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My Overhead Squat Needs Some Help!

My Overhead Squat Needs Some Help!

Even a personal trainer needs help with her fitness program.

This past weekend, I took a Corrective Exercise Training workshop offered by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). The eight-hour workshop provided a lot more than some of the needed Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) for my personal trainer re-certification. It also forced me to take note of some of the issues with my body that could quite frankly be setting me up for injury.

The purpose of corrective exercise is to create a training program that can help someone maximize his or her movement efficiency. This happens by identifying dysfunctions and correcting muscle imbalances with a plan of action.

Thanks to Karl Sterling for snapping some pics

Thanks to Karl Sterling for snapping some pics

In my case, that concept boils down to this: my calves, hip flexors and hamstrings are overactive and need to be stretched while my glutes and tibialis anterior (the muscle closely located to the shin) are underactive and need to be strengthened. The catch is the muscles that need the corrective work are only on the right side of my body.

How did I figure this out? Brent Brookbush, our NASM instructor, used me as a case study for the rest of the workshop participants to observe.  Without getting too deep into functional anatomy, the group focused their attention on my feet, knees, lumbo-pelvic-hip complex and upper body as I banged out multiple overhead squats. After giving them an anterior, lateral and posterior view, they assessed my right foot turned out and I have an excessive forward lean.

Of course, both actions are indicators of less-than-optimal movement. In order to increase my muscle efficiency, they then put together a four-part training strategy that would first inhibit and lengthen the overactive muscles through self-myofascial release and static stretching. The last two steps target the underactive muscles with activation through isolated stretching and integration using a full-body exercise.

Breaking it down again, my program involves foam rolling my right lateral Gastrocnemius (calf), TFL (hip) and biceps femoris (hamstring); static stretches of those same muscles; then activation of my glutes with clams or bridges; and the grande finale is an integrated exercise, like a squat to row. This whole program should take me about 20 minutes, which means there’s no reason for me to not make it a part of my workout routine. I would still have time to get on the elliptical and/or hit the weight circuit. The key is once I do move on to the core part of my workout, I’ve worked to correct the imbalances in my body. My form will be better, the muscles that are supposed to “fire” as prime movers will do just that and other muscles won’t be compensating for the action. Those compensations can lead to injury over time.

One final plug for corrective exercise: After we all practiced the techniques and exercises outlined in my program, I performed another series of overhead squats for the class to observe. I can’t say I was perfect, but my form looked tremendously better compared to when I first got up in front of the group. My foot was no longer turning out and my lean was nowhere near as significant.

Considering how much better I felt after one afternoon of corrective exercise, I can’t wait to see how I feel after making this program part of my normal routine. In my book, anything we can do to make our muscles move better is a surefire way to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

A Fitness-Filled Weekend

It’s probably safe to say most of us wonder where our weekends go. This one, however, flew by particularly fast for me as it was one filled with plenty of fitness fun – both physical and mental.

With B2C President Brent Brookbush & “Classmates” the “Intro to Functional Anatomy” Workshop

Mother Nature graced us with one of the most magnificent weekends in recent memory filled here in New York City. Since I wanted to get out and enjoy the sunshine as early as possible on Saturday, I got my butt to the gym before 9 am and put my new love of Tabata training to good use. If you’re looking to make the most of an hour at the gym, here’s what I got accomplished in that time Saturday morning:

  • 5 minute self-myofascial release (SMR) with the foam roller and static stretches for my calves, TFL and latissimus dorsi.
  • 20-minute”Tabata Derby”: Using my UltraTimerHD app (as recommended by my friend and fitness pro Roberto Murichi), I completed four sets of Tabatas featuring the following exercises: squats, push-ups, sit-ups and planks. Thanks to the app, I simply pressed start and knew exactly when to work for 20 seconds, rest for 10 and continue. Once the first four-minute Tabata was completed, the app also allowed for the crucial 60-second “rest” period before moving on to the next exercise.
  • 1000-meter rowing “sprint.” This took me about 10 minutes. Not my best time ever, but I had just finished the Tabata Derby, so I gave myself a bit of a break.
  • 20-minute interval elliptical training. (The last five minutes were more of a cardio cool down.)
  • 5 minutes SMR and stretching, mirroring what I did at the start of the workout.

