I don’t want to do pull-ups… I just want to look pretty on the ribbon

I don’t want to do pull-ups… I just want to look pretty on the ribbon

One day, I was getting caught up on office work in the front office while Vivian was getting ready to teach a beginner fabric class. A new student popped in for the first time to the studio to give it a try. Looking at her, I saw a middle-aged, overweight, and out of shape woman and knew that she would have a hard time at first, but, if she stuck with it, she could get in a lot better shape. At the end of the class, I asked her what she thought. She almost looked like she was going to cry. She said, “I keep looking for the thing that I can just walk into a room and be better than anyone else right from the start. I hoped that this would be it. It wasn’t so I just need to keep looking.”

This is more extreme than most, but I’ve seen a lot of people be surprised by how hard aerial is and that they can’t just “do it” from day one. When I have tried to show conditioning exercises to some new people, I’ve had many tell me, “I don’t want to do pull-ups, I just want to look pretty on the ribbon.” Let me just state up front, you can’t “look pretty on the ribbon” unless you are willing to get in shape.

This really isn’t a bad thing. Most people would like to be in shape but having a concrete goal, like wanting to aerial, can give that extra motivation to get off the couch and break a sweat. I really, really love aerial and want to have people be successful at it. I’ve had a number of people come to one class a week just to learn tricks. They don’t do any outside conditioning beyond the one class a week, make very little progress, and eventually disappear after a couple of months. We want to fix that!

I will be honest. If you do one aerial class a week and do nothing outside of that to strengthen the muscles needed to do aerial, you might as well not bother. I’m not saying that you need to do several aerial classes a week to make progress (even though people who do tend to get pretty good at it quickly!), but you need to do some work during the week to strengthen your arms, back, and core.

We have put together a multi-pronged approach to solve this:

  • New 30 minute rope and fabric boot camp classes at the studio
  • Hour long beginner fabric class with an emphasis on conditioning
  • Knotty Yoga Aerial yoga classes
  • A Knotty Yoga daily home workout

We have added 30 minute rope and fabric boot camp classes on Wednesday from 8pm-8:30pm and Sunday from 1:15pm-1:45pm. These classes are for all levels but are a great way for beginners to come and learn how to climb a rope or fabric and perform a set of targeted conditioning drills to strengthen yourself for aerial. It’s also a great way for more advanced students to log a lot of rope climbs and do some fun drills.

The Tuesday 8pm-9pm Beginner Fabric class will have a heavy emphasis on conditioning instead of mostly focusing on learning tricks. This is the best usage of time for brand new people.

All of the Knotty Yoga classes are a great way to strengthen for aerial as well as improve balance and flexibility while conditioning the whole body as well. Knotty Yoga is a great foundation for building the strength to do the more advanced acrobatics moves in your future.

We are very proud to announce a Knotty Yoga daily workout. Knotty Yoga students should do this workout every day that they don’t attend the studio. It can be done in less than ten minutes and will radically prepare you to make progress towards being able to do aerial acrobatics. Get strong so you can look pretty! The home workout is here:

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Rethinking the Yoga Mat

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_mat

I had been doing Pilates for years before I started doing yoga. The Pilates classes I attended had these massively large, well padded (two inch plus thickness) mats that we did the classes on. When I started doing yoga, I bought a yoga mat and went to the studio. I was surprised how small and ridiculously uncomfortable the yoga mat was. However, the yoga mat seemed to be a defining trait of the exercise modality. I came to accept doing lunges with just millimeters of some crappy synthetic padding between my knees and a wood floor as some kind of hazing ritual by which I could be initiated into the cult of the yogi.

This is actually ridiculous.

Yoga mats are a new thing (as in less than the last twenty years). There is no connection between the yoga mat and the thousands of years of tradition of yoga. One does not achieve enlightenment by grinding their knee cap into wood or concrete. They are not comfortable and, even worse, put restrictions on the type of practice one engages in. When placed on a long, skinny penalty box, teachers and students constrain their practice and movements to fit in this framework. I think that this leads to a lack of creativity and causes people to think in a very front to back, linear way. It also keeps people from spreading out to occupy more space than would be covered by a mat.

When I first started doing aerial yoga, I tried doing it with mats under the equipment on a hardwood floor. I wasn’t happy with the results at all. When holding onto a fabric, one naturally wants to move side to side and front to back as well as twisting. I tried doing things like two mats in a cross formation Universal Yoga style or even side by side mats to make more of a square, but the mats would get snagged and move around and it also just wasn’t enough padding to be comfortable.

I had a friend moving away and selling roll-out, two inch thick, carpeted acrobatics flooring. I bought it from her and taught on it for a couple of years. While it was quite comfortable, padded, and had excellent traction, it was so thick that balance exercises were challenging and the carpeted surface couldn’t be cleaned easily or thoroughly.

