Know Your Protein

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

A while back I wrote a post called The Truth Behind Protein Shakes. The reason for this post was that many athletes were still confused as to why they were guzzling a/1/uno protein shake daily but still not adding slabs of rock hard muscle and torching massive amounts of body insulation (fat is great at keeping heat in!).

If you did not read that that post I would encourage that you do so. As for right here, right now, I wanted to provide a quick, bullet point style overview about the main concepts behind protein and its role in a high performing body, the myths behind protein and its consumption, as well as make a few recommendations.

So let’s do this so the next time you find yourself puzzled as to why after downing a protein shake your biceps didn’t grow like Pop-Eye’s did on spinach, you’ll better understand why.

Is protein important?

–          Protein is important, and many times protein is thought of as the most important of all macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, protein, water).

–          While I would argue that all are equally important, protein definitely plays a key role in almost every bodily function including structure (muscle building anyone?!), muscle contraction, immune system function, hormone production, nutrient transport, energy and more. So ya, it’s important.

–          Without adequate protein available, the body will breakdown stored protein (again, muscles anyone?!) in order to complete the functions previously mentioned.

Will protein alone make my muscles HUGE and my stomach RIPPED?!!

–          NO!!! Protein alone will not make your muscles grow. You must apply a stimulus to the body (training) that breaks down the system and requires the body to adapt and grow stronger. Then, protein can be utilized to help repair and grow tissues, including muscle tissue.

–          NO!!! Protein alone will not incinerate fat. While protein is more metabolically active (it requires more calories to utilize protein vs carbs or fat), protein will only help you lose weight when you are in a caloric deficit. With that said, for many replacing processed carbs with protein (less pasta and more chicken for example) will help you consume less overall calorie as well as consume more high quality nutrients, which will aid in losing the midsection jiggle.

–          Protein is a nutrient, not a steroid. While it plays an important role in anabolism, protein will not provide you will slabs of rock hard muscle without the hard work…sorry bro!

–          Ladies, protein will not make you gain manly muscle and neither will training heavy or intensely! So eat some steak, crush some weight and get off the damn elliptical!

Where can I get protein?

–          There are many sources of protein which include animal based proteins (beef, chicken, etc.), fish based protein (salmon, haddock, tuna, etc.), dairy based proteins (milk, yogurt, whey, casein, etc.), egg based protein and vegetable based protein (tofu, soy, protein, etc.).

–          As you can see, there are many foods that contain protein, and also protein supplements such as protein powder.

When should I eat protein and how much should I eat?

–          Protein should be consumed with every feeding (meal, mini-meal, snack) and a good way to measure how much to consume is by using your hand. Click HERE for a guide and visual.

–          The old standby for how much total daily protein to consume is 1g per pound of bodyweight. A better guideline to follow is one that I first heard from Alan Aragon. Alan recommends consuming 1g of protein for every pound of your ideal weight. That means if you are a 150lb male looking to gain 20lbs, you should be consuming at least 170g of protein daily. If you are trying to go from 200lbs to 180lbs, it is recommended to consume 180g of protein daily. Whatever your target weight is in pounds, consume that many grams of protein daily.

There are so many protein powders. Which one is best?

–          Whey stands out as the most versatile protein powder.

–          Casein is another dairy based protein and digests slower than whey making it a decent option when you know you are not going to be eating for a little while (before bed, etc.).

–          For those who don’t tolerate dairy well, egg or vegetable derived protein powders can be used (pea protein, etc….stay away from soy!).

–          No matter the source, make sure that the protein powder is made from whole, natural sources and not loaded with hormones, processed sweeteners or other ingredients that you can’t pronounce. And stay away from weight gainers…just eat more whole food!

–          I like Biotrust Low Carb as it tastes great and is made from quality sources. Other good sources include Jay Robbs and if you don’t have the funds available, Dymatize All Natural Whey is a decent option.

What can I use protein powder for?

–          Protein shakes, DUH!…check out this Protein Shake Construction Guide (your welcome!).

–          Other than shakes, great ways to use protein powder include powering up oatmeal, cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, putting it on popcorn, flavoring coffee, making homemade protein bars and more.

