Strong. Lean. Happy.

“Restoring the core” (why this buzzword is misleading)

The other night I overheard a group of people discussing a yoga and Pilates retreat they were looking forward to attending. It was called “Restoring the Core.” Aptly named, indeed, since the foundation of Pilates one can argue is all about the core. But it got me thinking how common this buzzword (buzzphrase?), and its derivatives, are in the present day.
My grievance here is that classes and weekend programs named Restoring the Core oversimplify the training required to correct core-based movement dysfunction. It just isn’t something that can be done in a weekend, a workout, or even a week. And marketing such programs this way conditions us into believing that fixing our bodies can be distilled down to a singular workout in lieu of something more practical, like a lifestyle change or better yet, the adoption of a sustainable fitness program.
For years now, the core has been a focal point of many a fitness program. And some folks do indeed have weak cores which can complicate the movements and activities that they want to do. But then again, many do not.
Here’s a test: hold a plank with good form. If you can hold it well without slumping at the hips for 45 seconds, I don’t think your core is all that weak. Might you still have underlying core muscles that aren’t skillfully firing? Maybe. Is your anterior abdominal musculature weaker than your posterior? Perhaps. But I think that when we get to this level of fidelity in your fitness, we have to first decide on whether you’re a competitive athlete and care about such minutia.
I’m more interested in the practical aspects of your core strength: does it help you to keep your spine safe and happy when you need it most?
If you read my work here on Motus, you’ll know that I’m a huge advocate of the old Chinese proverb: you’re as old as your spine.
So, how can you begin to introduce safe and effective exercises into your fitness program that will help to round-out your core, so to speak?
In my experience, few fitness classes approach the core from the perspective of functional movement and natural movement patterns. Static holds like planks can be helpful, and are a great first step, but these days, everyone from your average yogi to Orange Fitness enthusiast, has done plenty of these. And sit ups, well, they don’t translate much at all.
In the past decade or so, I feel like the health and wellness community has really begun to understand the core. That is, I think that we’re zeroing in on the right answer to core training. And the best answer seems to be that by training the resistance to rotation, we are doing the right thing for our core.
Please note that when I say rotation, I’m not referring to just a movement like a sit-up. No, your core can move in all sorts of directions. By focusing on the stabilizing nature of your core, across many different plans, we’re reminding our core of its primary duties.
I’ll be updated this article in the future with images and video, but for the interim, here’s a list of my favorite core exercises. Pick and choose what you feel are best for you and your body and build an integrated program.
  • BOSU ball push-ups, and holds, with slight tilt for play
  • TRX push-ups
  • Hip thrusts
  • Pull-ups, aiming for no swinging
  • Deadlifts
Remember, your core engages prior to all movement. From walking to lifting to yoga to cycling, your core is very much engaged. If you’re a seasoned lifter with a focus on large compound movements, and you mindfully lift, there’s a chance that you’re getting all the core training you need.
Retreats are fun and yoga is really great, but attending one or two classes with the sole intention of “fixing your core” isn’t going to do much for you if it doesn’t precipitate a change in your ongoing fitness and movement program.

Are lifting straps helping you or setting you up for an injury?

Do you use lifting straps or have you seen guys or girls in the gym using them for their deadlifts? Are lifting straps safe? Here’s the rationale: since the grip is usually the first thing to go in a heavy deadlift, these straps are intended to augment your grip strength, thereby setting you up for higher poundage.

But they may be doing you more harm than good. Aside from helping you to move more weight, there is an increased risk of injury.

Here’s the problem: when you grab hold of something heavy, perhaps too heavy, your nervous system senses the looming danger and your grip starts to give way. In other words, what you’re trying to lift is so heavy that you can’t hang on to it. This is your body’s way of saying, “let go, this is too heavy, something’s going to break!”

A lifting strap overrides your body’s natural defense mechanism of letting go. This increases your risk of getting injured (e.g. a torn bicep). Are straps inherently bad? Not at all. But I think that they only make sense if you’re a competing power lifter and/or you’re aware of the risks.

A better alternative: take your time and train that grip strength. Strengthen your grip naturally with farmer carries and don’t chase numbers on a white board.

Something else you can try is to experiment with the hook grip. If you’ve never lifted with it before, it’s probably going to feel really awkward. But it really does help to lock up your grip on the bar, and in a safer way than using straps.

Remember, lifting weights is all about risk versus reward. Stop chasing numbers on a white board and listen to your body. Stay safe and lift smart.

Something that I’m always advocating for here at Motus is to play the long game — to focus on sustainable fitness; movement that lasts for decades and helps you to stay injury free.

So, are lifting straps safe? Well, it depends on your goals and how you approach the risk versus reward concept.