Around the same time, my friend Matt Meko tried using inch thick martial arts flooring in his studio. He raved about it. I went to check it out and liked it. It featured a surface finished like a yoga mat but it could be sprayed and mopped clean easily like a hard wood floor. It was very comfortable for something like falling out of a handstand or dropping down from a low height aerial move but not so padded that it hindered balance poses like tree or handstand. Traction was a little slippery when brand new (but not so much as a brand new yoga mat), but quickly became grippy.

I’m frankly in love. The thought of ever doing yoga on a hard wood floor on a mat seems silly to me. Like a trying to make a smoothie with a wire whisk after you’ve gotten used to a Vitamix. I went to a conference with yoga mats on concrete floors and it felt like the dark ages. I seriously don’t get why anyone practices like this anymore.

I suppose the lesson to me is that we shouldn’t just blindly follow things and accept them as cannon. To many people, the yoga mat symbolizes yoga. In reality, someone came up with the idea very recently, marketed it well, and it got some traction when insurance companies started requiring it to insure people. While I appreciate the business chops of the person who pimped this out to the masses, I really think that yoga mats hinder one’s practice and studios should investigate alternatives. In general, I think people should use a skeptical eye towards many of the assumed sacred cows of yoga. I’m going to look at some other aspects in blog posts over the next couple of months, but it’s a good idea to remember that yoga was very recently transferred to the West and has been HEAVILY modified and been filtered through a corporate machine to make it more marketable. I feel like the yoga industry tries to bully people into compliance with the supposed thousands of years of tradition behind yoga when a large portion of Western yoga is a modern creation with very little linkage to these millennia of tradition. It’s always a good idea to ask questions and research things that don’t seem natural to you. You might come away with a better understanding and appreciation of the doubted item. Or you might come up with something that works for you better. Both possible results are goodness.

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Knotty Yoga is for adults

When I was prepping to open the studio and shopping for insurance, I was able to get a substantial discount by electing not to purchase insurance for people under sixteen. With that decision made, I had a great reason not to take children at the studio because of liability. In the two years since then, I’ve watched the studio blossom into a wonderful community where people can get in amazing shape while also forging strong friendships.

This was two years ago and I really haven’t regretted the decision at all. It also hasn’t been that big of a deal until recently. In the last six months, the studio has doubled in both attendance and revenue. It continues to grow and I could easily see it doubling again over the next year. At the time this was written, I have an amazing staff of six people and the studio is flourishing. However, this issue has come up quite a lot more recently and in a pretty aggressive fashion so I want to clarify this point.

Knotty Yoga is for adults only. There are a number of reasons for this, but the two main ones are safety and social reasons. This goes for classes and the facility in general (waiting room, etc.). There are no private lessons with children under 16 either. There may be shows and public events where children are permitted. This will be clearly stated and children will not be allowed to use the aerial equipment at all during these events.

I’ve taught aerial acrobatics for a long time. I’ve taught both adults and children. I don’t think aerial acrobatics is a great fit for kids in a group setting. Having taught kids in a group setting, I’ve been alarmed, even working with just two pieces of equipment, focusing on one child for a second only to turn around and have another child at the top of the other piece of equipment about to jump off. This after clearly telling them to wait for me. I think tumbling or dance on the ground are a better way to get started, learn body awareness, and, more importantly, learn discipline and how to be coached.

As such, teaching kids involves a different approach and that would be too condescending and slow paced for adults. SANCA is a circus school with an amazing youth program and I happily refer all requests for people with kids to them (http://www.sancaseattle.org/). I feel like studios should pick a few things and do them well instead of being mediocre to bad at everything.

Also, people don’t come to a studio just for the workout. It’s about the atmosphere. Having children present changes things dramatically. People don’t feel comfortable talking about the crazy date they had last weekend or the night on the town they are planning after class. The workouts are very hard and people might occasionally use colorful language that would be awkward with children present. More importantly, the studio is a sanctuary for working professionals to seek refuge from the outside world. For most, the presence of children does not a sanctuary make.

There is no good that can come from me being in the position of having to parent other people’s children. Since being open, I’ve had children throw food on the walls of my waiting area, trash my office supplies, scream so loud from the waiting room that I had to yell at my class for people to hear me, leave unflushed excrement in the restroom, and cause safety hazards. When people’s children behave poorly, it puts me in the awkward place of either attempting to parent their kids in front of them or confronting them about their children’s poor behavior. This is a lose / lose position for me.

The net result is that children under sixteen are not allowed at Knotty Yoga. Lately, I’ve had people get angry and aggressive with my staff, slam doors, storm out, etc. because of this. This blog post is an attempt to explain my position and take all of the blame for the decision off my staff.