–          *Protein powder is a supplement and should be used as so. Think of protein powder as an additional (and sometimes more convenient) way to get your daily needs, not as the primary source!

So there you have it, a short, a simple overview of protein along with a few recommendations. This does not even scratch the surface of details surrounding protein, but hopefully you can see that protein is important, and alone is not going to give you the body of a Greek god or goddess!

Make sure you get enough high quality protein, continue to work hard and…just don’t get sucked into thinking protein is the end all when it comes to achieving results!

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Posture is Everything…Here is How to Correct It!

 

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

The other day I was having a conversation with an athlete.  This athlete was concerned that he was not getting the results he expected from the training, specifically regarding his posture.

He felt stronger, moved better, had more energy throughout the day and experienced a host of other positive results from training, but still walked around closely resembling one of my all-time favorite animated characters, Sid the Sloth (Yes, I am a fan of animated movies and I am not afraid to admit it!).

My first reaction was, “Great, this athlete actually cares about his posture!” Too often athletes just wanted to get after it, feel the “burn” and finish a session hunched over the trash can.

While I am all for getting after it, moving heavy stuff and ending a couple of sessions a month trying to fight back your upchuck reflex, if an athlete does not work to correct static posture, then an athlete is “starting the race behind the line.” Although I all for a challenge, if an athlete starts behind the line, my bet is they will not finish at the front of the pack (i.e. get the results they want and need).

But this athlete was working to correct his posture, and doing a damn good job at it…during training!

As we continued to talk about his concern and how he felt with the performance and understanding of his “corrective exercises” I couldn’t help but smirk as throughout the entire conversation this athlete was standing in the exact posture that we were trying to correct.

I let him finish his little rant (a rant that I was glad to hear) and then walked my way closer to him, placed him in the position/posture we wanted and asked, “How often do you stand like THIS during the day?”

“Umm…”

That’s all he had to say.

After I let him know that I had not done my job in making sure that he understood that this was what he had to do throughout the day in order for the training to “stick,” I asked him if he could try to achieve this posture throughout the day.

**A coaching/motivation side note; although I KNOW I had mentioned numerous times to him to try and be conscious of his posture, if I were to come at this athlete as if he were doing something wrong, his motivation would be shot and my position as a role model and authority would be compromised…so I took blame and responsibility.

After asking this athlete if he could be more aware and try to achieve the optimal posture more throughout the day, he replied, “Ya, I can try but it is almost impossible.”

I agreed with him that it would take a lot of effort to continuously find himself in a better posture, but I did not give in. Instead, I gave him a few tips on how to make it easier to remember.

Try the following tips to help you spend more of your day in a posture that will help lead to greater gains from training (strength, power, etc.) as well as a lower incidence of overuse injury from both training and “chilling” in a bad position.

Also, you will find yourself exuding more confidence as you walk around like you have an S on your chest rather than a shy, self-conscious school girl who wants nothing to do with anyone or anything.

Better Posture. Better Performance. Better Looks…But First…

In order to achieve a better posture, and make it stick, you must discover what your ideal posture is and how it feels. From there you must try to sustain that posture as often as possible and encourage adaptations of certain muscles to help you maintain that posture passively (meaning hypertrophy/stiffen certain muscles to help “hold” you in that posture). The passive maintenance will come from specific corrective exercises, that when performed correctly, will create the necessary changes.

Although everyone has specific needs when it comes to posture, some of the most common considerations include:

1)      Head and chin position: Many of us find ourselves with a forward head posture and jutting chin. To correct this think about “tucking your chin” or making the backside of your neck (cervical spine) “long.” Both of these cues will help you achieve a neutral cervical spine and make for a better chin position.

2)      Scapulae (shoulder blades): The majority of athletes/clients that I coach present with anteriorly tilted and depressed scapulae. For this reason, it is common that I cue the scapulae to come “up and back” which creates a proud/athletic chest.

