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Why certifications matter

There are a lot of options out there for people who want to bring their fitness to the next level.  There are personal trainers, strength coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, and even speed coaches.  One of the things about all of these options that a lot of people don’t know is there are literally hundreds of certifications that will give these coaches their license to train you.  Most of these certifications require you to do nothing more than pay a fee and they will send you a take home test with the text book.  Once you pass the easiest test in the world you are a certified personal trainer.  I would say that most personal trainers at one time had a certification.  However, most of them are not current.  They expire from year to year so if a trainer doesn’t want renew by taking continuing education credits then the certification will expire.  Why does that matter to you?  Well the fitness industry is always changing.  There is new science and research all the time which should change the way a trainer approaches his or her clients.  If a trainer is not staying current with their certification then they are probably using out of date procedures and potentially putting your health at risk.  Or at the very least putting your progress at risk.

The first thing you should do when you sign up with a trainer is to ask the gym do they require their trainers to be certified.  A little known dirty little secret in the fitness world is most “trainers” have no such type of current certification.  A gym who employs trainers should pay for their continuing education credits or at the very least check annually.  It is kind of don’t ask don’t tell because the gym owners don’t want to pay the extra money and neither do a lot of trainers.  The general public has no idea what the “good” personal trainer certifications are versus the “bad” ones.  So in most trainers’ eyes why should they be certified.  I wouldn’t even take the trainer’s word for it.  I would actually ask to see the sheet of paper that says they are certified.  If you are paying good money you want every reassurance that your money is being spent on a quality professional who is dedicated to the study of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and the exercise sciences.

Now that you know about the dirty little secret that is rampant in the fitness industry you should be aware of which certifications to look for.  These certifications are strenuous in nature and the exams are taken across the country at independent sites without the use of any study aids.  Some of them have a prerequisite of a Bachelor or Science in a health science related field.  Basically you need four years of undergraduate education to even take the test.

1.  NSCA  The National Strength and Conditioning Association has two distinctions.  CSCS for training  athletes and the NSCA – CPT for training the general population.

2.  ACE  American Council on Exercise.

3.  ACSM.  American Academy of Sports Medicine.

4.  NASM.  National Academy of Sports Medicine.

5.  CI  Cooper Institute.

Keep in mind even if your trainer says that they are certified in one of these categories, don’t hesitate to ask them to see the certification card.  While it is impressive that they at one point passed these test and became certified they still should be staying up to date with their research.

Major League baseball recently mandated that all of their minor league strength coaches be certified CSCS and RSCC.  No doubt this is to attempt to eliminate some of the shady characters who lurked around their clubhouses during the “steroid era.”  Most of the Universities have full time strength and conditioning coaches for their athletic programs.  The CSCS distinction is one of the largest governing bodies to certify these coaches.  If a coach has two years working with and designing programs for athletic teams then he or she can earn the distinction of RSCC.  There are also separate distinctions for ten years of staying current in that distinction and twenty.  The trickle down effect has brought strength and conditioning to the High School level.  During these years it is probably even more important to have a quality certified trainer working with these kids.  Unfortunately, many High Schools just have a weight room supervisor or a member of the coaching staff supervising.  If you suspect this is the case then you might be better off finding a facility near you that specializes in athletic performance.  These facilities have popped up all throughout the country.  Just make sure you ask to see that certification before signing up.

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First day of school

Tomorrow is the first day for teachers to report to school. I was asked by my department head to give a quick presentation on core training for students. There will be elementary teachers as well as the High School physical education teachers present. Here is what I came up with. I plan on handing this out and doing active demonstrations.

Core Training for physical education classes.

Perhaps you have heard of Core training but are not completely sure what it means. Maybe you heard it in a magazine or you heard it in a gym. Maybe some of your students use the term very loosely.

Before we learn what is “the core” let’s learn what it is not. Core is not a newer term for abs. While your students may use core and abs interchangeably they are not the same thing. The core is made up of a group of muscles that all work together to stabilize your body during movement. They allow for a seamless transition between your upper to lower body. The Core muscles are generally located in the middle of your body and mostly acting on your spine to help brace your body in an upright position. (Think good posture).
These muscles consist of:
Stomach:
Rectus Abdominus
Transverse Abdominus
Obliques

Back:
Erector Spinae
Scapula movers ( group of muscles) to a lesser extent.
Hips:
Ilio Psoas
Gluteus Maximus
Gluteus Minimus
Hamstrings to a lesser extent

Traditional ab exercises involve the movement and contraction of the abdominal muscles by flexing and extending the lumbar spine to create tension. Think of a good old-fashioned sit up or crunch. While this might develop your “six pack abs” It leaves out most of those other muscles we just mentioned. Also, the lumbar spine is not meant to have a great deal of flexion and extension. This promotes a kyphotic spine position. Unless you want to look like Quasimodo then this is a bad thing.