Gyms are filled with germs, here’s how you keep from getting sick

I came across an article today on Reader’s Digest entitled, “15 Things Your Gym Doesn’t Want You to Know.” Naturally, I had to click through and give it a read. Much of it was spot on with one particular item standing out, that the equipment is rarely clean. One of my early posts here on Motus was about wiping down gym equipment. It remains to this day one of my most popular articles. It turns out that many people are wondering if gyms are filled with germs.

Since publishing it back in 2013, I can’t say that gyms have gotten much cleaner. Indeed, the many pieces of equipment and the surfaces throughout modern gyms can support all sorts of germs. Now, I am a guy that spends a lot of time in the gym. Throughout my workouts I’m either laying on a bench, rolling around on the floor or a mat, grabbing dumbbells, weights, etc. But I rarely get sick. So, what’s my secret?

Well, it’s probably no secret at all: I live a healthy lifestyle, eat well, get 7 – 8 hours of sleep, and so on. But I do have some pretty important habits in the gym that I stick to. Religiously.

Here’s the thing: for many years now, I’ve accepted that gyms are dirty. There’s constant turnover of sweaty bodies checking in, exercising, and checking out. And among the relative discomfort that many a gym goer experiences during their fitness program, few are inclined to bother wiping down equipment with a cleaner. And if you read my earlier article on the subject, you’ll know that although somewhat effective, there’s little chance that your quick wipe of the equipment is going to kill all the germs.

So, I’ve made my peace that gyms are, and probably always will be, somewhat dirty places.

But the good news is that your body has a pretty strong defense against most harmful bacteria and viruses: your epidermis. Your skin, that is.

Here’s how I keep germs at bay:

Keep your hands off your face

When I’m working out, I rarely, and I mean rarely, touch my face. If I have an itch that absolutely must be scratched, then I’ll use the back of my hand or a knuckle, presumably a part of my hand that hasn’t directly gripped a dumbbell or a mat. And I never rub my eyes or put my hands near my mouth.

Your nose, mouth, and eyes are easy ways for germs to find their way in your body. That means that each time you set down that kettlebell and rub your eyes you’re raising the stakes for a possible infection later on.

It may take some time to get into the habit, but train yourself to be very cognizant of what you touch (and don’t touch!) while at a busy gym. After your workout, your first stop in the locker room should be the sink to wash your hands with soap and water.

gyms are filled with germs

Wrap any exposed cuts or scrapes

This one is probably common sense. If you have a cut or scrape anywhere on your body, make sure that you have a bandage on it. If you have a band-aid on your finger, for instance, wrap with athletic tape to ensure that it won’t come off later.

Don’t trust that gym towel

I’ve never visited a gym that I didn’t believe had properly cleaned their gym towels, but I’ve also seen where those towels go in the locker room and where members, um-mm, use them.

Similar to my first tip, keep these towels away from your face and anywhere else that bacteria might find a way into your body.

And definitely don’t use a towel that isn’t white, you should at least be able to see that it’s clean.

Wrap up

Just yesterday, while on a rest between my shrug sets on the parallel bars / leg-raise rack, a guy worked in doing some leg raises and very quickly left the equipment covered in sweat. He saw me waiting nearby (I don’t think he realized that I was still using the machine) and after hoping off, asked if I wanted to wait for him to wipe it down.

I took a look at the equipment, wiped it down myself, and said “nah, it’s fine.”

Clearly, I’m no longer the hypochondriac that I once was. Instead, I’ve accepted that gyms are just going to be dirty places.

So, are gyms are filled with germs? Well, sort of. But adopt the precautions above, live a healthy lifestyle, and I think you’ll be just fine.

Happy lifting and see you out there!


Why is fitness trending towards the slow workout?

Something interesting has been happening in the fitness world over the past couple of years: there has been more of an interest in slowing things down. In other words, the high-intensity workout may be giving way to the the slow workout.

In other words, thoughtful alternatives to popular high-intensity and uber-competitive workouts are sprouting up all over fit urban centers and inspiring devoted fans. These programs are emphasizing mindfulness over reps, enjoyment over sweat, and togetherness over declared winners.

I’ll show you what I mean.

From time to time, I like to play around with Google Trends. If you’re not familiar with how it works, it shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world. In other words, it will tell you how many people are curious about whatever keyword you’re wondering about.

While I don’t think that looking at Google Trends will provide a comprehensive snapshot of a trend’s market share, I do feel like it can offer a very practical look at a trend’s popularity, and even future popularity.

So, to start things off, let’s take a look at that very popular high-intensity workout, Crossfit.

When I punch in the keyword on Google Trends and let the process churn, the resulting chart shows a slow decline on the now 18-year-old franchise.

[Topic: crossfit, past 5 years]

However, high-intensity interval training as a whole is a different story. It is still trending upwards and has captured attention over the past five years.

