The simplest exercise for the best results

One of my main focuses as a trainer is on healthy aging. Many of my clients are beginning to experience limited mobility, and some of then fear losing their independence because of physical limitations. To help them stay active in their homes for as long as possible, I make them do some of the same exercises done by elite athletes.

That sounds intimidating, but I assure you, you probably perform at least one of these exercises on a daily basis and don’t even know it.  Ground-to-standing (or G2S) exercises are some of the simplest and yet most complete workouts you can do. They are exactly what they sound like: come from a sitting or lying down position to a standing position.  These motions require you to use all your major muscle groups, your sense of balance, and once you’ve done a few in a row you’ll also feel what a cardio workout they can be.

G2S exercises are great for anybody, and even athletes use them as part of their training program.  They’re especially good exercises for people who want to stay mobile and independent as they age. Performing G2S exercises reduces your risk of falling and improves your ability to get up after a fall. They’re movements you do in everyday life, so they develop strength to not worry about whether you’ll be able to get up from playing with grandchildren or looking for a lost object on the floor.

One of my favorite G2S exercises is this:

  • Lie down on the floor on your stomach, get up to a standing position
  • Lie down on the floor on your right side, get up to a standing position
  • Lie down on the floor on your back, get up to a standing position
  • Lie down on the floor on your left side, get up to a standing position.


If you’re not in good condition, you can start with one repetition in each position.  Work up to 5 cycles of front, right, back, left. That will get your heart rate up and you will feel the benefits.

Exercise + Video Games = Smarter?

Researchers at Union College recently showed that it’s possible for older people to experience cognitive benefits from doing exercise while also participating in virtual reality games. Specifically, they studied older people riding exercise bikes while playing a game that had them chase dragons and collect coins by pedaling faster and using controls. The people in the study had already started to experience some age-related cognitive decline, but by the end of six months participating in the study, their mental sharpness was better than it was before they started!
So what if you don’t have a virtual-reality video game attached to your exercise bike? The good news for you from this study is that another group of participants saw the exact same benefits from riding an exercise bike that just played a plain-old simulation of riding down the road. So you can imagine the benefits you would get from actually riding your bike outside.
This study was done as a follow-up to another study that showed that people who rode an exercise bike with the riding-down-the-road simulation showed cognitive gains over people who just rode an exercise bike with nothing to do or look at. The point of the new study was to find out if there could be further mental upsides to making the simulation into a video game environment with points to gain and so forth versus a straightforward biking simulation. The answer is no, there is no extra cognitive gain, although some people did say that the exercise itself felt easier to them when they were occupied by the game.
What does this tell us? That exercise has the most benefits when you do it in context. If you walk or jog, avoid doing it on a treadmill; do it outside or at the mall where you have to look and think about where you’re going.
The same goes for resistance training–machines force you to move in a certain way without you having to think about it, but it’s better to use kettlebells or resistance bands that force you to think about how you’re moving. Another exercise that we know is great for your brain is anything where your limbs cross the centerline of your body, like when using an agility ladder or doing toe-touches from one hand to the opposite foot.
So, if you can’t get your hands on a virtual reality machine, try exercising outside, in actual reality.

Sciatica Pain – Try this first

For those who don’t know, sciatica is intense pain in the legs caused by a pinching of the sciatic nerve.  Many doctors believe that sciatica is usually caused by spinal bones pinching a nerve in your back, leading to pain in the legs.  Sometimes, a highly invasive surgical procedure called “spinal fusion” can reduce or remove sciatica symptoms.  Unfortunately, this surgery often does not work, and after that, the only solution remaining to doctors is potentially addictive pain medication.

