Archive for the Health Category

The Smallest Worthwhile Change

Posted in Health, Nutrition, Performance with tags , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2014 by razorsedgeperformance
There is a concept in high performance of the smallest worthwhile change. It is a concept borne out in statistics about what type of intervention is necessary to change your placing in competition. For example, the 100m dash in the Olympics. The SWC is a change necessary to affect your placing in the 100m final. It uses the typical variability in competition within the sport to quantify whether a change in a performance metric is meaningful. I have the good fortune of working in high performance sport and I can say that it is often fascinating to find different ways to create this SWC. It can come from recovery, training, equipment modifications, technique changes, the list goes on and on.
You see, for an athlete who is going to the Olympic games, maybe even for the second or third time, you are turning  over every leaf. At this point in there career, they have likely tried and mastered many things to bring them to the top of their sport, and it gets harder and harder to find more ways to improve performance. If you want to win gold though, sometimes it’s necessary.
The flip side of the coin though, is when this concept arises in developing athletes. You see it all the time. Think about a friend who bought new shoes, or cleats, thinking it will change their performance. The new pre-workout supplement, compression gear, or even workout track. We see it all the time, not even thinking about it, but people love to seek out the SWC at every age.
The only problem is that while it is really sexy to find this secret sauce, for most athletes the focus should be on the Largest Worthwhile Change. You see many of these “elites” that I just spoke of have gone through many yearly training plans, maybe even a quadrennial or two…
The LWC can be thought of as a consistent approach to the basics. It is surprising how many athletes don’t put in a full-year of focused training before going to college. I am referring to an approach to training with full mental engagement and consistent adherence for a yearly plan. Too often athletes think that one workout, or maybe a good 2-3 weeks is enough to create an adaptation. The truth is, most athletes haven’t learned to push themselves hard enough to make that a reality. With our experienced Olympian from the last paragraph, maybe 3 weeks is enough to get a SWC in the middle of a competition period, since they should have technical mastery of the training methods, and the ability to focus all their effort to it’s execution.
The developing athlete though, whether they want to or not, doesn’t have the experience to really push themselves as hard as they need to for that to happen. So true adaptations may take months to achieve. This is nothing to get discouraged about, it is the standard process that everyone must go through.
Let’s take complex training for example. Typically, it is done by pairing an exercise of high load (lets say squat, 1-3RM) with an exercise of high speed (lets say countermovement jump) to elicit a performance improvement. Without going into all of the reasons, the belief is that the exposure to high load will make performance of the high speed activity better. There is research to support this. However, the research also shows that until you have reached a certain training age, and met certain strength criteria, this second exercise may in fact have a reduced performance, the opposite effect. It’s simple really, you are fatigued after a hard set of squats and don’t have the reserves to create the high output jumps…
The complex just serves as an example of a training method, that while effective, doesn’t need to be used with every athlete you train. Taking time to be patient with the basics and develop mastery can go a long way in improving your performance significantly now, and setting you up for more SWCs in the future.
The LWC that I am referring to can appear in a variety of ways including: consistent training throughout the year (even DURING competition periods), focused effort on movement quality, recovery/regeneration methods, sound and consistent nutritional intake, a growth mindset, and deliberate focus and attention to detail.
The most recent example I can think of comes from the platforms at a local weightlifting club. Every week I see athletes come in with the best shoes, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and workout supplements. Then they proceed to underwhelm in their performance. Now I am not saying any of these items are bad, or that every athlete has to be amazing, we all have to start somewhere. I am just saying, before rushing out to buy all the toys (for SWCs) and accessories, spend time working your craft! Most of these lifters aren’t being held back because of the knee sleeves, wrist wraps, or shoes!
Focus on the Largest Worthwhile Changes before you waste money on the smaller details. You will thank me in the end.

 

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LTAD and Going Through Puberty

Posted in Health, Performance with tags , , , , , , , on March 17, 2014 by razorsedgeperformance

I see a lot of parents and coaches, who concerned about the safety of ‘strength training’ for their children, choose to wait until after puberty before starting athletic development. Coaches may call this the end of Training to Train and the start of Training to Compete.