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Don’t Be Vegetarian Road Kill

Although I’ve happily been a vegetarian for twenty-four years, I don’t advocate that lifestyle for most people unless they are a good cook, cook most of what they eat, and really understand food and how the body digests it. For most people this is a big ask and this is why many people who become vegetarian don’t stick with it and possibly even see their health deteriorate while experimenting with vegetarianism. I call these people vegetarian road kill.

The reality is that most people eat very poorly. If you simply take an average diet and subtract the meat and slightly increase the portions of everything that remains, you will most likely end up with a far worse nutritional result. There is this odd perception that vegetarian means healthy which is far from the truth. Chocolate chip cookies, cheese pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, and a taco bell bean & cheese burritos are all vegetarian but far from being nutritional heavy hitters.

For many newbie vegetarians, their dietary changes equates to a radical drop in protein consumption and significant increase in carbohydrates. Given the carbohydrate excess of most people’s diets already, this is not a good choice.

Being a vegetarian is honestly a pain in the ass a lot of the time. I’m envious of people eating grass fed beef, broccoli, and a sweet potatoes for a relatively healthy, simple to prepare, and tasty to consume dinner with little effort. To get the equivalent protein and nutrition, I end up with a mixture of nuts, greek yogurt, eggs, quinoa, lentils, flax seed, and a random assortment of vegetables of which none has the healthy ratio of amino acids that are present in the beef. I really do enjoy cooking and assembling my meals from a variety of sources, but when I’m pressed for time, it is frustrating how poor the nutrition is of most quick to assemble or pre-made vegetarian options.

I’m also lacto-ova vegetarian so I eat eggs and dairy and admit that I lean heavily on animal based sources (mainly eggs, whey, and Greek yogurt) for a significant percentage of my daily protein consumption. Protein consumption would be significantly harder if I was vegan.

I’ve had numerous friends over the years cease to be vegetarian after developing issues with B vitamin deficiency, anemia, diabetes, and simple loss of energy and muscle tone. All of these are easily avoidable, but you have to know what you are doing and be educated and thoughtful in your food choices.

There is also a social aspect that comes into play. When you have a dietary restriction, you are immediately higher maintenance than someone without the limitation. When people are deciding whether to invite you or another person who will eat anything for the last slot at their dinner party, chances are that you won’t get the invite. You will also have to get used to going to many restaurants and having one to three options to order (and sometimes none) versus the normal thirty. There is also nothing worse than going to a close friend’s family gathering and having to explain to their 80 something grandmother why you won’t try her chicken stew.

There exists a significant association with anorexia and vegetarianism. Many anorexics will claim to be vegetarian because it helps to keep people from questioning their finicky eating habits and provides a bit of a shield. There is such an association with vegetarians and people who have eating disorders, malnutrition, and frail health that I, as a 200lbs+ slab of muscle, get shocked reactions when people find out that I’m a vegetarian. I frequently hear, “but you can’t be vegetarian and have that much muscle.” I get tired of people equating vegetarian with looking like you are two skipped meals away from dying.

Like any decent sized movement, there are also militant factions in the world of vegetarians. Vegans are to vegetarians as the evangelical born again set is to Christianity. Having been vegetarian for two and a half decades, I chuckle to myself in response to newly baptized vegans insisting that I have to give up dairy and eggs and how it will change my life. I’ve explored dropping all of these things (and gluten too) and if anything felt less healthy. In general, I’d advise against taking dietary advice from anyone who has been doing something themselves for less than five years.

I became a vegetarian initially totally based on animal rights reasons. I grew up next to a small, free range family farm with grass fed animals and saw how people who see animals as property and a source of income treat them. The answer is very poorly and I witnessed some horrible things. I was fourteen at the time and switching to become vegetarian was not a good choice for me but I did it anyway. I didn’t like vegetables and really didn’t understand nutrition. Over the years, I have made peace with broccoli and my vegetarianism has evolved.

At this point, I feel like there is enough death and cruelty in the world and I’m happy that there is less involved with getting dinner to my plate. However, I also appreciate having a greener, safer food supply as a result of eating lower on the food chain. I also like that I can’t go on auto-pilot with regards to food. Being a vegetarian can take a lot more time, but it also means I don’t really have the option of eating fast food or even eating at most greasy, comfort food type restaurants. Because dinner isn’t simply some cut of meat and a couple of “sides”, I have to be more thoughtful and deliberate in my food choices.

I also think that as a society, we often focus too much on weight loss / gain and protein consumption as the only metrics when evaluating food. There are other criteria like PH, antioxidants, toxicity, and others that should not be forgotten and are easier to manage with a more plant based diet. Vegetarianism has a lot of upsides for sure. However, a person wanting those upsides doesn’t actually need to become a vegetarian. An omnivore has access to all of the wonderful food options that vegetarians can eat and can choose how much if any meat to consume on top of that.