Sunday’s “workout” lasted much longer – a little more than eight hours to be exact – but it was a totally different experience. I spent the day at the Sports Club/LA on New York’s Upper East Side for a B2C Fitness workshop entitled “Functional Anatomy 1: Intro to Human Movement Science.” The class was taught by my friend and B2C President Brent Brookbush.

Not only did taking the workshop help me gather some of the needed CEC’s (Continued Education Credits) I need to maintain my personal training certification with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, but it also offered an amazing refresher on anatomical terminology and the interactive function of joints, muscles, fascia and the nervous system as it relates to human movement.

The course was filled with fun anecdotes and interactive activities, and it was also great to meet other personal trainers and fitness professionals with different levels of experience in the industry. Any of my readers who happen to be fellow fitness pros and need some CEC’s (or just want to brush-up on everything from planes of motion to movement analysis), I’d recommend taking any of Brent’s workshops in a heartbeat.

While the physical and mental workouts may make for a groggier Monday than usual, I’m happy to be armed with refreshed energy and knowledge to continue on the quest to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Importance of Flexibility Training

Photo by: Leslie Hassler

We made it to another Friday! If you’re like most people, you’ve clocked countless hours this week sitting at a desk crouched over a keyboard. Or maybe you’ve logged hours in your car commuting or taking the kids to and from school and activities. Regardless of your daily activities, chances are you suffer from an all-too common problem for modern day Americans: bad posture. This matched with an ever-increasing sedentary lifestyle for people everywhere make a recipe for disaster where your body is concerned. This is why incorporating flexibility training (a.k.a. stretching) is more important than ever. It is one of the best ways to decrease muscle imbalances, joint dysfunction and overuse injuries.

While I can’t assess how your body moves via this post, I can tell you about one of my biggest “problem areas.” When I’m not out in the field producing shoots, I spend way too much time sitting in front of my computer. Since I’m almost always on deadline, I tend to lose track of just how long I sit there. These extended periods of sitting unfortunately cause tightening of my hip flexors, which are made up of five muscles including the psoas.

What happens if I I don’t take the time to stretch my hip flexors and just get right into the “heart” of a workout?  There are plenty of terms in exercise science to describe the problematic results, including altered reciprocal inhibition, synergistic dominance and arthrokinetic dysfunction.  Here’s what those problems look like when it comes to performing one of the most popular exercises known to man: the squat. If I repeatedly perform squats with a tight psoas, the “wrong” muscles end up doing the work. The gluteus maximus should be the prime mover, but tight hips flexors inhibit the gluteus maximus from doing its job and getting strong. Instead, the workload gets picked up by the “B team:” the hamstrings and erector spinae. Not only does this make the butt-kicking exercise pretty much ineffective for actually toning my butt, but I’m also putting myself at risk for low back pain and potential injury.

Here’s a link featuring some good static stretches for the hip flexors. If you’re just getting started on an exercise program, your focus will most likely be on corrective flexibility in order to improve any muscle imbalances and altered joint motion.  To that end, static stretches and self-myofascial release should be the key components in your flexibility training program.  (Stay tuned for more on my own love-hate relationship with SMR in future posts!)