A good portion of a core training program involves not mobility but stability. The ability of the core muscles to stabilize when gravity, our own movement, or external forces attempt to create imbalances. Think about a defensive lineman in football being blocked. While he is pushing and grabbing with his hands and arms it is really his hips, glutes, and abs which need to brace to prevent being pushed backwards. There is no abdominal contraction but instead a bracing of the transverse abdominal that initiates the athletic movement. In core training resisting force is equally as important as creating it.

How does core training help the non athlete or average person? Well all of those core muscles create a tight brace for you lower back. Think of an old-time corset. A strong core helps with posture which can prevent lower back pain and injuries. It can also help you with balance and coordination. This can come in handy whether you are swinging a golf club or you are doing chores around the house.

Core work for older kids: 7th – 12th grade

Some examples of exercises that work the core without any equipment:

Plank:
Hands and toes
Forearms and toes
Incline or Decline
1 arm or leg on knees or toes
side planks
rotational planks

Glute bridges:
Marching
Double leg
Single leg w/ isometric hold

Abs:
Rollouts
Pilates Holds
Pikes
Knee tucks
Hip circles

Back:
Birddogs
Supermans
Alternating swimmer

Equipment that could be used for station work:
Stability ball
Rubber tubing
Bosu ball

For younger kids: 2nd to 8th grade

Elementary school:

Some tips to tell if a child has poor core strength:
1. poor posture in class
2. shifts in seat excessively
3. would rather lie down to watch TV then sit up
4. leans on hands a lot. (head or arms)
5. falls often. (balance issues)

Tight Rope:
Have kids walk on a line or tape. Heel to toe.. You can increase the difficulty by having them balance a bean bag on their head. You can also make the line curve rather then be straight. For added difficulty you can add more obstacles with instructions while still balancing a bean bag on their head. (Bend over and touch a cone) at certain points on the rope.

Crab walk races:

Wheelbarrow races

Plank holds:

Chair Leg lifts:
Have students lift both legs and eventually legs and arms and perform a static hold. For added difficulty straighten arms and legs. Concentrate on staying “tall”

Single Leg balance:

Partner planks: 2 person or 4 person

Partner push ups: 2 person or 4 person

Try to engage kids to compete and make games / races wherever possible.

Running my first Marathon 10/15/2011

I have officially signed up for my first full marathon. I will be running the Baltimore Under Armor Running Festival full marathon on October 15th. After running the half marathon in Baltimore last year I noticed the losers that were in the line for their free half marathon T- shirt and said then that I needed to kick it up a notch. Just kidding…. (sort of). Actually the real reason that I am running the Baltimore marathon and not something more local is because of the free T-shirt. Being sponsored by Under Armor this race gives you by far the best T-Shirt for a race. I am aware that I can buy an Under Armor T-shirt anywhere and not have to run 26.2 miles but I would do most anything for free apparel. Actually the real reason I am running is simply because it is something I have always wanted to do. Not many people can say they have run a marathon in their lives. I believe it is something like 1% of the world’s population. This post was just to announce that I will be running the marathon in October. However, you can expect more posts to follow discussing my training and my progress. It has already started but I just signed up for the marathon earlier this week. I feel like I am in tremendous shape right now and I feel real strong so far. I do have a few thoughts right off the bat. Number one I ran the Baltimore half in 1 hour and 56 minutes. I am hoping for a 4:07 or better but since it is my first marathon my real goal is just to finish. My other goal is to not slouch off on my strength training while training for the race. In the past while training for races I have had a hard time keeping up with my regular lifting routines. Particular lifting legs. If you read my previous post “King of all exercises” you know that I have started to develop a passion for my lower body routine and I would like to keep that up. I am certainly looking forward to the upcoming months leading up to my first marathon. I will keep you up to date with my routines, successes, and failures leading up to the big day.

