Thursday, November 30, 2006

How Can a Personal Trainer Help Weekend Athletes?

I got asked by many people as to how a personal trainer can help them as weekend athletes to achieve their fitness goals. Most real-life working people simply don't have time to go to gym six days a week, two hours each time. But they still want to stay fit and play their sports or games on weekends (tennis, golf, basketball, softball, ice hockey, etc.) and enjoy their lives.

So what is a personal trainer?
A personal trainer is more than just a drill sergeant yelling at people to do more pushups and situps, although it may be the case some time as is popularized by "The Biggest Loser" TV show. A personal trainer is a fitness professional that provides individualized exericise program to fit client goals. According to A Guide to Personal Fitness Training (page xi, 2003 edition, published by Aerobics and Fitness Association of America), "a personal trainer is a skilled teacher, motivator, communicator, and continual student of fitness and positive lifestyle change. Personal trainers serve a valuable purpose in helping people become healthier and happier, and in improving the quality of many lives."

What do personal trainers do?
Personal trainers teach safe, effective, individualized exercises to clients in a one-on-one type setting. They help clients achieve their personal fitness and wellness goals. Many people hire personal trainers to provide motivation and help them stick to their exercise routines. Health screening and understanding of injury prevention techniques are critical.

Some personal trainers have additional areas of expertise or training to provide post-rehab conditioning, sport-specific conditioning, massage therapy or specific dietary advice. They work with professionals in other areas to help their clients achieve their goals. Training plan typically needs to be evaluated again to measure effectiveness after a few weeks.

There are many ways of changing up a program to make sure that you keep making progress toward your goal. The other obvious benefits of hiring peronal trainers are saving time and reducing injuries. A personal trainer helps you figure out what exercises you need to do and how the equipment works rather than wasting time figuring it out on your own. Most people in the gym learn exercises by watching what other people do. But the person they're watching probably learned by watching someone else, and whoever started the chain probably didn't know what they were doing to begin with. Most people in the gym simply don't lift weight properly.

In the following Q&As, I'll answer the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) as to how I can help a client as a personal trainer.

Question #1: I never work with a personal trainer before. What do you exactly do to help a client? How fast can I expect to see the results? For example, I want to lose some weight (fat).

Answer: I have briefly described above as to "What is a personal trainer?" and "What do personal trainers do?" A personal trainer will evaluate your health and medical history, fitness level, needs and goals. The trainer will clarify the goal with the client and lay out a training plan. A client's goal could vary from recovering from an injury or surgery, building muscle, losing weight (fat), enhancing sports performance to simply improving general health.

For example, fat loss is usually on the top of the goal list. I'll assess your risk factors based on your health and medical history. Medical clearance from your physician may be required. Fitness assessment and testing (body composition, muscular strength & endurance, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility) is performed for baseline information and as the benchmark for future progress comparison. I will sit down with you to set a S.M.A.R.T. goal and lay out a step-by-step plan.

In addition to strength training and cardiovascular programming, I'll help you address nutrition needs and adopt healthy lifestyle changes. I'm not a nutrionist or dietician and I don't have the magic pills. But I follow the guidelines set by ACSM, USDA and AHA for recommended nutrient and calorie needs. You don't usually have to spend extra money in the special pre-packaged meal plan or go on any special diet plan. All you need is sensible nutrition knowledge and healthy food choices. If you have medical conditions (e.g., diabetes or thyroid problem), certain nutritional deficiencies or special dietary needs, I will work with your nutrionist and adjust the program to meet your needs.

There are other important elements in a successful fat loss plan that are constantly ignored by many people. Mental training plays a very important part in a successful fat loss plan. Many people quit at the one yard line. They did something for a few weeks after the New Year and expect to lose 20 or 30 pounds. You know what happens to the gym floor traffic a few months after New Year. Where's the New Year's Resolution after February 1st? As a personal trainer, I will work with you, provide motivation and support to keep you stay on track and stick to the exercise plan. People who hire personal trainers typically have higher success rate of exercise program adherence.

No matter how perfect a fat loss program is, you need to execute the plan and follow through. If you diligently follow a well-designed plan, you should be able to begin to see and feel the results in three months. But you shouldn't stop here. Many people know what and how to do to lose weight. But they just cannot do it or fail to follow through after a month, 3 months, 6 months, after a year or longer. People have to realize that health and fitness is a lifetime commitment, not just a 3-month quick-fix program.