Another problem area for many people is the biceps femoris, which most of us know as the hamstrings. As you progress in your fitness journey, you can look forward to moving from corrective flexibility to active flexibility. In the video below, I help Brent Brookbush illustrate an effective active biceps femoris stretch. Before you check out the video, I leave you with this final thought: if I could go back in time and change one thing about my life-long love affair with fitness, I would incorporate much more flexibility training into my routine. It is truly one of the best things we can do for ourselves in order to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Importance of Core Training

Photo by: Leslie Hassler

Chances are you’ve heard, seen or read stories about people’s quest to work on their “core.” That’s good, because core training should be a crucial component of anyone’s exercise routine, regardless of his or her fitness level. Why? To put it simply, if you have a weak and unstable core and you don’t do anything to make it stronger, your body can’t move the way it’s supposed to. That’s one of the easiest ways to put yourself at increased risk for injury.

So, what exactly is the core? It’s the part of the body made up of the lumbo-pelvic-hip-complex, thoracic spine and cervical spine. This region of the body is where all movement begins and where we find our center of gravity. The muscles in the core are broken into two categories: the stabilization system and the movement system. The important thing to keep in mind is that if the stabilization system doesn’t work properly, then your body will make compensations to move, and these compensations can ultimately lead to injury. Here’s an example: you could have strong “abs” (rectus abdominus), external obliques and erector spinae, but weak stabilizing muscles in your lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. Without proper stabilization, extra stress is placed on your vertebrae and this can lead to low back pain and possible injury.

The bottom line is you should not neglect your core. One popular exercise for core training is the quadruped. It’s a great activation exercise for the transversus abdominus, which is part of the stabilization system of the core. Below, you can check out a video where I help Brent Brookbush, President of B2C Fitness and author of “Fitness or Fiction: The Truth About Diet and Exercise,” illustrate the correct form and progression techniques for a quadruped. Brent’s videos are geared toward other fitness pros, but the information and illustration are a great way to get anyone started on this effective exercise. Remember, core training is an essential part of any exercise routine in order to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Buy This Book!

Available at

When I entered the blogosphere back in July, my friend Paula Rizzo, The List Producer, gave me some good advice about how to select my topics. One tip was to write about the things that have helped me in my own fitness journey: a book, an exercise DVD or even a favorite group exercise class. So, today I want to tell you about the book that belongs on everyone’s shelf, regardless of your fitness level: Fitness or Fiction: The Truth About Diet and Exercise by Brent Brookbush, MS, PES, CES, CSCS, ACSM-H/FS.

Brent spent more than six years investigating the facts to shatter more than 60 myths surrounding diet and exercise including:

Myth #2: Carbohydrates are your enemy. What You Should Know: Excess calories are your enemy, not carbs!

Myth #24:  Products that target my inner thighs, abs, and back of my arms are an important part of my exercise routine. What You Should Know:  Don’t waste your time.

Myth #58: Sweating is good indicator of intensity, and is a great way to lose weight. What You Should Know:  Sweat is not a reliable indicator of intensity.
or fat loss.

Each myth is debunked through extensive research – more than 600 references are cited in the book –  and the facts are presented in plain English. (There are also great photographs that illustrate proper form for a wide variety of exercises.) There are no gimmicks, no fads and no empty promises. Whether you are a fitness novice or industry professional, Fitness or Fiction gives you the tools you need to build a program that will produce the results you want.

Brent Brookbush

Since 1998, Brent has educated thousands of personal trainers, written and consulted for various fitness magazines, and has been a revered personal trainer. He is also president of B2C Fitness, where he continues to develop cutting-edge training and development systems and educational publications for fitness professionals. Currently, he is an Instructor for PowerPlate, NASM, and B2C Fitness. In fact, he was my Instructor (along with Rick Richey) at the NASM Personal Fitness Workshop I took in March to help prepare for my CPT exam.

As a lifetime fitness enthusiast, novice blogger and recently NASM certified personal trainer, I know this book will become a primary reference when looking for ways to challenge myself or help others in their fitness journey. Adding Fitness or Fiction to your book collection is a surefire way to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Skinny on Walking

My friend Paula, the List Producer, offered up the following question for a blog topic: what IS the deal with walking anyway? To address this, I offer my personal experience along with input from Brent Brookbush, fitness guru and President of B2C Fitness, LLC; and throw in a link to an article I found particularly helpful about the subject.

