Archives for June 2013

The Illusion Of Balance

How often have we heard the phrase “eating a balanced diet”? How about eating “in moderation”? It’s pretty hard to argue with these things when you get down to it, but does it really mean what we think it means? Let me present two scenarios:

1. Alan eats a dinner consisting of a grilled chicken breast and a cup of asparagus all cooked in a little olive oil. For desert he has a small piece of apple pie.
2. Beth has a dinner consisting of a large pizza and later that night has a nice bowl of ice cream with sprinkles, hot fudge and whipped cream.

Now it seems like it’s pretty obvious which of these two is a healthier situation.

Clearly, it’s Beth.

Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot to tell you something. Alan is severely overweight and hasn’t exercised in months. He gets the majority of his daily activity walking the 2 blocks from the train station to his office (where he sits for 8 straight hours) and back. The only reason he ate grilled chicken breast and asparagus for dinner is that he ran out of the breadcrumbs he usually uses to fry the chicken in and he’s also out of noodles. The apple pie he had for desert was the third piece he’s eaten today. Beth, on the other hand, hits the gym hard 4 or 5 days a week and has done that for the last 10 years. She lifts heavy, does serious conditioning work and six days a week eats as close to perfect as she can. She does let herself go on Saturday nights but is right back in the gym on Sunday morning to get back at it.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? Balance is relative. You have to take into account everything that came before and, if possible, what will come after.

Take a look at the scale, there. Right now everything is even. You are right where you want to be. Now let’s throw in a bad day. What happens? The scale drops to the left a little bit and you need a good day to even it out. Now lets have a couple of bad days. How about a couple of bad years? What happens to the scale? Now lets factor in that as we age, the bad days weigh more and the worse shape we’re in, they weigh more still. Now suddenly we need to do more and more work to even out that scale. Now you can start to see why Alan’s piece of apple pie is worse than Beth’s large pizza.
The good news is that you can always work to even the scale but you have to realize what it takes and what you can expect. Simply put, it took years to put that weight on, or put wear and tear on your shoulders and back, so you can’t expect to be as good as new in a month. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t see some results in a month or maybe even sooner, but you have to be realistic.
This is where the concept of “balance” has to be thought about. If you’ve spent years eating whatever you want whenever you want, then maybe you need to skip dessert completely for a while to start balancing out the fact that you’ve eaten hundreds more deserts than you should have. And don’t begrudge the fact that someone else is having their apple pie if that person has tilted the scale waaay to the right through consistent diet and exercise. They’ve paid their dues.
I always preach patience to clients. For instance, losing 1-2 pounds a week isn’t a very sexy number but it’s actually an outstanding achievement and is much more likely to result in keeping the weight off long-term than losing 20 pounds in 2 weeks. The thing to realize though, is that while patience is good, you do need to do something definitive if you want change. Sometimes someone will come to me and I can see that starting an exercise program is a difficult thing for them for one reason or another so I will take a little bit of time to bring up their diet. I want to make sure that they get to feel more and more comfortable so they can start tipping that scale a little one workout at a time. There will be a time though, when that scale is going to stop tipping unless they address nutrition, so in order to achieve overall balance they need to do that.
You see, there are two important points that people need to realize:
1. The farther to the bad side the scale is tipped the harder it will be, and the longer it will take to even it out. This is why NOW is always the best time to start an exercise and nutrition program. It’s only going to get harder if you wait. It’s heartbreaking to me but I’ve seen some smart, wonderful people who have simply waited too long to start taking care of themselves and are now faced with the fact that they may never again get to feel or move how they want. If you are hesitating to start something please read that last sentence again. And again. And again.
2. The faster you want results and the more dramatic you want them to be, the more you need to do to tip that scale. Whether it’s exercising harder or eating a salad instead of a burger you need to make a decision and WORK IT! Remember that balance cannot be measured in a vacuum. YOU HAVE TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT WHAT CAME BEFORE. 
Now, maybe I’ve scared a few of you but you also have to realize that the scale can start to tip in the right direction at any time. There have been numerous studies that have shown that people can experience positive results from diet and exercise well into their 90s. It’s really just a matter of committing yourself to it and understanding what it takes to get those results you’re looking for. There are ways to establish the balance we’re looking for so that it can be achieved by absolutely anyone so take heart and get started now!
Please let me know if you have any questions. 
Mitch Rothbardt, CPT, PN Lean Eating Coach
Mitch Rothbardt Fitness at 2861 Grove Way
Castro Valley’s Premier Fitness Facility
I Help People Discover Their Strength
510-754-7113 Boost Your Metabolism With My Free Report