3)      Lumbar spine (low back): Lumbar extension, or more accurately, excessive lumbar extension, is a common postural flaw. This causes unwanted compression of the spine as the “overarching” of the low back causes the vertebrae to become compressed. Cueing an athlete/client to “tuck their tale” or “bring your zipper to your ribcage” helps to reduce the excessive extension and bring the low back into a more neutral position.

While this is by no means an exhaustive, or in many cases a complete list, these 3 points are the most commonly found. Others include hip rotation issues, knee and foot positioning, etc.

One “exercise” I like to give to my athletes to help them achieve a better posture is to have them put their back against a wall with their feet 6 inches from the wall. I ask them to keep soft knees as they work to bring their low back, scapulae and head to the wall focusing on tucking the chin and keeping the neck long. I then ask them to come off of the wall while holding that position…this is a good start for an ideal posture.

Once you understand and achieve a better posture (neutral positioning), it is your job to try and keep this posture throughout the day, which is hard because it takes conscious awareness and focus. When your attention is elsewhere (work tasks, on the teacher, Facebook, etc.), posture is often the first thing to become compromised.

To help increase conscious awareness of posture, I encourage athletes to do the following.

1)      Set an alarm: Whether it is on your phone or a watch, set a timer to go off every 20-30 minutes so that when it goes off it reminds you to check posture. You can set it for a standard beep or make it so it vibrates (the phone anyway).

2)      Use sticky notes: Wherever you find yourself most of the day (in front of the computer, at a desk in school, on a beach chair in Hawaii…I’m shooting for the last option someday!) place a sticky note so you will see it often. Write anything such as “posture / proud chest / tuck tail / cut the S*&T”…whatever it is that will help remind you to check your posture.

3)      Object in your pocket: If you are on your feet and constantly moving most of the day (performance coach anyone?!), using a well-placed sticky note may be difficult. Instead, place an object in your pocket (the smaller the better) that when you touch will remind you to check your posture. Try a paper clip, rubber band, marble, etc.

4)      Enlist the help of a friend: Most of us spend much of our day around the same people every day…whether we like it or not! Take advantage of this and ask one or more of your friends/family/colleagues/teammates to remind you about your posture when they see you falling out of it…just remember, you asked them to help you so when they remind you, you cannot get annoyed or upset.

The Wrap Up    

Many athletes/clients find themselves training 2-4 times per week. While this is sufficient for many positive adaptations, when it comes to fixing posture it takes much more.

Performing corrective exercises each day will help, but if you spend 23 out of 24 hours in a posture that is creating pain, limiting performance outcomes or having people wonder how the hell you survived the Ice Age, it is going to be extremely difficult to make postural changes and have them stick.

Most of the time you just need a little reminder. Try the tips above and enjoy a body that feels better, performs better and looks a whole lot more confident and attractive.

Minimal Effective Dose

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS

Do you really want to train longer and harder to achieve the results you are looking for if you don’t have to?

This is a question that 95% of mankind would emphatically answer “Pffff, NO!”, and probably add in a sarcastic chuckle.

While I fall into the other 5% that love the act of getting after it, sweating a bit and feeling like I just got trampled by a heard of buffalo (I just purchased some grass fed bison so buffalo is on the mind), I realize that if we could achieve a healthy, lean and strong body by sitting around all day, most of us would.

Unfortunately for the 95%, sitting around eating “real fruit filled” poptarts watching severely unconditioned individuals getting the crap kicked out of them on latest episode of The Biggest Loser will not help you shed fat, gain muscle or look and feel better.

So if doing nothing won’t help you on your journey to “stud land” (or “studdette land” for the ladies), then training 2 hours per day, 7 days per week and eating nothing but organic free range chicken breast with steamed broccoli is the way to the godlike health and physique you want…right?

Spending more time in the gym than you do with your friends and family and eating strictly lean protein and veggies will definitely jump start the physical transformation that you are looking for, but your joints will soon begin to hate you, your friends and family will become fed up with your obsession, and life will be one dark and lonely venture.

So what is the answer?

