Target Zones: Training the Shoulders

Aesthetically speaking, the shoulders can be a very underrated muscle to work. People always talk about having a nice chest or big arms but in my opinion nice shoulders will make the upper body look much better.

The shoulder is a very complicated area consisting of a lot of muscles. Within that one joint you have the 4 rotator cuff muscles and the chest an lats also insert in that area. The large muscle that we generally refer to when discussing the shoulders consists of 3 heads, the frontal, medial and lateral heads. It is important to understand this when working out the shoulders.

The first thing to take into account is that she shoulder joint is a very complex joint which assists in just about every upper body movement. Because of this, it serves many different and sometimes conflicting purposes. For this reason, it’s always important to exercise safely when working on the shoulders.

As I mentioned before, the shoulder joint is the home to the rotator cuff muscles, which rotate the arm internally and externally as well as assist in stabilizing the joint. I like to begin a shoulder workout by working (lightly) on the rotator cuff muscles as a way of reinforcing my shoulders stability for the heavier lifting.

The deltoids consist of 3 heads, the frontal (located on the front of the shoulder), the medial (located on the middle of the shoulder) and the lateral (located on the back of the shoulder) heads. In order to fully develop the shoulder one would need to work all three. Front raises are great for the frontal head. Lateral raises and upright rows are great for the medial head. Rear delt flys and reverse pec dec flys are great for the lateral head. Exercises like shoulder presses are also very effective because they require all three muscles working together as well as assistance from the rotator cuff muscles.

When training the shoulders, it’s important to look at it as a complicated joint which needs it’s parts worked both individually as well as together to get the best results.

Ask the trainer: When to stretch?

Question: Hi Ryan, I would like to know if it is better to stretch before or after I work out. People tell me different things and it can be very confusing. Thanks for your help.

Answer: The proper order of exercise, especially when it comes to stretching is one of those topics where you can ask 10 people and get 10 different answers. While I will answer your question, I will also try to answer the larger order of how to combine all of the different training modalities.

Warm up– When we work out, it is always important to warm up. The warm up can be a light jog or performing specific exercises or movments slowly or with little resistence. The idea is to get the body lose and the blood flowing in preparation for the intense exercise. Working out cold can sometimes lead to injury.

Resistence training– Resistence or strength training should be the first thing you do after the warmup if you are planning on it. The energy stores and muscle fiber types needed for resistence training will be the first to go so it’s important that if you are going to strength train that you do it first as you will likely not have as much energy later.

Cardiovascular training– Cardiovascular training relies primiraly on oxygen so it should always be done after your strength training. Some people prefer to do it first and while this is fine, it will take away from the energy needed for the workout.

Flexibility– Flexibility, or stretching should always be saved for the end of the work out unless there is a specific injury or severe tightnedd which needs work on prior to a workout. Stretching prior to a workout can interfere with the neuromuscular system and can cause the muscles to work in a less than efficient manner.

Cooldown– A cooldoen should always be done at the end of a workout. A stretch can be a way of cooling down but if you chose not to stretch, it is important to do something which will serve to cool the body down, rather than to stop

Keeping fit through stress

It’s very common for a life change to have an impact on a person’s ability to work out and eat right. As one of my clients put it, “sometimes life happens.” Major changes can have an impact on drive, motivation and concentration. More often than not, change or stress ends up having a serious negative impact on a person’s fitness and nutrition program. This post is going to cover some ways to effectively navagate change without completely disrupting your fitness program:

1. Exercise feels good. By now most of us know that exercise releases endorphins throughout the body which make us feel much better. It also can serve as stress relief so if you are going through a hard time, an intense workout may help you unwind and feel better.

2. Have a plan and be prepared. Generally, I stress the importance of preparation and this is especially true when going through stress. It can be easy to let fitness and nutrition fall by the wasteside so a person must plan their workouts and eating habits more dilligently in order to stay on track.

3. Healthy eating leads to a more productive person. One thing that people notice when they switch from an unhealthy diet to a healthy one is how much better they feel. Healthy eating creates sustainable and stable energy levels. It can keep a person from feeling tired and sluggish.

4. Create a goal. Goal setting is generally a very effective tool to use with a fitness program because if gives a person something to focus on. When going through a stressful period, this focus can be a great distraction from the stress and can be a source for positive energy.

5. Find an activity. It would be great if everybody loved running or lifting weights but unfortunately, that’s not the case. When going through stress, it can be hard for a person to motivate themself to participate in an activity which they don’t enjoy. The beauty of fitness is that there is an unlimited number of things that one can so to stay fit. From cycling to dance to yoga to rebounding, there are plenty of activities in the gym and out which may be of interest. Finding the right activity can help to make exercise more fun and the person more likely to stick with it.

