Welcome to this week’s episode of AHA. I’m your co-host Coach Ken. Each week we will discuss practical health/fitness strategies and topics to help you regain, maintain, or improve your health and movement practice. Ultimately our goal is empower you to create a personal movement practice that will support your activities of daily living, make you fall resistant, and living independently for as long as possible.
Show Content: Episode Overview Episode #5
This week we’ll be taking a look at the Pro’s and Cons of machine based training,
Movement Practice Concept: “Step Away From the Machines”
This topic dovetails with last week’s conversation about “training movements instead of isolated muscles.” As a quick review, I tried to make the case for training functional movement patterns, i.e. squats, push-ups, pull-ups, walking/hiking outdoors as opposed to doing isolation exercises like leg presses/extensions, bench press, lat pull downs, or treadmill/elliptical walking.
Using these four examples offers another review of the Four Pillars of Human Movement that I have discussed previously. These are four categories of movement that “all able bodied humans” should be able to perform.
• Level Changes: Squatting
• Pushing: Push-up
• Pulling: Pull-up
• Gait or Locomotion: Walking, Hiking, Running
These four movements can also serve as your workout or training template. If you can do one functional exercise in each of the four categories you will be on your way to a more functional approach to your movement practice.
These types of movements will actually have a higher degree of carryover in performing your activities of daily living, allow you to continue living independently for as long as possible, and help you become more fall resistant (one of the leading causes of infirmity and requiring assisted living).
Again as a quick reminder, weight machines were not really prevalent in gyms until around 1957 when Harold Zinkin, a champion bodybuilder, introduced the Universal Weight Machine. Most of you have probably either used these machines or at least seen them. They generally consisted of 8-10 stations, each focusing on a particular muscle group.
It’s hard to imagine today but even back then athletes were discouraged from lifting weights by their coaches because they believed they would get “muscle bound” or injured. As a few coaches started to realize the value of strength training for athletes, universal machines started being used in sports programs.
One of the problems with traditional weightlifting for athletic teams was that it required many bars/dumbbells, a large floor space, and coaches that knew how to coach the lifts properly.
The Universal Machine addressed several of these dilemmas, 8-10 athletes could train on one machine all at once and rotate through from station to station. The weight or resistance was adjustable at each station just by moving a pin on the weight stack, and the exercises didn’t require much technical input from the coaches and thus perceived to be “safer” than traditional weight lifting.
So, what’s the problem with weight machines?
I know many of you listening to this probably hold the belief that machines are just as effective as free weights or body weight exercises but I want to invite you to examine this belief. Some folks, especially us older folks, tend to believe that machines are safer than free weights or body weight exercises but again I’d like to invite you examine this belief as well.
Physical therapists and exercise physiologists classify movements as either “open chain or closed chain.” Most of you have done both of these types but probably never thought about their fundamental differences. Since this is radio, I shall attempt to paint the best visual examples I can using three movement examples of squatting vs. leg press, push-up vs. bench press, and pull-up vs. lat pull down.
Each of these pairs of movements are examples of closed chain vs. open chain exercises but what does this mean and why should you care?
Well I’m glad you asked! Closed chain movements are those where the hand or foot is in a fixed position and the body is either pushed and/or pulled toward it or away from it.
Conversely, an “open chain” movement is where the hands or feet are moving towards or away from the body.
I think the following examples will make this clearer.
Let’s take the squat, the feet are fixed to the floor and the body moves down towards them and then pushes back away from them. The leg press is open chain, where the body is fixed in a seated position and the feet move toward the body and away from the body.
Now for the push-up a closed chain example, the toes and hands are on the floor and the body moves down to the floor and then back up. In the bench, the bar is held in the hands and the bar is lowered down to the chest and back up.
And finally, the pull-up, the hands grasp the overhead bar and we pull the body up toward the fixed bar and then lower back down. Whereas with the lat pull down the bar is grasped with the hands and pulled down to the chest and the body remains in a seated position.