However, a 2005 study from the Journal of Neurosurgery found that most people who did not respond to this surgery actually had sciatica pain caused by a muscle pinching their nerve.  The good news about that is that we can treat these soft-tissue issues through non-surgical means.
If you’re experiencing sciatic nerve pain, before you take the plunge on radical surgery, give these exercises and treatments a try:

  • Walk backwards and sideways to try to stimulate different muscles around the sciatic nerve.
  • Stand on a tennis ball and roll it around under your foot.  This will stimulate nerves in the bottoms of your feet that are connected all the way up through your spine, and cause a release of tension and pressure.
  • Get a professional massage, and mention your sciatica pain.
  • Use an inversion table to release the pressure of gravity on your legs, feet, and spine.
  • Take hot baths with Epsom salts or Himalayan salt.
  • Cold laser or infrared therapy can help heat and relax muscles that cause you pain.
  • Try this stretch: lie on your back with your knees bent and place one leg over the other.  Feel the stretch, and then do it on the other side.

If you have sciatica, make sure you discuss it with your doctor, but keep in mind that the traditional explanation for sciatica may not be the right one for you. Invasive procedures may not be the best option, and hopefully they aren’t the first option your doctor suggests.

Preventing Falls

Falling is one of the top causes of life-changing injuries in older people. The good new is that most falls are preventable. There are several ways to prevent falls including keeping a clean environment, wearing well fitting shoes, and making sure any medications you’re taking aren’t causing negative side effects like drowsiness or dizziness. These are all common-sense measures that you can easily take today, but another less obvious way to maintain your balance and your independence is to do the right kinds of exercise.

If you go to a typical gym and use the equipment, you may increase your cardiovascular health, but you won’t improve your balance. One in three people over 65 will have a serious fall this year, regardless of their overall health. If you want to avoid falling, make sure you’re doing dynamic exercises. Unlike of working out on machines at the gym, doing dynamic exercises will increase your balance and stability. Any standing exercises will also enhance your balance.

What do I mean when I say dynamic exercises? In my practice, I focus on functional fitness, which means that I use mostly body weight exercises and exercises that work in three dimensions–using resistance bands, medicine balls, kettlebells, and other free-range-of-motion exercises. When I say “dynamic exercise,” these are the kinds of workouts I’m taking about. Dynamic exercises are especially useful for people for whom stability and balance is a priority. These exercises can help prevent injury more than one-dimensional (machine) exercises can.

If you’re an older person getting into exercise, make sure you respect the limits of your body. High-impact exercises and heavy weight lifting are very stressful on your body and you should try to minimize them if possible–especially as you age.

As you get older, you should also allow yourself more rest days. Working out is great, but you have to spend some time “working in”, by which I mean doing yoga, meditation, tai chi, qigong, and other forms of activity that are designed to restore energy, rather than expend it. These activities will help your body and mind stay healthy well after 50.

If you know anyone who could benefit from this information, please share it using the buttons on the left!

Essential workout gear

People ask me quite a bit about essential equipment to your home gym.  If you know me, you know that I advocate bodyweight exercise and dynamic workouts as much as possible.  I can recommend several great, affordable pieces of gear aimed at getting yourself fit, but I want to make sure not to neglect an equally important aspect of training: recovery.  Recovery gear is just as important as workout gear, so I can’t make a list of essential gear without including some of both. With that, here are some devices I can recommend:

  • TRX bands: These are great ways to diversify your bodyweight routines.  They enable you to push, pull, and turn from different angles in order to target different muscle groups.
  • Kettlebells: Many people associate these with the Crossfit crowd, but you don’t have to use them with that level of intensity.  These can provide great, stable resistance for lifting exercises and they incorporate into dynamic exercises better than regular free weights or dumbbells because of their low center of gravity.
  • Resistance tubing: Like TRX bands, resistance bands can be used at different angles to target different muscle groups.  Unlike TRX bands, they’re stretchy. This makes them unsuitable for bodyweight exercises, but that also means their resistance isn’t limited to the direction of gravity.  You can use them anywhere and with any intensity.

