Monday, February 21, 2011

Why we hurt: Lower Back Pain (Part I)

FACT: 80% of all people in America will have back pain at one point or another in their lives.

FACT: Back pain is the 2nd most common visit to the doctor's office, surpassed only by upper respiratory infections.

FACT: Americans spend at least $86 billion each year on lower back pain.

Question: why!!!?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How Cardio Makes you Fat...

Is it true? Can you really stop doing slow intensity cardio, do more work in less time, and have a harder, leaner body? Seems to be the most recent trend...

Recently, I re-posted an article from Mike Boyle over at I wanted to briefly add with a story about most gym-goers on the cardio machines. In this case, we'll use poor Fran as our example:

Fran, a long-time exercise enthusiast, goes to the gym, joins group fitness/sculpting classes, takes a spinning class or runs outside. Taking one day off a week, Fran seems to be the epitome of health and fitness. She’s fit, healthy, and has been working out for so long even she can’t remember how long it’s been.

But she ignored one of the most common exercise principles: adaptation.


In a nutshell, because Fran only participates in loaded, hunched over cardio (spinning), running (single-plane movement; the body moves in three), or Jane Fonda, cardio/aerobic workouts (group fitness), she is ignoring her body's response to exercise. After a certain point in time, Fran’s heart, lungs and circulatory system will become more and more efficient at using oxygen as an energy source (aerobics = with oxygen), but her metabolism will see less and less of a benefit from her activities because of this newfound efficiency. Most people, like Fran, train and pay attention to calories burnt during the workout (instead of paying attention to . In addition, because she’s working at such a light intensity, she is only working out with slow-twitch muscle fibers, or the muscle fibers activated by slow, long duration, light intensity activities.

She still sweats, still ‘feels the burn’, still enjoys working out. And there’s nothing wrong with that. BUT, she will most likely stop seeing results, reach a plateau, and start working out more in order to burn calories more. In fact, she might actually increase bodyfat levels when she decides to cut calories from her diet to lose more weight. But this actually slows her metabolism down even more.

Fran needs to get her body into adaptation mode…

1. Train multi-planar movements (lateral shuffles versus running only)
2. Train different muscle fibers (train them to fire FASTER and HEAVIER)
3. Train in different heart rate zones (if it’s easy, CHANGE IT!)


1. Strength based movements (squat and deadlift variations, push and pull movements). Sets of 4-5, reps between 6 and 8, and rest 30-60 seconds depend on conditioning.

2. Sprint – based workouts. Try this variation outside or inside: run as fast as you can as if being chased or chasing someone for 15-30 seconds, jog VERY slowly for 45-90 seconds, depending on current conditioning level. 8-10 sprints will leave your muscles newly sore.

3. Multi-planar movements with different heart rate zones. Try this workout outside on a track or running surface: shuffle with your right food leading, counting down from 20, then switch as you shuffle with your left foot leading (now facing opposite direction), counting down from 20 again, now jog counting down from 20 seconds (60 seconds total). Once you reach 60, pick up the pace for 60 more (a stopwatch/timer on a watch is a huge help here), and then repeat. Looks like this:
a. 20 second lateral shuffle with right foot leading
b. 20 second lateral shuffle with left foot leading
c. 20 second light jog
d. 60 second burst (70% of your effort for a run)
e. Repeat 10-20 times, depending on time, fitness level, current conditioning and running experience. This can also go at the end or beginning of another workout, including your normal running workout.

Fran, 3 months after her adaptation program, has lost bodyfat, built some lean muscle tissue, broken her 4 mile race times, and is now looking better than ever to her partner.

All because she adapted.

Remember: It isn’t survival of the strongest;

it's the survival of the fittest.

In health,

Coach Kev

Refurbished Fat Loss Tips, Part II

More Fat Loss Tips

6. IF YOU FAIL TO PLAN: You plan to fail. Going in to the gym blind, without a trainer or coach's guidance, is almost pointless.