For many people, becoming a vegetarian is a great option but people should really be aware of that it will involve eating a diet that is substantially different from your average American. It will take more effort to eat a healthy and balanced food regimen. There are a number of great reasons for going vegetarian but people should realize that ceasing to eat meat will not make them any healthier and it could possibly be a negative change.

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How Groupon Is Ruining the Fitness Industry

This might sound hypocritical to say, given that I have used group purchasing to promote myself, but I believe that group purchasing has been highly detrimental to the fitness industry. It’s been even worse for the massage industry. You could probably make the case for any industry.

I have a friend who works as a yoga instructor and was making around $55 a class at a nicer yoga studio more than eight years ago. At the same studio now, she is making $35 a class. Yoga has gained in popularity in that time. She is now a better, more trained, and experienced instructor. She is also highly popular with students. Still she is making 36% less than she was almost a decade ago.

The problem is that yoga is now a commodity. Yes people will have preferences for studios, teachers, and styles, but there is a generic hot / power / flow yoga that permeates many studios. If people can bounce between studios using group purchasing to get continual $40 a month unlimited yoga instead of being loyal to a studio for $130 a month, there is a set of price conscious people who will do that.

Oddly enough, most of the people I know that do this are people who could easily afford the regular price. They like the price hunt and feeling like they are getting a deal. I honestly hate this mentality of deals, coupons, special offers, and so forth. There is a level of dishonesty to it. Ideally, we would just state a price that reflects the quality of our services and people would pay it. Yet, people want to feel like they are getting a deal.

Most people don’t realize it, but when you get a massage, take a fitness class, or work with a coach / trainer, the professional you are working with is getting paid 25-40% of what you are paying for the service (keep that in mind when you are figuring out how much to tip on that $40 massage for which the therapist is making minimum wage). The business takes the rest. This might sound unfair but when you factor in the cost of commercial leasing, operating costs, employee expenses, taxes, and marketing to build a clientele, most of these businesses are barely profitable.

The lure of group purchasing is their large mailing list. By listing yourself on group purchasing, you open yourself to an introduction to many more potential clients. The price of entry is discounting your service by 50% and then splitting that remaining half with the group purchasing company. That leaves the business with 25% of their normal price. So instead of getting $130 a month per unlimited attendance person per month, they get $20 for a $40 group purchasing unlimited offer.

The idea is to attract new clients that might not know about your studio. The hope is that they stick around after the group purchasing deal ends and become regular clients. However, there are a number of people doing yoga already who jump on it to save money. By doing this, the studio ends up getting less than a sixth of what they were getting before. The situation is even worse if people bounce around between studios each month and only return once every six months.

The net result is more people doing yoga, which is good, while at the same time, having studios shut down, teachers making less, and less investment in the industry. The quality of yoga instruction is dropping radically. It’s even worse on the massage front.

For me, I elected to participate in the group purchasing juggernaut but tried to do so on my terms. It helps that the aerial, strength based yoga I teach isn’t generic. I also elected to offer a one-time introductory workshop for $19 instead of something potentially devastating like a $40 monthly unlimited option that would cannibalize existing business and make me shut down. Even then, my deals have sold well and I’ve conducted a number of these workshops. I have found some new students this way, but the conversion rate is remarkably low even though my satisfaction reviews run in the 90th percentile.

My worry is that by meeting me at one artificially low price point, even if they like my services, they might be more tempted to keep deal bouncing between the new offerings flooding their inboxes. It’s like the bachelor that never settles down because he’d rather keep playing the field. The same people probably will always wonder why they stay fat and never get in shape. Inconsistency is the enemy of fitness.

I think that we are moving towards being like the automobile industry where you have a list price that “nobody” pays. This inflated price is used when you need to discount yourself 50% to list on group purchasing. This way the hit isn’t quite as bad and then when people finish group purchasing, you can make them your own “special” offer since they are such a “special” person who deserves a “special” deal.

The crux of the issue is that businesses are clearly participating hoping to find new, regular, loyal customers. However, the existence of group purchasing is spoiling people to expect to pay little to nothing for services and to dabble in a lot instead of doing a few things well. This ultimately drives prices down and devalues everything. Ask yourself if you would like to work for 25% or less of what you are making now.

For me, I’m trying to make it very clear to people that I’m an honest person offering a great product that I’m proud of. People who work out at my studio on a regular basis get in amazing shape. I’m using group purchasing as a means of meeting new potential, regular customers. If you try my product at this low price to start with, the assumption is that, if you like it, you will return as a regular fitness client at the normal, more than market competitive price. I’m not doing this to get flaky, cheap people who want to have a one-time experience and snap a new Facebook profile picture holding onto a fabric so that their friends think that they are more interesting than they really are. If that’s you, then please scroll down to mani/pedi deal below me… :)

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Consistency and Intensity Are the Keys to Fitness Success

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. People think they understand this concept until it is applied to their understanding of fitness. When people are frustrated by their fitness progress and I ask them what they do, they usually tell me that they are doing their standard routine. All things being equal, if you stick with the same fitness routine, the best you can hope to achieve is maintaining the status quo.

