighted and invariably you loose your way. But if you strive for consistency, the numbers will always add up in the end. Have a fabulous and successful  year 2013.

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This is what real people look like!

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How the mass media contributes to negative body image.

By Raymond Onyango.

If I had a dollar for every time that a client has walked up to me in the gym, with a celebrity photo cutout from a glamour magazine and asked me to make them look like that, I would be a millionaire several times over. As a personal trainer, I would say that perhaps the most delicate aspect of my job involves helping my clients to manage their expectations, without diminishing their enthusiasm and motivation to stick it through a consistent exercise program. This can be especially difficult in the current media saturated environment in which we live, a world where Kim Kardashian’s butt routinely commands more media attention, than the millions of people suffering the ravages of war and starvation in several parts of the globe.

I dare say our preoccupation with celebrity and the lengths to which we are willing to go in order to achieve it, has reached what is arguably an unhealthy apex. For instance, even as obesity rates continue to soar around the world, dress sizes on the other hand have steadily shrunk from the 60’s to the present day. According to a 2006 article authored by Jennifer Freeze in the Southeast Missourian, clothing sizes have changed so much that a woman who wore a size 8 in 1950 would wear a size 00 today! She goes further to observe in the same article that in the 1940s, the smallest available size was a 10. By the 1950s the smallest available size was an 8 and today there’s a size 00 on the racks. Just to put that into perspective, consider this; even Marilyn Monroe, size 8-10 and perhaps the most iconic movie star of the 60’s would be considered a plus size in this day and age.

Celebrities As Normal People

The question is, ‘Does this obsession with physical perfection driven by the showbiz industry and perpetuated by the media, actually reflect the real image of your everyday woman on the street or even the starlets in Hollywood for that matter?’ The answer to that is an emphatic No!

Not only is the sort of physical perfection espoused in the mass media simply unattainable, it is also just plain downright fakery. A quick Google search with the key words, ‘photoshopped celebrities’ yields well over a million results in just 0.14 seconds for images of celebrities before and after they have been photoshopped. A closer look reveals that many, if not all of them are just regular folk like you and I, with moles, freckles, wrinkles, love handles and belly fat to boot. In a nutshell, they are not perfect  – just normal.

Striving For An Unattainable Ideal.

The saddest part of this story is that for many 14 and 16-year-old girls and beyond, flipping through these photoshopped magazines, the real truth is not immediately evident. As a direct result, there has been an explosion in the prevalence of eating disorders amongst this most vulnerable of groups.

Just recently, the artist who goes by the name Lady Gaga and is renowned for her outrageous wardrobe choices and often controversial media statements, found herself once more in the eye of the media storm – this time stemming from an article in the Daily Mail of London, ridiculing her for being ‘decidedly meaty around the hips and thighs’ during a recent concert in Amsterdam.  The ensuing feeding frenzy that followed that particular performance as media houses competed amongst themselves in speculating on the reasons behind her weight gain led to a candid admission on her part of a long concealed struggle with eating disorders including bulimia and anorexia.  She later released untouched photographs of herself posing in a bikini and looking very much like the girl next door, as part of a campaign she has dubbed – the body revolution. This is a campaign aimed at helping young women own up to their struggles with extreme dieting and eating disorders, in a bid to reclaim their bodies.

Naturally Lady Gaga is not the first public figure to catch some flak from the press for gaining weight, but her status as an ‘uber’ hip icon amongst the youth, with almost 30 million followers on twitter, served to reignite the debate about whether there in an unrealistic amount of pressure on public figures to look thin, a fact that maybe responsible for the huge prevalence of eating disorders amongst that demographic.