Another critical element is on the part of a client about commitment and accountability, which may be more important in determining your success. I cannot be with you and watch you 24/7/365. After weekly personal training, you're ultimately accountable for your commitment, health and actions. My duty is to help you, educate you and motivate you to adopt healthy lifestyle changes. If you want to transform your body, you have to change your mindset and adjust your attitude toward health and fitness.

Question #2: I don't belong to any gym and I don't like to go to gym. I don't have any dumbbells at home, either. How can a personal trainer help me with in-home training?

Answer: Gym is certainly a great place to work out for obvious reasons. But some people don't like to go to gym due to cost, distance, cleaniness, peer pressure, etc. or just bad previous experience. Some people have small children or elderly family members to care for at home. As a personal trainer providing in-home training, I'll supply portable equipment (resistance tubes, dumbbells, Pilates bands & circle, body bars, medicine & physio balls, jump rope, etc.) for you to use. I'll teach you how to lift weight properly and provide you an individualized safe and effective workout program. With as little as $50 to $100 budget, I'll help you purchase fitness equipment for your own use.

Question #3: I have a home gym and have been lifting weight for a few years. How can a personal trainer help me?

Answer: If you ask this question, it means that you're at least an intermediate exerciser but have trouble making progress or have hit a training plateau. Since you train at home, it's most likely that you watch some workout DVDs, read some weight training books or magazines, follow some textbook professional bodybuilders' six-day split workout routine. It's also very likely that you didn't really learn how to perform these exercises properly. Most people (~95%) in the gym don't lift weight properly. Bodybuilders' workout routine isn't for everyone. It's certainly not for you. (Unless you're an aspiring bodybuilder.) I'll survey your home gym equipment, assess your current program and fitness level, set a goal with you and lay out a plan. I'll teach you proper form and correct techniques and provide an individualized training program for you. I may recommend some fitness equipment for you to purchase to complement what you don't have.

Question #4: I don't belong to the gym where you're working but still want to work with you. How can you help me?

Answer: There are several ways that I can help you. First, go back to the in-home training arrangement. With simple equipment, I'll demonstrate proper form and correct techniques for most equipment you can use in any commercial fitness facilities. I'll provide an individualized workout routine for you to do in your gym. Secondly, I can make a arrangement for you to come to my gym (either with a guest pass or monthly membership). Alternatively, I can make a trip to your gym (with a guest pass or as an independent contractor) and show you how/what to perform exercises and use the equipment. This arrangement gets more difficult but can still work sometimes by negotiating with the gym management.

Question #5: I'm still recovering from prior injury or surgery. Shoud I rest or work through it? How can you help me?

Answer: This is a very common concern as most of us still live on some kind of old injury or recover from a new one. It depends on the severity and history of your injury. First, I'll get your medical history and doctor's report for evaluation. It's a MUST if you had a surgery. If your condition is still beyond my scope, I'll refer you to proper healthcare professionals. Otherwise, I may need your doctor's clearance to start post-rehab exercises. Like many patients or clients today, they don't stay in physical therapy for long due to insurance, cost and limitation. They start to look for personal trainers or specialists with post-rehab conditioning experience.

The post-rehab conditioning program will address the root causes of the injury and possibly its related area, or weak area in opposing muscle groups/joints. The goals are typically to regain functional strength, restore full range of motion (flexibility), correct imbalance and improve joint stabilization. Proper modifications to a typical exercise program are necessary to suit your special conditions. Your individualized program will change up and modify as you make progress. I'll teach you proper forms, techniques, biomechanics to prevent from relapse or new injury.

Question #6: I play tennis (or any games/sports you fill in here such as golfing, distance running, skiing, martial arts, etc.). How can you help me condition my body and improve my sports performance?

Answer: I got asked very often - not always - but mostly after people got hurt from playing their sports. This ties together with my answer to the previous question. While helping you recover from an injury, if any, I'll design an individualized conditioning program to address your weak, imbalanced muscles, improve your muscular & core strength, power, endurance, balance, agility, or flexibility. If it's beyond my expertise, I'll refer you to professional sport-specific conditioning specialists.