Ask the trainer

Question: Ryan, I currently weigh 125 lbs. I have pretty much been the same weight my entire adult life but over the past 3 years, my body has changed dramatically. Even though my weight gas stayed the same, my body has changed for the worse. I’m flabbier, my clothes don’t fit and I feel bad. How is this possible and how can I turn my fat into muscle?

Answer: Your situation is a very common one and it is not at all strange that your body has changed while the weight stayed the same. I don’t know your age but as we get older, our bodies naturally gain fat. What has probably happened is that over the past few years, you gained bodyfat due to diet and inactivity. You lost lean weight and gained fat weight. Since your total calories probably haven’t changed, your weight stayed the same while your body changed. A good way to look at this phenomenon is to consider this. 5 lbs of fat takes up about 4 times the surface area as 5 lbs of muscle. So if over time, you gain even 5 lbs of fat while losing 5 lbs of muscle, your body will look a lot different while maintaining the weight.

To answer the second part of your question, it’s a common misconception that one can turn fat into muscle. Unfortunately, these are two independent processes which tend to work together but need to be approached separately. The first part is losing fat weight and the second part is building lean weight. Losing fat weight takes a combination of three things. First, the diet needs to be healthy and low in fat and sugar. Second, is that you need cardiovascular activity. Third is that you need to build muscle, in order to increase your metabolism and burn more at rest. The second part, building lean weight or muscle, is achieved primarilly through resistence training with weights. Hope this helps and feel free to comment.

Ask the Trainer: Is walking enough?

Question: Hi, I am a 54 year old woman. In the past few years I have gained some extra weight and have recently begun a walking program. Do you believe that walking is enough for someone in my situation?

Answer: As with many of these questions, there is not a  clear cut answer. Much of the answer lies in what your goals and capabilities are. In general, I absolutely recommend walking. From an activity and a psychological perspective, walking is great. For many of us, our surroundings are made for us to be lazy. We tend to lead very sedentary lives and walking is an activity that gets lost on many people. For many people, a 2-3 mile walk is a daunting task and it is much easier to take a cab, train, car or bus instead of the walk. So, I would definitely recommend anybody increase the amount of walking they do. It keeps you active, moving and also has psychological benefits. Making the decision to walk , either as an alternative to other modes of transportation or just as an activity, usually carries over to other things. You may find yourself taking stairs more often, preparing your own meals, getting up to change channels and choosing other, more active alternatives throughout the day.

Things get a little more cloudy when it comes to walking as a means of achieving results. Walking can be great for someone who is rehabbing an leg injury. It can also be good for an otherwise very sedentary adult with health problems. As great as walking can be, if weight loss is your goal, it may not be the most effective means of achieving that goal. A combination of a healthy diet and exercise are the components needed to lose weight. If the weight loss goal is small (3-10lbs) then the diet in combination with walking may be enough. For a weight loss goal of more than 10lbs, walking is not likely to be enough exercise. On average, walking will burn approximately 150-250 calories per hour. This may not be enough for someone looking to lose a significant amount of weight when compared to other forms of exercise:

Activity                                            calories/ hour

Running (moderate)                    530-630

Running (heavy)                        800-1200

Cycling (moderate)                    450-600

Weight lifting (moderate)       200-400

In addition to burning more calories, more intense exercise will increase the metabolism in a way that you are burning more calories, post exercise for up to 2 hours after the workout. More intense exercise is also important for the heart and developing the cardiovascular system and walking will likely not help in this area unless the person is severely deconditioned.

When it comes to using walking as a form of exercise, we get a mixed bag. While there are definitely benefits to increasing the amount of walking you do, it’s not a replacement for vigorous exercise especially if there is a specific weight loss goal.

Please feel free to comment. Thanks for reading.

Ask the Trainer- “When should I stretch?”

Question: I run regularly and whenever I run in the park, I see people stretching before they run. I’ve heard some people say to stretch before a run and some that say to stretch after. When is it best to stretch?

Answer: It is very common for people to go through a long stretching routine prior to running or any exercise for that matter. Generally it is not advisable to go through an intense static stretching routine before running. Static stretching would be the type in which you move into a position and hold that for a period of time. What happens is that in the short term, the stretch will reduce the contractile efficiency or the power that you can develop in the legs. This can cause a decrease in performance and sometimes lead to injury. The only time it is advisable to perform this kind of stretching before a workout or run would be if you have a muscle that is excessively tight and you would want to stretch only that muscle.

Before a workout or run, you definitely want to warm up the muscles. There are a few methods of doing so, a fast walk, light jog, various jumping exercises, dynamic stretches are all ways to warm up. Generally it’s bets to warm up for 8-10 minutes prior to exercise.