These Streets Were Made for Walking!

Since moving to New York City four years ago, I can honestly say I have taken every opportunity to walk wherever and whenever I can: from home to work; work to the gym; the gym to someone else’s home – you get the picture.  I have always thought walking is better than no activity at all and it turns out, Brent agrees with me. However, he also stresses that while it can be a good starting point for beginners or those who fell off the fitness wagon and are slowly working back into a routine, it’s not going to do anything to improve actual performance. Why? Well, you’d have to walk ridiculously fast to get your heart rate up to just the first of three training zones – and how many of us can say that’s what we’re doing even as we try to pick up the pace on a walk to work?

To get some actual data to discuss the difference between running and walking, I searched the Internet and found this article by Rick Morris particularly helpful and hope you will, too. (It even includes a 1000 calorie fat-burning workout.)

So put this information together and what does it mean? While walking to work may not give you the same cardiovascular or calorie-burning benefits of a 30-minute bout on the elliptical machine or treadmill or a high-intensity 45-minute spin class, it’s still better than no movement at all.  Since I’m a big proponent of taking care of your body and your mind, if that walk to work helps you clear your head and makes you want to kick things up a notch with a run in the park or a bike ride over the weekend, then more power to you!

Remember, in the end, we all have to walk, run, ride or skip along our own path to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Why Water is King

You’ve probably heard this before: you are what you eat. But here’s the thing – you are what you drink, too! The human body is two-thirds water.  As the hot and hazy days of summer continue, here’s some timely information we all need to remember regardless of our fitness level.

Drinking adequate amounts of water has many benefits including:

  • Regulation of body temperature
  • Alleviating fluid retention
  • Distribution of nutrients and oxygen to cells and organs
  • Improvement of metabolic function
  • Decreasing appetite

Personally, I find that last point a little hard to swallow. I do my best to drink the recommended 5-7 glasses of water each day, but I don’t know how much effect it’s had on my appetite. (Anyone who knows me knows I do love to eat!) However, will say when I’m hungry and nowhere near a healthy snack, drinking a glass of water can stave off my hunger long enough to avoid eating something I’ll regret later. (Chewing gum works for me in a pinch, too.)

Now let’s look at some of the physiologic effects of what happens when you don’t consume enough water and become dehydrated:

  • Decreased blood volume
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased core temperature
  • Sodium retention
  • Decreased sweat rate

To punctuate just how important water is to the body: the body can go for a long period of time without food, but can only survive for a few days without water.

Here are the guidelines of what we should be drinking when we exercise, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM):

  • Drink 16 oz of water two hours before exercise. In warmer weather,  feel free to add an additional 8 – 16 oz.
  • During exercise, drink 20 to 40 oz for every hour of exercise.
  • If you exercise for more than 60 minutes, you can re-hydrate with a sports drink containing up to 8% carbohydrate to replace both fluid and dwindling muscle glycogen stores.
  • When exercising for 60 minutes or less, water is best. (My personal choice).

That last bullet brings me to an important point made by Brent Brookbush and Rick Richey, the amazing NASM instructors who taught the Personal Fitness Workshop I took back in March.  If you have just one hour to spend in the gym or running through the park, or only time for a 45-minute spin or strength training class, why would you want to put all the calories back in your body that you’re working so hard to burn?

Now, I know there are some people out there who simply can’t stand water and need some flavor.  There are plenty of zero calorie flavored water options available. In my personal opinion (which is backed by many articles I’ve read on websites ranging from WebMD to ACSM), having a flavored drink with zero calories (or 5 calories if you add one of those flavor-crystal packets to your water bottle) is better than NOT drinking anything at all.

In the end, something as simple as drinking (water!) to your health is an easy way to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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