[Topic: high-intensity interval training, past 5 years]

The popularity of fitness concepts like SoulCycle and Orange Theory Fitness provide further evidence that high-intensity training is here to stay, as for a few more years.

But what about the other, slower, fitness trends out there? How do the slow workouts stack up through the perspective of Google Trends?

Yoga, as you might imagine is steady as a rock, as it has been for decades now. But yoga’s not too distant cousin — mediation — has been slowly gaining traction.

[Topic: meditation, past 5 years]

So, what does the future hold then? HIIT and meditation are trending upwards? What does that mean?!

I think that what we will begin to see is a polarization of contemporary fitness between the high-intensity-sweat-sweat-sweat workouts and the slower and less competitive varieties.

I suppose that here with Motus, we fit someplace in the middle. It’s not entirely the slow workout, but it’s certainly not a high-intensity and highly competitive approach.

Regardless, I think that there’s no better time for fitness entrepreneurs to offer up their slowed down approach than right now. In preceding years, I feel like a lot of great concepts just never made it to fruition because the creators were worried that if it didn’t have enough high-intensity programming built in, that it wouldn’t be relevant.

But things are changing.

There are even a handful of studios that specialize in just meditation. There’s an emerging Lululemon competitor called Outdoor Voices, whose manifesto aspires to build “…a community of exercisers who approach activity with ease, humor and delight.”

This mindset at Outdoor Voices does a nice job of capturing the collective disposition of many millennials as they settle into their 30’s: that they want to slow down, but just a little.

Our hyper-intense lives spent on our phones — jumping from text message to snap to Instagram and back again to texting — is a tremendous amount to juggle. And I think that the last thing many of us want is to deal with more of the same at the gym!

Therefore, meditation and “ease” with our fitness are two themes that I think will only grow in the coming five to seven years.

And I think that what we’re seeing is just the beginning.

Yet looking at all these trends sometimes deflects attention from perhaps the bigger issue: the nation’s obesity epidemic, which continues to grow no matter what cult-like fitness trending is hot right now in urban areas.

But I think that if any trendy fitness concept can begin to chip away at the obesity problem, it’s probably a slower (i.e. less intimidating) style of fitness.

What are your thoughts on the slow workout emerging trend?

Would you give up your HIIT routine for something a little slower? Why or why not?

Will push ups really help you to build a strong chest?

Standard push ups do indeed work your chest, but not as much as you might think. So, you might find yourself wondering: will push ups really help you to build a great looking chest?

Honestly, it’s going to be tough. In my experience, when I increased my push up output to upwards of 100 reps at at time, I just started to get sore shoulders.

But there are some things that you can do. One way to help get more out of the movement is to perform your push ups on rings (or two TRX straps). Position the rings such that they are only a few inches off the ground. Set yourself up like normal, but this time when you press up for each rep, work to pull the rings inward, in line with the center of your chest. Hold briefly and really squeeze! This will help to activate your chest.

Also, I wouldn’t discount volume entirely. In fact, I don’t feel like push ups will have much of an impact for you (assuming that you are already a relatively fit individual) until you get up around the 50 – 60 rep range. For many of us, the first 10, 20, and 30 push ups are really just warming us up.

If you’re looking to build your chest, you’re probably going to have to grab some weights and begin a comprehensive chest program. Push ups are great, but they aren’t traditionally known as a reliable mass builder.

But ask yourself why are you doing push ups in the first place? Is it to get stronger in the pressing movement? Or for aesthetics? Do you want a big chest just for the sake of having a big chest? If your aim is to move better and maintain healthy shoulders, then a few sets of 10 push ups with good form is probably plenty.


2018 fitness trends: Designed for the consumer or the consumer’s attention?

It’s that time of the year again. The time when 2018 fitness trends are predicted and drooled over. Marketers are busying designing new logos and writing franchise plans, while personal trainers are hard at work designing new workouts.

Unfortunately, at first glance, the 2018 trends look like they are designed to capture the consumer’s attention instead of being what the consumer really needs.

If I were to pick on one trend in particular, it would be LIIT, or Low Intensity Interval Training. Yes, there’s evidence that training at a lower intensity can provide health and fitness gains. Just like is evidence that High Intensity Interval Training can do good things. And weight training. And yoga. And walking! One can find supportive, and sometimes suggestive, evidence that just about any fitness or movement program under the sun can do good things.

I think it’s great that in today’s world there are so many options out there for people to get fit and stay healthy. But things like LIIT seem to clearly designed to capture the attention of a HIIT practitioner simply looking for the next best thing.

What I want to see happen in 2018 is more of fitness professionals telling people what they may not want to hear:

  • You can’t keep changing your workout if you want to make a change in your body
  • Old school is often the best stuff
  • This all takes time
  • In fact, it may take a lot of your time

After all, there’s no app for a six pack of abs.