Finding your minimal effective dose, or the least amount of effort you need to put in to reach your goals…that is what you need to determine.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t put in the work, but you should be able to work hard and still enjoy life. And the easiest way to do so is determine what the biggest barriers are that are preventing you from reaching your goals (usually concerning nutrition and physical activity), and what amount of training will provide continued progress without burnout.

To illustrate this a bit let’s take a look at a quick case study…my brother.

Over the last month my brother has been busy trying to get his ducks in a row as he is in a transition period in his life.

Because of this, he has not been able to make it to the gym as much as he would like (4-6 times per week) and has only been able to train 1 to 3 times per week. His goals include leaning out a bit and gaining some strength.

With the lack of training, you would expect that he may have ended up losing some strength and gaining a little extra thermal insulation about his midsection (yep, fat!).

So what happened?

He ended up losing 8 pounds and actually gained some strength. But just how was this possible?

My brother is a New Hampshire kid at heart, although he has spent the last 5 years in California as he completed his time serving as a United States Marine (thanks again bro!).

Do to his NH background, enjoying a cold brewsky a night (or 2 or 3) was a common practice. Add a slice or two of pizza to that and he was pretty much kissing his goals of a healthier, leaner and stronger body goodbye, even though he was putting in ample time at the gym.

And now over the last month he has eliminated the adult beverages, cut back (but not completely eliminated) the processed carbs (pizza crust, bread, pasta, etc.) and has trained intensely a couple times per week versus 5 or 6 days. He also went for a couple easy jogs and long walks in the sunny California weather, as well as performed a sprint session every now and then throughout the week…and that was it.

This shows you that by addressing the biggest factors preventing you from achieving your goals (the few bubblies and processed carbs for my bro) and determining the least amount of training that will allow you to progress your physical abilities and results (1-3 full body training sessions with some off day conditioning and sprints in my brother’s case) is all that is needed.

What is your biggest barrier to achieving your goals?

My brother’s little case study is just another good example that if you take care of your nutrition for the most part (staying consistent 90% of the time) and perform a full body training program 1-3 times per week while staying physically active, this is likely all you need to do to get closer to your ideal body.

You do not have to train hard every day and eat strict all the time, just enough of the time!

With that, the best thing you can do to is to establish your minimal effective dose…

1)      Write down a 3-5 day food log to determine your greatest need first, not EVERY need.

2)      Try 1-3 full body training days with supplemental physical activity to determine your training dose.

3)      Remember to live a little, enjoy the foods you like, train hard when you can and stay true to your goals 90% of the time.

Achieving your physical goals, doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. It just has to be enough to get you to where you want to be while allowing you have a good time doing so.

5 Ways to Help You Afford Healthy Food


By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

You make it to the grocery store, grab a cart and venture into the aisles. You are on a mission. A mission to obtain foods that will help you achieve your newly sparked health and fitness goals, and nothing is going to stop you.

As you make your way to the produce isle, you remember you coach (and the rest of the world) telling you that organic products are healthier…so that is what you are going to get.

But there is one problem; the organic veggies and fruit are twice as expensive as the conventional brands.

 

 

And it doesn’t stop there! The Greek yogurt is far more expensive than the sugar bombed regular yogurt, the pasture raised eggs are 3x the price of the store brand and the price of the grass fed meat and all natural almond butter just about gives you a heart attack.

“This stuff is way too expensive,” you say allowed with a chuckle as you place item after item in your cart. You are just a little more than anxious to see the bill for this one!

As you grab the last item on your list which happens to be coconut oil, and the most expensive item yet, you snap, decide there is no way you can afford this stuff. In a frustrated rage you empty your cart, grab the items you typically purchase and get to the checkout.

If you have ever gone out shopping and either purchased or at least contemplated purchasing the “healthier items,” the scenario above may sound familiar. OK, maybe you didn’t stomp back through the aisles and empty your cart (I actually have at one point!) but it was a one shopping trip never to happen again.

While I can’t argue that the best items are more expensive, eating healthier (the key is healthier) is actually not that expensive…but there is a link below where I go into that.

So instead of going over that, my goal is to present to you a few ways you can save a buck or two, that you can then put towards obtaining healthier items such as fresh/frozen veggies and fruit, lean meats, omega 3 or pasture raised eggs, natural peanut butter, etc. during your shopping extravaganzas.