At first glance, and without the understanding of the difference between closed chain and open chain exercises one might logically deduce that each of the movement pairs are equivalent and working the same parts of the body.
I believe that this one of the most common misunderstandings about strength training out there. When performing an open chain exercise like the leg press, bench press, or lat pull down you are either seated (leg press/pull down) or laying on your back (bench press).
First, most of us sit too much throughout the day as it is. Second, most of life’s activities or sports require us to be on our feet and lastly, in a seated or laying position our core musculature is almost shut off because the chair or bench is supporting us.
When we squat whether with just body weight or added weight our entire body from head to tow is activated to help maintain balance, resist gravity (both lowering down and pushing back up) and our nervous system is on full alert to innervate all the muscles needed to stabilize and protect our spine, decelerate the lowering phase, and use the full kinetic chain to move us up away from gravity.
There’s a reason most people don’t do or like closed chain movements, they are more challenging but that’s exactly why I’m inviting you to experience the functional differences. If you are aware, you will notice that there is a structural tension from head to tow when you are squatting, or doing a push-up or pull up. When performing an open chain movement, your arms and legs are moving but most everything else is shut off.
Our body’s are the “machine” that we need to carry around throughout this life. You will need to be able to move it up and down (squat), push it (push-up) and even pull it (pull-up).
I hope I’ve made a cogent point about the distinction between these examples and hopefully you will consider “stepping away from the machines” if you are an able bodied person.
In the next episode I will address the cry that I can already anticipate from many of you about the exercise examples I used. “But Ken, I can’t squat, or I can’t do a push-up or pull-up, NOT TO WORRY I HAVE SOME VERY DOABLE OPPTIONS THAT WILL APPLY TO MOST OF YOU OUT THERE.
Movement of the Week: Walking/Hiking
Gait or locomotion is arguably our most universal movement pattern and ironically becoming less and less practiced by the general public. From an evolutionary standpoint we have been described as “hunter/gatherers.” The implication is clear, our forefathers walked a lot everyday. Our skeleton and musculature is primarily designed around this vital function.
A couple of my favorite examples of our non-walking modern lifestyle are people taking an escalator up to the entrance of their gym or driving around the parking lot to get a parking space close to the front door and then walking on the treadmill or elliptical.
We’ve all heard the mantra of “take the stairs,” walk to work, or walk during your lunch hour. The fact is we collectively are losing our ability to walk, carry things for a distance, and/or navigate a variety of terrains.
When we consider that a big part of living independently requires us to be able to walk efficiently, negotiate stairs, and maintain our balance in order to mitigate falling, there’s a lot we could be doing to improve our walking fitness.
I know there are those out there that have some challenges and pain with walking. There are aging issues with neuropathies, neurological based conditions like Parkinson’s, bunions, etc. For this group, consider water based walking to reduce the weight/stress on the skeleton but still maintaining the movement of walking.
If you are able-bodied, the recommendation is 150 minutes a week (5 days times 30 minutes) at a moderate/able to talk pace or 75 minutes (5 days times 15 minutes) at a challenging pace. Or if you prefer, get a pedometer and work up to around 10,000 steps 5-6 days per week.
If possible, and it feels safe for you, try to walk/hike outdoors. Get the additional benefits of the movement, along with fresh air, and the beauty of nature. The Japanese call this “Nature Bathing,” sounds nice doesn’t it?
If you are only able to do one form of movement practice, then I would recommend walking or hiking. As for how hard to push yourself; keep it conversational initially and as you gain strength, confidence, and endurance, try going a little harder for 30 seconds and then slow back down to recover and repeat as often you feel you want to. So walk on!
Wellness Concept of the Week: Becoming a Good “Gut Gardener.”
I first heard this concept of being a good “gut gardener” from one of my early mentors, Paul Chek back in the late 90’s. He used wonderful cartoon type graphics to illustrate various gut related issues such as leaky gut and other autoimmune problems.