While I understand where everyone is coming from, there is a major piece to the puzzle missing. Once a child goes through puberty, coordination usually falls behind, because their limb lengths are now much bigger, and they didn’t know how to control the smaller ones!

Gaining coordination as a young child, whether resisted with external loading or not, is extremely important to avoid this awkward stage that sometimes comes about with puberty. Resistance training is not unsafe for children (assuming you are supervised by a qualified individual…) and athletic development coaches will want to see effective use of body weight first none the less.

If you want to be a well coordinated athlete who can stay injury proof through your teens, learning how to move and control your body before puberty is much more efficient than waiting!

If you want to talk performance, you are able to get strong and powerful SOONER!

Kids are allowed to run and jump all they want in sport without restrictions, so why are we afraid to allow them to learn how to control their bodies under supervision? Something is missing here…

The People Demand Answers!! February 2013

Posted in Health, Performance with tags , , , , , , on February 20, 2013 by razorsedgeperformance

The Q and A is back for more!

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The first question I have relates to some of my speed training clients, especially hockey players going to dry land for the first time in a long time….

My shins are absolutely killing me, how do I make shin splints go away?

Shin splints occur for multiple reasons. One might have poor biomechanics, an imbalance in the lower leg or tightness in the lower leg. The first plan of attack is to reduce swelling and soreness by icing and light massage. Then you need to take on the soft tissue in the lower leg with foam rolling, massage and stretching. After that, make sure the anterior and posterior muscles are each getting adequate work. For most people that will mean adding some tibialis anterior work (resisted dorsiflexion) since calves are often overworked. So put a little extra work into your lower legs and your shin splints will be easier to control.

At what point will the foam roller hurt me?

A young athlete running at the track was complaining of tightness so I showed him how to use a foam roller. After using it for about 10 minutes, he was afraid it may hurt him. The truth is, extended use of a foam roller really won’t hurt you but it also won’t continue to give you benefits. The main goal is to promote blood flow and return elasticity to the fascia (soft tissue enveloping muscles) and muscle fibers. Generally the foam roller helps with mobility, flexibility and recovery. So once you’ve used it for a few minutes you’ve probably already received its benefit. The only risk would be bruising but you would need a lot of pressure and a very hard object. If you’ve never used one, try adding in a few minutes pre workout and watch you positioning improve!

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I’ve been eating low fat foods and haven’t been losing weight, what gives?

I feel like the word is slowly getting out, but it’s still not there yet; Fat is NOT the enemy – unless it’s transfat or everything you eat is deep fried. The truth is, most individuals, especially if they’re fat loss clients, could benefit from increased fat intake and decreased carbohydrate intake. As mentioned in Carb Timing, starches and sugars should be saved for post workout times. If you stick to protein, fats and veggies for most meals of the day then fat loss will come more easily. I mean you’ll still have to exercise and not overeat, but at least you can just do those consistently and you’ll lean right out. The point of a low carbohydrate diet is to reach what’s called nutritional ketosis. This is the point where your body switches from glycogen for energy to ketones which come from fat stores. In order to reach that point though, we need to significantly reduce carbohydrate intake ( <=50g/day). At that point, even though we’re starting to use up fat stores for energy, we still need additional fat intake to meet energy demand. For that reason, you can’t really have low carb and low fat, it just won’t work. If you decrease carbohydrate intake you must increase fat intake of all types.

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If you want to see your question in next month’s Q and A, shoot us an email at: info@razorsedgeperformance.ca

Remember,
It’s About Getting Better!