Also - doing chest on Monday, Back on Tuesday, Legs on Wednesday, Shoulders on Thursday and Arms on Friday is 1980. So is doing the latest workout from Muscle and Fitness. However, rotating workout plans, like Upper/Lower splits (training them separate, balancing out pulls and pushes) and total body routines (the most brutal and efficient routines for fat loss) can guarantee you will keep your body in a constant state of wondering what’s next.

7. DON’T WORKOUT ALONE: Research shows people workout harder and longer with either a) a training partner or b) a trainer. Remember, the difference between professional athletes and the weekend warrior is less about talent, and more about effort. Professional athletes have a superior ability to push beyond barriers, usually where most people give up. Working out with a training partner or even sharing a trainer can be the solution to breaking through that fat-loss barrier (yes, I do that too!). Find a running partner, trainer who doesn't mind you joining their workout (try and keep up) and push yourself to a whole new level.

8. MAKE IT HARD: Doing cardio? Make it short and sweet. The two most difficult ‘machines’ are the rowing ergometer and the stepmill, or gauntlet. Try one of these workouts and see if your metabolism can’t HELP but speed up:
a. Rower: 10x1 minute bursts of rowing, as fast as can be maintained for 1 minute, with one minute rest. Total Workout time: 20 minutes.
b. Gauntlet: No hands, climb 100 floors. Seriously, no hands. Time: TBD. My fastest was under 17 minutes.
c. Sprints: In a park or gym, work on 20-40 yard dashes as fast as possible, running them as if you had a sausage tshirt on and were being chased by a starving dog. Make sure to warm up plenty before, and rest roughly 1-2 minutes between sprints. Doing more than 10 of these is asking for trouble.

9. NO GYM? NO PROBLEM: Try the following “cardio” workout. Repeat 4-8 times, with 30 seconds rest after exercises A-D. All you need is yourself and a watch. Total time required (not including warm up): at most 20 minutes.
a. Split squat, 30 seconds R Leg
b. Split squat, 30 seconds L Leg
c. Pushups, 30 seconds
d. Jumping Jacks, 30 seconds

10. AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION: It’s been said that health is either proactive or reactive (Mike Boyle). You either spend money and time on maintaining or improving your health through a personal trainer, massage therapist and registered dietician, or you spend money and time on emergency room visits, physical therapists, x-rays, MRI’s, cardiologists and physician visits. Your choice! The #1 reason clients of mine work out is to either reduce the chance of getting hurt through exercise and their daily life, and/or to rehab an old injury in order to keep it from happening again.

11. DO SOMETHING YOU’RE NOT GOOD AT: I don’t run, at least for long distances or long durations. I have relied on the fact that I am efficient at high workloads (former powerlifter) and high speeds (former sprinter and football player). However, I committed myself to New York Road Runners, developed a running and training program, and signed up for 5 races in the 2010. Knowing this: in order to get results you have never got, you have to do something you have never done. And when you do something you have never done, and you’re not good at it? You force your body to adapt. Now THAT’S fat loss.

Sounds easy, right? Wait until I bash basic cardio in my next blog. Stay tuned!

-Coach Kev

Refurbished Fat Loss Tips, Part I

Reaching back into the email list and came up with some old goodies:

1. DRINK LESS ALCOHOL: No, alcohol alone cannot make you fat; however, it won’t make you lose fat. Alcohol delays the metabolism of fat in the liver, usually at the rate of 1 hour per drink. So if you have 6 drinks or more in a given evening, your liver will slow the rate of fat metabolism to a crawl in order to break down the alcohol you just drank. If you drink more than 6 drinks 4 days a week:
a. That’s 24 hours that your body is not metabolizing fat in a given week, or 4 days a month, or 48 days per year. That’s a lot of fat storage!

2. VARY CARB INTAKE: You don’t fill up your car with gasoline when you don’t take it out of the garage; why fill up on extra carbohydrates on days off? Similarly, you will fill up your gas tank on long road trips; on days when long runs or workouts, you will definitely need to fill up the tank more often with carbs, preferably complex carbs (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal).

