Standing Tall

by Oscar Saucedo

 

Your posture is a great way to tell if your skeletal muscle system is in good condition.  A good trainer can quickly evaluate which of your muscles are weak and which need more flexibility based only on your posture.

If you are relatively inactive, or if your movement patterns are poor, you probably have some or all of the following: 1) feet that turn outward; 2) knees that buckle inward; 3) hips that are tilted forward; 4) shoulders that are hunched forward; 5) head that falls forward.  All of these can cause knee, hip, back, and neck pain.  While we can’t cover every situation, let’s go over some of the causes of each of these.

Feet. A common cause of externally rotated feet is a lack of flexibility in your calf muscle.  This is very common, especially in people that often wear higher-heeled shoes. When your calves are tight and inflexible, the front of your lower leg is stretched out and elongated.  Because your body will seek “the path of least resistance”, feet will turn out as you walk, run, or squat.  To help correct this, stretch and foam roll your calf muscles as part of your fitness routine.

Knees.  If your feet turn out, your knees start off buckled inward.  But even if your feet are properly aligned, knees can still turn in because of tight inner thigh muscles and tight tensor fasciae latae (TFL) muscle.  When a muscle is tight, the opposing muscle is elongated.  This causes imbalance and stress on the joint that those muscles surround.  Just like when your car’s front-end is out of alignment and causes uneven wear on tires, this lack of muscular balance and alignment can cause some uneven stress on your joints.  Stretch and foam roll your inner thighs, TFL, and iliotibial (IT) band as part of your flexibility training.

Hips.  We all sit quite a bit.  While you are seated, the muscles on the front of your hip (hip flexors) are shortened and the opposing muscles (gluteus complex) are elongated.  Eventually, you can develop tightness in the hip flexors. A simplified description of this would posture be to imagine your hips are a bowl tipped forward a bit.  Looking at a side view of the hips, you can see a noticeable bend at the hip while standing.  When the hips are tilted forward, your body will try to straighten up using the lower back muscles.  This can lead to lower back overuse injury or pain.  Ask a trainer to show you some hip flexor stretches to use as part of your fitness routine.

Shoulders. Driving, typing, writing.  In each of these positions, your chest muscles are shortened and your middle back muscles are elongated.  I like to call the middle back muscles “the posture muscles” because hunched shoulders are the most noticeable form of bad posture.  To help correct this, take the time to stretch and foam roll your chest muscles and latissimus dorsi while strengthening your middle back muscles.

Head. Forward head posture can cause quite a few problems.  Among them are headaches, incorrect breathing patterns, and cervical spine issues.  That really isn’t something to mess with.  Fix your posture by making an effort to line your neck up properly (try tucking your chin back as if to make a “double chin”), stretch the muscles at the front of your neck, and strengthen the muscles at the back of your neck.

This topic is too large to cover here.  But be aware that good posture, proper alignment, and good quality of movement are essential to staying injury-free and pain-free for as long as possible.

 

Ask Why!

by Oscar Saucedo

 

I wish I had the time to help all those people I see blindly following bad advice and believing fitness myths.  But I’ll promise to try if you promise to ASK WHY next time someone is giving you advice on your fitness routine.  A knowledgeable person will always be able to tell you exactly why he or she believes their advice is good.  Here is a short list of some of the myths I see too often believed in Laredo:

If you are sweating, you are burning fat. This myth is why I see people using the sauna as their “cardio”, wearing the plastic sweat suits (or saran wrap, or fajas), and/or running in the streets of Laredo in 115°F weather.  As you sweat, you are really only losing water and electrolytes.  That can eventually lead to dehydration—and that is the opposite of what you want.  To burn the most fat, you must remain properly hydrated.  You don’t have to sweat to lose fat, and you aren’t necessarily burning fat just because you are sweating.

Women should not lift heavy weights.  This myth is the reason I hear “I don’t want to get too big”.  But lifting heavy weight is the best way to slim down!  You will lose fat size so much faster than you will put on muscle size. Those fitness models you might look up to didn’t get that way lifting light weight.  I understand that the vast majority of women do not want to have manly amounts of muscle.  But that is actually rare.  Most women will never be overly muscular, no matter how heavy they lift or how much they eat.

Protein powder makes you gain weight.  Eating too many donuts and other high-calorie foods makes you gain weight.  But protein powder can be a low calorie alternative to a regular meal.  You can think of it as a “high-tech food”.  By that, I mean that it’s designed to deliver a high amount of benefit using a low amount of calories.  That benefit is more than just gaining muscle size.  Very few people actually want to build huge muscles, but all of us want our entire body to be fully recovered and energized.

If you stop working out, the muscle you build turns to fat.  Fat is fat and muscle is muscle.  They don’t transform into one another.  So if you’ve built a good amount of muscle and you stop working out, your muscles will probably shrink and you will probably gain some fat to cover up that muscle, but your muscle does not turn into fat.