Weightlifting is the Answer! Here is why…

Posted in Health, Performance with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2013 by razorsedgeperformance
We have spoken a number of times on this page about why weightlifting exercises (SEE Snatch, Clean, and Jerks) are awesome for developing speed and power in athletes, and thus why they should be included in many training programs.
While that is still true, I am going to discuss why weightlifting is EVEN BETTER for recreational athletes, and for that matter strength and conditioning coaches!
Let me talk about the second group first, because that is my cohort. As strength and conditioning coaches we are usually a competitive bunch (most are former athletes) and so love to compete no matter how old or out of shape we get. Add to that thought the concept of the high power output that is present in these exercises and it makes for the perfect avenue to compete in that still stays true to what we preach all day in the weight room! Wait, there is a cherry on top…these lifts are highly technical, and require a lot of practice and some good coaching. So as strength coaches, we always want to be working on our craft to provide the best coaching to our athletes. The more you can practice the lifts on your own, the better you get at coaching them and picking them apart.
Now let’s get to the recreational lifter and with that the crossfit population. I will go on record and say there are some things I really enjoy about crossfit. People seem to love it and love getting to the gym. This is great for the health and fitness of overall communities and the individuals within them. It is a system that also works well to improve overall physical capacities and body composition. So why do people hate on it, especially in the health and fitness community? Probably because they break people…some of it is from the crazy amount of volume everyone is expected to do, and some of it is just from the fact few members get taught proper technique for the weightifting exercises (let alone basic barbell exercises!!)…
Here are a few reasons why they are actually amazing lifts for the recreational lifter, even though they seem too technical and only for the ‘elite’…
Mobility! Here is the world record holder in both lifts at 77kg class, Lu Xiaojun. I have a huge man-crush on him for his weightlifting abilities. Not only are we talking about crazy amounts of power to move the bar, but he is catching the weight in a full-depth overhead squat. Even go back and see his starting position; Weightlifting requires a high level of mobility in your hips and ankles, as well as shoulders and upper back. These are the kinds of things the office-warrior loses quickly as they age, so just working on getting to these positions is highly valuable. Posture is such a large emphasis for these lifts that these muscles will get a ton of attention, and have no choice but to get their act together!
Metabolic Demand! These lifts use the entire body. So when you do a set of 8 or 10 reps at a submaximal weight, you are burning a ton of fuel. No wonder all the elite lifters are shredded (save for superheavy’s)…
Even working with a dowel (wooden stick, step 1) to get the positions and transitions correct, will be a great workout for most people as the volume is typically high and the attention to detail as well.
Cool Factor! Because they are so technical, not a lot of people do them well…walking into a gym, taking over the platform, and rocking some double body weight clean and jerks will definitely get you some attention. You will make a lot of friends that day. A lot of people can squat, but throw the same weight overhead as fast as you can? My mind just got blown.
It is with all of these reasons that we have begun a weightlifting club out of FITS Toronto where we work with weekend warriors to master these lifts, and so far the response has been impressive. If you want to really kick your training into another gear, and find something that you can really pour your focus into…then start learning how to weightlift!! (Consult a professional!!)
BONUS: Here is me hitting some PR’s yesterday as I journey to a bodyweight snatch…join me!
DOUBLE BONUS: Here’s Kyle beating Cory‘s PRs

The People Demand Answers!! January 2013

Posted in Health, Performance with tags , , , , , on January 16, 2013 by razorsedgeperformance

I’ve decided to start a question and answer post to change things up a little bit. This will allow more different topics to be answered without necessarily getting into the depth that a full post/article would require. That being said, please feel free to email in questions, use the comment box, post on our facebook page or send us a tweet. This installment is made up of either questions I’ve been asked lately or things that I’ve heard that need correcting. Enjoy.

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On the cardio machine, the fat loss setting picks low paced cardio; Is that really the best way to burn fat??

