Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fact or Fiction: Minimalist footwear

I had to think for a few minutes about how to title this blog; the minimalist footwear thing is a hot topic right now, and I wanted to choose my words carefully. Calling it a "trend" would imply that I thought it would fade out of the limelight. Specifically mentioning running would imply that I thought this was something that only applied to runners. I wanted to avoid these things, because I truly think that minimalist designed footwear is applicable to every population, in some form or fashion. Honestly, its my personal opinion that actually RUNNING barefoot or in minimalist shoes should be the last stop on that road, rather than the first. Unfortunately, as is the case in this country, people learn about a good thing and just go for the gusto right away, even when they aren't ready for it. We are a country of zealots, and the health and fitness industry is no different. People take a good idea and take it as gospel, thinking that idea is the only right answer. (read: Crossfit, HIIT, Kettlebells, Zumba...etc, etc)

My thoughts on minimalist footwear relies heavily on anecdotal evidence; and it doesn't begin with prehistoric man. Many people will conjure up prehistoric man as their example and say "well, he didn't wear shoes, so why do we need to?" Well, prehistoric man also went everywhere bare-assed and lived in a cave, but you don't see too many people going out to do those, do you? Didn't think so.
Welcome home!

Lets take a look at a few different times in history, and how they relate to this discussion. What did the Native Americans wear? Moccasins, if anything. Not much arch support in those. They weren't having problems with patellofemoral pain syndrome when they were running down Custer and his buddies. What did they wear in the olden days of the NBA? Chuck Taylors where the sneaker of choice for about 40 years; during a time when foot/ankle/knee injuries were pretty uncommon (with a few notable excepts, like Bill Walton and Pete Maravich).  Lastly, the Roman Legions. Surprisingly, they were not rocking Brooks Dynamic Stability Sandals. It was a hard leather sole with straps to hold on to your foot and ankle. I don't recall reading about Julius Ceasar worrying about compartment syndrome when he was sending his troops to conquer the planet.

If our ancestors didn't need to put orthopedic arch supports into their moccasins, then why are there now people who can't walk around in flip flops because they suffer from shooting pains in their feet? Same reason people have thoracic spine and hip mobility problems; de-evolution. Our bodies have evolved over a millenia to work in a specific way, and we are now doing everything we can to ruin the machine.

Minimalist footwear doesn't have to be ballet slippers and Vibram Five Fingers; there are lots of choices that range from nearly a fully supportive shoe, down to what is merely a protective covering.

Nike Free Run+

Luna Sandals

Every shoe manufacturer has a minimalist shoe, and they all serve a purpose. The bones of the foot are intended to be slightly mobile, and to flex and move as the body strides. The toes are evolved to spread and grasp at the ground as we walk. If the foot was intended to move as it does in a fully supportive running shoe, then it would appear more like a stump and less like a foot. I am a big proponent, and i tell my clients constantly, of people doing more activities of daily living in these types of shoes. I truly believe that if people spent more "down time" in these shoes, it would benefit them greatly. All of my clients deadlift in socks, and many of them are wearing free's for the rest of our training. If I wouldn't get shit from my boss, they would be doing their dynamic warm-ups in socks too.

Big clunky shoes really just restrict your ability to feel anything; it takes away all of your proprioception. Your foot is full of nerves and is extremely sensitive (ask Rex Ryan about that), and that would control our natural gait. Putting your foot into a running shoe with arch support and a thick air bubble cushioning every step is like putting thick wool gloves on Eddie Van Halen's hands and then asking him to crank out Eruption; it changes everything. Go out, buy a pair of Free's, Chuck's, Sanuk's, or Samba's and just go walk around. Walk the dog in them. Run Errands. Wear them to lift weights (if your gym won't let you lift sockless). Just MOVE in them, and let your body start to live a little.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Oh no, not functional training!

Functional training...just the phrase makes many trainers shudder, myself included. Such a simple phrase has become bastardized to the point of non-recognition. It the most basic sense, functional means whatever it needs to mean to each individual. Functional strength for a professional bowler than for an NFL running back.

For whom is this functional?

With that being said, I think functional has a pretty specific meaning for everyone; and that relates to activities of daily living (ADL's). Specifically regarding the prehistoric movement patterns, movements that we are born doing well, and lose as we age. Squatting,  dead lifting, lunging, pushups and pullups. In my, completely unesteemed (yea, I know it's not a word!) opinion, these exercises are some of the most functional things you can do. If you can do these exercises well with no pain and good mobility, then you should have a pretty easy time doing most normal ADL's.