Use light weights to increase definition.  No.  This comes from people that say they just want to “tone up”.  But that toned look comes from increasing muscle size and lowering body fat.  You should have a clear plan to accomplish both goals.  By simply choosing an easy weight to lift, you aren’t toning up. You are just going through the motions, counting reps, and likely not seeing much change in your body.

To get abs, you must do tons of ab work.  Ab work is good for you.  It strengthens your core, improves posture, and can help reduce back injuries.  But doing ab work works the muscles of your front mid-section.  You really aren’t doing anything about those layers of fat covering your abs.  Everyone has ab muscles.  But you must shed the fat over the abs using a good diet and cardio routine.  There’s no way around that.

With so much good information available on demand at your fingertips, ignorance is a choice.  I’ll never know how these myths start.  But I do know that bad information is common everywhere.  Don’t be too shy to ask why.  If the reason doesn’t make sense to you, do your research.

 

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Personal Trainers Everywhere

by Oscar Saucedo

As the fitness industry in Laredo becomes more mainstream, it creates opportunities for new businesses and jobs.  I’ve been fortunate to be part of that fitness job creation; and I’ve watched as competitors emerge to be part of it too. At the end of the day, all of that growth is good for our city.  The fitness market will expand and bring in more facilities, techniques, modalities, diversity, and personal trainers to serve everyone.

I can confidently say that the number of personal trainers actively training clients in Laredo has never been higher.  When I came here 21 years ago, I knew of only 4 trainers in the entire city. Now, Gold’s Gym Laredo on Del Mar alone has 16 personal trainers.  The market is big enough now to allow consumers to shop around and choose wisely. Here are my recommendations on how to choose a personal trainer:

1)        A trainer should focus on you—the client.  That seems perhaps too basic.  But the type of trainer I will hire will commit to getting to know you, your goals, your obstacles, your injuries, etc…  She/he will NOT spend that time listing his/her competition placings, accomplishments, and certifications.  If during the first session, the trainer asks about only you, that’s a good sign.

2)        A good trainer will have a plan and methodically progress your program.  In this, I compare a client to an incoming college freshman that knows what college degree she/he wants to earn.  I compare the trainer both to a college counselor and a college professor.  The counselor gives the student the program (degree plan) to accomplish the goals. The professor slowly progresses the student through all of the necessary courses. He/she begins with the basics, then to the intermediate, and finally to the advanced; and every level is mastered before moving on.

3)        A good trainer will check your progress periodically and set attainable goals for the next progress check.  However, he/she will also understand that progress isn’t always about weight loss. Many times, progress for the client is about doing things they’ve never been able to do before.  It can be about jogging 1 mile without taking a break, or getting off of medication, or being told that they are an inspiration, or being able to participate in outdoor activities with their family and/or friends, or simply about getting spanked by your significant other just because they couldn’t resist!  A trainer should never underestimate the power of small victories.

4)        A good trainer never stops learning.  I’ve been in fitness for over 30 years now, and there is always something new and exciting to learn.

5)        A good trainer won’t demean another training modality or style.  There’s more than one way to skin a cat.  Bodybuilding isn’t the only way.  Crossfit isn’t the only way.  There are many ways to get fit.  If a trainer is stuck in only one way, that’s a bad sign.  I recommend all trainers try styles they have never tried. More often than not, they are pleasantly surprised.

6)        A good trainer is a good teacher.  Good teachers are able to communicate well, they pinpoint where the improvement is needed, and they teach in several ways/styles until the student learns.  I like to see trainers that tell the client what they are about to do, how they are going to do it, and WHY they are doing it. The kind of trainer that will give all the knowledge that they have is the kind of trainer I like to hire.

7)        A good trainer loves helping people.  You can hear the passion as he or she speaks about fitness.  I believe that this is the quality that truly makes a trainer successful.  All the degrees, certifications, and/or trophies mean nothing if a trainer is not in love with fitness.

These are only some of the important qualities I believe a good trainer should have.  It’s really only an opinion, but I think it can qualify as an expert opinion.       If you do your research and know what you want, it can be a really good thing that there are personal trainers everywhere.

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A Couple of Fitness Freaks

by Oscar Saucedo

“Commitment” is a great topic for February—the month of love.  When you think of what that word means, you may define it using words such as dedication, loyalty, blind determination, obligation, devotion, faithfulness, etc. It is ironic, though, that Valentine’s Day is sometimes used to affirm or reaffirm the commitment to a significant other while simultaneously abandoning the commitment you made to yourself!

It is in early February that too many fall off “the fitness cliff” (when the majority of people give up on their New Year’s Resolution to be healthier).    I believe that it’s because it takes a higher degree of dedication, determination, and devotion than most people are willing to give to themselves.