MLB and steroids. (why I know fans don’t care)

I am a baseball fan. I love the Yankees. I play fantasy baseball. I even played in college. I couldn’t get enough of Derek Jeter and his 3000th hit. This is a guy who played in the “steroid era.” He played in a time where it seems like every team had a .340 hitter with 40 HR’s. If you look at baseball now that seems crazy. Numbers are way down from where they were in Jeter’s prime. This only makes me respect what he did even more. While in this day and age you can never be certain, I assume that Derek was never a steroid guy. He went about his business getting his 200 hits every year while playing a demanding shortstop position. He never tried to be something he was not. He played the game with humility because he knew that this time would come. He no longer is a .300 hitter. Not even close really. He plays a good shortstop but not a great one. He hits into more double plays than he used to but it’s not because he doesn’t run every ball out. He runs hard and keeps his head down as if he was a rookie trying to make the club. Years from now I am not sure how fans will perceive Mr. Jeter. Perhaps they will look at other guys who played in his era and just see them as the better ballplayers. Guys like Manny Ramirez who while supremely talented cheated the game for what it was worth and made millions doing it.
The average fan does not care about steroids. The average fan just wants to be entertained. Who cares what these guys do to their bodies.
I know someone who works as a personal trainer. He was convicted for selling steroids. His name was dragged through the mud in the local papers. Yet he remains as busy as ever. Clients line up to receive his services. It’s shocking to me but that just reinforces the idea that people will take any shortcut necessary. The average fan doesn’t care about steroids. While this trainer remains as busy as ever. I can only continue to keep my head down and run out every ball as if trying to make the club. Maybe one day I will get my 3000th hit.
The steroid era may be over but the effects are still there. People want instant and unrealistic results. There is no secret to a better body. It is just a little hard work and a lot of patience. Over time if you know you put in the work then you can be self satisfied at the results. Knowing who you are and not trying to be something you are not is very rewarding. The goal for every person in fitness should be to become the best version of themselves. Maybe the average fan doesn’t appreciate Derek Jeter but I do. Over the next few seasons as the NY fans and media talk about him making big money with little results remember that we will never see a lesser version of Derek. He is always giving is his best self. If everyone lived their lives in a similar fashion then the world would be a better place.

TRX product review

At trainer’s edge in Denville we have had a TRX strap for close to four years. I remember when we got it. The owner brought it in and showed us this new thing invented by a Navy Seal. It looked like just a body weight strap that we hooked to a squat rack. I tried to do some pushups and some rows on it but after that initial training I pretty much forgot about it. I used every once in a while to add something different. Mostly it was pushups and rows. A few months ago I was in the gym and was having a mental block in creating a workout. I looked at the TRX and immediately went to the computer and looked up the TRX at TRXtraining.com. They had a website with videos. WOW! They were doing things I never even thought of. Lots of core strengthening exercise. Explosive lunges right into an ab workout all with one device. I was obsessed. I immediately started just “playing around” to see what else I could do on it. I could stretch and create a warm up. I could do an inverted hand stand into a upside down pushup. The best thing was the rotator cuff exercises that I always had trouble with in other ways. My entire shoulder girdle feels so much stronger and well put together that it ever has. I can work on scapular mobility which is something I have always struggled with.
I even bought one for myself. As a baseball coach I have always struggled to find a line between building athletes and building baseball skills. With one portable weight room in a bag I can hook it onto a fence anywhere we go. I use it for my pitchers to strengthen their arms and I use it for my position players to build explosive rotational power in their hips and their core. In just today’s practice I grouped the kids by position and in between a bunting station and a soft toss station I had the TRX strap hooked up to a pullup bar and had a position specific workout going on throughout the practice. I could work on hitting offspeed pitches and developing speed with footwork drills. Can you tell I am obsessed with the TRX?
Being a runner myself I often workout outdoors especially as the weather starts to get better I know I will be using my TRX all the time outdoors. It will be in the trunk of my car all summer long.

Some people just don’t get it

1. BMI
I read an article yesterday that discussed more people being obese than ever before. This seems like something we hear all the time in the News. My problem wasn’t the premise of the article. I know that Americans are heavier than ever. I also know that diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are at an all-time high. My problem was the fact that they had a picture of a young boy doing squats. After I read the article I saw that their main point was that the average BMI of Americans has increased by 3 pts in the last 15 years. Fpr those of you who do not know BMI is a formula that basically takes into account height and weight. It does not consider bone density, body-fat percentage, or Vo2 max as health indicators. Let me give you an example of how this can be a faulty way of determining healthy weight. Adrian Peterson, the all-pro running back from the Minnesota Vikings is 6 feet 1 inch and 217 pounds. Which put his BMI at what is considered overweight. He is in fact a small NFL running back. In doing a quick google search I fond that average NFL running back in 5’11 215. This puts the average NFL running back at a BMI that is in the obese category. How many of us would consider and NFL runing back obese? NFL running backs are the prime example of speed , power, and explosiveness. More Americans have gym memberships than at any other time in history. People lift weights which increases muscle size and bone density which can prevent osteoporosis. People don’t smoke or drink nearly as much as they did in the 1960’s and 70’s.