It was the first time I had heard about our gut being the master control of our immune system. Today there is a lot more conversation around this topic but I’m not sure most folks are actively working to regain or maintain a healthy gut.
This subject can get quite complex but I just want you to think about and maybe further research for yourself some simple strategies to improve your gut function and health.
One of the most common topics related to gut health are the effects of certain foods on our guts. In general, some foods like meat, dairy, and some glutinous grains can cause an inflammatory response, which in turn can lead to a more acidic environment. So, one of the first steps is to examine your body’s response to these types of foods.
You may already know which foods are problematic for you and if so obviously reducing or eliminating them, at least in the short term, might be prudent. Using a process of elimination you will probably discover the culprit or culprits. A journal can be useful to record the foods you are eating and your response to them.
If you feel like this process is all one sided, as in eliminating certain foods, you might consider increasing more fresh veggies into your diet. These foods help promote a more alkaline environment in the body and therefore less inflammation.
If you don’t have any particular issues with meat, dairy, or glutinous grains, you can still do something to boost the “good bacteria” in your gut. A healthy gut then has a balance of both so called good and bad bacteria, which results in little to no inflammation and no unhealthy symptoms.
Dr. Mark Hyman, a pioneer in the field of functional medicine, recommends drinking a mixture of water with a tablespoon of non-modified potato starch every morning. This starch is indigestible to us
but the good bacteria in our gut love it. So it makes sense to keep the good guys strong so they can keep the bad guys in check. Most health food stores should have this form of starch.
Another common buzz word these days is “probiotics,” which simply means “pro-life or life supporting.” There are certainly lots of supplemental forms of these, which can be appropriate or adequate for you, but I would encourage you to consider more live options.
You might consider adding in some naturally fermented foods such as kim chi, sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar with the mother, kefir, or home brewed kombucha.
To be clear, these need to be live forms of these foods, not the commercially processed types. Unfortunately, in order to maintain shelf life to be sold in stores, most of these products have to be pasteurized which removes the vital life force and effectiveness of these foods. There are some commercially available forms of these foods in stores in the refrigerated section.
You probably have an acquaintance that is already making their own fermented foods. If so, ask them to let you try some and better yet perhaps they will teach how you to make your own. Most of these foods are fairly easy to make plus you will have the satisfaction of making something really healthy for yourself.
Finally, I mentioned apple cider vinegar earlier. A tablespoon of cider vinegar in a glass of water each morning is a great way to get a little probiotic shot and nudge your system into a more alkaline state.
Just make sure that the brand you use (like Braggs) has a live mother in it or better yet, you guessed it, start making your own apple cider vinegar.
Most autoimmune diseases and cancers thrive in a low oxygen, acidic environment. These simple strategies can really turn your internal environment into healthy place that just won’t support unwanted pathogens. So, start today, pick one of these strategies and learn to be a good gut gardener.
Wellness Quote of the Week: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
This week’s wellness quote is from a rather unlikely source, Albert Einstein. It certainly applies to many diverse subjects and topics but I wanted to share it with you in our quest for improved health and vitality.
It seems these days that a lot of the information we are being bombarded with about health and fitness gets delivered in such a way that it leaves most of us more confused than ever. Often the terminology being used is either unnecessarily awkward or they create a term or phrase to appear more intellectual.
The take away from this quote that I would like you to consider is really turning up your filter while reading, watching, or listening to any information being presented (including this program).
Is the information being presented in terms that are easily understood?
If they are introducing terminology specific to the subject are they offering definitions that are understandable?
There is such a massive amount of information available today at our fingertips but it’s up to us to filter it using our own critical thinking skills.
If a presenter is going on about a subject using terms most folks don’t understand then they are not effectively communicating and may be guilty of not really understanding their topic as well as they should.