Question #7: What else can you tell me? What sets you apart from other trainers?

Answer: Well... all certified personal trainers share common body of knowledge in fitness training. Every personal trainer is unique in his/her background and expertise. I encourage you to visit my website to read my bio, programs & services, principles & philosophies and see if we're a good match.

I have combined unique strengths of both Eastern holistic arts and Western exercise science into my fusion style workout routine for improving muscular strength, core stabilization and flexibility.

Health and fitness is a lifelong commitment. I have my heart-felt passion to help people lead a healthy, active, balanced life. I love to see you transform and succeed in every aspect of your life. Your progress in health and fitness from my services provided to you is my report card. I don't succeed until you make progress and reach your goal.

I continue to work out, stay in good shape and maintain top athletic conditions aganist the effect of aging and gravity. (Don't be surprised to see some out-of-shape trainers who are busy training other people and forget to take care of themselves.) Just like you, I'm also a human being. I don't have any secret formula or magic pills. I have and know my weakness. But I have the disciplines and take actions to do my best and overcome the barriers.

I strive to set myself as a role model and provide inspiration to whoever wants to stay fit and healthy. Even our training sessions end, I'll continue to provide motivation and support and make sure you're on the right track. Lastly, I'd like to recite my motto from my principle of training.

"I cannot do your pushups for you. You must do them yourself."

" You give me 100% and I'll give you 110% and more."

Copyright 2006 by C. Carey Yang.
All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Winterize Your Muscles for Winter Sports

Let It Snow, But Don't Fall

As ski and snowboard season is fast approaching, it's time to do pre-season conditioning. Before the snow falls, focus on training your muscles for winter sports. People could have enjoyed their ski vacation more if they could spend a little time preparing themselves in advance. Don't come home with broken leg(s) from your ski trip. Everyone I saw on crutches every year from ski trip all said that before: "It can't be me. I've been skiing or snowboarding since I was 12. It's not gonna happen to me." Guess what happened next.

Total Cost of Injuries --- More Than What You Think

Leg or knee injuries could put you out of commission for at least six months on the average, not uncommon for 12 months or longer. If you have a surgery, you'll expect many visits to the doctor and physical therapist. In addition to medical cost and time, you cannot function normally in your daily activities. The chances are that you become less mobile in today's already sedentary lifestyle. It's very likely that you put on some weight (or fat) due to being less physically active and potential stress-eating. The problems are snowballing and going spiral downward.

Your health and fitness level would be re-set for at least a year or two backwards. That is, all the hard work you've put in for the past year or two is going down to the drain. The new injuries prevent you from coming back to work out as intense as before. The rebuilding process is a long and long time to come. So the accumulated cost of leg injuries is at least two-year worth of your fitness along with the medical cost, extra time for therapy and inconvenience in your daily life.

Think about Winterizing Your Muscles

Wouldn't it be reasonable to spend a little time (and small training fees) to prepare your body for your next ski trip? When you think about winterizing your car or house for the winter season, it's about time to winterize your muscles as well. It's not just for skiing or snowboarding. You can also strengthen your back muscles so that you don't pull your back when shoveling snow. Back pain is number one injury --- the most common and frequent one that bothers millions of Americans every year. Although it's cold outside, you should continue to exercise in winter. There are a few tips and cautions to have a safe workout and stay fit in winter season.

Let's face it. We don't normally do similar activities that closely mimic what you do on the slopes to handle different terrains like steeps, glades, moguls, terran parks or the backcountry. We're not used to staying in low crouch position, squating (sometimes on one leg), turning left and right, jumping up and hopping down for an extended period of time under icy, cold, elevated altitude conditions. Remember what happened in the morning of the second day on your first ski trip. You cannot seem to get out of your bed without letting out a long Ahhh! Your whole body aches and pains all over the places. Your legs may be limping just like getting off of a horse. It is all because you're not used to it, not like the professionals who do it everyday and are used to that kind of physical demands.

Wouldn't you think about at least conditioning your body better in advance? You're able to ski more aggressively and handle more extreme terrains. Not only do you have the fitness level to enjoy the snow longer, but you can enjoy three or more consecutive days of skiing in a row and live to brag about it!

