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.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Leverage Club Workshop

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

The next 90 minute workshop will be held on Saturday, September 20th, at 9:30 in Palo Alto at Mitchell Park. The cost is $45. Clubs will be provided. Class size is limited to 6 people to provide personal instruction. To register or get more information send an email to

Saturday, May 3, 2014

New Pages for VeloReviews and Leverage Clubs

Steven Rice Fitness Leverage Club
There are two new pages here on the Steven Rice Fitness website, available in the menu bar at the top.

The first is about Leverage Clubs, a weighted club used to exercise the upper body. Included is the clubs designed by Steven Rice Fitness, and upcoming workshops.

The other is a compilation of articles written for VeloReviews about training outdoors. There are many specific equipment and exercise recommendations there.