Let’s take a cue from Albert Einstein and seek easy to understand explanations for the questions we have. Let’s not let so called experts bamboozle us with terminology. I think it’s fair to ask doctors, physical therapists, nutritionists, and fitness professionals to explain themselves in plain terms. After all if you don’t understand what they are telling you, you certainly aren’t going to be able to act it.
Regeneration Strategies: Sleep
This is a subject near and dear to me personally. You might have experienced some changes in your sleep patterns as you’ve gotten older, I know I have. When I was younger, my head used to hit the pillow and bam, I was out until morning. Also, having a couple of beers or a glass or two of wine used to put me into la la land, now, sometimes it will cause me to wake up in the middle of the night.
Arguably, sleep is the ultimate regeneration tool we have access to. This is when all the magic happens, the repair, taking out the garbage, and just generally rebooting our system.
Obviously, with the advent of the light bulb, computers, mobile devices, and flat screen TV’s there are many opportunities to keep ourselves over-stimulated (mentally) so that it adversely effects our sleep.
Going back to our ancestors, before lights, folks went to bed when it was dark and got up with the sunrise. Most of us know this is our natural circadian rhythm but modern life pulls is to keep working late, watching TV late, doing emails etc.
If you aren’t sleeping well, it might be prudent to take stock of your evening habits to see if you might be sabotaging your sleep. One thing that usually works is to make sure you get enough exercise during the day so that you are physical ready to sleep. Also, turning off the visually stimulating devices an hour before bedtime can help.
If you are looking for a good resource on this subject you might check Adriana Huffington’s book, “The Sleep Revolution.”
I encourage you to explore whatever options make sense to you for ways to get a good restful nights sleep. It will improve the quality of your daytime functioning and mitigate those draining sleepless nights.
Fitness Truths, Half-Truths, and Lies:
I believe this is a health/wellness truth:
Your HEALTH is everything, it is the foundation upon which everything else we do is created.
This is a pretty undeniable fact. If you make your health your top priority you naturally begin to eat better, move more often, sleep better, be more productive, and ultimately have more FUN in your life.
Fitness Fun Fact: There are two forms of competitive weightlifting in this country. Olympic Lifting and Power Lifting
How many of you know the differences between these two sports?
I’m so glad you asked, even though most active healthy aging Boomers are not going to be doing this type of lifting. I think it’s appropriate to at least understand the differences when you do happen to see this type of competition.
Olympic style lifting consists of two lifts: (1) Clean and Jerk and (2) The Snatch.
The Clean and Jerk consists of taking a near maximal load on the bar from the floor, pulling it up or cleaning it to the chest and then explosively thrusting the bar overhead to a controlled pause before dropping it to the ground.
The Snatch starts with the bar on the floor with a near maximal load but the lifter must literally rip the bar up from the floor to an overhead position all in one explosive movement and hold it briefly before letting it drop to the floor.
Olympic lifting is a pure power sport: Move the heaviest weight you can explosively.
Power Lifting is actually a misnomer as it is a pure strength sport there is no power or explosive component. The lifter performs three lifts each of the Bench Press, Squat, and Deadlift to a maximum effort and within the technique criteria of each lift. In other words they need to perform the lift with correct form, pause to show control and then complete the lift, no bouncing the weight of the chest for example. The total weight lifted from all three lifts (Bench, Squat, and Deadlift) are added together for their score, most weight lifted wins.
In a perfect world, anyone lifting weights could benefit from performing lifts from both of these sports, power and strength. And yes, power training is appropriate for us older adults, just not anywhere near a maximal level or necessarily with a barbell. These movements use fast twitch muscle fibers and as the name implies are performed “fast.” Jumping on a rebounder or jumping rope are modified forms of power training that could be appropriate for most able-bodied folks, so I hope that puts this into perspective.
CONCLUSION: That concludes this episode of Active Healthy Aging
The information and opinions expressed on this show are for informational and entertainment purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and/or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or health care provider regarding any medical issue you may be experiencing
Thanks for listening and as always,
BE WELL …BE FIT