Strengthen Your Winter Muscles

The main functional fitness characteristics for conditioning your winter muscles are cardio endurance, static-dynamic strength, power, balance and flexibility. A training program that incorporates those conditioning characteristics necessary to enjoy your ski season includes the following elements:

  • Muscular strength with emphasis on the hips, lower back and legs
  • Muscular power, speed and endurance for the whole body specific to downhill skiing
  • Cardiovascular aerobic and anaerobic endurance
  • Balance, agility and coordination
  • Core strength, stabilization and endurance

Ski Specific Conditioning Program

A ski-specific training program includes three parts: functional (sport-specific) strength circuit, interval cardio workout, and strength endurance workout. If you have followed my cross training approach with strength and cardio circuit training before, you should be very familiar with the circuit training. You are in better condition than most weekend warriors or seasonal athletes.

I have designed a sample pre-season winterization program that you can do at least four to six weeks before your first ski trip. This ski-specific conditioning workout routine combines all the elements described above in a circuit training fashion. It can be done in your comfortable living room, basement or in your backyard. Please contact me (973) 303-2424 or email to schedule your Winter Muscle Bootcamp.

Copyright 2006 by C. Carey Yang.
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why Running Is Good for Your Brain

After watching ING New York City Marathon, I'm sure your feet may be itching to run, too. The ultramaraton man Dean Karnazes also finished his Endurance 50 running - 50 marathons, 50 states, 50 consecutive days - in New York City Marathon. There are many inspiring stories in the race. Training and finishing a marathon has been a dream for many people. Although you may be still skeptical about training for a marathon and worried about injuries. There are numerous benefits from running and exercise, both mentally and physically.

There is evidence to link the creative process with exercise. For one's brain to function optimally, he needs a physically fit body. You may have experienced on-the-move insights while you're running. Founder of New York City Marathon, Fred Lebow, revealed that whenever he had a great idea during a run, he'd grab a twig and scratch it in the Central Park dirt. He'd go back later to recover his notes. Research from Washington University (St. Louis) Professor of Education, R. Keith Sawyer showed that creative people tend to schedule idle time to free up their mind to do something totally different such as listening to music or taking a bike ride. It's essentially a means of putting the analytical left brain on hold and giving priority to the sensing, intuitive right brain.

Exercise also increases activity in the frontal lobe, the part of brain involved in complex reasoning and attention. That means exercise actually keeps the brain young, which may be one of the reasons that athletes have lower rates of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. One cannot ignore these long-term health benefits from running and exercise.

Running gives you a chance to relax your body and mind and unplug yourself. It's all great to let your mind wander. Yet I suggest you try something different next time when you're running on the treadmill. Instead of listening to your iPod music or watching TV, you may want to listen to yourself and pay attention to your thoughts. You could have just that A-ha eureka moment during exercise - a great idea, a creative insight or outside-the-box solution to your problem.

Do you remember on some days that your running feels like floating? You're just able to run effortlessly, on and on and on. On some other days though, it's just alas, tough. A few tips here may help you to have that "floating" feeling more often. First, relax. You may argue that I run to relax myself, not the other way around. True. But when you're stressed, your muscles tense up and your mind gets cloudy. You don't breathe as deeply, which increases fatigue and effort of running. You may find ways to gradually de-stress yourself before running.

When you start running, run with easy and short strides slowly. Then progressively pick up speed and intensity as your muscles warm up. You can start by walking for a minute or two, then slow jogging. Gradually lift your knees and lengthen your stride for the first mile. Within 10 to 15 minutes, your body should be ready for longer run. As you run, spend more time close to the ground, not in the air. That means don't lengthen your stride with big gallops but take smaller and quicker steps.

To maintain good, upright running form, one has to have strong core strength. This would ensure biomechanically efficient transfer of power from the core to the legs and upper body. The "core" muscles includes your lower back, abdominal and hip muscles. Try to let your abs and lower back propel you. If you feel tension in the glutes, not your quadriceps or hamstrings, you're doing it right.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Super Circuit Training - More Than Just Reps and Sets!

More About Circuit Training ...

Circuit training involves doing a series of exercises one after the other with little or no rest in between in a circuit fashion. It can be a useful training method when you are strapped for time, have limited weight/machine selections or have small confined workout space during high traffic hours in the gym.

Strength and cardio circuit training can be used a cross training alternative to provide excellent all around fitness, strength and stamina. It can also help reduce risk of overuse injury, keep one interested in the fitness training program or break through training plateau.