Shoulders and the Chain Pt. 2

In the first part of this series, which you can read here, I talked about how important shoulder health is to your entire body and the way that I go about improving them. In part 2 I’ll talk about how to continue that process and why I order things in the way that I do.
Just to refresh your memory, I believe that the four-way approach for shoulder health goes like this:

1. Awareness (posture)
2. Soft-tissue work
3. Mobility
4. Strength

In part one I talked about awareness and soft-tissue work. Today let’s go over mobility and strength.

Number 3 is mobility. In short that means how a joint moves. Having good shoulder mobility is very important to your overall posture as I demonstrated in part one.

Notice, however, that I use the term mobility NOT flexibility. The reason for this, is that in everyday life IT’S NOT AT ALL IMPORTANT HOW FLEXIBLE YOU ARE IF YOU CAN’T TRANSLATE THAT INTO BETTER MOVEMENT. I hope the capital letters got my point across because it is an extremely important point.

Anyway, I use a variety of ways to improve shoulder mobility. Some involve different stretches, some are kinds of movements. The reason I place this in the order I do is that the soft-tissue work breaks down movement restrictions which, in turn, gains us a better range of motion. Now it’s time to use and establish that increased range of motion. It’s really about using your body correctly so that you can improve. Many times people work too much on flexibility alone without taking into account how to apply that newly found range of motion. That can lead to injuries.

One exercise I use quite frequently is called the Wall Slide.

You get your butt, upper back and head against a wall. Bring your arms all the way back so that they touch the wall from your fingertips to your elbows and, keeping everything against the wall, slide your arms up and down.
Keep in mind if you do have tight shoulders this might be difficult, if not impossible. You can bring your arms back as far as you can, but if you’re too tight this might not be a great option for you. In that case, you can try Front Wall Slides in which you face the wall and touch it with the pinky side of your arm from the tips of your fingers to your elbows to slide your arm up and down and never losing all that contact with the wall.

Number 4 is one of the most neglected areas when it comes to shoulders (and frequently training, in general) and that’s strength. Now that we’ve gained improved range of motion and established it, we need the strength to maintain it. It does us no good to fall back into old habits and positions the moment we get fatigued. Many people are afraid to work on strength for fear of injury, but as long as you are conscious of your form and positions, and train intelligently you should be fine and will actually become more resistant to injury. Remember that fatigue brings us back to old habits and is what puts us in bad positions time and again.

Our shoulders are always going to be a pretty vulnerable joint due to its design. It’s designed for a large range of motion and because of that, strength and stability are a bit compromised. That’s why it is crucial that you take care of them by doing your best to maintain good posture and doing the types of things I talked about in these articles.

If you have any questions please let me know. Have a great day!

Mitch Rothbardt, CPT, PN Lean Eating Coach
Mitch Rothbardt Fitness at 2861 Grove Way
Castro Valley’s Premier Fitness Facility
I Help People Discover Their Strength
510-754-7113 Boost Your Metabolism With My Free Report

Shoulders and the Chain Pt. 1

Shoulders are far and away the biggest problem area I see every day. Yes, even more than backs. There are several reasons for that but I feel that the biggest one is simply that WE SIT TOO MUCH! I’ll bet you’re sitting now. In fact, I’ll bet you’re sitting with the standard shoulders slumped forward and head forward position.

