Personal Trainer in Palo Alto - Steven Rice Fitness

Steven Rice Fitness provides customized personal training services to individual and group clients in Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Los Altos, emphasizing functional strength, mobility, corrective exercise, and High Intensity Interval Training.

Clients benefit by developing more strength, moving more freely, experiencing less pain, improving their endurance, gaining energy, losing weight, and achieving better overall health.

My Personal Training Services

Functional Strength Training

Functional Strength Training

One of the greatest benefits of exercise is increasing strength. Ideally the strength isn't arbitrary numbers in the gym though- It also improves your ability move and perform in the world outside the gym. Functional Strength Training builds real, full-body, and multi-directional strength useful in both everyday life and sports.

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Club Training

Club Training

Develop strength and mobility in your shoulders, arms, and hands by swinging exercise clubs. Clubs are a great complement to heavy strength training to keep the shoulders mobile through the full range of motion with flowing, circular movement, and to build strength and stability for 'overhead' sports such as tennis, volleyball, and baseball.

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Corrective Exercise

Pain, Restriction, and Injury

Almost everyone has some limitations in movement, and occasional pain from past injury and over- or under- use of their body. This includes too much time sitting at a computer or emphasis on a single sport. Posture often declines, potentially causing problems. I can work with people who don't need medical help but still need expert guidance to improve their condition.

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High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-Intensity Interval Training is an exercise strategy that alternates between short intervals of exercise and rest. HIIT provides the maximum amount of cardio training in the minimum amount of time, with a variety of possible exercises. Benefit your endurance, cardio-vascular health, energy production, recovery time, and burn calories in a fun and efficient way.

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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Personal Training During the Covid-19 Pandemic

All training is suspended at this time. As soon as our Shelter In Place and business restrictions are lifted, outdoor training will resume. Indoor and office training will follow later.

Online video training is available.

Keep moving and exercising on your own everyone, stay safe, and stay healthy.


Saturday, March 7, 2020

Mobility and Warming Up

At the beginning of a workout it is common to do some preparation before the more challenging exercises. Typically this involves two things- slow stretching and some cardio. A more effective method is to perform mobility drills with slowly increasing intensity.

Mobility is the ability to control the movement of the body through its full ranges of motion. Flexibility, balance, coordination, and some strength are all required, and dynamic stretching is included. Mobility drills do not attempt to increase range of motion at a joint, but do prepare a joint to safely move within the range already possible. Mobility is fundamentally a dynamic process- it is being able to deliberately move your body.

Improving mobility means improving the interplay of muscle contractions and elongations to allow strong, graceful, and safe movement. The complex, multi-joint exercises that are the focus of modern exercise require this. As with other warm-ups, as the tempo of the drills increases, the body is warmed and blood flow increased.

The videos show three phases of a mobility warm-up. The entire sequence is intended as a continuous flow taking about ten minutes. If a stage is easy, go through it quickly. If a movement is challenging spend time trying to improve instead of struggling. Work to do each movement well, do not practice doing anything poorly. Movements where balancing is difficult can be practiced while lightly touching a wall or sturdy object. There are many other possible mobility exercises, these are some I have found that work well together.

Done for higher reps, some of these drills will make excellent cardio intervals. For some people they will also be good for building strength and can be performed more deliberately for that purpose. Many can be done holding a moderate weight such as a medicine ball, or something heavier such as a dumbbell, kettlebell, or sandbag.

Three areas where most people have postural tightness are emphasized: hip opening, chest opening, and upper spine extension(bending backward). The advantage of mobilization over passive stretching for posture improvement is the neurological integration of releasing the tight area with the contraction of the opposite area while the body is moving.

After the mobility warm-up is finished, foam rolling on problem areas can be done. As you transition to the rest of your workout, some specific preparations may be needed before each exercise, including light weight practice sets.

I have to ask for some tolerance for my video recording and performance skills. The material is good even if the production isn't. There are three stages, shown in two videos shot in two locations.

Stage I & II
Start on hands and knees, aka quadruped. This is the closest to traditional stretching, but keep things moving.