Even maintaining the status quo is not likely with the same routine. Over time, you will age, hormone levels will drop, and your metabolism will slow. You will have to work harder just to maintain the status quo. When presented with the same task over and over again, our bodies are very efficient and we will develop the means of being able to accomplish the same task with less effort. This will also cause a loss of progress.

The factors determining fitness success are consistency and intensity. You need both. You have to continually increase your intensity if you want to make progress. You also need to maintain, or increase, the consistency.

For an activity like weight lifting, it’s easy to tell if you are increasing the intensity since that translates into being able to lift more weight. I would call this a simplistic increase in intensity. It’s mainly a function of time, protein consumption, and repetition which results in a muscle increasing in volume.

A more interesting increase in intensity is being able to do something new that you couldn’t do before. I find this a lot more exciting than a five pound increase in a weight that I can lift. Frequently, this would also involve taking something that you could barely do before, or execute poorly, and then be able to do it better. Take, for instance, the ability to do a handstand. You don’t just go from not being able to do a handstand at all to being able to do a handstand at will for as long as you want. There are a set of training steps to get there and supporting strengthening and stretching exercises to condition the body to accomplish the given task.

Being able to serve in tennis is the same way. You start just doing anything to get the ball in the court with regularity. Then you begin to experiment with power, spins, and consistency. It takes years and thousands of acts of repetition and experimentation to improve and be able to develop a competent tennis serve.

In Knotty Yoga, there are a lot of “goal moves” that will take people months or years even to be able to do for more than just a half second (or at all without someone else spotting you heavily). Even though only a couple of students have mastery of many of these moves, for each move, there is a long set of progressions on the way to the actual move itself. Each of these progressions is an exciting goal to achieve in and of itself. However, the real excitement is knowing that each one will take you to the next step on a long and exciting path. When you can finally do something that you have been working on for years, it’s an extremely rewarding experience.

The other factor in progress is consistency. This is where many people struggle. I’ll see people post to Facebook and brag about an EPIC workout. Then they will be so proud of themselves that they will slack off for a month after. Or people who need to lose 100lbs and stop after losing five pounds to celebrate with a binging meal. Consistency is working out three to five days a week at a high intensity level with an ever increasing intensity.

It’s amazing to me how many people think that making that kind of commitment to your fitness and health is unrealistic and a challenge. This is where I think Knotty Yoga excels. Knotty Yoga is an intense and efficient workout. A person could do three, one-hour Knotty Yoga workouts a week and make excellent progress over as little time as three months. After a year, they will be doing things that they had never thought possible. For busy people without much time to spare, that is only three hours a week. Most people waste more than that much time watching television in a day. It will also save time in sick leave, back pain, headaches, doctor’s visits, and chiropractic adjustments down the road. Not to mention the improvement in your appearance.

On the flip side, I have seen many people over the years that go to the gym regularly like clockwork. They have the consistency thing down. But they never get in any better shape because they do the exact same thing every workout.

If your workout has consistency and intensity, you will get in shape and then continue to get in better shape over time. The key is to have both. I created Knotty Yoga with a basic goal: anyone from a moderately fit person to an elite athlete will be challenged with increasing intensity in a format that achieves results if people consistently attend at least three, 60-minute classes a week. Whatever your fitness vehicle is, make sure the intensity is there and that you consistently make time for it if you want to make progress.

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Achieving balance through asymmetry

One of the biggest surprises my new students have is how much harder one side is than the other with asymmetrical exercises. Whether it is differences in strength, coordination, or flexibility, it surprises people how out of balance they are from side to side. One of the biggest flaws in most training regiments is an over reliance on symmetrical training that doesn’t simulate real world activity.

One of the biggest examples of asymmetry was a number of years ago when I took a workshop from a contortionist. When doing the big flexibility moves on one side, she was amazing. To her less developed side, she was just like any random flexible girl in pretty much any yoga class. I worry for her as she ages.

Activity tends to be one sided. We have a dominant hand so we use that side more. It gets stronger and stronger and muscles and range of motion become different on one side versus the other. This applies to more than just the upper body. People usually post on one leg and step with the other when they encounter an obstacle. This causes one side to get tighter and have more balance while the other leg becomes more flexible.

People are fairly aware of an imbalance in something like a racquet sport where they are only using one arm, the biggest surprise is how asymmetrical people function in supposedly symmetric exercises.

When people do pushups or pull ups, they don’t use their arms evenly. They tend to do a disproportionate amount of work with the dominant side arm. This is a huge flaw with barbell based weight training regiments. Having the arms tethered to each other allows the dominant side to take over and do more work without the person realizing it.

