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!


Super Slow Training!

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Blast Your Muscles Into Better Shape!

By Raymond Onyango.

Shawshank Redemption

“The world went and got itself in such a big damn hurry”, so says Brooks Hatlen, in the closing scenes of The Shawshank Redemption; one of my favorite movies of all time. The Shawshank Redemption is a story of perseverance, purpose and determination. Patience is of course  a value that comes in short supply in the world today. Like  spoiled children, we want things and we want them right now!

"6 weeks To A Beach Body!"

This need for speed permeates our consumer culture to its very core, and we in the Fitness Industry are right at the center of it. Browse the covers of many Top Flight Health & Fitness Magazines and you will be confronted with titles screaming, “Get Ripped In Six-Weeks”, “6 weeks To Your Best Beach Body” or “ See Results In 10 Days”. This is exactly the kind of mass media reinforced mythological perception that sets many of us up for failure right from the beginning. It is also the reason why I would like to introduce you to a rather unlikely concept in this digital age – Super Slow Training, and the bounty of progress it can open up in your path to better health and fitness.

Super Slow training, as the name suggests, involves slowing down the pace of your Strength Training Movements, literally to a crawl. There are several benefits to moving slower including ironically, faster results and greater overall muscle tone. Lets us take a closer look at why this is so.

Eliminate Momentum

Eliminate Momentum!

I was first introduced to the concept of Super Slow Training When I attended my first Pilates Class about eight or so years ago. The class instructor, Lisa Campbell, made us do a set of regular Push Ups on our knees, but the catch was that each Push Up was slowed down to a staggering eight seconds. At that slow speed many factors change, the most significant of them being the lack of momentum. Without momentum just your body weight alone feels like a ton of bricks, and that is just the beginning.

Less Speed, More Gain!

Eliminating momentum most importantly increases the level of neuromuscular integration. Neuromuscular Integration is simply the level of conversation that goes on between your nervous system and your muscles when they are subjected to workload. By slowing down your movements, you broaden this conversation by recruiting a much larger cross section of your muscle fibers, directly resulting in greater muscle definition as seen from the outside.

Of course Super slow training isn’t easy, and especially as you reach the point of momentary muscle failure, when you can no longer get the muscle to contract any more. At this point the lactic acid buildup can be excruciating enough to discourage the majority of us from keeping up with this method, but the intelligent and well-read exerciser knows that this is precisely the point at which the higher end motor units and muscle fibers are recruited and the greatest adaptation and therefore progress, takes place!

Prevent Injury

Many Women Shy Away From Weight Training!

Beyond producing better muscle definition and tone, Super slow training makes it possible to use very little weight, but still strongly challenge the muscles, This is important because the vast majority of women shy away from the lifting heavier weights, for fear of building muscle, but they can still use Super Slow training to tap into the benefits of Strength Training while simultaneously subduing their fears about developing unwelcome bulk.

Men Tend To Lift Too Much Weight!

On the other hand, far too many Men are fond of training with much more weight than they can comfortably handle. The combination of too much weight and high movement speeds, is in huge part responsible for the rapidly increasing rate of gym related injuries, whose prevalence constitutes a disturbing and fast growing trend within the fitness industry today. Torn Rotator Cuffs. Ruptured Cruciate Ligaments and Herniated Lumber Discs are all injuries that I see with disconcerting regularity in the course of my work. Many of them can be avoided through Super Slow Training, which by its very nature makes it virtually impossible for you to lift more weight than you can competently handle.

Quality Over Quantity

Quality Over Quantity Every Time!

To get the most out of your workouts, you must use proper form. How well you lift is far more important than both, how much weight you lift and how many repetitions you do. The primary objective of Super Slow training is to create more tension within the muscles while lifting the weight simply by slowing down the speed of movement. Physiologically this helps to bring about what are referred to as Plastic changes in the musculature.

Muscle tissue can go though both Plastic and Elastic changes. Elastic changes are temporary changes, either in length or size in the muscle as would be the case when you stretch your arm back to skim a pebble over the surface of a pond or the incredible blood pump and definition your seem to have right after a weight training session.  The key property of Muscle Elasticity is the ability to return its original shape, and therefore these types of changes don’t last long and are quickly lost with time.

Slower Movements Encourage Plastic Changes!

Plastic changes on other hand are much more permanent and refer to the muscle tissues ability to retain its new shape even after the stimulus is removed. When you look at a Fisherman, a Construction Worker or anyone who uses their muscles repeatedly at a task over a prolonged period of time, you are looking at Plastic changes. The Fisherman doesn’t have to hold his breath in order to display his abdominal muscles, because they have undergone plastic changes and are more or less permanently there. In the same token, you will be able to tell a former Athlete or a Soldier even years into their old age because their constant training brings about plastic changes that never disappear entirely.

Breath, Concentrate & Slow Down Your Movements!

They may get out of shape, they may get a bit rotund in the midsection, but even then you can always see from their overall physique that they were once very active individuals. It is this sort of permanent Plastic changes that yield forth from consistent Super Slow Training.

The very next time you are at the gym or working out at home try it for your self –  breath, concentrate and slow down your movements. These three important points will be critical to building the body and the muscle tone you have always desired!

Have a Slow Paced Week will you!