2. Old school coaches
Being a coach I have spoken with a lot of coaches in various sports. I am always amazed that in 2011 I hear them say things like this:
Lifting too much will make players inflexible.
Do you think he gets hurt because he lifts weights
How is lifting going to help him hit a baseball
I don’t want him to be too tight and hurt his performance.
I can go on and on and on. Most older coaches come from a time when some of these things were believed to be true. To date there has never been a study that has concluded that lifting weights decreases flexibility or hinders performance in any way. If lifting weights would hurt baseball players than why did the “steroid era” come with such an explosion of offense. It even came with middle relievers throwing 95 mph. If you look at the game now those guys have dissipated. While they were doing it illegally the point remains the same. Lifting weight can help you in every athletic endeavor. Distance runners lift weights for a kick at the end of a race. That was unheard of many years ago.

3. Combines.
One of the biggest events of the year is the NFL combine. I constantly hear people talking about what a waste of time it is. While it is very true that if a player can’t play in the game a coach probably wouldn’t draft him. However, how would you find the diamond in the rough. The guys who played at a lower level school but never got the chance to compete against the best. The combine evens the playing field. Stopwatches become our judges. There is a test for quickness, agility, strength, and explosiveness. If an athlete simply doesn’t measure up then how can he compete on a field. The coaches who don’t like the combine remind of the baseball coaches and scouts who want to rely on their own two eyes even when all the saber-metrics and statisticians disagree.

4. strength and flexibility.
One is not the enemy of the other. The two can go hand in hand. Movement prep is a term used by several strength and conditioning coaches for teaching the athlete to take their body through a full range of motion. Many strength coaches use movement prep instead of an old fashioned stretch to warm the body before competition. Many trainers also use a style of training called functional. Functional training means simply training movements rather than individual muscles. The athlete is coached to move a certain way which is more of a real world type of movement rather than completely isolating a specific muscle such as the bicep by doing a curl.

5. Conclusion
I wonder when we as trainer’s will stop fighting this battle of mis-information. Many people just don’t get it but there is a science to it. The science is there but it is also ever changing as new studies are done. If human’s are evolving then we need to change with the times. Being a member of the NSCA I get access to the largest database of studies regarding physical activity in the country. The NSCA is the National Strength and Conditioning Association. It is the official and only fitness trainer certification used by Major League Baseball. One of the great tools I have found for being healthy and training properly is Twitter. There are so many people and organizations that promote fitness on Twitter. Try following some of them and find the ones you like. I promise they will inspire you and give you credible information that you can use in your everyday life. Some of my favorite are MensHealth, Runners World, Erik Cressey, and of course myself. JoeLopez55@twitter.com. So in conclusion, our ever changing bodies need to be trained to adapt to modern times. But most importantly our mindsets need to change. And stop using BMI!