3. DO LESS, BETTER: Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, Pulls, Rotation and Stabilization. Practicing few variations of the 6 Basic movements will yield a more efficient muscular system, and a better synergy and functional cross-over to real life. In addition, they recruit more muscle fibers per exercise than smaller, single joint movements.

4. AVOID MACHINES: There’s a reason a squat rack, barbell and dumbbells are all the best trainers are mostly using at your local gym. They’re more efficient and work the body in a three-dimensional fashion as compared to machines, which force your body to work in exact same range-of-motion on each limb. The actual chances of both limbs being able to work in the same range-of-motion are less than 1%. I don’t gamble, but if I did, my money’s on the simple, efficient, free weights.

5. IGNORE TABLOIDS AND ENTERTAINMENT AS ‘EDUCATION’: The 300 Workout, P90x, Biggest Loser, US Weekly, TMZ and even Shape to some extent. They are all influential on the fitness world in a negative way. Why? They use unrealistic training methods (and in some cases, dangerous and contraindicated) and aim to entertain more so than to train efficiently and safely. Yes, the workouts work and help people lose weight, the problem is that these unrealistic training methods are tried out and believed to be realistic solutions to their weight loss problem. Moreover, losing 100 lbs off of a 400 pound, previously inactive, poor eating individual who is incentived by being seen by millions of people as weak and pathetic versus is easy. Honestly.

It is ALWAYS tougher to get that already active, less than 10% body-fat, almost perfect-eating client to lose 15 pounds, without 5 million people watching? That’s reality.

Part II coming soon...

-Coach Kev

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Heart Rate Training - True or False?

This is a guest blog from a post awhile ago by Mike Boyle, over at

"I think every fat loss article we read espouses the value of interval training for fat loss. In fact the term HIIT ( for High Intensity Interval Training) is thrown around so much that many people just assume they know what it is. However among all the recommendations I see to perform HIIT, very few articles contain any practical information as to what to do or how to do it. I have to confess that I stumbled into this area somewhat accidentally. Two different processes converged to make me understand that I might be a fat loss expert and not know it.

In my normal process of professional reading I read both Alwyn Cosgrove's Afterburn and Craig Ballantyne's Turbo Training. What struck me immediately was that what these experts were recommending for fat loss looked remarkably like the programs we used for conditioning. At the time I was reading these programs I was also training members of the US Women's Olympic Ice Hockey team. It seemed all of the female athletes I worked with attempted to use steady state cardio work as a weight loss or weight maintenance vehicle. I was diametrically opposed to this idea as I felt that steady state cardiovascular work undermined the strength and power work we were doing in the weightroom. My policy became "intervals only" if you wanted to do extra work. I did not do this as a fat loss strategy but rather as a "slowness prevention" strategy. However, a funny thing happened. The female athletes that we prevented from doing steady state cardiovascular work also began to get remarkably leaner. I was not bright enough to put two and two together until I read the above-mentioned manuals and realized that I was doing exactly what the fat loss experts recommended. We were on a vigorous strength program and we were doing lots of intervals.

With that said, the focus of this article will be not why, as we have already heard the why over and over, but how. How do I actually perform HIIT? To begin we need to understand exactly what interval training is? In the simplest sense, interval training is nothing more than a method of exercise that uses alternating periods of work and rest. The complicated part of interval training may be figuring out how to use it. How much work do I do? How hard should I do it? How long should I rest before I do it again?

Interval training has been around for decades. However, only recently have fitness enthusiasts around the world been awakened to the value. The recent popularity of interval training has even given it a new name in the literature. Interval training is often referred to as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and it is now the darling of the fat loss and conditioning worlds. Truth is, you can also do low intensity interval training. In fact most people should not start with HIIT but LIIT. HIIT may make you vomit if you don't work into it.

Research Background

In case you have been in a cave for the last decade let's quickly review some research. A recent study, done in Canada at McMaster University and often referenced as the Gibala Study after lead researcher Martin Gibala, compared 20 minutes of high intensity interval training, consisting of a 30 second sprint followed by a four minute rest, with 90 to 120 minutes in the target heart rate zone. The result was amazing. Subjects got the same improvement in oxygen utilization from both programs. What is more amazing is that the 20 minute program only requires about two minutes and 30 seconds of actual work.