I was always surprised how much less weight I could lift when I used dumbbells with a weight in each hand versus a barbell for basically the same exercise. Bench pressing 200lbs on a barbell is MUCH easier than doing dumbbell chest press with individual 100lbs in each hand. In fact it isn’t even close. The bar tethers the hands and also makes balancing and stabilizing the weight much easier.

When I started doing aerial acrobatics, I was surprised how much stronger and more symmetrical my arms became. This was from all of the rope climbing. I really, really like that rope climbing is performed with one hand moving on top and pulling down and then the other. It is an alternating, asymmetric action that makes the arms work individually. It becomes pretty obvious if one side is stronger than the other and is a huge win over a pull up or bicep curl.

I was recently doing body work on a regular student and realized his chest was tight on one side and the triceps were loose whereas the chest was underdeveloped on the other side and the triceps were very tense. I was careful to observe his form on pushups and realized he shifted his arm out away from his body on his left side to recruit the arm more and make up for a lack of strength on that side. It’s amazing how easy it is to take a symmetric exercise and operate asymmetrically.

To combat this, I spend a lot of time doing exercises that are asymmetric where it is obvious if there is a difference from side to side. It’s also more realistic to how we function in life. For instance, the traditional barbell on the shoulders squat is a very flawed exercise to me because very little in life is done with that body position. It’s a very weak position to have the legs positioned in line because it is too easy to get toppled over. We normally stagger stance the legs to get better balance and leverage. We also don’t perform locomotion like that. We take steps. Spending a ton of time training a movement that we are never going to perform in life is a bad idea. This is on top of the likelihood that you will work unevenly through the legs or, worse, the torso. Leg press with the sled is even worse in this regard.

By working with dumbbells or one side at a time, you become aware of over development of one side and are able to counter it. In time, the imbalance will take a toll and cause injury. As a body worker, I frequently deal with people with back pain in which an imbalance somewhere in the body is causing tension that pulls unevenly on the muscles of the back. This causes further shifts throughout the body to counter balance the tension. For instance, I had a recent client with a tight left glute and right shoulder that were causing an asymmetric work load through her middle back. This resulted in a lot of back pain.

If you are doing a sport that is inherently asymmetrical like tennis or an aesthetic based activity like dance that emphasizes a “good side” to showcase in a performance, you should do a lot of training that emphasizes balancing out this asymmetry.

If you are doing a training regimen that is entirely based on symmetrical exercises (ie. Beware the all barbell weight routine), you should incorporate a decent amount of asymmetric training to balance things out. We achieve symmetry by working asymmetrically.

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To Get Fit, Make Friends With Fit People

Out of shape people normally have out of shape friends. They also tend to date and partner with out of shape people. Not surprisingly, fit people tend to have fit friends and partner with in shape people. Fitness is rarely just an individual thing. It’s a lifestyle and a big part of any lifestyle is who you surround yourself with.

Peer pressure is real. People who smoke tend to be friends with people who smoke. Same with people who do drugs, commit crime, or are alcoholics. However, peer pressure shouldn’t be exclusively associated with failure. I love the term “a rising tide lifts all boats” because it is frequently true. Positive peer pressure and healthy competition can definitely motivate people and encourage success in all things.

Active people generally want other people to join them in their happenings. Obviously, tennis, racquetball, softball, ultimate Frisbee, football, soccer, and all the competitive sports mean that you need at least another person to participate in the activity. Even solo things like cycling, hiking, running, yoga, or strength training are more fun with others and the accountability of doing it with a friend can help with consistency. Mild competition can encourage you to push yourself harder than you might solo.

I’m always pestering friends to go hiking, do yoga, try acrobatics, play tennis, and generally come to do active things with me. I’m drawn to people who lead a similar lifestyle. Pretty much all my active friends are the same. I do have friends who aren’t active, but I see them less and we have less in common. If the only activity I can do with someone is share an expensive and fattening meal on an infrequent basis, their prominence in my life diminishes over time. Relationships are forged on shared experiences. Hopefully those shared experiences are built on more than gluttony or intoxication.

If you want to get in shape, you should start befriending fit people and doing things with them. Join a fitness community. I’m not saying you need to drop all your friends but if you are unhappy with your weight and fitness, evaluate what is keeping you from meeting your goals. It might very well be your current friends, a lack of friends, a relationship, family, or a combination of all of these. Start with adding healthy people to your life. Over time, reevaluate your relationships with negative people who are holding you back. Chances are that this will extend to more than just your fitness level.

One of the things I am most proud of with respect to Knotty Yoga is the community of people who participate. Many friendships are formed in this highly supportive, healthy, active community of amazing people. Knotty Yoga helps people get in shape and build a fitness foundation and then the people use that foundation to do a variety of other activities. Before and after classes, I love hearing about people going hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, pole dancing, surfing, playing competitive sports, doing distance athletics, taking martial arts training, and numerous other activities. People are always encouraging others to join them.