Circuit training is a versatile program that can be customized to meet specific needs and requirements: fitness level, strength endurance, cardiovascular stamina, weights & equipment availability, workout space, indoors/outdoors or sports-specific.

Many sample circuit training routines have been demonstrated using bodyweight, strength machine, barbell and dumbbell.

Circuit training is one of the most efficient training systems to tone up muscles, fire up your fat burning furnace, and reveal your six-pack abs.

Circuit Training --- All About Time and Efficiency

Most important of all for circuit training is time and efficiency. The circuit training workout routine should be structured and organized so that you make minimum change in weights/equipment or space. You can move from exercise to exercise efficiently with minimum interruption. You'll be out of the gym in no time to get the maximum results in minimum time.

Circuit training may be exactly what you need to shake up your stymied training program and kick your fitness up a notch.

Maximum Results, Minimum Time!

Sample Super Circuit Training Routines
In the following I design a few sample super circuit training workout routines. Replace each exercise with a similar version depending on the weights/equipment availability or your specific conditions. You can also change the sequence around in the second set or vary the weights/reps/time in the your next workout.

You'll feel different tension on your muscles as you work on them with several exercises from different angles in a range of weights, sets or time.

Although I prefer a total-body circuit training, a specialized program for upper-body only, lower-body only or specific-body-part only workout routine can also be designed.

Another way to structure a balanced circuit training is pair up or superset opposing muscle group exercises as a mini-circuit as part of the whole circuit. There are so many ways that one can structure a circuit training program. It's totally customizable. You won't be bored with workout again.

Ciruit training is more than
just mindless reps and sets!

Sample Bodyweight Timed Circuit Workout Routine
Pushup x an many as you can in 60 seconds
Squat x as many as you can in 60 seconds
Situp x as many as you can in 60 seconds
Lunge x as many as you can in 60 seconds
Pullup x as many as you can in 60 seconds

Sample Strength Machine Timed Circuit Workout Routine
Leg Press x 2 minutes
Chest Press x 2 minutes
Lat Pulldown x 2 minutes
Shoulder Press x 2 minutes
Triceps Pressdown x 1 minute
Biceps Preacher Curl x 1 minute
(water break)
Leg Extension x 1 minute
Leg Curl x 1 minute
Pec Fly x 2 minute
Seated Row x 2 minutes
Abdominal Curl x 1 minute
Back extension x 1 minute

Sample Smith-Machine Circuit Workout RoutineIncline Bench Press x 10 reps
Flat Bench Press x 10 reps
Squat x 10 reps
Bent-over Row x 10 reps
Deadlift x 10 reps
Shrug x 10 reps
Pullup x 6 reps
Shoulder Press x 6 reps
(water break)
Chinup x 8 reps
Shoulder Press x 8 reps
Front Squat x 10 reps
Reverse-grip Bent-over Row x 10 reps
Snatch-grip Deadlift x 10 reps
Calf Raise x 10 reps
Flat Bench Press x 10 reps
Decline Bench Press x 10 reps

Learn more circuit training routines in the following:

>> Strength and Cardio Circuit Training

>> Modified Olympic Weightlifting for Power Circuit Training

>> Spartan "300" Circuit Workout

Check out more expert training and workout routines.

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Copyright 2006 by C. Carey Yang and Beyond Fitness Solutions, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fight Childhood Obesity - Our Kids Need More Play Time and Less Screen Time

According to a research study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (September 2004), the childhood obesity rate has more than doubled for preschool children aged 2-5 years and adolescents aged 12-19 years. The obesity rate for children aged 6-11 years has more than tripled over the last three decades. Appromixately nine million children over 6 years of age are considered obese.

The side effects of sedentary modern lifestyle have taken a toll on our children. According to the current alarmingly wide spreading rate, nearly half of kids in North and South America could be overweight by year 2010, up from about one-third in a recent study by International Journal of Pediatric Obesity. It's also spreading to other countries as well. Childhood obesity is like an epidemic and regarded as a national and world-wide priority.

You know that the more you watch TV, the less you exercise. According to another study from the Havard School of Public Health, people who spend more than four hours a day in front of the TV - the national average - are 47% less likelyy to accumulate the recommended 10,000 steps a day. Fitness expert Martica Heaner offers her advices and tips on keeping kids lean.