The Ultimate Price Of Extreme Diets 

Ultimately for many of these celebrities and the myriads of young girls they influence, there is a very steep price to pay for years of engaging in the sort of extreme dieting that now seems to be a staple in the upper echelons of the showbiz industry. A case in point, just a few short years ago Gwyneth Paltrow, the Hollywood actress, was diagnosed with the brittle bone disease – osteopenia, a precursor to arthritis that is usually found in much older women. Several experts have suggested that this may be a result of excessive dieting and an overly intense exercise regimen, both of which come with the territory in Hollywood. In the worst-case scenario, certain death is not a far-fetched possibility. On August 2nd 2006, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia reported the death of two sisters, both Uruguayan runway models who died of apparent heart attacks within months of each other. Luisel Ramos, died from a heart attack caused by anorexia nervosa, while participating in a fashion show during fashion week in Montevideo, Uruguay. Her father told the police that she had gone several days without eating and she was reported to have subsisted almost exclusively on a diet of lettuce and coke, for the three months prior to her death. On February 13th 2007, Luisel’s 18-year-old sister Eliana Ramos, also a model died at her grandparents home of an apparent heart attack believed to be related to malnutrition. In April 2007, Hila Emlich, an Israeli runway model also succumbed to anorexia related complications that led to her subsequent death.

The tragic deaths of these beautiful young women, played a huge part in a decision by Italian fashion designers to ban size zero models from walking down their catwalks and setting a minimum BMI of at least 18 for all models. Above all it should serve as a pertinent reminder to the rest of us that it is not worth sacrificing your life in the pursuit of an unattainable ideal. Love yourself and love the body you are in, because ultimately that is exactly how nature intended for you to be!

Celebrate your body this week, will you!

CAN USAIN BOLT WIN A MARATHON?

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And other random thoughts…

By Raymond Onyango.

At the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Usain Bolt attained a mind-bending top running speed of over 43 kilometers per hour en route to breaking the 100-meter world record. His astonishing time of 9.58 seconds accorded him the sole bragging rights to the title ‘The worlds fastest man’. Furthermore judging by his scorching form at the London Olympics, that title does not seem set to change hands any time soon. But how would Usain Bolt stack up against the other ‘worlds fastest man’ Kenya’s Patrick Makau? In 2011, in the very same city of Berlin, the then 26-year-old Makau beat, Ethiopia’s Haile Gabreselassie’s earlier record by a huge margin of 21 seconds to set a new marathon record of 2 hours 3 minutes and 38 seconds. His performance excited running pundits, and gave new impetus to the hope that we may yet see a sub-two hour marathon run, within our lifetime.

If the two were to run head to head in a marathon race, Usain Bolt should theoretically have the upper hand. Assuming that he maintains his world record pace all the way, the speedy Jamaican would be done with the course in  about an hour or so, by which time Makau should be just over the half way mark. That’s the theory; in reality Usain Bolt simply doesn’t stand a chance and, judging from past athletes that have tried switched sports, he would be lucky to even make it to the finish line. In November 2006, seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, was forced to eat a hefty dose of humble pie, after crossing the finishing line of the New York Marathon in a positively pedestrian time of 2 hours 59 minutes. Armstrong who is now embroiled in an ongoing court battle over doping allegations was then revered as a gritty, hard-edged competitor and cancer survivor. A man whose insane level of fitness was legendary even among fellow cyclists on the tour; keep in mind that were talking here, of men for whom a 2420 kilometer bike ride, is all in a days work! In a post race interview with the Associated Press, he described the marathon, a ‘mere’ 42.2 kilometers, as the hardest physical thing he had ever done in his life.

What is evident from the examples above is the fact that even at the highest levels of professional sport, genetics and body type and choice of sport play a huge role in determining success. Usain Bolt’s unique genetic blue print makes him unbeatable over the 100 meter distance, but I can bet you he wouldn’t be anywhere near the podium at a marathon. Lance Armstrong has the physiology to be a great cyclist, but the very same traits that make him great at cycling – stocky legs, chunky calves and considerable bodily heft, work profoundly against him as a marathon runner; an event where leaner, lighter men have a clear advantage.