When I hear comments from people new to the studio, the top three I hear are how hard the workouts are, how fit / attractive the students are, and how friendly and supportive everyone is. When someone comes and starts taking classes, they will begin making physical progress but they will also meet active people and begin sowing the seeds of friendship. As the person gets more physically capable and immersed in an active lifestyle, they will have a new network of people to try new things with. It’s wonderful to see people do things that they had never dreamed they would be capable of before.

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Movement planes as a criteria for evaluating your fitness routine

There are many different criteria for evaluating a fitness routine. One of the most useful is the concept of movement planes. There are three movement planes and a good workout routine will incorporate movement through all of them.

The most targeted movement plane at the gym is the sagittal movement. The sagittal movement plane is the one that would split you into two symmetric halves down the middle. Movement along the sagittal movement plane is front to back and called flexion (narrowing the angle of a joint) or extension (opening the angle of a joint). Most symmetric exercises are sagittal (bench press, squats, etc.) as well as things that involve forward or backward movement (running, biking).

The frontal or coronal movement plane is one that is perpendicular to the direction that your face and belly button point. It would split you in half asymmetrically into a front and back. Movement along the frontal plane goes towards or away from the centerline of the body (think jumping jacks). Moving towards the body is called adduction (bringing your arms down towards your side) and away from the body is called abduction (bringing the arms up and out to the sides). Lateral movement,  from side to side, happens in this plane. The chief muscles doing abduction are the glutes (legs) and deltoids (arms). The main adductors are the inner thigh muscles (legs )and the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi muscles (arms).

The transverse plane is parallel to the ground and movement in this plane is generally called rotation. It tends to be the least targeted in the gym and fitness routines but the most critical to athletic performance (throw the ball, swing the racquet, turn in dance, twist the trunk in swimming). It is the most complicated of the movement planes. In general, it involves muscles that when fired symmetrically in a balanced fashion, result in movement in the sagittal or frontal planes, but when fired asymmetrically, create rotation in the transverse plane.

I like to think in terms of natural movement and synthetic movement. Natural movement generally involves a mixture of motion through all movement planes. Synthetic movement tends to be very rigid and confined.

A good example of synthetic movement would be cycling. The body is fixed to move along a track mechanically and locked into movement in the sagittal plane. Like most synthetic movement, this results in relatively few muscle groups being used. As such, cycling tends to be very incomplete as far as conditioning for the body. In cycling’s favor, the muscles used are some of the largest in the body so the activity burns a lot of calories and the mechanical advantage translates to a pretty efficient way to cover a lot of distance. By itself though, cycling is not a very good fitness solution.

Looking at a sport like tennis, there is a lot of side to side frontal plane movement and forward backwards sagittal movement. In fact, there is generally a seamless mixture of the two. Tennis also features rotation on both sides with plenty of motion in the transverse plane. Tennis is very well balanced across all three movement planes.

Looking at power lifting (squat, bench press, and deadlift) and Olympic lifting (snatch, clean and jerk), the movements are almost exclusively all in the sagittal plane. Except for the clean and jerk, the exercises are all completely symmetric. Weight lifting relies on simplistic movement and confining things to large muscles to be able to tackle higher weight loads. This comes at the expense of the number of muscles targeted and the ranges of motion explored. For this reason, the strength cultivated through classic weight lifting is frequently more for aesthetics than translating to real world athletic performance or any kind of balanced training for the body.

Compared to weight lifting, the weight loads in yoga are relatively small since it is generally limited to that of an individual’s own body. For that reason, people doing yoga alone generally don’t get overly muscular or explosively powerful. On the other hand, yoga excels at balanced movement through all three movement planes. A good yoga practice should contain a lot of twisting motion in addition to a lot of lateral movement to balance the sagittal movement. When I first started doing yoga, I really was taken by the variety and complexity of the movements and how much of it is asymmetric.

The concept of movement planes extends beyond just the realm of exercise. One of the reasons I prefer Thai massage to classic Swedish / deep tissue is that it addresses movement planes better. The dominant positions in Swedish / deep tissue are supine (on your back) and prone (on your belly). In general, two thirds of the massage will be spent on your belly. This mainly presents the muscles largely responsible for sagittal movement. Also, conventional massage focuses mostly on working muscles directly instead of range of motion.

On the other hand, Thai massage makes great use of side lying position and also incorporates a lot of range of motion and stretching. Twisting in particular should be a big component of every Thai massage. Twisting is very difficult in a conventional table massage with a client on a narrow table without clothing and just a thin drape covering them. In Thai massage, being on a large mat on the ground with clothes on makes elaborate movements and stretches far more possible. Side lying also presents better access to the abductors (deltoids, glutes) and the adductors (inner thighs, lats, and pecs). Being able to better address the planes of movement of the body gives Thai massage a significant advantage over conventional massage.