Our kids need more play time and less screen time!

MyActivity Pyramid is a physical acitivity guide for children ages 6 to 11 developed by health edcuators at the University of Missouri-Columbia Extention. The bottom level is the "Everyday Activies" where children should do as often as possible. The second level is "Active Aerobic and Recreational Activities" that children should do at least 3 to 5 times a week, such as sports, running, roller-blading and playground games. The next level is "Flexibility and Strength" that encompasses stretching, pushups, martial arts, or yoga, etc. Two to three times a week is recommended. The top level, hopefully close-to-nonexisting, is the "Inactivity" that should be cut down to a minimum.

The pyramid chart is downloadable from the University's website. It also has an accompanying activity log to help children chart their own activity, daily, weekly or monthly. It's a useful tool for school teachers and parents to help our children stay healthy and fit.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

ING New York City Marathon

The weather was gorgeous, seasonably cool, clear and sunny sky - a perfect day for marathon run. Approximately 37,000 athletes gathered in New York City for the ING New York City Marathon 2006. The final results were:

Top Women 2006 (Finish)
1. Jelena Prokopcuka (LAT) 2:25:05
2. Tatiana Hladyr (UKR) 2:26:05
3. Catherine Ndereba (KEN) 2:26:58

Top Men 2006 (Finish)
1. M. Gomes dos Santos (BRA) 2:09:58
2. Stephen Kiogora (KEN) 2:10:06
3. Paul Tergat (KEN) 2:10:10

Wheelchair Division (Finish)
W: Amanda McGrory (USA) 1:54:17
M: Kurt Fearnley (AUS) 1:29:22 CR

The seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong probably got more attention from media coverage than other finalists. He accomplished his goal of finishing less than three hours - 2 hours, 59 minutes and 36 seconds. He called the race "the hardest physical thing I have even done." When asked if he'll be back, he said "the answer now is no." But he reserves the right to change his mind.

The ultramaraton man Dean Karnazes also finished his Endurance 50 running - 50 marathons, 50 states, 50 consecutive days - in New York City Marathon. He finished his final race with 3 hours and 30 seconds. Visit his blog to read his preparation and journey through the Endurance 50.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Protecting Your Shoulders from Rotator Cuff Injuries

News Headline Nov. 4th, 2006 (Click here for full report):

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) - Pedro Martinez is recovering well from an operation on his right shoulder but said Friday he would consider retiring if he does not return to full strength.

"It's getting better and progress is above all what is hoped for," Martinez told The Associated Press. "To go back I have to recover, I have to be healthy. But if God doesn't want that, then I would have to think about giving it all up."

If you go ahead and click on MLB Injuries, you'll find the injury list. It's not surprising to see that the top injured baseball players are the pitchers suffering from arm-related injuries in their shoulders, elbows, forearms, wrists or fingers. No doubt shoulder-related injuries are the number one injury for baseball pitchers due to repetitive overuse.

When I talk about how to use cross training to prevent injuries, I happen to use a baseball pitcher as an example. As best conditioned as they are, even professional athletes cannot escape from injuries after all sorts of conditioning workouts from their top trainers. With top-dollar contracts in their pockets, they actually have to perform and are forced perform at the top of their games - fast balls, curve balls, etc. - hundreds and thousands of throwing over the years trying to strike out the batters. The end of the news story is "Martinez, just two strikeouts shy of a career 3,000, has two years left on his contract with the Mets." This could be end of his baseball career. I'm wondering if he has tried Yoga as a cross training and conditioning exercise. Perhaps he should have. Men do yoga, too.

For 9-to-5 working folks and weekend warriors, although you don't have to throw hundreds of balls, you still have to be careful in conditioning your body and shoulders to prevent from weekend warrior syndrome. It's frustrating to hurt your shoulders so painful that you cannot function fully doing normal daily activities or playing your sports. Perhaps you have difficulty reaching behind your back to grab your wallet or raising your arm to reach the seat belt. You may feel pain when trying to scratch the back of your head or even wash your hair. The pain could be such a disturbance to wake you up in the middle of the night. If so, you may be suffering from a rotator cuff injury.