Fortunately, some of you will understand what it takes to succeed.  It is a very simple formula.  Commitment + consistency + time = results.  It really is that simple.   Although everyone will have setbacks and obstacles, your commitment will get you through it.

In the fitness industry, one of the ways we try to promote your long-term commitment to fitness is to encourage you to bring a workout buddy.  Because it’s February, why not make your significant other your workout partner?

Trust me, it’s a great idea.  First, your workout is like a “date”.  And we know how a great date can end!  But more importantly, working out together puts both of you on the same road to a common goal.  That alone is a powerful tool that you can use to follow through with your New Year’s Resolution.

If you are worried that there will be a big difference in strength and/or conditioning between male and female training partners, don’t be.  In my experience, the difference in strength is not significant—especially if both of you are just getting back into a fitness regimen.  But just in case there is a substantial difference in strength and conditioning, there is a program that can work for any situation.  Here is a sample workout that any couple can do together.  To save space here, I’ll ask you to YouTube any exercise that needs an explanation. Of course, I’ll assume you are working out at Gold’s Gym!

Warm up 10 minutes next to each other on any cardio equipment

Foam roll for mobility (YouTube “foam roll techniques”)

Dynamic stretching such as 20 overhead arm circles each way, 20 walking lunges with a torso twist, 6-8 hand walkouts

Workout part 1: 3 rounds

  • 1 minute on row machine
  • 1 minute burpees
  • 1 minute ball slams (men use 20lb slam ball, women use 10lb)
  • 3 minute rest

Part 2: 3 rounds

  • Take the slam balls to the wall, 30 seconds slam ball side chest pass against the wall (allow ball to fall to floor between reps).30 seconds each side, face each other for both sides.  Motivate and encourage!
  • 10 Walking side lunges each side
  • Bosu ball mountain climbers facing each other (30 seconds)

Finish workout with partner assist static stretches

There are endless variations of partner workouts.  Regardless of your fitness goals, you can include this type of workouts at least twice a week.  By making the workouts time-based, each can work at his or her own pace.  As you get in better shape, you will be able to do more reps with more weight in that minute, or run faster or row farther. The point is to stay committed to fitness, to each other, and to yourself.

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Injury-Free Workouts

by Oscar Saucedo

It’s New Year’s Resolution time—the busiest time—in the fitness industry. The gyms will be full of new and returning members. We welcome all of you! As a manager at Gold’s Gym, I realize how important the first weeks of our new relationship will be for both your success and ours. In the fitness business, acquiring new members is always great, but the successful fitness facilities are able to keep these members coming!

How can we keep members coming back? We try to show you great results all year! Gold’s Gym has determined through research that the “fitness cliff” is February 9th. That’s the day we begin to see people quitting on their New Year’s fitness goals. Some of the more common reasons for giving up are: 1)unrealistic expectations; 2) unproductive workouts; and 3) injuries.

These reasons can be reduced to one fundamental reason: the fitness enthusiast doesn’t seek out the necessary support to succeed. Seek out support in the form of programs, education, and personal training to help you keep coming back to finish what you start. For this month, we will touch on only one of the mentioned reasons and explain some basic ways to stay injury-free.

Injuries can be common for beginners. This is because the beginner is deconditioned. For our purposes, to be deconditioned means that the client has been sedentary for way too long. Muscles are underused, and the resulting strength imbalances can eventually lead to injuries.

A good personal trainer will be able to see signs of deconditioning in a new member during the first meeting. This first meeting is usually free of charge to the members and you should take full advantage of it. Get a thorough assessment to find out where your muscular imbalances are and how to correct them. This is a great first step to avoid injuries early in your fitness journey. Some signs of deconditioning that a trainer will look for are bad posture and inefficient movement.

When assessing a client’s posture and movement, we look at: 1) head/neck area; 2) shoulders; 3) hips; 4) knees; and 5) feet. Inactivity will cause muscular imbalances around all these “checkpoints” and cause bad posture and inefficient movement patterns. For example, when the head protrudes forward, it usually means that the muscles in the front of the neck are tight and the muscles on the back of the neck are stretched out and weakened. When the shoulders are hunched forward, it can indicate that the muscles of the chest are tight while the muscles of the middle back are stretched out and weakened. Think about how we spend so much time with our head forward and our shoulders hunched and you can see why it is so common to have posture like this. Right now, I am typing at my computer. If I don’t think about my posture, I can easily be sitting with my head forward and shoulders hunched. We can do this while driving, watching television, etc. The point is, the positions we assume daily in a sedentary lifestyle can lead to horribly bad posture. And when you take that bad posture into the gym and attempt to run, jump, and lift heavy things, an injury is virtually unavoidable.

Obviously, there is much more that can be discussed. However, we will summarize with saying that keeping you focused and working on your goals is in everyone’s best interest—yours and ours. So when you re-dedicate yourself to fitness this year, meet with one of our personal trainers to keep you working consistently and injury-free.

 

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