Slow Twitch Vs Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers

In his article ‘Usain Bolt Outruns Human Nature’ Barry Petchisky observes that human beings appear to be specifically designed for distance and endurance running. Given enough time, he notes, there is nothing we cannot outrun. This is in large part because human beings have a remarkable ability to cool down. Our body’s sparse hair and numerous sweat glands allow us to lose excess body heat very effectively, so effectively in fact that we can even out race a horse over a long distance.

Our muscles, on the inside look something like a bag of spaghetti – several individual strands of individual muscle fibers all encased in a tough outer layer of connective tissue that makes up the actual muscle. The muscle fibers are further divided into two kinds, slow twitch muscle fibers that are generally fatigue resistant at low intensities and fast twitch muscle fibers that generate large amounts of speed and power at high intensities but generally fatigue quickly.

Most of us have about a 50/50 distribution of fast and slow twitch fibers, in our muscles but the worlds best marathon runners generally have very high percentages of slow twitch muscle fibers as well as a unique ability to mobilize the energy stored in fat tissue and convert it into fuel for prolonged periods of exercise. The riveting London 2012 Olympic men’s marathon final was a classic example of how marathon runners rely not so much on muscular strength as they do sheer muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich plotted his move wisely, feigning fatigue and lulling the Kenyans into a false security. When he made his move unexpectedly at the 37-kilometer mark, the Kenyans Kirui and Kipsang simply didn’t have the legs to match him and they could do nothing but watch the Olympic gold run away from them.

Sprinting on the other hand is a whole different animal that is powered primarily by the ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibers. Fast twitch fibers are responsible for quick reflexes and explosive type movements. All of the world’s best sprinters have a disproportionately huge percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers and this evident from their  lean and powerfully muscular physiques. Unlike slow twitch fibers, which derive their energy from the breakdown of fat tissue, fast twitch fibers are powered by the breakdown of an enzyme stored within the muscle known as Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP. ATP provides huge amounts of energy through anaerobic metabolic processes, but runs out quickly, which means its only good for the short-term -10 to 45 seconds or so.

These key physiological differences between sprinters and long distance runners are the reason why no single athlete has ever excelled at both the sprints as well as the middle or long distance events. So to answer our initial question  – Can Usain Bolt win a marathon? Probably not, but then again it is almost certain that Patrick Makau will never win an Olympic sprint final either!

Have an awesome week, will you!

What Does ‘Fit’ Look Like?

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Why Being Thin Does Not Always Mean You Are Fit!

By Raymond Onyango.

Thin Is Not Always Fit!

It seems there are a lot of preconceived notions about what it really means to be fit. Television, Cinema and Print Media are all dominated almost exclusively by thin people. The Fitness Industry is no better; you will seldom see a gym advert featuring a heavy individual unless it is a ‘before’ picture. All this has helped to foster the widely held perception than thin people are fitter and healthier than their more substantial counterparts!

Jennifer Hudson Before & After Photos

As a fitness professional however, I am hardly ever swayed by physical appearances. It has been my experience from years of conducting Fitness Evaluations, that a thorough physical assessment can reveal a very different  internal picture from the rosy one that a tiny waistline conveys. I have come across a significant number or very slim looking men, who are plagued by elevated cholesterol levels or sky rocketing, blood pressure. This just goes to prove that overweight individuals do not have a monopoly on health complications. A slim individual living a sedentary life, fraught with high stress and poor nutritional habits is just as susceptible to heart disease, and other co-morbid conditions including diabetes, as his overweight counterparts.

In fact being slim can in itself be a major risk factor, because it encourages complacency and leads you to believe that you do not need to exercise in order to enjoy good health. Nothing could be further from the truth – read on and understand why:

How Body Types Influence Physical Appearance.

Male Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

Watch any major athletics championship such as the Olympics and you will be floored by the variety of physiques on display. The 100-meter sprinters are almost always muscled and defined in contrast to the loose limbed, lanky  marathon runners. The Shot Putters generally have huge shoulders and prominent bellies, quite unlike the show stopping elegance of the high jumpers, who are more reminiscent of an Impala gazelle in flight! The only thing they all share in common is the fact they are the best athletes in their respective events, in the whole world and therefore some of the fittest individuals on the planet.