Fat loss is an interesting topic because there are a number of different ways of achieving it. To decide what’s BEST is a whole other story. Let’s get into some basics about energy systems to answer this one. I’m putting it in layman’s terms so if you’re another coach, try to keep this in mind. There are 3 main energy systems that our body uses for energy. These are: the phosphagen system, the glycolitic system, the oxidative system. The phosphagen system uses ATP stores to produce energy used in extremely short and high intensity movements (think sprint or heavy lift). The glycolitic system uses glycogen stores (carbs essentially) to produce energy for moderate intensity exercise and kicks in after ATP up to about 20 or 30 minutes. The Oxidative system uses fatty acids to produce energy for long, low intensity movements. So technically, this setting is correct for activating the oxidative system. However, if we do bouts of High Intensity interval training (HIIT) then we will burn through all 3 energy systems. Your body can only produce so much ATP in such a short amount of time [note: supplementing creatine can help with this], so your body will be forced to jump to the next system when the first runs dry. Thus, we can actually start activating the glycolitic system earlier with intervals than with slow paced cardio. So it still will burn fat, but intervals will allow a much better, more complete energy system response.

If I want to get faster, should I just do interval running?

Following up on the post above, interval work should be meant for conditioning or fat loss work. What people need to realize about speed is that it is extremely technical and also extremely demanding on the body. In order to truly increase your speed you need a structured program and a qualified coach to help you with this. With your coach you can work on the two determinants of speed: output and direction. When you are fatigued during intervals, both of these values would be negatively affected; Your output will be significantly dimished and fatigue will adversely affect your coordination. More often than not I see (from others) intervals as continuous repetition of bad mechanics. So in closing, use intervals for conditioning work but high quality, high output repetitions are necessary to increase speed.

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When doing weights, should I progress up to heavy weights or start heavy (over the course of multiple sets)?

To lift a given weight, your body will only try to recruit as many muscle fibers as it thinks it needs. Over the course of multiple sets, those fibers will become fatigued and you will no longer get efficient functionality out of them. So that being said, if you start with 20lb dumbbells and then discover after each of the first two sets that you need to go up by 5, you may not be able to lift 35lbs efficiently by the third set. This is why tracking your weights is important. On the first set start as high as you think you can (realistically) for that rep range because you can always decrease the weight as you get fatigued, plus you know that you’ve also recruited a maximal number of muscle fibers for that rep range.

Disclaimer: Do warm-up sets to get used to the movement and the loading if you are working with more than body weight, then start counting your sets after you’ve progressed through these warmup sets!

That’s it for this installment of questions, if you have any questions you’d like answered, again, use twitter, Facebook, email or a comment below.

Remember,
It’s About Getting Better!

Clean up your diet… Literally

Posted in Health with tags , , , , , on July 2, 2012 by razorsedgeperformance

There’s nothing better than getting home from the grocery store and devouring an entire basket of those huge juicy berries.  They taste so good and they’re humongous! They must’ve used magic or something, none of the local stuff grows like that! Guess what, it’s not magic, it’s not luck, it’s not climate, those were grown with additives and sprays to optimize their size and color.  So really, there is something better than devouring “those” berries; get out to a local market and pick up some locally grown fruit and produce.  I’ll give you a few good reasons why. 

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Bio magnification –  You may remember this word from high school, but in case you don’t I’ll try and keep it pretty simple.  If you put something on a plant (steroids, pesticides, hormones, etc.), each plant will have a small amount of that stuff in it.  As you move up the food chain however, the amount of that substance gets more and more concentrated.  In our case, it’s skipping from the bottom of the chain to the top (us). The plant only has a little bit of the substance, but we eat a vast number of plants. Just in one sitting I could eat a basket of berries, how much do I eat in my lifetime? If there’s something foul on those berries, I’ll slowly build levels in my bloodstream over my entire life. Each level it moves up the food chain (added appetite) the amount multiplies.

What do they spray things with? According to the environmental working group many fruits and vegetables are sprayed with pesticides and insecticides. These are made specifically to kill living organisms, to think they’ll have no effect on our own bodies seems very naive to me. If you’re interested in what is and isn’t sprayed, you can see their Dirty Dozen and Clean 15.
On top of pesticides, commercial growers use various sprays to increase production – both size and speed. One thing that’s been approved for this is MSG. So although MSG is being eliminated from restaurants, it may still be used to ripen fruit. MSG is linked to a number of diseases and disorders and is definitely something that should be avoided if the option is there.