Rotator cuff injuries such as tendonitis, bursitis or tears affect many people nowadays typically due to degeneration, bone spurs, trauma (accidents or sports related), overuse, and reduced strength and flexibility related to the aging process. The rotator cuff group consists of four small muscles and tendons that form a sleeve around the shoulder. They allow us to raise our arms overhead, move arms forward, backward, downward, side way and in circular motion. Working together with scapula (shoulder blades), the shoulder girdle joints and muscles allow us to perform all upper body functions and moves in all three planes and directions.

Shoulder pains can limit your strength and range of motion. Applying cold therapy on the affected area helps reduce inflammation, decrease pain and swelling, and speed up recovery. Rest, anti-inflammatory medication and therapeutic exercises are also helpful to return to pre-injury functional level. It may take as short as 4 to 6 weeks for a mild tendonitis and up to 18 months or longer following a surgery to completely recover, if ever. The nagging chronic soreness and limited range of motion (frozen shoulders) could be lingering around for many years to come. Consult your physician for diagnosis and proper treatment.

The key to preventing rotator cuff injury is to perform conditioning exercises prior to vigorous activities. Many weekend warriors try to pick up softball, baseball, football, you name it; and start to throw repetitively and forcefully without properly warming up. In addition, they are not likely well conditioned before the season like competitive athletes. As you can see, even professoinal athletes are not immune from injuries. This often leads to excessive strain on the rotator cuff and inevitable soreness, particularly with overhead movement or reaching behind the back.

I have some suggestions for you when performing weight training in the gym to prevent rotator cuff problems, particularly if you already have prior injuries:
  • When doing shoulder press and lat pulldown, avoid behind-the-neck movements as they put more stress and impingement on the shoulders.
  • When doing incline or flat bench press, do not lower the weights so that your upper arms are below parallel for the same reason.
  • When doing shoulder lateral raises or upright rows, avoid using too much weight that you have to shrug and swing your body to move the weight upward. In addition, avoid elevating your arms above 90 degrees - just enough to be in parallel with the floor at most.
  • Perform specific rotator cuff exercises to strengthen, stretch and stabilize your shoulder and scapular joints. See a post-rehab specialist or trainer for customized conditioning exercises.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Yoga - Benefits & Risks

Yoga of any styles has been gaining more popularity in recent years. As with Tai Chi Chuan, Yoga has been used as an alternative to ease certain medical conditions and improve general health. Yoga can help improve strength, balance and flexibility and may be beneficial for certain bone and joint problems. In addition, deliberate breathing, relaxation and meditation help you calm down and relieve stress from daily chaos. Anyone who has done yoga knows that after a single session, you feel stronger, calmer and more limber. Studios and fitness centers are offering Yoga-for-Kids classes. Even some pro football players and bodybuilders start to do yoga as a cross training to help them improve posture, balance opposing muscles, as well as increase flexibility and range of motion.

Yoga comes in many different styles, forms, demands and level of understanding and practice. Not everyone can do the same poses in a perfectly professional manner. As with any physical exercises, you have to pay attention and listen to your body and know your limits. Yoga may relieve your back pain. If you bend in the wrong way or overstretch youself, it could break your back.

According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report, there were more than 3700 yoga-related injuries costing a total of almost $94 million in medical care in 2004. The most common injuries involve repetitive strain, overstretching the neck, shoulders, spine, legs and knees. Serious muscle damage and related injuries can occur if people don't take proper precautions, particularly those with pre-existing musculoskeletal conditions.

Injuries tend to be caused by joint over-compression and pushing soft tissues past anatomical limits. People with back problems or lumbar disc injuries should be careful with extreme forward bending. Those with neck pain may want to avoid or modify the cobra pose.