Flexibility is still very important as it reduces the risk or injury and fixes muscle imbalances. I definitely advise stretching but save it for the end of the workout.

Ask the Trainer: “Tone up without building too much muscle”

Question: “I am a woman and would like to tone up my arms without bulking up. Is there a way to build lean muscle without getting too big?”

Answer:  This is a great question which I am asked frequently. There are many misconceptions regarding women strength training and hopefully I can clear those up while answering this question. First, in order to answer this question, it is important that you understand what muscle tone really is. Simply put, muscle tone is the activation level of a given muscle while at rest. Even when we are not exercising, our muscles are active on some level, the more a muscle is trained and used, the greater the activation level. This level of activation, combined with  low bodyfat will result in the muscles appearing more defined or “toned.”

The second thing to note is the idea that there is a difference between lean muscle and bulky muscles. In reality, muscle tissue is muscle tissue and there is no way to train a muscle to become longer and leaner, your body will dictate how a muscle developes, this is in your DNA and there is no way to change that.

Now that we have those two things out of the way, I can better answer your question. In order to build muscle, we need a combination of resistance training and testosterone. Women don’t have the level of testosterone that men have so it’s very hard for a woman to put on a lot of muscle. Obviously this isn’t the case for everyone but generally, you won’t have to worry about putting on too much muscle.

In order to have “toned” arms, you will need to train with weights in order to build some muscle on the arms and again, you will likely not put on excessive muscle. Secondly. you will want to lose bodyfat. The lower the bodyfat, the more your lean muscle tissue will show. Cardiovascular activity along with a low fat diet will assist in dropping the bodyfat.

The combination of exercise and diet will assist you in becoming more toned but if you want to take it to the next level then here is a great way. Train like an athlete! Athletes are toned because their bodies are trained to react immediately, powerfully and explosively. If you are healthy enough, I incorporating a lot of explosive movements, powerlifting movements, bodyweight exercises and high intensity work. This level of training will increase the activation levels of your muscles and you will look far more defined.

Hope this helps.

Exercise of the week

flex-021Exercise of the week is back and I will do my best to update this as
frequently as possible from here on. This week’s exercise of the week
is a flexibility exercise that can be useful to most people. This
exercise stretches the psoas or hip flexors. Most people’s daily
routine can be very taxing on the hip flexors which in turn can cause
tightness in the lower back. Stretching the hip flexors will not only
work on the hip but will also alleviate some of the tension in the
lower back. This stretch should be done in three steps.

Starting position: start by kneeling on one knee on a soft surface.

Step 1: fall forward on the hip that’s kneeling by extending the leg.
You should feel a stretch from the hip going down the leg. (Pictured)

Step 2: raise the arm on the same side as the knee on the ground. Pull
the arm directly behind you. The stretch should be more intense.

Step 3: with the same arm in the air, reach across to the opposite
side. You should feel the stretch even more intensly.

After step three, hold the stretch for about 20 seconds and do the
same on the other side.  Make sure to complete each step separately as
it’s the most effective way to get the stretch.

Ask the trainer: “I would like to tone up my arms and thighs, how do I do that?”

This question can be asked in a number of ways, substituting arms and thighs for any number of body parts. This is also a very loaded question and not an easy one to answer. The first thing is to understand what muscle tone really is. Muscle tone is simply the percentage of activity within a muscle group at rest. So when most people talk about toning up, they really mean something different from the true definition of muscle tone. What people are really looking for is better muscle definition. Better definition can be achieved by decreasing bodyfat percentage. Reducing bodyfat can be achieved by decreasing the fat content within your body, by increasing your muscle or a combination of the two.
There are several ways of decreasing the fat content within the body. Cardiovascular activity is probably the most effective if you are looking for fast results. Having a balanced diet is also a great way to drop fat from the body. Weight training also can indirectly assist with fat loss. Regular weight training boosts a person’s metabolism and over time that increase will result in fat loss.
Unfortunately, contrary to what many people think, it’s not possible to “replace fat with muscle” so while you are losing fat, you will need to do something in order to build up muscle. Muscles develop through resistance training. There are many forms including dumbbell training, machines and bands among others. If a person wants to have defined muscles then resistance training will be a key to their workout. It is important when training with weights that a person train at a moderate to high intensity in order to develop the muscles. This applies to men and women. Training with light weights and high repetitions only increases muscle endurance and does not develop the muscle in any significant manner.
Another important thing to note is the idea of spot reduction. When there is a specific bodypart that needs work, the only control you have is over developing the muscles in the area. A person cannot control where they will lose fat. Your body will decode on it’s own where and how it loses it’s fat. A good example would be a person seeking to lose belly fat. That person can do thousands of crunches a day but if they do not focus on fat loss, the person may develop muscles in the abdominal region but never see it through the fat.

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