Yoga for dummies

The single best athletic activity that athletes can do is yoga. Athletes put their bodies through grueling tough stress on a daily basis. Often they are doing the same movements over and over again. Imagine a baseball player who swings from the right hand side. He can develop an imbalance in his obliques, hip flexors, and lateral rotators of the hip. The largest and most often used of these is gluteus maximus. Sticking with the baseball theme, have you ever noticed that baseball players only run in one direction? Tightness in the hips can lead to not being able to change directions as quickly. A tight hipped athlete is a slow athlete. When you study any sport you will find areas where overuse injuries hinder athletic performance.
Yoga can also be used as part of a strength program. Especially for the older athlete who has spent many years developing their base with lifting weights. There is only so many times you can keep increasing the weights before something has to give. Take a look at my last post, “Mr. Universe doesn’t have a Jump shot”, to find out how I feel about single joint exercises and athletic performance. Anyone who has held a warrior 1 or a chair pose for a minute can tell you how tough yoga can be on your legs for muscular endurance and strength. One of the NBA greats Kareem Abdul Jabaar started doing yoga way before it was trendy in the 1970’s. He only played NBA basketball at 7 Feet tall until he was 42 years old. He ended his career as the NBA’s all time leading scorer. Another more current NBA player is also a big fan of yoga for his workouts. Baron Davis of the Clippers is also a big fan of yoga. In 2007 Men’s Health magazine voted him as having the best body in professional sports. He has started kind of a trend among other NBA players by bringing in his personal coach Kent Katich to help his teammates understand the benefits.
A lot of times when someone brings up yoga the immediate response is not good. Men overall and athletes tend to think of yoga as not being too manly. Kent Katich has countered this with blaring hip hop music during his yoga sessions with the NBA’s Clippers. He also doesn’t refer to poses as their traditional yoga names such as fish pose and Crow pose. He instead just told the players how to place their bodies in the positions. Bend forward and touch your toes sounds better than swan dive to professional athletes.
Another person I am a big fan of is Mark Vergesten of Core Performance powered by Athletic Performance in Arizona. Mark is the director of player performance for the NFL player’s association. He has helped countless athletes get combine ready at his facility. His website has a section called Movement Prep. If you look at all of the videos you would realize they are all yoga poses. Taking your body through it’s full and natural range of motion will help stretch and lengthen tight tight areas that are in need of a makeover. Movement prep shows your body how it should be able to move. Most often for people who have never done it they quickly realize that their bodies don’t move that way. Competitive athletes should wonder why and try to fix these postural alignments. Once again for whatever reason the word yoga can bring about fear and hatred at the same time. Movement prep sounds more scientific. Athletes don’t have a problem doing movement prep.
A lot of people work out constantly. What makes some of them elite athletes and others just a step slower to react in athletic situations? Posture may be a key factor. Your body was designed a certain way. Throughout our lives this posture breaks down over time. Every day life can lead to a hunched and rounded upper body. It also can lead to a pelvis tilt which can be caused by tight hamstrings and can lead to lower back pain. In the time I have been sitting here typing this article I am hunched forward with my shoulders rounded toward the computer and an unnatural curve in my lower back. Many people spend their lives at desks writing or typing on a computer. Imagine what this does to our bodies. People who drive for a living and spend hours in a car often have short and tight hip flexors. This inhibits the ability of the glutes to fire properly which can stretch the lower back to a point of chronic pain. Athletes break down their bodies even more by their performance but everyday people also have postural issues as well. If you have pain in your lower back or you have limited movement in your shoulders behind your head you need to try yoga. Most elite athletes have their shoulders drawn back and a nice natural S curve in the spine. This represents a balanced athlete whose body is in it’s natural state and ready to perform. Our ancestors were hunters. They needed to run to get food to feed their families. When we bring our bodies back to that of our natural ancestors we can best perform. Yoga is something that every person should try and especially athletes should do on a regular basis.

athletic yoga

Don't think this is athletic?

Mr. Universe doesn’t have a jump shot

Ever wonder why bodybuilders are never known for being great athletes? It’s because there is a difference in lifting for maximum definition and training for functional fitness. Sometimes athletes get so obsessed with their bodies looking good in the mirror they forget that rarely in sports and in life do muscles fire singularly. Not only do our muscles often work in groups but there is a thin layer of connective tissue called fascia. If you have ever cut into a piece of chicken just beneath the skin you may have seen this fascia. Until recently most scientists thought it was just another layer of gook that really served no major purpose when it comes to human performance and movement. In fact this connective tissue is interwoven throughout every major muscle in your body. It also helps connect each individual muscle fiber into bundles. It helps connect tendon to bone and bone to muscle. In fact the fascia is made of the same material as your skin and skeleton. It is just a different structure. Think ice to water. A study in 2008 found that the tissue even had conductive properties. When a trainer talks about muscles “firing” this fascia allows that to happen. This stuff almost wraps our bodies into one unit. Thus the reasons our bodies work as a unit instead of as individual muscles designed to flex and extend. Our bodies instead have what trainers refer to as a kinetic chain. For example, when a runner is having IT Band issues weak glutes are often the culprit. The glutes or in many runners cases the prirformis is a muscle running diagonally in the hip to but region. When this gets tight from running it can effect the IT Band and cause pain there. When the IT Band becomes inflamed the knee can start to hurt. So, if our bodies break down and feel pain as an overall unit then shouldn’t we train our bodies as an overall unit? Our bodies don’t recognize muscles, they recognize movement. Find a trainer who specializes in functional training and movement prep. Other than myself of course, I am a big fan of Core Performance. It is a website dedicated to athletic movement. It’s founder Mark Verstegen trains countless professional athletes for their sports and for combines and professional workouts. I would recommend the section called Movement Prep. It is a modern day version of stretching. A type of warmup that is designed to wake up the body’s fascia and release the tensions built up by the sport itself. If you are new to this I would recommend finding a trainer to help you execute these properly.