Recovery gear:

  • A foam roller.  Foam rollers are very versatile gear that I use every time I work out.  When used properly, they reduce muscle soreness and decrease recovery time.  
  • Massage sticks:  Like foam rollers, these decrease pain and recovery time, but they can often be used in different positions and in more targeted areas.
  • A tennis ball.  Yep. Use it just like a tiny foam roller to target tightness and soreness in your muscles.
  • More specialized gear: Infrared heating pads, inversion tables, and thermal lasers can all contribute to your comfort, but do what’s comfortable and affordable for you.

Don’t “Spring” into an injury!

Spring is here, and even if it’s getting a little bit of a slow start. Every year, if you’re like most people, you get excited to start outdoor activities again after a long winter. Unfortunately, sudden bursts of physical activity after a long period of sitting still is one of the most common ways that people injure themselves.
The key to avoiding injury as you get active is to start slow getting in shape. Before you start running, walk a few days first. This is something most people do instinctively over the long term; everyone knows that as you get in shape, you can do more than you could before. It’s also true in the short term though–when you’re about to start physical activity, even something that’s seemingly not very intense, like golf, make sure you do a dynamic warm-up first. Many golfers sit in their car on the way to work, sit all day at work, sit in their car on the way to the golf course, and then hit the links. That’s an injury waiting to happen. You really want to do yourself the favor of a short warm-up before any kind of exercise.
Physical activity is so important for your overall physical and mental health, but make sure you don’t hurt yourself in the process of trying to get healthy.

Foam Rolling: How does it work?

Foam rolling has many benefits. The technical term for foam rolling is “self-myofascial release.” Foam rolling helps break up adhesion between your muscles and the fascia, or soft membrane, that surrounds them. It also stimulates nerves in the muscles that help release muscle tension and therefore reduce pain and tightness.

When foam rolling, I like to use a roller made from firm styrofoam that is three feet long by six inches thick. Go slow, and roll each location for 1-2 minutes at a time. If you feel a painful spot, pause and rest with the foam roller right on the painful spot for 30-45 seconds. That long pause on the tight spot in your muscle will cause the stimulation needed to release the tension and relieve the pain. You can do this 1-2 times a day.

In my line of work, I’m constantly learning new things and seeking better teachers. That’s why this week I attended a symposium on how to reduce shoulder pain called “Non-operative Shoulder Rehabilitation: Current Approaches in the Evaluation and Treatment of the painful shoulder. I learned a lot, and I’m going to pass it on to you, my clients.

Crawl Back to Fitness!

A big part of the functional fitness philosophy is that your body knows the best way to move, but sometimes we have to unlearn unhealthy habits in order to help it remember. One great way to do that is to repeat some of our basic developmental movements. Crawling is one of the most powerful ways to reset our bodies back to their original healthy movements.
Crawling helps us remember to breathe from our diaphragms, it promotes core strength and stability, and it engages the body in “cross-lateral movement.” These are movements that help the left and right sides of the brain knit together, allowing you not only to move with more coordination in your body, but also to learn and retain information better. Crawling is an important part of the developmental process, but not everyone spends enough time crawling as a baby–some kids almost skip right through to walking. Kids who do this are actually more likely to develop problems with learning and mobility. It’s okay if you’re one of these people, because you can reset and rebuild your brain by doing some specific crawling exercises now.
There are four basic crawling exercises. In order from most fundamental to most advanced, they are:
Commando crawl
Baby crawl
Leopard crawl
Spider-man crawl

All of them have some things in common: keep your head up and your butt low, keep a “big” chest, breathe from your diaphragm, and keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Other than that, they are slightly different motions.