A second study that has become known as the Tabata study again shows the extreme benefits of interval training. Tabata compared moderate intensity endurance training at about 70 percent of VO2 max to high intensity intervals done at 170 percent of VO2 max. Tabata used a unique protocol of 20 seconds work to 10 seconds rest done in seven to eight bouts. This was basically a series of 20 second intervals performed during a four minute span. Again, the results were nothing short of amazing. The 20/10 protocol improved the VO2 max and the anaerobic capabilities more than the steady state program.

Further evidence for the superiority of higher intensity work can be found in the September/October 2006 issue of the ACSM Journal. Dr. David Swain stated "running burns twice as many calories as walking." This is great news for those who want to lose body fat. I am not a running advocate, but we can put to rest another high intensity (running) versus low intensity (walking) debate.

Do the math. Swain states that a 136 pound person walking will burn 50 cal/mile and proportionally more as the subject's weight increases. In other words, a 163 pound person would weigh 20 percent more and, as a result, burn 20 percent more calories. This means that expenditure goes from 50 to 60 calories, also a 20 percent increase. Swain goes on to state that running at seven mph burns twice as many calories as walking at four mph. This means a runner would burn 100 calories in roughly eight and one half minutes or about 11 calories a minute. The walker at four miles per hour would burn 50 calories in 15 minutes (the time it would take to walk a mile at four MPH). That's less than four calories per minute of exercise. Please understand that this is less a testament for running and more a testament for high intensity work versus low intensity work. More intensity equals greater expenditure per minute.

Interval Training Methods

There are two primary ways to performing interval training. The first is the conventional Work to Rest method. This is the tried and true method most people are familiar with. The Work to Rest method uses a set time interval for the work period and a set time interval for the rest period. Ratios are determined, and the athlete or client rests for generally one, two or three times the length of the work interval before repeating the next bout. The big drawback to the Work to Rest method is that time is arbitrary. We have no idea what is actually happening inside the body. We simply guess. In fact, for many years, we have always guessed as we had no other "measuring stick."

Heart Rate Method

With the mass production of low cost heart rate monitors, we are no longer required to guess. The future of interval training lies with accurate, low cost heart rate monitors. We are no longer looking at time as a measure of recovery, as we formerly did in our rest to work ratios. We are now looking at physiology. What is important to understand is that heart rate and intensity are closely related. Although heart rate is not a direct and flawless measure of either intensity or recovery status, it is far better than simply choosing a time interval to rest. To use the heart rate method, simply choose an appropriate recovery heart rate. In our case, we use 60 percent of theoretical max heart rate. After a work interval of a predetermined time or distance is completed, the recovery is simply set by the time it takes to return to the recovery heart rate. When using HR response, the whole picture changes. Initial recovery in well conditioned athletes and clients is often rapid and
shorter than initially thought. In fact, rest to work ratios may be less than 1-1 in the initial few intervals. An example of a sample workout using the heartrate method for a well-conditioned athlete or client is show below.

• Interval 1 - Work 60 sec rest 45 sec
• Interval 2 - Work 60 sec rest 60 sec
• Interval 3 - Work 60 sec rest 75 sec
• Interval 4 - Work 60 sec rest 90 sec

*In a conventional 2-1, time based program the rest period would have been too long for the first three intervals, rendering them potentially less effective. The reverse may be true in a de-conditioned athlete or client. I have seen young, de-conditioned athletes need rest up to eight times as long as the work interval. In fact, we have seen athletes who need two minutes rest after a 15 second interval. In the heartrate method the rest times gradually get longer. Th first interval is 1-.75 while the last interval is 1 to 1.5,

The Problem with Formulas

At least 70 percent of the population does not fit into our age-old theoretical formulas. The 220 minus age formula is flawed on two key points: it doesn't fit a significant portion of the population, and it is not based on research. Even the developer of the now-famous formula admits that his thoughts were taken out of context. The more accurate method is called the Heart Rate Reserve Method or Karvonen formula.