One solution is to buy organic, whether local or from the supermarket. However, I’m usually asked – “is organic worth it?” – due to its increased cost at the till. For those asking, two things I suggest:
1) The goods on the dirty dozen are the highest priority if you can only pick a few.
2) Wash all fruits and vegetables you buy; Not just for pesticides, but dirt, bacteria and even feces from birds and animals can make their way onto your food.

The best thing you can do is wash everything as soon as you get home from the store; this can also be a good time to chop some up for later meals.

At the end of the day, what you put into your body is important, just like the quality of gas you put in your car. The difference is, you can’t go back to the dealership after you drive your body into the ground. Focus on healthy foods, avoid chemicals, pesticides, genetically altered and highly processed foods. Focusing on cleaning up your diet will make you feel better and get better output from your body.

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Remember,
It’s About Getting Better!

Nutrition mistakes: Bars

Posted in Health with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2012 by razorsedgeperformance

Being a fitness and nutrition expert, I see all the scams that many other people fall for. Just like I probably fall for buying useless extended warranties, sometimes you just believe in the hype when you don’t know any better. In this case, the scam that bothers me to no end are protein bars. If you’ve read any articles here previously you’ll know I’m a fan of protein powder though, so what gives? Well it’s sort of a game of smoke and mirrors.
Is there protein in there? Yes.
Is it an easy way to get protein? Yes.
Is it just protein? No.

That my friends is the important question. Ever wonder why they can be so tasty AND healthy at the same time? Well they can’t. The same reason that chocolate bars aren’t healthy. If someone figured out how to make something healthy taste like a caramilk, well, they probably would’ve done that by now. The reason they taste so good is they contain sugar or sugar like substances, stuff we’re supposed to be cutting back on. Right? Of course. Here’s an example of a popular protein bar on the market.
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INGREDIENTS: PROMAX® PROTEIN BLEND (SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, CALCIUM CASEINATE), GLUCOSE, FRUCTOSE, YOGURT FLAVOURED COATING (SUGAR, PALM KERNEL OIL, SKIM MILK, SKIM YOGURT POWDER, (CULTURED WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, CULTURED SKIM MILK, YOGURT CULTURE), SOY LECITHIN, SALT, FLAVOUR), WATER, COCOA, COOKIE PIECES (RICE FLOUR, SUGAR, TAPIOCA STARCH, PALM OIL, COCOA, CORNSTARCH, SALT, UNSWEETENED CHOCOLATE, FLAVOUR, SODIUM BICARBONATE, SOY LECITHIN), MALTODEXTRIN, SOY LECITHIN, CANOLA OIL, GUAR GUM, FLAVOUR.

CONTAINS: SOY, MILK.

Take a look at not only the nutritional information, but the ingredient list. Two things pop out at me, first of all there’s 31g of sugar in each bar. This definitely looks more like a candy bar than something considered a “health”food. Second of all, soy protein is the first ingredient on the list; besides the potential for soy to be toxic and raise estrogen levels, studies have shown that whey is superior to soy in promoting muscle protein synthesis. So why would you buy a product that has a potentially unhealthy protein source which is also an inferior product? Most people buy the one that tastes the best. This is the worst way to pick a snack, the unhealthy foods will win every time. It’s not that healthy food doesn’t taste good, it’s just that junk food has attacked the snack food market for years; when you’re in need of food, junk food will always find you. An easy solution is to try and make your own snacks and avoid bars.

With that being said, there are bars that exist which are fairly healthy but they’re more difficult to find. The easiest thing is to stick with light healthy foods. If you need protein, look for: cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, protein shakes or hard boiled eggs. For healthy fats, nuts are usually my HP to favorite but avocado is also a great choice. Protein and healthy fats are always a great start and they can be paired with fruit and veggies if you’re looking for a little more. Never buy an inferior food just for convenience, that’s lazy. Do yourself a favor and always pack extra snacks, snacks are often where diets Errol lose effectiveness. So be smart and pack a snack, you never want to feel like you HAVE to buy that candy protein bar.

Remember, it’s about getting better!