Next, work on improving mobility while standing and walking. Do ten to fifteen big steps of each drill. Here I take only a few steps in one direction just to stay in the camera frame.

Stage III
Here are some more advanced movements done while lunging, squatting, and crawling.

The video shows differing numbers of reps in each direction or of each movement. In practice each part of the drill would be done for anywhere from four to eight times, unless accelerating from an easy variation to a hard one.

I'm not doing these perfectly. There is one point where I unintentionally switch which arm I raise(0:46). I also don't do a smooth progression of the final drill, and do one of the moves only once.

A good plan for the kick throughs would be:
-Step forward with the left leg, kick through with the right.
-Step back, then repeat on the other side. Repeat.
-Next instead of stepping one foot back and then other forward, simultaneously switch feet.(the video does this from the beginning). Repeat.
-Increase the stability challenge by kicking the moving foot back and forward again without touching the ground(1:45). Repeat twice.
-Add a frontal stretch and posterior push by planting the foot and going into a bridge(2:06). Repeat the entire sequence four times.

The kick throughs work really well combined with a bear crawl. I like to have clients bear crawl sideways a few steps, kick through on one side, then crawl the other direction and kick through with the other foot.

Do these drills at the start of your workout, and you'll be ready to be awesome for the really hard exercises.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Better Planks, plus a Leg and Hip Extension Exercise

Plank continues to be a popular exercise intended to develop the core muscles. The standard practice is to be motionless in the plank position for as long as possible, even minutes at a time. The world record is 8 hours! WHY? Humans are not statues, and one the most important principles in exercise is 'specificity'. The way you train is tends to be the way your body adapts. Training with heavy weights improves strength, training with fast movements improves speed, training with full range of motion improves mobility. And training to not move improves... what?

Holding stability in the midsection is useful though. The core is what connects the arms and hands to the legs and feet, and commonly in sports and general life, forces get transmitted from one set to the other through the core. To work on core stability more realistically, I suggest changing how the midsection is stressed while holding your plank position. Here are some plank variations help with that.

High Plank
First, two definitions. The original plank(High Plank) is done with the hands on the ground, directly below the shoulders. The ideal is to have a straight line from the head, done the back, and through the legs(like a plank of wood).

Forearm Plank
The newer version is to have the forearms on the ground(Forearm Plank). I presume that the only reason for this is because it's easier, and therefore can be held longer. Since the goal here is to offer more challenging planks, the forearm plank will be mostly ignored.

Here is the Three Corner Plank. From a high plank position, lift one extremity off the ground for a second or two, put it down, then do another. Eg. left leg, right leg, left arm, right arm, repeat.Try to keep the body still, but some movement is perfectly OK. Start with feet only if you can't support yourself on one arm. Touching the hand to the shoulder is just a way to get a nice rhythm and define a rep. The uneven support from having one leg or one arm off the ground introduces diagonal forces through the torso, requiring the core to resist twisting as well as bending. The Three Corner Plank has a lot in common with the Bird Dog exercise often used for lower spine therapy.
Three Corner Plank
The next way to add a dynamic challenge to go up and down from Forearm Plank to High Plank. This adds the upper body challenge of raising and lowering your weight, together with avoiding twisting.

Side Plank
Turning sideways builds strength to resist lateral bending(Side Plank).

A very good sequence can be built by combining Forearm, High, and Side Planks. Start with forearms on the ground, raise yourself to High Plank, turn in one direction to Side Plank, turn back to High Plank, turn to do Side Plank on the other side, return to High Plank, down to Forearm Plank, repeat. The movement should be done slowly with control, working to keep the torso steady throughout.

Side Plank
Finally, here's an example where a plank is the foundation for lifting a weight(Plank Row). The support can be varied in height to change to degree of core engagement, and of course the size of the weight can be varied. There is a strong force couple between pulling with one arm while pushing with the other, which will be strongly felt in the midsection. Unlike many 'combo' exercises though, the amount that can be lifted isn't much less than a better supported version of the row. That means that the muscles rowing still get stressed, and at the same time a lot of other muscles are worked and trained to work together.

The last word on planks- The standard, static plank can be improved by varying the forces and angles through the body while keeping the torso steady. Technically, this makes the plank isometric but not isotonic. That said, it is still not an important exercise in my opinion. The same concepts of transmitting force from the upper to the lower parts of the body through a stable center are present in many exercises which are also better for building strength and increasing your capacity to move.

The Resistance Band Run(or Walk) in Place is an exercise to build endurance and strength in your legs for driving the body forward or upwards. I use it as one part of a High Intensity Interval Training routine because it also gets your heart and lungs working hard, and it works better timed than done for reps.

Resistance Band Run
Use a few sets of very sturdy resistance bands anchored at one end, with the other around your waist. Sprint(or walk) forward, walk in place, then walk back a little, but keep the tension high. Repeat... A wide stance will challenge your stability more, and develop the muscles and motor skills required.
Many sports require short bursts of movement on your feet, and this will build your capacity for them. Lateral movement can also be included, there just wasn't room to show that on the sidewalk.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Equestrian Fitness and Cross Training

This page has moved to: Equestrian Fitness

Strength and Stability
An exercise program designed for horseback riding can help prepare a beginner to ride, improve performance in the saddle for established riders, and decrease the chance of injury for everyone. Horses also benefit from a rider who is able to maintain stability and stay supple in the saddle.

Training can be of three types, which is similar for any sport:
  • The most important is time in the saddle, both for learning skills and increasing your body's specific capability to ride.
  • The next priority is a foundation of strength, conditioning, and movement important for people in all sports and fitness pursuits, This foundation provides improved fitness and health well beyond riding. See Functional Strength.
  • Finally are exercises that emphasize the physical demands encountered while riding. This includes building strength, dynamic stability, and developing good posture. A good example is being able to recover smoothly on landing after a jump. Trying to exactly imitate riding isn't attempted though- the movement patterns and coordination of muscles can't be recreated on the ground.

Squats are a key exercise to improve your riding:
Coaching at the barn...
...better riding in the arena

Squats with a lateral pull integrate legs, hips and core:

Pulling and core strength combined

Another exercise that combines upper body strength and core stability is an inclined row using a suspension device. The movement is in the arms and shoulders, and the entire body is involved down to the feet.

Core, hips, and balance at once
A strong core, working at all angles together with the hips and legs, in a dynamic environment, is essential.

Training is available at your barn or home.

Some excellent research:
Core fitness training for riders boosts symmetry in the saddle – research
"The physical influence of the rider is increasingly being recognized as an important contributor to equine back pain and lameness, and research demonstrates that asymmetrical loading in particular can be damaging to the horse."

Thanks to riding instructor Deborah Mendelsohn of Redhorse Equestrian in Woodside, California for her help with photography.

"Redhorse Equestrian Training provides high-quality personalized horse training and lessons focusing on dressage and ground schooling."

Bay Area Equestrian Network
Member of the Bay Area Equestrian Network

Monday, August 1, 2016

Hip and Back of Leg Mobility Drill

What looks like a hamstring stretch but is much better?

The sequence of movements described are used in a warm-up to improve mobility in the back off the legs. Because it looks like a familiar hamstring stretch that people 'know' how to do, details are given.

Most of the focus is on the hamstring muscles, but many others including the adductors and abductors are included. Another way of saying this is that hip flexion is being trained.