Commando crawl:
Lie on your belly and prop yourself up on your forearms. Keep your hips low, almost flat to the ground, and drag your left knee forward alongside your body while pushing your right forearm forward, then your right knee and left forearm and so on.
Baby crawl:
On your hands and knees now, with your head up (make sure you’re holding it up above your shoulder blades and butt) drag your left knee straight forward while moving your right hand forward, then your right knee and your left hand, and so on. Make sure your knees are tracking underneath your body, inside the line traced by your arms.
Leopard crawl:
This is a similar motion to the baby crawl, but it’s a big step up in difficulty. Get into the baby crawl position, but instead of resting your knees on the ground, get up on your toes. Your shins should remain parallel to the ground, so that your body is in basically the same position that it was during the baby crawl, but propped on your toes instead of resting on your knees. Now move your right hand forward at the same time as you slide your left toes forward–keep your shins parallel to the ground. Do the alternate motion: right leg forward, left hand forward, and so on. Your knees should track inside of your hands.
Leopard crawl is very demanding, and it’s normal to spend a lot of time (months or longer) on the baby crawl before you move up.
Spider-man crawl
While this is a physically easier motion for most people vs. the leopard crawl, it is developmentally more advanced, and I don’t recommend doing it before mastering the leopard crawl.
Get in the same position as leopard crawl, and do the same motion, but this time with your knees tracking outside your hands. If this is done right, it causes your hip joints to go through a larger range of motion than before and challenges your rotational stability. If it’s done incorrectly, your pelvis will wobble back and forth, and a large part of your range of motion will come from curving your lumbar spine to the side–THIS IS NOT WHAT YOU WANT! Your pelvis should stay straight and level while your legs move from the hip.

Crawling is a surprisingly effective way to build up your strength, and the more challenging variations give you quite a workout. Sometimes you need to get your body back to basics to move forward. This type of resetting exercise can make your other workouts safer and more effective

PEMF: Brakthrough in Pain Management

PEMF: Breakthrough in Pain Management

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy is an emerging therapy that has lots of support from the medical and science communities.  It’s known to promote tissue healing and has been used for a long time to help knit bones together in stubborn breaks.  Recently, they’ve been adapted for other therapies.  They were featured on Dr. Oz recently, so I did some of my own research that I put together for you here:

Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields: What are they?
Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) devices create resonating electromagnetic force fields that can act on the body’s cells to promote healing and pain relief

What are they good for?
PEMF devices are used to promote healing.  They’ve been shown to work for helping broken bones fuse back together, and also to reduce pain, swelling and edema (fluid buildup and pressure) for soft-tissue damage, such as post-surgery damage.
A 1995 study showed the following benefits:

  • Decreased pain
  • Increased range of motion
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Reduced muscle loss after surgery
  • Faster functional recovery
  • Faster healing of skin wounds
  • Enhanced capillary formation

How do they work?
PEMF devices increase the production of nitric oxide in the affected area.  This increases blood flow and reduces inflammation where the device is aimed.  Increased blood flow and reduced inflammation combine to promote healing much faster than the body can do on its own.

Are they safe?
PEMF is not known to have any side effects whatsoever.  Your doctor may not know about PEMF therapy, because they are not required to learn about PEMF in medical school.
Your doctor may also hesitate to recommend PEMF because they associate “magnet medicine” with quackery like magnetic shoe inserts.  However, several PEMF devices are FDA approved to treat post-operative pain and to help heal badly broken bones.  PEMF may also help with more day-to-day pain like arthritis, low back pain, and chronic joint pain.  In Canada, there is an over-the-counter device approved for exactly those uses.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask me!

What don’t gyms want you to know?

There are a lot of things that gyms don’t want you to know, but probably the most important one is that they are unnecessary.
Gyms don’t want you to know that you can get the same benefits working out at home as you can at the gym.  You don’t have to pay a membership, you don’t have to drive there during rush hour, and you don’t have to dress in a germy, crowded locker room.
Your body’s basic exercise movements are: push, pull, rotate, squat, and lunge.  There are exercises that you can do without machines in the comfort of your own home, the park, or even your office that can cover all these bases.
In fact, you are better able to develop core stiffness without the use of gym machines, since using machines doesn’t recruit your core muscles while doing cardio exercises.  When you’re doing free, functional exercise, your body’s natural balancing mechanisms kick in and get stronger, and that builds core strength.  Just plain old walking is superior to machines–even ellipticals can increase lower back pain.
Thousands of people get sick or injured at the gym every year.  You don’t have to pay for the privilege.  You can get all the exercise you need at home.
%d bloggers like this: