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, September 6, 2015

Equestrian Fitness and Cross Training

This takes strength

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 balance 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, and develop good posture. Trying to exactly imitate riding isn't attempted though- the movement patterns and coordination of muscles can't be recreated on the ground.
Two movement patterns that need to work together while riding are supporting and lifting the body up and down from the feet(posting), including with unequal weight on each foot, and holding and transmitting weight through the core in multiple directions. This sample exercise series shows a progression of a simple heavy squat, to a lightly weighted squat with a lateral pull, to an unweighted squat with a strong pull. At the bottom of the two versions using a resistance band, the hands press out away from the body, so the spine and core have to resist being both bent and rotated to the side, all while the torso moves up and down. All of these are done from standing descending into a squat.

Squat progression for equestrian fitness

Pulling and core strength combined

Another exercise that combines upper body strength and core stability, while on your feet, 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.

Pulling and multi-directional stability exercise

This version is done with a single arm, adding an additional stabilizing challenge to keep the body from twisting.

To make this exercise more difficult, change the angle of the body to be more horizontal. Holding alignment and posture here takes work! The angle can be changed as you go, making the exercise very versatile.

The trainer getting trained.

Update 9/17:
Excellent research just published.
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."

Bay Area Equestrian Network
Member of the Bay Area Equestrian Network 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review: A Guide to Better Movement

A Guide to Better Movement
The Science and Practice of Moving with More Skill and Less Pain
by Todd Hargrove, CR, CFP

In my personal training and bodywork practice, the importance of quality of movement -incorporating mobility, strength, balance, and variety- continues to evolve and become paramount to my approach. Combine an interest in understanding and managing pain, and this book becomes a perfect match for my professional interests. I think anyone involved professionally with movement or pain treatment, or personally interested in those topics, will find it equally important.

The book has three parts:
  1. The Science of Moving Better
  2. The Science of Feeling Better
  3. The Practice of Moving Better and Feeling Better

Part 1 discusses concepts about how the many parts of the body can coordinate to create good movement.

Some things desirable for good movement are being efficient and reducing unnecessary action, responsive to the environment, functional, and safe. Movement patterns should be variable, so that there not a single fixed way to perform an action, and feel good to do,

This is part of development from infancy. How we move is not built-in, it is learned through experimentation and feedback. How we perceive the body is also learned, and like movement, it can change.

As part of this learning the brain creates a map the body, forming perceptions that are how we consciously think of the body, which are influenced by sensations from the body. To rephrase- sensations are signals from the body, perceptions are interpretations based on sensations and several other factors(more about this in a moment). The quality of the body's movement depends on the accuracy of this map.

The way to build accurate maps of the body is to move and to get sensation back from the body(proprioception). More movement means a better map, which means better movement, with more pleasure in movement, and better performance. Attention is important, so mindful movement and focus help to form a good map. Stimulus from movement that is relevant to some task will also do more than passive and arbitrary inputs to the body. If a baby wants to explore, crawling will provide a very rich learning experience in movement and body map development because of its relevance to exploration.

Pain however, distorts the map and discourages movement. Less movement leads to a less accurate map, and the dysfunction spirals downward.

Part 2 deals with understanding pain, and how to experience less of it.

The modern theory of pain science is known as the pain neuromartix.
"The neuromatrix helps explain the relationship between pain, tissue damage, sensory signalling, perception, movement, thought, and emotion."
In other words, pain is an experience dependent on many factors, and is not a direct measurement of tissue damage. This is a major departure from older theories, and the often compelling message we feel. This does not in any way suggest pain isn't real, but that it is not an accurate measure of damage of the body. Pain is the mind's way of getting attention for a perceived threat, such as moving a body in a way that might increase existing damage, or recreate a situation which caused damage before.

Making things worse, pain can be increased by sensitization, the process whereby the amount of negative stimulus required to cause perception of pain decreases, and the perceived intensity increases. What may have seemed a minor discomfort before an injury can seem much worse afterwards, even when the tissue is fully healed. The mind is just more protective now.

Now that the connections of the nervous system with movement and pain have each been discussed is the most interesting part of the book to me: Learning how changes in movement and pain sensation affect each other, and how to use this to overcome limitations one may cause in the other.

In the body, pain can do several things. Pain inhibits strength. If a movement is associated with pain, it isn't possible to apply as much strength to it. Pain also reduces flexibility. The brain is trying to do anything it can to avoid what it believes could cause injury, and reducing strength and range of motion are two of its methods. (An interesting side note: The primary change from stretching isn't changing the physical properties of the tissue, it is increasing stretch tolerance, which is how elongated the tissue can be before pain occurs.) Pain also decreases endurance, and creates a sensation of fatigue.

The physical state of the body, and the mental state, interact bi-directionally

To move better, decrease pain. To decrease pain, create controlled, safe movement with feedback.

Some specific strategies
Move slowly and gently. Pain is a threat warning, so give the mind time to process the change in the body, and don't make the change extreme.

Use graded exposure. Introduce movements that have problematic in the past progressively. The nervous system will gradually learn that the movement is safe, and be less likely to feel pain.

Novelty. Sometimes exploring new movement patterns gets more attention in the brain and overcomes habitual patterns that are problematic.

Create movement with abundant proprioception AND

Use developmental(as in learning to move as an infant) positions and movements. Developmental movements are typically done on the floor. The floor provides constraint, therefore less threat of moving too far, and less need to create stability internally. Touch sensation from the floor is a strong source of feedback, greatly improving the map of the body formed in the brain. Better map, less threat, and less pain.

Avoid pain in movement. Don't reinforce the association of the movement with feeling pain. Also avoid fatigue, which can make it harder to focus and learn new motor patterns and body maps.

My speculations
It is my opinion that external sensation while being firmly supported is a major reason for the success of many bodywork therapies. The controlled manipulation of tissue and facilitated movement during massage, while lying on a table, is one example. Another is in restorative and yin yoga, which combine yoga positions with supporting bolsters to provide safety from stretching too far, but also give tactile feedback. Furthermore, both bodywork and yoga are usually done in an environment promoting relaxation with the guidance and reassurance of a professional. The mind associates the movement, position, and sensation with security instead of pain.

I even think one of the reasons that gym 'machines' remain popular is that they give both constraint and tactile feedback during the exercise. To someone worried about injury these can be very reassuring compared to simply standing and picking up a weight. (In a rehab scenario this may be beneficial, but otherwise could hold back someone's mobility and strength development.)

Part 3 gives example lessons to improve fundamental movement patterns and perceptions of movement. The exercises are from the Feldenkrais Method, which Hargrove teaches. Most are done lying or kneeling on the floor without equipment, with a very gradual and mindful approach.

I have used just a couple of these- the typical client coming to me for personal training doesn't need to practice the rudiments of movement(or isn't interested if they do). I do want to borrow from the lessons to expand the mobility drills I use though. For people with enough motivation and limitations to movement I think these lessons would be more important.

Get A Guide to Better Movement: The Science and Practice of Moving With More Skill And Less Pain and start helping yourself and your clients move and feel better.

 Please make comments on Facebook Steven Rice Fitness review: A Guide to Better Movement

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Exercise Club Workshop

Learn basic exercise club technique and start building stronger, more mobile shoulders and arms.

The next workshop will be offered in Palo Alto by personal trainer Steven Rice on Saturday, March 7th, in Mitchell Park.

Swinging clubs is great for

  • warming up before a hard workout
  • improving coordination and dexterity
  • working the shoulders through full range of motion
  • strengthening shoulders, arms, hands, and core
  • preventing and rehabbing shoulder injuries
  • moving and stabilizing the entire body in all directions
  • complementing weight training and sport-specific training
  • helping office workers with tightness and posture

Do you play tennis, volleyball, or swim? Do you have shoulder problems? Clubs are great for athletes swinging rackets, throwing balls, or making other frequent overhead motions.

Swinging a heavy club is great exercise for building lateral stability, working the core and hips from side to side.

How's that brain/muscle connection? Hands good at doing what the brain wants? Can both sides move independently? Cross the mid-line? Move in all directions, and change direction? Club swinging will challenge all these movement skills.

Students learning club exercises.

More background information is on my page Leverage Club Training

The next 90 minute workshop will be held on Saturday, March 7th, at 9:30 in Palo Alto at Mitchell Park. The cost is $45 with $15 deposit, $55 at the event. Clubs will be provided. Class size is limited to 6 people to provide personal instruction. If the workshop fills, a second afternoon session will be added.To register or get more information send an email to

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Improving Posture

Which do you prefer?
Posture is both very important and very hard to change. While some dangers of poor posture, such as causing back pain, have not been supported by research, the influence of posture on self image and the perceptions formed by others is. A tall, upright posture promotes and conveys confidence and strength. Poor posture can interfere with movement and functionality by placing the joints in positions where they can not function normally. The difficulty in changing posture is that it depends on three factors, and most approaches ignore at least one.

These factors are tightness, laxity, and habit. When the body is chronically kept in one position, the muscles and connective tissues will attempt to make adaptions to this condition, shortening or lengthening, and becoming over- or under- actively stimulated to work by the nervous system. In massage and yoga, the muscles that need to be 'released' for postural problems are taught. In personal training, it is the muscles that need to be strengthened. Both approaches help, but the most important change is to make the posture you desire automatic.

Stretch • Strengthen • Make Habitual

Perhaps most importantly, new patterns of muscle use, or motor control, need to become habitual. A stronger and more flexible body commanded to slouch by the brain will slouch. Strengthening and loosening make it easier to change this, but the body needs to constantly maintain good posture- it won't just go there once the right exercises are done.

Note that good posture is not a static, rigid position. Movement is essential to a healthy body, in all directions and joint angles, as often as possible. Good posture should be thought of as the default position from which movement occurs- normally sitting, standing, and walking.

The most common posture problem, at least that I see, is the upper back and and shoulders rounding forward. Computer use seems to be a prime culprit, so is cycling. The article Improving a Rounded Upper Back specifically addresses this pattern with stretches and strength building exercises that will help with the physical part of the problem.

To help with the neurological part, creating a new habit and motor pattern, there are two bits of technology that will help. First is configuring a simple reminder app, such as is Hourly chime(Android), or your calendar, to give frequent reminders to align yourself. Besides being reminded to adjust your posture, also consider a quick stretch break such as Quick Sitting Stretch Break.

Tracker and magnetic clasp
Far more helpful, and less of a chore, is using one of the coolest bits of recent fitness technology, the Lumo Lift Posture and Activity Tracker. The Lift is a wearable fitness tracker with the unique feature of tracking and giving instant feedback about posture. As soon as you slouch, a gentle(but insistent) vibration cues you to straighten up. With the immediate notifications and continuous(while enabled) monitoring creating a new habitual, default good posture becomes much easier to learn. The Lift links wirelessly with iOS devices(Android soon) and PC's.

Lumo Lift being worn

By combining the continuous posture tracking, with appropriate and mindful stretching and strength building. lasting change in your upper body posture can be possible. Good coaching helps too- locals
to Palo Alto can get personal training from Steven Rice Fitness. Existing years of habit and physical adaptation do not change easily, but the improvement in appearance, attitude, and function makes it work the effort.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Recent Fitness Articles

Here are a few articles on some of my favorite subjects- benefits of exercise, especially exercise outside, fitness in the very young and very old, and pain management.

First, why the benefits of regular sun exposure greatly outweigh the risks. The article is fairly long and technical, but well worth the read:
Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health

The main benefits are from vitamin D production, but another is melatonin:
"As diurnal creatures, we humans are programmed to be outdoors while the sun is shining and home in bed at night. This is why melatonin is produced during the dark hours and stops upon optic exposure to daylight. This pineal hormone is a key pacesetter for many of the body’s circadian rhythms. It also plays an important role in countering infection, inflammation, cancer, and auto-immunity, according to a review in the May 2006 issue of Current Opinion in Investigational Drugs. Finally, melatonin suppresses UVR-induced skin damage, according to research in the July 2005 issue of Endocrine."
Training outdoors is of course an excellent way to get some sun, especially here in Palo Alto.

The New York Times has a series on the importance of maintaining mobility and balance in elderly people.
Bracing for the Falls of an Aging Nation

Though I'm not an expert on the topic, and my 87 year old client is far too active to be called elderly, here are some of the exercises we do to keep him that way. Also squats and deadlifts(everybody squats at Steven Rice Fitness.)
Left to right: Cross body foot raises with weight transfer, farmers walk, step-ups with contralateral load, goblet squats

For young people:
How Exercise Can Boost Young Brains
"Encourage young boys and girls to run, jump, squeal, hop and chase after each other or after erratically kicked balls, and you substantially improve their ability to think, according to the most ambitious study ever conducted of physical activity and cognitive performance in children. The results underscore, yet again, the importance of physical activity for children’s brain health and development, especially in terms of the particular thinking skills that most affect academic performance.

The news that children think better if they move is hardly new. Recent studies have shown that children’s scores on math and reading tests rise if they go for a walk beforehand, even if the children are overweight and unfit. Other studies have found correlations between children’s aerobic fitness and their brain structure, with areas of the brain devoted to thinking and learning being generally larger among youngsters who are more fit."
To stay young as you grow old:
Exercise Reduces Dementia Risk
"Everything that helps to prevent heart attacks also helps protect you from losing your mind. Three more studies show that exercising, eating a healthful diet, and avoiding overweight, smoking and alcohol are all associated with lowered risk for dementia. Of these five healthful lifestyle components, exercise had the greatest effect on preserving memory and thinking."

Exercise, movement, and pain are linked in our brain.
How Exercise Helps Us Tolerate Pain
"The study’s implications are considerable, Mr. Jones says. Most obviously, he said, the results remind us that the longer we stick with an exercise program, the less physically discomfiting it will feel, even if we increase our efforts, as did the cyclists here. The brain begins to accept that we are tougher than it had thought, and it allows us to continue longer although the pain itself has not lessened.

The study also could be meaningful for people struggling with chronic pain, Mr. Jones said. Although anyone in this situation should consult a doctor before starting to exercise, he said, the experiment suggests that moderate amounts of exercise can change people’s perception of their pain and help them, he said “to be able to better perform activities of daily living.”"

Cardio training has some distinct advantages, but also some risks:
The 4 Dumbest Forms of Cardio (Fair warning- Articles on this website tend to be a bit rude, but the information is solid)
My quick recommendation is that treadmill walking on an incline and sprints, without hanging on, are the best cardio machine options. The next step, for indoor cardio machines, is to do intervals between machines, with the treadmill getting most of your time.

A workout could be 5 minutes treadmill on incline walking, 2 minutes active stretching, 5 minutes rowing, 2 minutes rest, 5 minutes treadmill fast walk on incline or level sprint, 2 minutes rest, 5 minutes spinning cycle, 2 minutes rest, 5 minutes more on the treadmill.
That's 25 minutes total work, in 33 minutes total time.

A strong butt is critical to overall strength but often ignored in training. It also has an aesthetic appeal which is fashionable now:
Businesses cash in as women chase bigger butts
You can use padded panties or plastic surgery, and the group classes will be fun but the exercises aren't the right kind for building size. To build a real, healthy backside, strength training the glute muscles is what works. Working with a skilled trainer(like yours truly) will help ensure your success, and keep the program good for the rest of you, too.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Quick Sitting Stretch Break

By now we all know how bad sitting too much is for us. Here is a short break quick enough to do often.

Sadly, most of us have to spend a lot of time sitting. Sitting is not a good posture to start, but probably even worse is that it encourages immobility. The key to improving the problem is to break up the time seated with brief breaks of movement. Stretching itself is less important than the movement. A standing desk is great, and a large part of the reason why is that it gets you to shift and move more than a chair. (Ergonomic chairs don't do this.) Any opportunity to walk is also very beneficial.

There are many great stretches you can do, the first priority is moving at all, then bearing your body weight on your feet. I suggest the two shown because they are so simple and are done standing. These are also dynamic stretches because they are done with movement. A stretch that you hold is called static.

Emphasize frequency of breaks over duration. The routine shown takes one minute, and even shorter with fewer repetitions would be fine. Try to do this two or three times per hour, at least.

First is the back of the leg and the hip joint. Extend one leg almost straight, pulling the toes toward you, and as you stretch the back of the leg pivot the hips to get different angles.

The second stretch involves straightening the upper spine, pulling the shoulder back, rotating the arm up, and leaning to the opposite side. This is the opposite of the hunched forward position typical of sitting at a computer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Contemplating the Squat

Each morning, shortly after waking and with hot coffee(black) in hand, I go out on my balcony and
do some gentle mobility work, Slow stretches, if you will. By the time I finish my coffee I am working on my deep squat position.

At first I shift from side to side, twisting each leg out as far as it can go, making a few circles with my hips, then twisting it inward. More circles. Shift weight to that side, and twist the other bent knee, And circle hips. And repeat.

Gradually I work my way to a wide squat stance with both heels down, knees out, spine straight and vertical. Just as I would be if I were weight lifting and holding a heavy barbell or kettlebell.

Then, the hard part. The looking-inward part. All the big adjustments in position have been made, but there's so much more. My heel is on the floor, but is the heel weighted? Is the weight on the outside edge of the heel, toward the front? With barely perceptible movement, change muscle tension to get it just right. What about the other heel? My knees are OK, but am I tensing the hip muscles that will hold them there when I start moving?

So much to think about with hips. Are they tucking under? Bad. Next I might cue myself in terms of pushing them forward, or back, which changes the weight distribution on the foot. It goes on... then I stand, squat back down, and do it again.

A process of mindfulness that is constantly being learned and refined, and is too involved to consciously repeat while doing a squat while weight lifting. A process I repeat early every morning, often in the dark, by myself. Coffee helps. Years of yoga help too, although I no longer practice.

I try to impart this to my training clients without success. Their goals are not about achieving Zen perfection in the squat, and the hurried pace of a sixty minute workouts impedes such deliberation. I hope they stick with weight training long enough to discover this process, with whatever guidance I give them, that they try yoga, not an extreme form, but one that leaves room for introspection, and that they look within as they stretch, instead of out at their phones or the rest of gym.

Maybe someday they'll even do squat drills outside before breakfast.