 

 

1)      Buy in bulk- Instead of buying just enough food to make dinner for that night, try purchasing in bulk, and take advantage of bulk item stores such as Sam’s Club, BJs, etc. While you will spend more money up front, you are saving money in the long run. Don’t get caught up with the final price, but rather pay attention to the per serving price of items and you will notice that the bulk items are far less expensive. Such items include meats (chicken breast, hamburger, etc.), frozen veggies, milk, Greek yogurt, etc.

2)      Buy on sale and stock up- My grandfather is, well, “the grandfather” of stocking up! Whenever there is a sale he will grab extra of that item and store it for later. Try dedicating a spare pantry to stock up items and invest in an extra freezer (you can get them cheap online…Craigslist). This will save you tons of money in the long run, and keep your family from starving during the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse.

 

 

 

3)      Drink Water- Stop purchasing juice (especially sugar infused “juice”), Gatorade, soda, energy drinks, beer (a 6 pack can easily be as much as 10 dollars), etc. and drink water instead…it is free and you can flavor it with fresh fruit, etc! And please, don’t buy water either, but invest in a water bottle instead! It’s healthier and cheaper.

4)      Make your own coffee/tea- Going along with the last point, drinking water is free and making your own coffee or tea, while not free, is much cheaper than purchasing one every morning. Think about it like this, if your coffee costs you two dollars (which is on the cheapest end), that is 10 dollars a week, 40 dollars a month, and roughly 480 dollars per year…that is a lot of grass fed meat you could be eating!

5)      Make and pack meals- Truth is, I have never once bought lunch at work. Whether it was when I was landscaping as a youth, interning at Cressey Performance or working at a local gym as a personal trainer I always made my lunch, packed it up and brought it with me. And now, it has been over two years I have been working as the Head Performance Coach at Momentum and the trend continues! Even a cheap salad will run you a minimum of 8 dollars and as I explained in THIS POST, you can make lunch for much, much cheaper.

 

 

Try these following these tips most of the time (I am not suggesting you can never again buy lunch or your favorite coffee) and you will find that you have an extra buck or two you can put towards healthier foods that will allow you to more easily achieve your health and fitness goals.

You will not only be saving money, but you will also save yourself the embarrassment of looking like a lunatic as you stomp your way back through Whole Foods, tossing the more expensive items back on the shelf…I can only imagine what people were thinking of me!

Your Daily Checklist for Success

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

“There are things that successful people do day after day that allow them to be successful”

This quote says it all and at the end of this blog there is a link to a free gift that will help you be successful too…so continue on!

 

Throughout our training careers many of us will experience high points where results come quickly, our body is transforming into a figure we imagined, and life straight out rocks. And then something happens (or doesn’t happen…keep reading) as our results come to a screeching halt and we feel depressed with how our body is looks and feels.

And while a small percentage of us may never experience the lows, the majority of us will at some point be questioning what is going on as we come face to face with this unfortunate situation.

We then start to search for latest and greatest training program that is guaranteeing unmatched results or some super diet that is based on processed powders after four weeks of a hellish cleanse. If we are lucky, this new magical program or diet will provide results and make us feel better about ourselves…at least in the short term.

But then something happens. Our results slow, our love handles return and we again feel like crap.

What is the problem?

CONSISTENTCY!…program hopping is not consistency. Diets are not consistent (just the word assumes a short term intervention).

Consistency is the key to achieving the body you want and the life you deserve. And when you ask them how they do it, those individuals who have year after year been are able to stay healthy and fit generally do a few things, EVERY DAY, that allow them to dominate life.

Here is what you need to do every day to be among those few.

1)      Take control of the morning

a)      When the alarm goes off get out of bed.

b)      Start the morning off with a big glass (or two) of cold water and a short bout of physical activity (a brisk walk, foam rolling session, bodyweight circuit, etc.).

c)       Eat a muscle meal for breakfast (lean protein, veggies, healthy fat, healthy carbohydrates).

d)      Grab everything you will need to be successful the rest of the day (gym bag, lunch/dinner, water bottle, etc.).