Important concepts:
  • The hip joint is a ball and socket. It can turn in multiple directions, and should be stretched that way to address the full range of motion(ROM) in which the muscles can move it.
  • The big muscles in the back of your leg are the hamstrings -there are three. All start at the ischial tuberosity(except the short head of the biceps femoris), aka 'sit bone', but they end at different points on the inside and outside of the knee.
  • The hamstrings, like all muscles, do not work in isolation. Changing hip alignment changes which muscles are included and to what degree.
  • This is called a mobility drill because of the emphasis on moving into full elongation of multiple muscles at various angles. The central nervous system is being trained along with the muscles.
  • The hamstrings cross both the hip and the knee(bi-articulate) so both joints should be utilized for full ROM mobility.
  • There are no hamstring attachments to the spine, nose, or fingertips. How far those bits go is not a good measure of hamstring elongation. Keep your spine in neutral and don't round forward when stretching the back of the leg.
How to perform the drill:
  • Step forward with the side being addressed about the length of your foot or a bit more. The back leg supports most of your weight, and is bent at the knee.
  • At all times, keep the spine neutral, and keep the pelvis and shoulders pointing in the same direction.
  • Pivot the pelvis and all the body above the pelvis straight forward and down. The body is folding at the top of the front leg. This is often called a 'hip hinge'. Keeping the spine straight will help anteriorly tilt the pelvis.
  • Hold for only a couple seconds. This is not static stretching.
  • Slightly reduce the forward angle.
  • Turn the pelvis together with all the body above the pelvis to one side as far as possible.
  • Repeat the forward pelvic tilt at this new angle.
  • Reduce the pelvic tilt, turn to the opposite side, and tilt again.
This sequence can be repeated 2-3 times.
Stretching the back of the leg. Hands show the angle of the torso.
Now increase the intensity by including the knee.
  • At each angle, stretch as much as possible without pain or losing alignment.
  • Straighten the knee(extend).
  • Hold 2-3 seconds, release the knee, and turn to new angle, and repeat.

Using a prop for the foot as shown adds a stretch to the big posterior calf muscles, especially the gastrocnemius, which is also bi-articulate, crossing both the ankle and knee.
Side view of the back of leg stretch, with calves included
Final Comments:
  • Remember to keep flowing at a slow but steady pace, and don't prolong any one position.
  • The foot can also be elevated, for instance onto a chair or step.
  • Some extra variety is possible by shifting the hips side-to-side at each angle, and by twisting the leg.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Gaining Muscle While Losing Fat

Simultaneously losing fat and gaining muscle is the goal for many people embarking on an exercise program. Because this is so difficult, it's usually much better to focus on just one at a time. What can make it easier though is increasing the ratio of calories from protein in the diet.

This article from the New York Times gives a great discussion of recent research on the topic:
A Diet and Exercise Plan to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle

From the article:
"The routine had succeeded in incinerating pounds from all of the participants. The men in both groups weighed about 11 or 12 pounds less, on average. 
But it was the composition of that weight loss that differed. Unlike most people on low-calorie diets, the men on the high-protein regimen had actually gained muscle during the month, as much as three pounds of it. So in these men, almost all of the 11 or 12 pounds they had lost over all had been fat.  
These results strongly suggest that extra protein is advisable during weight loss, Dr. Phillips said, to avoid stripping yourself of muscle. 
But exercise is also key, Dr. Phillips continued, particularly weight training, since it is known to build muscle. Even the men on the lower-protein diet lost little muscle mass, he pointed out, which was unexpected and almost certainly due, he and his colleagues concluded, to exercise."

A few important points:

  • The comparison is made to the RDA of protein, which is a minimum, and does not consider additional needs from exercise, especially strength training(good discussion here).
  • Carbohydrates still accounted for 50% of the calories. This is not a high-protein, ketogenic diet.
  • Overall calories were restricted by 40%. That is huge cut, and unrealistic for most people even for a short time.
  • The subjects were novices. Well trained individuals will find this harder.

28 g protein powder(20 g protein)
While the RDA for adults is 0.8g/kg of body weight, I suggest 1.5-2.0 grams per kilogram for anyone doing strength training. That means an athlete weighing 68 kilos(150 lbs) needs about 120 grams of protein per day. This is a rough guide- a more accurate number depends on lean body mass(muscle) not total weight, age, and how intense the training program is. This is still not an upper limit, and additional protein may offer even more benefit.

Gaining muscle is easier in a calorie surplus- eating more calories than are used by your metabolism and activity, but if you want to also try to lose fat, add even more protein while decreasing overall calories.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Advantages of the Kettlebell Snatch

The kettlebell snatch: Swing, pull, press, pause

The kettlebell snatch is a notably complete strength building exercise. That makes it beneficial both as part of a exercise program, and as an example of what a good strength exercise includes. This article will describe why the kettlebell snatch is so useful in an exercise program, as well as some of its limitations. The goal is to describe without being a tutorial.