Their physical differences also reflect the 3 major body types, that define the physical shape that each one of us is bequeathed by our genetics at conception. Ectomorphs are like your typical marathon runner, skinny, long boned and narrow in the pelvis. Your average 100-meter sprinter is likely to be a Mesomorph, the natural athletes of this world.  They are the ones blessed with wide shoulders, powerful muscles and bags of athletic capacity. However they remain very likely to gain weight if they stop exercising or start eating poorly. The big guys and girls who throw the Shot Put are most representative of the Endomorphic body type. These guys are not lazy by any means; the Shot Put is one of the most technical disciplines among the field events, demanding a unique combination of intricate, elegant footwork and raw brute strength. Endormorps have big bones and tend to carry a higher percentage of body fat than either the Ectomorph and the Mesomorph even when they are really fit!

Body Weight Vs. Body Fat

Female Olympic Athletes As Illustrated By Sociological Images

As a part of my research for this article I posted a question on my face book page, “ Do the words ‘thin’ and ‘fit’ mean the same to you? The first response I got was from one of my regular contributors, Ben Okombo. He says, and I quote “ Ray this is my exactly my story. I am 108.5kg, stand at 6 2’. My BMI reads 31, which means I am obese.  I am not fat however, because I train hard in the gym. So how is this possible?”

It is possible because your weight on the scale does not tell you everything you need to know about your health. For instance it does not tell you what percentage of that weight is fat as opposed to lean muscle. This is another reason why the Body Mass Index Scale BMI is no longer considered the gold standard in terms of determining what our healthy bodyweight should be. A body builder, weighing themselves on the scale and having his BMI calculated, will most likely be classified as obese, despite the fact that body builders typically have very low levels of actual body fat.

Bioelectrical Impedence Machine

In contrast I often use a Bioelectrical Impedance Machine to calculate my clients body fat percentages. I only need to feed your height, weight and sex into the machine, and then have you hold onto the electrodes which send a mild imperceptible electric current though your body. Fat is an insulator and impedes electricity; muscle however conducts electricity readily because all nerve impulses are essentially electric signals. The machine uses this distinction in the physical properties of fat and muscle to calculate your percentage body fat. Men should have an ideal body fat percentage ranging from 10 to 20% while women should maintain a range of 20 to 30%. What is quite telling, is that very slim individuals will often turn out to have very high body fat percentages, especially in the case of women who are naturally slim but have almost no muscle. These sorts of individuals can actually be clinically obese and exposed to all of its potential health challenges and not even be aware of it!

Love Yourself For Who You Are

I personally believe that true fitness is not about being thin, it about being comfortable in your body and doing the best you can to consistently Eat Better and Move More! We must appreciate the fact that the human body comes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, and we as a society need to pay attention to physical fitness and healthy eating habits much more than physical appearance. As a famous actress once said, ”You are not born second class, you have to learn to be that way”!

Have a first class week will you!

The Improbable Eating Habits Of Olympic Champions.

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By Raymond Onyango.

Fitness is a multi-billion-dollar business worldwide. According to the international current affairs magazine, TIME; Americans alone spend an estimated 19 billion dollars a year on gym memberships. In an article titled, ‘Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin’, author John Cloud, notes that in spite of this colossal amount of money being poured into health club memberships, obesity rates in the United States Of America have continued on a seemingly uncontrollable upward spiral, with an estimated one-third of the entire American population now considered obese under the definition offered by the federal government.

The author’s argument against exercise is based on an interesting piece of logic. He reckons that the problem with exercise, is that it makes you hungry, and the more you exercise, the more hungry you get and thus the more you want to eat. As he puts it, a hard workout will burn maybe 200 to 300 calories, which you could put back with a single muffin, and so when you exit the gym and settle down to a sugary snack right after that hard workout, you are probably working against your very own weight-loss efforts.

His solution – and he quotes several experts to back it up – is that you should watch what you eat as the central core of your weight loss efforts, and he proceeds to caution the reader that ‘fiery spurts of vigorous exercise can lead to weight gain.

Predictably, this article caused a huge controversy, when it was first published in August 2009, attracting widespread condemnation from Fitness professionals all around the world, and triggering a raging debate in the global wellness community, dwelling on what the New York Times described as one of the most intriguing and vexing issue in physiology – Can Exercise Make You Thin?

Above the blaring cacophony of competing ‘expert’ opinions, a plausible answer to this question is to be found in the most befitting arena of all – the London 2012 Olympics.  Thanks to the British love for tabloid news, the media has been a buzz with the most trivial details of the games as well as the athletes themselves.  For instance, we got to learn about the dietary habits of some of the world’s most illustrious athletes, and boy! They are not exactly what you would expect from athletes of this caliber!

Michael Phelps the American swimming sensation, who made history at the London Games, becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals, 18 of them gold, not surprisingly eats like a horse. What is surprising is the amount of junk food the guy packs away on a daily basis – 3 fried egg sandwiches, choc chip pancakes, a 5- egg omelet, French toast and grits – just for breakfast. Phelps also consumes a whole kilogram (yes, a whole Kg!) of pasta everyday, plus ham and cheese sandwiches, pizza all chased down by a couple of liters of soda…and the guy is still as lean as a cheetah!

At a whooping 8,000 calories a day, Michael Phelps is taking in almost 4 times the recommended average calories for a male adult and yet he is still as lean as they come. There couldn’t be a better answer than this to the question – Can Exercise Make You Thin? Michael Phelps is living proof that Exercise Can Make You Thin, even if you must, like he does, train for up to 5 hours a day. Now that he is retired, one thing that is certain from this point forward is that even the great Michael Phelps, can gain weight, if he continues to eat like this, without a maintaining a commensurate level of exercise.

The fact of the matter is that neither extreme is sustainable. When you lose weight exclusively though calorie restrictive diets, the weight loss is indiscriminate and your body readily cannibalizes it own muscle tissue to bridge the calorie deficit. The result therefore is that as you lose weight, you also muscle mass which as you well know is the metabolic engine of the body and you further weaken key bodily organs and structures including your heart as well as your bones. Constant dieting for her demanding movie roles is believed to be one of the reasons why actress Gwyneth Paltrow was diagnosed with the degenerative bone disease osteopenia, a precursor to osteoarthritis – at the age of just 37!  Not to mention that the very moment you begin to eat normally again, you will rapidly gain back all the weight you have lost.

On the flip side, even if you exercise plenty, but eat too much junk; you are still not immune to the effects of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, or the cumulative effects of over consumption of highly processed food, which while high in calorie value is utterly devoid of any real nutritional value. In the long run you will end up malnourished and probably obese, when work or family gets in the way of your exercise habit.

In my book, the most effective and sustainable approach to weight loss lies in finding balance between the two. You don’t have to subsist exclusively on vegetables and mineral water in order to lose weight and be healthy, but you mustn’t imagine that a single hours worth of gym 3 times a week gives you the carte blanche to eat anything you please – because it doesn’t! You have got to ‘eat better and move more’ if you hope to get thin and stay that way for a lifetime!

Have a balanced week will you!

Pull Ups

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The Best Upper Body Exercise Of All Time.

By Raymond Onyango

In our continuing series focusing on ‘Functional Exercises’ we have sought to underscore the importance of working out in a manner that stays true to our evolutionary history as primates.  Before we were human, we were apes and many of the physical traits, which make us human, have been shaped through this evolutionary journey. To this day there are still many anatomical features that we share in common with most of the other ape species – a pivoting shoulder joint – is one of them. Human beings, like all other great apes have an incredible range of motion around the shoulder joints. Way back in time, this range of motion allowed us to do a lot of arboreal branchiation (swinging through the trees with our arms) which was important to facilitate easy movement high up in the forest canopy away from all the predators on the ground.  Together with this ‘pivoting shoulder joint’ human beings like other apes also developed inward closing hook like fingers and a broader palm for better grip, opposable thumbs, longer arms and freely rotating wrists.

These evolutionary traits have stuck with us, even as our lifestyles have changed dramatically. Can you remember the last time you climbed up a tree? I didn’t think so, neither can I. Here we are living in a body that was essentially designed to swing through the trees, but occupying  a world where the most adventurous  thing we get to do on most days is to sit behind a desk somewhere and shuffle our fingers along a key board. Outside of our natural habitat , the only substitute is to find a readily accessible, simple and effective  exercise that can play the same integral physical conditioning role that, swinging though the trees did for our early ancestors.

Enter the Pull Up.  When it comes down to program design, Pull ups are like bread and butter to me. I consider them one of those MUST-DO exercises, which should form the cornerstone of any serious upper body physical conditioning program. My reasons are as simple as they are compelling. For starters pull ups have a direct
impact on a staggeringly huge cross-section of upper body muscle groups. From your forearms, to your biceps, through to your shoulders, chest, upper back and reaching down to your abs and entire core region – it doesn’t get more compound than this. it is such a comprehensive exercise, I dare say, if you could get away with doing just a single upper body exercise in an entire workout, this would be it. As you well know by now, the larger the cross-section of muscles involved in a given exercise, the greater the calorie cost of that exercise. With an exercise that involves as huge a cross-section of muscle groups, more energy is utilised, more calories ‘burned’ which in turn translates into faster and more effective fat loss. Such a huge coordinated effort also ensures that your body developes in perfect proportion and you can avoid many of the muscle the imbalances that result  from isolating individual muscle groups on the isotonic machines at the gym.

It doesn’t end there either! Pull Ups are a great panacea for back pain (both in the lower and upper back), respiratory limitations such as asthma as well as the prevention of common shoulder joint injuries. Lets begin with the back pain, the term Kyphosis refers to a postural imbalance characterized by a rounding of the upper back as is commonly seen in old folk and office workers who spend the better part of the day, head down, shoulders rounded, hunched over computer key board and paper work. Pull Ups are
great way to counter postural Kyphosis by strengthening key muscles of the upper back including the rhomboids, trapezius , and latisumus muscle groups, all of which are instrumental in helping to keep the upper back strong enough to support the weight of the ribcage. Talking of the ribcage, you might not have known this, but poor posture actually has a direct effect on the depth of your breath and ultimately your energy levels. Pulls Ups help to condition a specialized set of muscle groups known as your intercostals, whose central function is to hold your ribcage open, so that your diaphragm ( which is your main breathing muscle) can move freely. When these muscles get weak and deconditioned, you wind up literally suffocating slowly under the weight of your own ribcage and your aerobic capacity can be so diminished as to have a marked effect on your day-to-day energy levels. You can take a basic lung capacity test at your local gym or doctor’s office, using a simple machine known as a spirometer, which has a tube though which your blow strongly and a little ball that measures your total volume.

One more compelling reason to include Pull Ups into your training regimen, to prevent shoulder injuries. The shoulder is one of the most injury prone joints in the human body, chiefly because it has such a huge range of motion. Unlike the hip-joint which is also a ball and socket joint built for mobility, it does not have the benefit of a deep socket to support it and protect it from injury. Insted it relies almost entirely on the muscles surrounding it  for its stability and integrity. Pulls will help to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles (one of the most frequently injured muscle groups in the shoulder) as well as helping to stabilize the shoulder blades (scapula) which basically serves as the foundation for your entire shoulder complex.
Last but not least, pull ups are a great way to strengthen your grip. Grip is one of the first things you lose as you begin to age, which is why older folk have such a hard time getting the lids off of glass jars. But grip is also a true measure of strength because ultimately you can only lift that which you can grip, and therefore you cannot talk of building strength without reference to grip.

How To Do A Proper Pull Up

Like any other exercise, pull ups are all about technique, and good technique involves mastering the three key parts of the pull up – Initiation, Follow through and repositioning.

Initiation

Pull ups belong to a group of exercises called closed chain kinetic exercises in which the arm or foot does not move and the body has to re arrange itself around  fixed point. Bearing this in mind, it makes sense that the correct way to initiate a pull up is to begin by drawing the shoulder blades together and pushing your chest through as though someone had grabbed you by the cuff of your shirt and yanked you up towards the ceiling. This stabilizes your shoulder complex and  ensures that the workload is not directed into your biceps which would be inadequate to lift your entire body weight. Quite often the reason why most of us cannot do a single pull up is not because we don’t have the physical strength for it, but simply  because we don’t know how to use it effectively!

Follow Through

Once you have initiated the movement, the follow through is where a group of muscles  known as the prime movers kick in. The prime movers are the guys who do the heavy lifting. As far as Pull Ups go, the latisimus  dorsi whose central function is to draw the upper arm back towards the body, bear most of the brunt.  To activate them you need to  pull down through your elbows and use that leverage to get your chip up and over the bar. You are looking for a slow controlled movement that should take at least 4 seconds to complete. This is where technique wins over strength, By working from your lats, you are engaging a much larger and more powerful muscle group than the biceps. Keep the lower body relaxed and quiet so that it is not swinging all over the place. This is one of the things you will have to practice in order to have a real mastery of the pull up.

Repositioning

This simply means getting back to your starting point, in readiness for the next repetition. Now i watch a lot of guys at the gym do pulls ups and the great majority simply throw themselves up at the bar and then fall back in an untidy, jerky movement that not only places the shoulders at risk but also negates much of the benefit of the exercise itself.  It is now widely accepted within the fitness industry that the eccentric or negative (lowering) phase of a movement, is where you develop the greatest strength. Eccentric training is doubly effective because the muscle has to keep contracting even as it is lengthening. The produces greater adaptations in terms of strength as well as enhanced metabolic ( calorie burning) activity…music to the ears of anyone looking to get lean and toned. Also working to your advantage is the fact that you can lower more weight in an eccentric contraction than you can lift in a concentric contraction. The short of this is that even if you don’t have the strength to lift yourself up into the pull up, you can still climb up on a chair and focus only on lowering yourself. Soon enough you will build the strength to do a full pull up with ease.

Variations of the Pull Up

(From the most simple to the most advanced)

Leaning Pull Ups On Smith Machine

Chair Assisted Pull Up

Under Hand Grip Pull Up

Overhand Grip Pull Up

Weighted Pull Up

Muscle Up – The Ultimate Pull Up

So there you have it, a variation to suit each and every one of us. Simply pick your level and pull up!  Have an inspired week will you!

Lunges

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The Exercise For All Seasons!

By Raymond Onyango.

I am a firm believer in the principle of ‘training for life’ in the sense that any exercise you do ‘inside’ the gym should help to improve your everyday life ‘outside’ the gym! As a general rule of thumb exercises that have no functional role in the real world, have no place in my training regimen, not unless the client in question is on some kind of rehabilitation program. For this reason I will be the first to admit that I am generally biased against most ‘machine type’ exercises; my natural preference being body weight based exercises especially those that require a huge cross section of muscles groups and a lot or balance, timing and coordination to boot.

Take an exercise like lunges for instance; here is one exercise that in its basic form needs no equipment whatsoever but still manages to have a huge impact on virtually every single muscle group in your lower body. If you are looking to firm up your ‘ derrière’ and enhance your rear view, lunges will do it for you. If you are looking for toned thighs worthy of a dancer, an athlete or a model, lunges will get you there. If you are trying to improve your running speed or build stability in a weak knee joint, lunges are the way to go. If you have a lower back problem and you don’t want to place compressive forces on your spine, as would be the case when squatting, lunges are your best alternative. This is such a versatile, effective and readily adaptable exercise; I often wonder why so many of us avoid them?


Well, perhaps I should not be surprised. The truth of the matter is that lunges if done correctly are as hard as they are effective. A good set of walking lunges will almost certainly leave you walking funny the next day. Muscles you did not even know existed, will announce their presence loudly, and climbing up stairs the very next day will be a physical ordeal  – that bittersweet pain that lets you know you are challenging your body hard enough to get a real response.

Beyond the muscle soreness and pain, there are other factors that make lunges very fascinating as an exercise option. When you step into a lunge of any kind, you  simultaneously  stretch and strengthen your hip flexors – namely the illiopsoas complex.  These two muscles the ‘iliacus’ and the ‘psoas’ work together to flex the hip, as is the case when you pull your knee up to your chest or other wise flex the trunk e.g. when you bend over to pick a fallen set of keys off the floor. These may seem like insignificant actions, but nothing could be further from the truth. Because of its unique position straddling your body’s center of gravity, the ‘illiopsoas complex’ plays a central role in virtually all movement within the body, however far removed from the hips, by providing stability in the core region. Thus when you reach your hand out to bring a cup of coffee to your lips, your ‘psoas’, is one of the first muscles that originates that movement by helping to stabilize
your trunk.  Further to this, the ‘illiopsoas’ complex when tight and weak, as is the case in the majority of us who spend most of the day seated in cars and behind desks; places increased torque on the lumber spine, accentuating the lumber curve and resulting in a postural imbalance know as  ‘Lordosis’ or Sway back posture’ which is often a precursor to lower back pain and disk degeneration. The short of it is that lunges will not only tone your lower body, they will literally save your back as well!

For your backside also known as your gluteus, nothing will guarantee you a more effective workout than the lunge.  The reason why human beings have prominent butt muscles as compared to other primate species is because we stand upright on two feet as opposed to monkeys or chimps and gorillas that get around on all fours. Your butt quite literally holds your upright! It is imperative to note that both squats and lunges will improve your rear view, but the inherent advantage of lunges over squats lies in the fact that you need very little if any weight to lunge effectively. Lunges are a dynamic stepping movement; with only one foot firmly on the floor at any moment, this translates into a much smaller surface area on which to balance, making your center of gravity much harder to control. This  awareness improves your sense of proprioception ( the sense of where your body is in space and time) which in turn improves your agility and reaction time both of which are instrumental in improving athletic ability and preventing injury, especially around the knee joints and the lumbar spine!

Last but not least is the fact the lunges are a supremely
adaptable exercise. An absolute novice at exercise will be able to find a suitable variation of the lunge just as readily as will the most seasoned high performance athlete. This is a particularly important fact because, unlike many other strength exercises where the only way to progress is to lift more weight, lunges allow you to increase the level of difficulty in diverse ways, such as adding dynamic movement or an elevated platform to the exercise or otherwise changing the plane of movement or even adding an element of both upper and lower body coordination. The end result is that are a virtually unlimited number of ways to lunge; the only constraint is your creativity!

Do’s & Don’ts Of The Lunge

  • Do not allow your knees to travel over your toes
  • Keep your body’s main weights i.e. head, chest and hips, stacked above each other in a straight line – meaning your torso needs to stay upright.
  • Keep the knee behind you off the floor, it needs to come close to but should never bump the floor.
  • Learn to lunge safely and effectively with your own body weight before adding any external weight in the form of dumbbells or a barbell.
  • Learn how to perform the stationery lunge first before adding on any dynamic movement.
  • Aim for a fluid, seamless and unbroken movement, this is the most efficient way to lunge.
  • Hold onto something like a chair or a wall, if you don’t have the balance to execute the movement independently, provided that you do not lean your weight into the chair. Keep the workload in the legs
  • By adding upper body movements, such as the shoulder press or clean & jerk to a basic lunge will transform it into a whole body movement.

Have a great week and add some lunges to your workouts, will you!

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