By the way, I’ll wager that if you’re not sitting then you’re reading this on your phone and looking down, so you’re not off the hook either!
The problems with bad shoulders goes far beyond just a little pain in your shoulders. Tight shoulders can lead directly to poor posture which can lead directly to back pain, arm pain, neck pain and a generally poor quality of life.
How does this happen? Well, let’s start with some very basic anatomy concerning our spine. I know we’re talking shoulders but follow me. The section of our spine where our shoulders reside (called the thoracic spine, or T-spine for short) is designed to have a great deal of mobility. The section below that (the lumbar spine) is not. When our shoulders are tight, our T-spine doesn’t move very well and our body, needing to get movement from somewhere, gets that movement from our lumbar spine area. This can cause back pain over time. Also, there are a lot of nerves that run through those areas of our bodies and they can be compressed or pinched through poor posture which can lead to the arm or neck pain I was talking about.
All of my clients know that the number one most important thing to me is that they maintain good positions and it isn’t surprising that the shoulders play a huge part in that. We all understand, at least to some extent, that our bodies are a chain. In other words what happens at one part of our body effects the whole thing. Let’s quickly examine how our shoulder health effects us. 
Here is a picture of someone standing in good posture.

Notice that you can draw a straight line down from the ear, through the middle of the shoulder, through the ankle. Now let’s picture what would happen with tight shoulders. It would look something like this:

I think you can tell the difference. With the shoulder tightness comes what’s called “forward head posture”, which leads to a very misaligned spine and a pretty bad pelvic tilt that can lead to that bad back we’re all afraid of, among a number of other ailments. None of which are very good.

Well, how do we go about fixing this? In my opinion, it comes down to a four-way approach:

1. Awareness
2. Soft-Tissue work
3. Mobility
4. Strength

Let’s talk about number 1. Awareness.

It really comes down to this. I see my clients maybe 3-4 hours a week at most, and some I may only see for 1 or 2. That means that there’s between 164 to 167 hours a week that I don’t see someone. What do you think has the potential to effect someone more, 165 hours or 3?

What I can do is impress upon my clients how important it is to monitor and think about their posture for the other 165 or so hours of the week as well as show them what good posture is and how it feels. It’s no surprise that those that do think about about it see results much quicker than those that don’t.

You see, we develop habits and movement patterns, both good and bad, over time. These are the things that effect us most, and unless we change the bad ones and reinforce the good ones it is very hard, if not impossible, to change certain things. That’s why awareness simply has to be number one.

Number 2 is soft-tissue work. If you don’t know what that means, let’s call it massage or some variation of that. When our shoulders are rounded there are particular areas of our body that tend to be very tight due to being either over-stretched or shortened. For example, compare the “bad-posture” picture above to the “good-posture” picture. Let’s take a look at two areas, the upper back and the chest. It’s pretty easy to see that in the “bad-posture” pic the muscles in the upper back are over-overstretched and the muscles in the chest are shortened. What this leads to are knots in those areas which cause movement restictions that reinforce that bad posture. We need to break up those knots using things like foam-rolling or other soft-tissue techniques. While this may be pretty uncomfortable or even downright painful at first, over time it will loosen up and allow you to move and feel better. In my experience, about two weeks of foam-rolling 3-4 times a week will clear up the majority of even the most bound-up areas. The bonus is that after that, it actually starts to feel pretty good!

In my next article I’ll talk about numbers 3 and 4 in the tree, mobility and strength, how to apply them and why I order these things the way I do.

If you have any questions about any of this or how it applies to you, please drop me an email or give me a call.

Mitch Rothbardt, CPT, PN Lean Eating Coach
Mitch Rothbardt Fitness at 2861 Grove Way
Castro Valley’s Premier Fitness Facility
I Help People Discover Their Strength
510-754-7113 Boost Your Metabolism With My Free Report