There are several things that make an exercise more 'complete'. First is that the entire body is involved, feet to hands. Second is that it involves a large range of motion and working in more than one direction. Other important factors are that both the movement and stabilization are provided by the body, it can be progressed(made harder), it has both strength building and power(strength speed) development, and that it has good carry-over to other sports and everyday life(aka functional).

Another benefit of the snatch that is lacking in many strength building exercises is the skill and neurological demand. Since so many elements of movement and coordination are involved, and at high speed, the nervous system is challenged to put it all together.

Full Body
The snatch is done while standing, with the resistance(weight) held in one hand. All the force is transmitted between the feet and the working hand, and everything in between must work to maintain alignment. The primary muscles that move the kettlebell are the hamstrings and glutes, and also working hard are the spinal erectors, lats, traps, and rhomboids to resist the pull of the kettlebell, and deltoids and triceps in pressing the bell overhead. Some of stabilizing muscles next.

Kettlebell anti-rotation loading
Range and Direction of Movement
The kettlebell moves from thigh level to overhead, and also from a bit behind the torso, in front of the torso, then above the back. The vertical change is about five feet of lift for an average height man. Besides ROM utilization, this also means a large amount of work(in physics, work is force multiplied by distance).

Primarily the movement is in the sagital plane- straight ahead to behind. However holding the kettlebell in one hand also creates a strong torque on the body in the transverse plane, making this an excellent anti-rotation exercise. With the weight overhead the load is on only one side, so lateral bending must be resisted. These twisting and bending forces strengthen the smaller muscles within the spine, the obliques, quadratous lumborum(QL) and other muscles between rib cage, spine, and pelvis, plus improve neuro-muscular control in these directions.

The snatch can be progressed by lifting a heavier kettlebell or doing more reps. Heavier weight means more power development and more reps builds endurance. The form of the exercise stays the same. Double snatches can be done using two kettlebells, which gives more emphasis on the lower body and spinal erectors with less anti-rotation and shoulder loading.

The snatch is about moving a heavy object overhead. To accomplish this goal when it's not an exercise, a person would use the strongest muscles in the body and use momentum to move the object through the most difficult part. Since not everything needing lifted can be held symmetrically between two hands, training one arm at a time is necessary. The lift would be done planting the feet solidly on the ground and without anything to support or brace the body.

Being able to combine and transition movements is a very important ability for functionality and for sports. The snatch can be broken down into three parts, and this is the way it is taught. It begins as a swing, goes through part of a clean, then a high pull, and finally an overhead press. For hypertrophy(increasing muscle mass) the three parts could be done separately, but when put together in one continuous movement, motor skills are developed and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

The single arm snatch provides minimal load in spinal flexion(anterior core strength), and horizontal push. Knee extension using the quads is not stressed, and standing with the feet even and parallel is not always possible in other activities. Good mobility in the upper spine and shoulder are required to correctly hold the kettlebell overhead(see Improving a Rounded Upper Back). The complexity of the exercise means it takes time and effort to learn to do correctly.

Complementary Exercises
Single arm press
These limits suggest some exercises to add the kettlebell snatch in a minimal program. A walking lunge will provide both quad development for leg extension, and more stability challenge in the hips in an asymmetric stance. Add a horizontal press using an adjustable cable machine or resistance band for a pushing exercise, working the pecs, anterior delt, and serratus, plus resistance to spinal extension via the abs(rectus abdominus) and obliques. Note that this is a hypothetical program, and three exercises really aren't adequate.

The Turkish Get Up deserves mention here- It alone would be nearly perfect to complement the snatch. The Get Up incorporates a wide variety of body positions, is slow with more stability challenge, and has more anterior emphasis. But since it is so good it will get its own article(soon).

For another look at minimal program development principles, see 
Selecting Strength Exercises with Five Examples

Expanded look at the kettlebell snatch