2)      Stay active during the day.

a)      If you sit at a desk (at work or school) make sure to move every 15-20 minutes.

b)      Expanding on the last point, if you can without getting in trouble, go for a quick walk (even if it is just to the bathroom) or perform a few reps of a bodyweight exercise at your work station (squats, lunges, push-ups, etc.). At the very least, every 15-20 minutes switch position a little. The best posture is an ever changing one…as long as you are changing from one good posture to the next.

c)       During breaks go for a walk or if you are on a phone call and can move, make it a walk and talk.

d)      For those who are looking to expend a few extra calories you can always fidget. While sitting fidget your hand and feet, as long as you are not annoying those around you!

e)      Plan physical activities with friends or family during the day/weekends such as walks, bike rides, hikes, recreational sports or simply getting out and playing with the dog/kids…it doesn’t always have to be fancy.

3)      Train in some capacity.

a)      Training is planned exercise that brings you closer to your health and fitness goals, so training isn’t always just hitting the gym. Bodyweight circuits, activations, etc. count and just need to be in accordance with your goals.

b)      Resistance train at least 3x per week making movements such as squats, deadlifts, lunges, push-ups and rows your go to…as long as you are moving right.

c)       Perform needed conditioning or recovery, bloodflow sessions or extra sprint sessions depending on your goals.

d)      Try intervals 1-2 times per week if you have already established a good conditioning base (resting heart rate is at or below 60 bpm without a medical condition).

4)      Eat for performance.

a)     Make lean proteins and veggies the base of your nutrition.

b)      Drink mainly water, coffee and tea.

c)       Stay away from processed foods as much as possible (trans fat or other processed fats, sugary processed carbohydrates, etc.).

d)      Earn your carbohydrates…eat more carbohydrates on days of intense training.

e)      Consume your largest meal (and carbohydrates) post training as your body is primed to use the nutrients.

5)      Recover and sleep.

a)      You can’t always go 100% intensity every day. Schedule lighter recovery days (bloodflow/light conditioning/recreational activities, etc.) to allow your body time to adapt and grow stronger.

b)      Make it a must to get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep.

c)       Turn off electronics and dim lights an hour before bed. Use FLUX software leading up to the hour before bed.

d)      Make your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible. Use blackout curtains and earplugs if necessary.

e)      Try reading, meditating, taking a warm bath/shower or light foam rolling/stretching before bed to tap into your parasympathetic nervous system.

There you have it. The more you can run through and implement the points on this list the more likely you are to achieve and maintain the body, life and confidence you want.

No more will you crush your training, nutrition and life only to come up short once again down the road. Small goals can be achieved in short bursts, but are not likely to be sustained.

Quality habits that allow you to CONSISTENTLY look and feel your best are built through a CONSISTENT daily process.

Be CONSISTENT with this list Daily Checklist and enjoy a body and life you enjoy and can be proud of!

More Than Stretching

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

I hear it all the time, “I love to stretch, I am so tight and it feels so good.” While stretching usually feels good, it may not be the most efficient use of our time. In fact, it may actually be doing more harm than good if you can already scratch your head with your feet.

 

No need to stretch!!

 

But don’t worry, this is not another post bashing static stretching, as I do feel that static stretching has its place in a performance training program (covered below). But for the majority of us who are looking to rid ourselves of “tight” muscles, enhance performance and stay healthy, we may be investing too much of our training time stretching out.

The feeling of tight muscles is usually not the problem but rather the “symptom.” A majority of the time the muscles themselves are not actually tight (short), but rather, they are stiff.

This concept is referred to as relative stiffness and is by no means a new concept, but is an important one that many still do not quite understand…but we are going to fix that.

Relative Stiffness

I was first introduced to this concept through the works of Shirley Sahrman (and actually, we just returned from St. Louis where we saw Shirley and her team in action!). As Sahrman explains, a great way to think about relative stiffness is to envision two springs that are attached to one another at one end, with one spring being much thicker than the other.

 

 

If you were to pull on the springs at both ends (after attaching them) you would notice that the thicker spring doesn’t expand much, while the thinner spring expands quite easily, and to a much greater length.

These springs represent the muscles, and there stiffness, as they act upon joints. With the thicker spring being stiffer than the thinner spring, it feels tighter (but it is not necessarily short). You can imagine that the thicker spring is your “tight feeling” muscle that feels good when you stretch.

But what are you really accomplishing by simply stretching?

You are stretching out the muscle transiently, but if you do not address the imbalance of stiffness between the muscles, the stiff muscle will return to feeling tight as it “compresses back as a thick spring”. By simply stretching out a “tight” muscle you are addressing the symptom, but not the problem.

 

 

What To Do

Instead of focusing your time on stretching the stiff muscle, which only results in short term relief, you are better off decreasing the stiffness of that muscle, as well as increasing the stiffness of the less stiff muscle (make the thicker spring thinner and the thinner spring thicker).

Techniques such as foam rolling, Graston , ART, etc. are all ways you can help decrease the stiffness of muscles.

Once the stiff muscles are addressed, you can then work to increase the stiffness of the other muscles through proper activation and strengthening exercises (your goal is to eventually hypertrophy the less stiff muscles to create more stiffness).

For a clear example of how this happens, check out this video on fixing your tight hamstrings.

 

 

In the video you observed that by stiffening (turning on / activating) the core (the thinner spring) the athlete was able to decrease the stiffness of the hamstrings (thicker spring) and achieve a greater lengthening, all without stretching. This will lead to a greater feeling of decreased tightness of the hamstrings, and works the same for other examples.

You Can Still Stretch

As I stated above, I am not against static stretching. Static stretching can be performed when muscles are truly short, as a way to promote recovery after a training session (after foam rolling), and as a way to induce a calming state when trying to get to sleep.

But when it comes to addressing the tight feeling that many of us experience (common areas include the quads/hip flexors, hamstrings, calves, low back, etc.) we are more likely to achieve a lasting effect by stiffening/strengthening the synergistic/adjacent muscle groups (core, glutes, etc.).

Address the weaker muscle(s) and the stiffer muscles can “relax” and the tight sensations will subside.

 

 

While stretching may feel great, most of the time it is merely providing short term relief (unless you are in the practice of holding static stretches for up to 30 minutes to truly achieve muscle lengthening…not me!).

Stretching should be implemented for muscles that are actually short (you can have an expert help you to determine this), and is a great way to promote a state of relaxation and recovery after training/competition as well as before bed.

But when you are looking to maximize training time, enhance overall performance and achieve long term relief from “tight” muscles, we need to decrease the stiffness of the “tight” muscles and identify the weaker/less stiff muscles and strengthen them.

So instead of spending 20 minutes of your training session “stretching out,” try foam rolling the stiff (tight feeling) muscles before strengthening the weak muscles.

With addressing the stiffness imbalance, it is likely that you will that your performance will be enhanced, injury risk will be decreased and your chronically tight muscles will finally chill out a bit!

Your Limiting Factor

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

Change, it is hard, and there is no way around it. But many times change is necessary when it comes to achieving goals of any kind (i.e. fitness, social, professional, etc.).

Change is a tough and daunting task that makes even the most solid of us a little anxious to think about.

The reason is that most of us view change as a negative that will cause us hardship (pain) in the process (use of time, taking something enjoyable away, etc.) rather than viewing change as a positive (pleasure) that will result in a higher quality of life and goal achievement.

While adjusting your perspective about change is the first step, the next obstacle with change is the process itself.

The reason change seems so intimidating is that most of us approach change in an all or nothing fashion.

Want to fix your nutrition?…That means no more bread, pasta, soda, gluten, dairy, etc. It also means you can only eat carbohydrates first thing in the morning or around training, and one day a week you need to fast and you can only have grass fed, organic, free range, super freak foods.

How about starting a training program?…At least an hour a day in the gym involving a twenty minute warm up that includes 5 corrective exercises, breathing corrections, a sexy dynamic warm up followed by some explosive medicine ball work, grueling strength training, interval training, cardiac output (“cardio”), recovery days, skakeweight circuits, etc…I’m kidding about the shakeweight of course.