Karvonen Formula

(Max HR- Resting HR) x %+ RHR= THR

Ex- (200-60) x.8 +60 = 172

The key to the Karvonen formula is that it looks at larger measures of fitness by incorporating the resting heart rate and is therefore less arbitrary. However, the two twenty minus age formula will suffice for establishing recovery hearrates.

Interval Training Basics

The longer the interval, the shorter the rest period as a percentage of the interval. In other words, short intervals have a high muscular demand and will require longer rests when viewed as a percentage of the interval. Fifteen second intervals will need at least a 2-1 rest to work ration. Three to one will work better for beginners.

Interval Rest Recommendations (Work to Rest Based)

- 15 sec. Beginners at least 45 sec (3-1), more advanced 30 sec (2-1)
- 30 sec. Rest 1:00 to 1:30 (3-1 or 2-1)
- 1:00. Rest 1:00- 2:00 (2-1 or 1-1)

Just remember, as the intervals get longer, the recovery time, as it relates to the interval, may not need to be as long. In other words, a fifteen second sprint may require 30-45 seconds rest but a two minute interval may only need to be followed by a two minute rest.

Aerobic Intervals?

The biggest benefit of interval training is that you can get a tremendous aerobic workout without the boredom of long steady state bouts of exercises. In fact as the Gibala study demonstrated, you can get superior benefits for both fitness and fat loss by incorporating interval training. If the heart rate is maintained above the theoretical 60 percent threshold proposed for aerobic training, then the entire session is both aerobic and anaerobic. This is why my athletes do almost no "conventional" aerobic training. All of our aerobic work is a by-product of our anaerobic work. My athletes or clients can get their heart rate in the recommended aerobic range for 15 to 20 minutes, yet in some cases, they do only three to minutes of actual work.

Modes of Interval Training

Although most people visualize interval training as a track and field concept, our preferred method of interval training is the stationary bike. Although I think running is the theoretical "best" mode of training, the facts are clear. Most Americans are not fit enough to run. In fact, statistics estimate that 60 percent of those who begin a running program will be injured. In a fitness or personal training setting, that is entirely unacceptable. Females, based on the genetics of the female body (wider hips, narrower knees) are at potentially even greater risk. Physical therapist Diane Lee says it best in her statement, "You can't run to get fit. You need to be fit to run."

Interval training can be done on any piece of equipment. However, the most expeditious choice in my opinion will be a dual action bike like the Schwinn AirDyne. The bike allows, in the words of performance enhancement expert Alwyn Cosgrove, "maximum metabolic disturbance with minimal muscular disruption." In other words, you can work really hard and not injure yourself on a stationary bike.

Fit individuals can choose any mode they like. However, the bike is the best and safest choice. In my mind, the worst choice might be the elliptical trainers. Charles Staley, another noted training expert, has a concept I believe he calls the 180 Principle. Staley advocates doing exactly the opposite of what you see everyone else in the gym doing. I'm in agreement. Walking on a treadmill and using an elliptical trainer seem to be the two most popular modes of training in a gym. My conclusion, supported by Staley's 180 Principle, is that neither is of much use.

Interval Training Modes in Detail


• Maybe the most effective method but also most likely to cause injury.
• Shuttle runs ( running to a line and back repeatedly) have both high muscular
demand (acceleration and deceleration) and high metabolic demand.
• Running is relative. Running straight ahead for 30 seconds is significantly easier than a 30 second shuttle.
• Shuttle runs produce more muscular discomfort due to the repeated acceleration and deceleration.
• Running for the average gym-goers is impractical as a fairly large area is needed.

Treadmill Running

• A close second to ground based running in both effectiveness and unfortunately injury potential.
• Getting on and off a moving treadmill is an athletic skill and can result in serious injury. Therefore, treadmill interval running is probably not for the average personal training client.
• Treadmill speeds are deceiving. For example, 10 MPH is only a six minute mile yet can feel very fast. However, 10 MPH is not a difficult pace for intervals for a well conditioned athlete.
• High quality interval treadmills should be able to go to 15 MPH.
• For treadmill running, first practice the skill of getting on and off the moving treadmill ( author assumes no responsibility for those thrown on the floor attempting this. Do not try this in a normal health club where the treadmills are packed in like sardines. You must have room to fall off without striking an immovable object).