If only there was an exercise to make getting on and off this thing easier!!

I bring this up, because of a conversation I had at work the other day. I had just finished my workout and was having my post-workout shake and some cottage cheese while I copied down my clients programming for the evening. Someone looked over my shoulder and proceeded to ask "when are you gonna stop doing that stuff with him?" Confusedly, I asked what he was talking about. His response was "well, are you ever going to take him functional again? How long will the lifting last for?"

I nearly spit out my coffee, and I wasn't even drinking any! I didn't know how to respond. This guy, someone who was supposedly knowledgable on the subject, was suggesting that the stuff I was doing with this particular client was not functional training. I suppose he feels that the single leg bench touches and quad contractions are more functional, which is all well and good if you can give me a reason to back it up. I'm comfortable in the realization that, in this industry, there is more than one way to skin a cat...as long as you can back up your way of skinning the cat with some sort of plausible reasoning.

In the end, functional training is whatever you NEED it to be. In a perfect world, functional training would include things that would make everyone function better on a daily basis, but this isn't a perfect world unfortunately!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Identity Crisis

One of the biggest differences between training in a commercial gym vs a private strength and conditioning facility is the expectations of your management. Unfortunately, in a commercial gym, the baseline is all about the Benjamin's. You can be the best trainer in the world, but if you cant sell sessions you are useless to your boss. Unfortunately, because of that, a good trainer not only gets results with his clients, but they are also able to sell loads of training packages. This creates an interesting hierarchy amongst the trainers, because some trainers can be looked upon favorably for selling themselves well, and a great trainer can be frowned upon because he just cannot figure out how to fill up his schedule.

This is the current state of affairs at my gym, we have some trainers who's techniques might be considered "questionable". I am very aware of the fact that, in this industry more than many others, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Just because I believe in one method more than another, doesn't make it the right way (it IS the right way, but lets pretend its not for arguments sake). I may not agree with these techniques when it comes to the actual workouts, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention that he does a very good job at selling himself to clients, and always has a full schedule.

Step 1 in knowing your trainer sucks: neither of you can lift a weight over 5 lbs.

On the other hand, we have several good young trainers with great educational backgrounds who just don't know what it takes to sell their techniques to clients. Not to toot my own horn, but I do a pretty good job of staying busy (beep beep!). Out of 25 hours of availability, i have about 20 sessions per week. Almost all of which are regular clients I see multiple times per week.

I think the secret to selling these sessions is knowing your identity as a trainer. Too many people try to use 8 different techniques in the course of every session. I know exactly what methods I believe in, and how to make them work with my clients. Because I believe in these methods so deeply, I use them to train myself. How could my clients not be excited about something that I am so confident about?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Allow myself to introduce...myself...

I am an Exercise and Health Science (concentration Fitness Instruction and Management) student at UMass Boston; and I love it. We have a very strong program, and it continues to get better. I have had a few professors that have had a pretty big impact on my education, and some classes that were amazing. One class in particular allowed me to meet and interact with several great minds in the strength and conditioning world; Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore, Mike Boyle, John Sullivan and Carl Valle to name a few. Getting to meet people with different methods of training opened my mind to the fact that there were so many different ways to achieve goals with clients.

It was not too long after meeting EC that I started to read more on websites and blogs. I ventured to EC's site, which lead me to Tony Gentilecore, which lead me to several others, including T-Nation. This particular website contains HUNDREDS of free training articles, written by nationally recognized strength coaches, that really formed my method of training.

What i do is nothing groundbreaking; I'm not reinventing the wheel here, folks. I try to gather as much information from all these coaches that I can, and use it with my own clients whenever applicable. This is the biggest problem with training in a commercial gym setting; my thoughts are the exception, not the rule. The majority of the people that come to my gym have been doing the same thing for months, if not years. Chest day consists of 8 different presses. Triceps day includes 6 sets of 5 exercises for each set of the triceps. We can't forget about abs day! Of course you need to do 13 different types of crunches, even though your bodyfat is at 37%! It is frustrating walking around this facility and seeing people doing things that are not only useless, but counter-productive! I do what I can, but one man in one facility can only change so much!