Yoga is a great exercise and an important rehabilitation method. Before you jump right in and get confused with yoga poses (e.g., warrier, half-moon, triangle, downward-facing dog, cobra, eagle, camel, plow, tree, mountain, lotus, corpse, etc.), observe the class. Ask the yoga instructor what style he or she is teaching. Try one class to see if you like it and can perform the basic poses and movements without too much trouble. You want an exercise that's a little challenging for you but not too difficult to perform. Choose one that meets your needs, abilities and fitness level.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons have the following recommendations to minimize yoga-related injuries:

  • Speak to a physician before participating in yoga if you have any pre-existing injuries or conditions.
  • Work with a qualified yoga instructor. Inquire about experience and credentials.Warm up well because cold muscles, tendons and ligaments are vulnerable.
  • Wear clothing that allows for proper movement.
  • Start slowly while you learn the basics, such as proper breathing, before you see how far you can stretch.
  • As questions if you are unsure of a pose or movement.
  • Know your limits. Do not go beyond your experience or comfort level.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially if participating in Bikram or "hot" yoga.
  • Listen to your body. Stop or take a break if you experience pain. If pain persists, call a medical professional.
  • Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Cross Training for Variety and Injury Prevention

    What Is Cross Training? Why Cross Training?

    Cross training has been used for years although it's a relatively new training concept. Athletes have used exercises outside their sports for conditioning due to weather, seasonal change, facility and equipment availability, and injuries. Cross training add many benefits to sports training including injury prevention.

    Cross training is one type of training methods used to achieve well-rounded overall conditioning. The exercises are normally very different from what an athlete does in a particular sport. It gives a chance for the muscles, tendons, bones, joints and ligaments to take a break from repetitive use from sport-specific activities. In the meantime, cross training provides complementary conditioning to balance an athlete. This concept is also very useful for amateur athletes or recreational weekend warriors.

    Another benefit of cross training is to help reduce or reverse muscle imbalances in the body. For example, a baseball pitcher may develop an imbalance laterally between the two sides of the body as well as in the should girdle of the throwing arm. After thousands of high-speed forceful throwing, the throwing arm and muscles become stronger but potentially overused and injured. Rotator cuff injuries are very common. Cross training can help balance the strength on both sides. It helps stabilize muscles and realign the body. In addition, since you're participating in different activities during cross training, it adds variety to your program and reduce chance of burn-out due to boredom.

    What Cross Training Isn't For

    One caution for cross training is that it doesn't help develop skills for a specific sport. It isn't a skill-specific drill. A football player can lift weights or slow-jog 5 miles a day all summer during off season. But he won't be in great "football shape" when the pre-season starts. By all means, "cross" training should not be used as the sole training program. You still have to start slowly with cross training and increase intensity progressively without getting injured.

    Types of Cross Training

    There are many ways to apply the concept of cross training to your fitness program, sports or activities all year round. Some examples are listed in the following.

    • Aerobic Cross Training I: Use a variety of cardio equipment within one workout session; e.g., ten minutes on the treadmill, ten minutes on the bike, ten minutes on the elliptical machine.
    • Aerobic Cross Training II: Use a variety of cardio equipment or modules throughout the week or month; e.g., run 30 minutes on Monday, bike 30 minutes on Wednesday, step class on Friday.
    • Mixed Cross Training: Use a variety of activities that emphasizes different body functions and fitness; e.g., total-body weight training on Monday, kickboxing/martial arts on Wednesday, Yoga/Pilates on Friday.
    • Cross-Over Training: Use activities that require totally different body functions or energy systems; e.g., A cyclist can do boxing (mainly upper body movements) during off-season so that he can rest his legs (lower body) for a while. Cycling requires more aerobic endurance while boxing demands more anaerobic energy output. Both energy systems are important in overall cardiovascular fitness.
    • Seasonal Cross Training: Use or train for different sports or activities over large blocks of time or seasons; e.g., running for Spring, playing golf, tennis or swimming for Summer, outdoor rock-climbing for Fall, skiing or snowboarding for Winter.
    • Functional/Complementary Cross Training: Use different activities to train similar function used in the main sport; e.g., Runners may use mountain biking to target the legs from slightly different actions. Cyclists may use cross-country skiing to maintain leg strength and cardiovascular endurance.

    Play Your Card Right

    Although an advantage of cross training is decreased risk of injury, one still has to start the sports or activities slowly. Don't fall into the same pitfalls in your main sport. Learn the basics. Perform adequate conditioning exercises in advance. Increase the intensity and duration progressively.

    Many sports and activities share the same fitness characteristics of strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, balance, and flexibility. But each sport is still different with somewhat shift in performance requirements. A cyclist certainly doesn't want to get injured from downhill skiing. In the same token, A football player would be sorry for sitting out on the bench for the season from motorcycle accident.

    Copyright 2006 by C. Carey Yang.
    All rights reserved.

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