As you can see, approaching change this way can seem near impossible, so why even try?

Don’t get me wrong, appropriate change is good and is definitely worth it!.

And some can dive in head first, change every little component and be highly successful, but that is not the case for the majority of us.

So for the 90% of us that won’t fare well with the complete overhaul approach, I suggest easing your way into change and addressing the most critical component first…your liming factor.

Your limiting factor is the one thing, that when you change it, results in the greatest return on your investment. After all, who really wants to put in more work than is necessary to achieve the end goal?

With that said, what follows are some tables that provide quick examples of limiting factors and a few suggestions on what we can do to address them.

Although the tables below cover nutrition, training and lifestyle factors (that is why you read this blog!), the same approach can be implemented with any category of change and this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Nutrition

Limiting factor                                  Suggestion 1                        Suggestion 2                         Suggestion 3

Lack of Healthy Nutrition Knowledge Make natural veggies, lean meats and fruits your go to. Primarily drink water, coffee and tea instead of calorie laden liquids. Ask someone who is knowledgeable for help.
Lack of Time Cook extra and store it for meals the week. Use Power Protein Shakes as quick meals. Take a couple hours on a day off to prep for the week.
Portion Control Pre-portion your meals and put extra away. Use smaller plates, bowls, etc. Use your hand to measure quantities.
“Always Hungry”/ Never Full or Satisfied Slow down when eating and sip water. Find a meal frequency that fits your lifestyle. Make veggies / greens half of your plate.

 

Training (exercise with a purpose)

Limiting factor                                  Suggestion 1                        Suggestion 2                         Suggestion 3

Lack of Programming Knowledge Ask someone who is knowledgeable to build a program for your goals. Go big first (squats, deadlifts, push ups, etc.) and follow up with unilateral movements. Resistance train 2-4 times per week and condition 1-2 times.
Lack of Time Get your gym bag and work clothes ready the night before. Warm up for 5-10 mins, pick 1 lower, 1 upper, 1 core and cycle 3-5x. Instead of one long  daily session, try multiple shorter sessions.
Lack of Motivation Find a training partner, coach or accountability group. Track progress as progress/results give meaning to training. Switch training accordingly to keep it interesting.
Lack of Equipment Master and use bodyweight training as it should be first anyway and is most convenient. Buy a TRX, set of heavy resistance bands and foam roller…you can do a lot! Have fun with whatever is available (logs, wheel barrows, ropes, buckets of water, etc.).

 

 

Lifestyle

Limiting factor                                  Suggestion 1                        Suggestion 2                         Suggestion 3

Sedentary Lifestyle Make it a point to walk, foam roll or do a mini training circuit first thing in the morning. Walk during your breaks at school/work or while on the phone. Plank activities that are active (biking, hiking, swimming, tennis, yard work, etc.).
Lack of Sleep Turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before bed and use FLUX. Blackout your room (use dark shades) and limit noise with earplugs. Write down a to do list so your brain can “shut down” as well.
Over-stressed Take 10-20 minutes a day and just be quiet (nap, meditate, etc.). Make a to do list and cross it off with the big things first! Foam roll, which is even better right before bed and can help you relax.
Time Efficiency Again, another great reason to make a to do list with the big things first. Use work blocks…work for 25 mins, take 5 and repeat. You will get more done. Don’t multi-task. One thing at a time…get it done and move to the next.

 

These are just a few examples of limiting factors for many individuals. The suggestions above are merely the tip of the iceberg, but when you pick one and make it a habit, you will notice that the results will improve, your motivation to change will continue and you will more easily be able to tackle the change as a whole.

So instead of diving head first into inevitable failure, try determining your limiting factor and pick one small action that you are sure you can do 90% of the time (it doesn’t matter how small), and get after it.

With this approach, change will not feel hopeless, and your goals of achieving a higher performing and healthier body with be that much easier.

Any other limiting factors or suggestions you can think of?…leave a comment below and share this article on Facebook, Twitter and email.

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