With both fitness and massage clients, I thoroughly integrate addressing the planes of movement in both my workout plans and body work. Clients always like to ask what muscle are being targeted or where they should feel the stretch, I cringe and think it points to a fundamental flaw with a lot of training. When we do something physical in the real world, it’s never just one muscle doing the work so it is crazy to train that way. The focus should be on movement instead of individual muscles. Any exercise that doesn’t target several muscles at the same time and perform an interesting motion should be dropped from your fitness routine unless it is a physical therapy exercise to heal an injury.

When evaluating whether or not your current fitness plan is adequate, try evaluating how many movement planes your workout targets. For instance, if you are a runner or cyclist, you are going to need to do something else in addition to balance out your body. If you are a weight lifter, look at your routine and evaluate if everything is symmetric and mostly front to back movement. Very few people in the gym do any kind of twisting. If you are doing more natural movements like sports, dance, acrobatics, yoga, wrestling, or swimming with a variety of strokes, you most likely have this covered. If nothing else, make sure that your workout routine involves twisting and side to side movement (of both the arms and legs as well as the torso).

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Routines and Habits

Every Monday, I teach an hour class, have an hour break, and then an hour training session immediately followed by giving a ninety minute massage (followed later in the day by teaching a ninety minute class). I have to eat something in that hour break or I will run out of energy. Ideally, I plan ahead and bring something but that doesn’t always happen.

For a couple of weeks, I’d walk to the nearby Safeway during this break and buy a 16oz protein drink and two hard boiled eggs. I’m big on patterns and routines and realized that this was quickly becoming a habit and that I should look at it to determine if it is a good one.

The eggs are fine. Each one is packing 70 calories and 6g of protein for 140 total calories and 12g of protein together.

The problem is the protein drink. The label says 220 calories, 15g of protein, and 30g of sugar. This isn’t amazing but is within the realms of tolerable except that there are two servings in the drink and I drink the full 16oz (which 99% of the world will also do) so the true nutritional toll is 440 calories, 30g of protein, and 60g of sugar.

With the eggs, that tallies 580 calories, 42g of protein, and 60g of sugar. Trying to eat 2,500-3,000 calories a day and about 200g of protein a day, these numbers are a bit high for calories (this is basically snack and packing about a fourth of my desired calories for the day), good for protein, and totally out of line for sugar (more than I’d actually like to eat in a day total). The protein drink was also about $4 whereas the two eggs were 98 cents.

I decided to put back the protein drink and just get four hard boiled eggs and drink more water. This meant I was consuming 280 calories, 24g of protein, and pretty much no sugar. It also cost me $2 instead of $5.

This is a savings of 300 calories and 60g of sugar (not to mention $3). Scaled out to 52 weeks, that is 15,600 calories. Divide that by 3,500 calories (roughly what causes you to gain a pound), that turns into 4.46lbs. So all things being equal, doing scenario A over an entire year versus scenario B is a difference in body weight of almost five pounds.

This is just a decision about what to do for a snack one day a week. To me, life is a set of habits and routines. Habits and routines are our friends for staying healthy and maintaining a decent weight in the face of a fairly sedentary lifestyle filled with calorie laden food. People stress about going to a party or eating a big Thanksgiving dinner, but it is actually the regular routine decisions and habits which determine whether we are fat or not.

For instance, studies show that people have way more tolerance for eating the same thing for breakfast every day versus eating the same thing for dinner every day. Given that, it is a good idea to make breakfast a very healthy, well thought-out routine meal. For me, that usually means a mostly vegetable smoothie and steel cut oatmeal.

We also are pretty good about registering calories that we have eaten and physically chewed but horrible about perceiving calories that we drink so things like sugar laden soft drinks, sweetened teas, coffee, energy drinks, and protein drinks are a bad idea. Most people already know this. However, most people forget how many calories and sugar in particular are in juice and milk. People should stick to water for almost all their liquid consumption. People drinking black coffee or diet soda aren’t immune either… these are strong diuretics and are basically like negative water consumption since they require more water to process the diuretic than is in the beverage.

The biggest habit that affects health the most is a good sleep routine. While sleeping, our bodies primarily run off of fat. While awake, we mostly run off sugar (which is easily replenished and doesn’t affect weight loss as much). The simplest way to burn more fat is to get more sleep.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of best practices but is merely trying to point out that creating a routine for you and taking a critical look at these routine choices can have a huge impact on your health, weight, and appearance. If you find yourself doing something regularly, it is a good idea to sit down and think about it and whether it is a good idea. Running numbers and tracking metrics is the best way to get results. Look at nutrition info and add it up. Track how much you sleep and how much water your drink. Try different scenarios and see how each impacts how you feel, your energy level, your weight, etc. If you aren’t happy with your results, then look at the data and make better decisions.

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