Additional Treadmill Drawbacks

• Lack of true active hip extension may under train the hamstrings.
• In treadmill running, the belt moves, you just stay airborne. Treadmill times do not translate well to running on the ground. This may be due to lack of ground contact time.

Treadmill Recommendations

• Time based. Try 15 seconds on with 45 seconds off at 7 MPH and 5% incline . For safety, decrease speed and increase incline.
• Heartrate based ( max HR of 200 used for example). Try a 15 second sprint at 7/5 and simply rest until the heartrate returns to 120 beats per minute. Rest is rest, don't walk or jog or your heartrate will lower slowly.

Stationary Bike

• Dual action bikes like the Airdyne produces a higher HR. This is due to the combined action of the arms and legs. There is no better affordable option than the AirDyne. Although they require periodic maintenance they are the perfect interval tool as they do not need any adjustments to belts or knobs when interval training. The fan is an accommodating resistance device. This means that the harder you push the more resistance you get back. If you have large fan AirDynes purchase and install windscreens. Most athletes and clients dislike the large fan AirDynes as they are unable to work up a sweat without a windscreen.

• This is probably the best "safe" tool.
• Requires limited skill.
• Limited potential for overuse injury.

Stationary Bike Recommendations

• Same time recommendations as for the treadmill. For the AirDyne, set the top display to Level. For a well-conditioned male a 15 second sprint should be level 12-15. Do not go all out as this will seriously undermine the ability to repeat additional intervals. Well-conditioned female athletes will be Level 8-10 for 15 seconds. Levels should be adjusted down for fitness level and up for body size. Larger athletes or clients will find the bike easier. Large fan AirDynes ( older models) will have slightly different work levels than the newer smaller fan models


• Slideboards provide the best "bang for the buck" after the AirDyne. However, in a fitness setting there is a skill requirement. Clients must be warned that they may fall and potentially be injured. This may sound stupid but be sure to inform the client that the board is slippery. I can't tell you how many clients have stepped on a slideboard and remarked "this is slippery". Remember what they say about assuming.
• The slideboard provides added the benefits of a standing position and getting hip ab and adductor work.
• Slideboards are also great for groups. No adjustment are needed, you just need extra booties. We order 4 pair for every board.
• Safe in spite of "experts." Some so-called experts have questioned the effect of the slideboard on the knees however, there is nothing more than the anecdotal evidence of a few writers to support this theory.

Climbers and Ellipticals

• The key to using any climbing device is to keep the hands and arms off of the equipment. This is critical. Just put a heartrate monitor on and keep the hands of and watch the heartrate skyrocket. If clients complain about lack of balance, slow down the machine and develop the balance but, don't allow them to hold on.
• The StepMill is the least popular, and as Staley points out, the most effective. Think 180 again. If it's popular, it's probably not good.
• Conventional Stairclimbers are easier to abuse than the StepMill. Many users ramp up the speed while allowing the arms to do the majority of the work. As we mentioned before, keep your hands off the rails.
• The elliptical machine is most popular because it is easiest. This is nothing more than human nature at work. Discourage your clients from using an elliptical trainer. If they insist, let them do it on their off days.

Research continues to mount that interval training may improve fitness better than steady state work. The big key is not what to do any more but, how to do it. For maximum effect, get a heart rate monitor and go to work.
One warning. Deconditioned clients may need three weeks to a month of steady work to get ready to do intervals. This is OK. Don't kill a beginner with interval training. Begin with a quality strength program and some steady state cardiovascular work. The only good use for steady state work in my mind is preparing an athlete or client for the intervals to come."

Again, this is a guest post from Mike Boyle, a strength coach in Boston, and his website is

I have learned a great deal from Mike, especially his concepts of staying true to one's learning and not being afraid of going against the grain. More on that later!

-Coach Kev