Proper Injury Recovery

The vast majority of the time somebody has pain, the true cause has nothing to do with the area that hurts.  This is why I see so many people who have already gone through therapy unsuccessfully.  If injury recovery was as simple as foam rolling the area that hurts, most people would bounce back quickly.  The problem is that this is just not the case.  The area of pain, in many instances, is really just the tissue that was overworked due to a much larger dysfunction somewhere else in the body.  For example, a very common injury is IT (Iliotibial) Band Syndrome.  This pain is felt in the outside of the knee and can be extremely painful.  However, it is almost always due to poor health and/or function of the hip and/or pelvis.  Attacking the IT Band with soft tissue therapy and a foam roller is really not going to get you anywhere.  Once the primary cause is addressed and restored to normal function, the IT band will then cease to be overworked and the pain will resolve.  This same philosophy applies to almost all other injuries.  The only time this doesn’t apply is when there is a trauma.  If you slam your knee into a wall and your knee hurts, it is because you slammed your knee into a wall.  Those are the obvious ones, but are by far the minority of injuries.  The vast majority are due to overuse injuries and typically there is no specific incident of injury.

Knowing that the area of pain can have very little to do with the reason for the injury, diagnosing the primary cause becomes crucial to proper rehab.  However, once that is done there are also a sequence of events that must take place in order to return someone to activity as quickly as possible.  So, let’s look at the proper steps that must be taken in order to really overcome an injury:

#1 Figure out the primary cause of the injury

This seems obvious, but many times is not actually done.  If this is accurately diagnosed then you can simultaneously work on the area that is damaged as well as the areas that are the primary cause of dysfunction.   This is by far the fastest and most efficient way to recover.  It can also be a good diagnostic tool.  Many times, if recovery from injury is not happening at the expected rate, the primary cause for the injury has not been discovered and/or addressed.  The best way to do this is not just assessing the area that hurts.  That information only tells you what tissue is damaged and causing pain.  That is the easy part.  The more difficult part is analyzing movement, strength, posture, joint function, and tissue health to determine what are the biggest dysfunctions.  Once you uncover these dysfunctions it becomes more obvious why the area that hurts began to hurt in the first place.  Once you can connect these dots it tells you exactly what needs to be done in the treatment plan.  Address the area that hurts while correcting any abnormalities in movement, strength, posture, tissue health, and joint function.

#2 Restore the health of any damaged tissues

This can mean muscles, tendons, ligaments, and even nerves.  When these tissues are not healthy you cannot expect them to work in the correct manner.  And you can especially not expect to be able to strengthen them.  Trying to strengthened damaged tissue only leads to more pain and potentially more damage.  Fix the tissue first, and then corrective exercises will actually work like they are intended to work.  This step is vastly overlooked in many instances.   

#3 Improve local and associated joint function

Each joint is supposed to move in specific ranges of motion to do the job that it was intended to do.  When a joint loses this mobility it not only puts more strain on that specific joint, but it also puts excessive strain on the neighboring joints that are trying to take up the slack.  This not only leads to increased pain, but the body also cannot function normally until this is addressed.  It is like trying to turn your car to the right when the front right tire won’t move.  In some instances this can be the primary culprit.  For example, if your sacroiliac (SI) joint is not working properly (this is where your sacrum and your pelvis meet), there is no possible way that your hips, knees, and feet can work properly.  Properly pelvis motion is critical to lower extremity function.    

#4 Improve muscle firing patterns

In order for the body to move in the correct motions all of the muscles must contract in a specific order.  This is especially true when you are referring to ball and socket joints like the shoulder and the hip.  Sometimes this pattern can become dysfunctional and certain muscles can contract too early, too late, or just never contract at all!  When this happens the body is stressed in ways that it shouldn’t be and specific areas of the body get overworked and overused.  In this case, healing tissues and fixing joints will only be temporary as the body will continue to work poorly and stress the same areas.

#5. Increase strength and stamina of muscles

Once the tissues are healthy, the joints are moving well, and the body is moving correctly you can now start to improve the strength and stamina of the muscles.  This will give you more resilience and prevent the injury from returning.  However, strengthening a muscle that is not even working properly is not the best use of time.

 

One of the reasons that therapy often fails is that people skip directly to step #5.  Trying to strengthen muscles when they are not actually healthy and the joint structures are not moving properly is just not effective.  This can not only lead to pain during rehab, but also minimal to no progress in healing. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that you always have to fully complete one step before moving to another, as many times they can overlap.  For instance, improving the soft tissue health and joint mobility many times happens simultaneously.  You can also start to work on basic movement patterns and basic strength while the soft tissue is still improving.  Finding the correct balance can be tricky sometimes and can determine whether progress continues or setbacks ensue.  However, understanding that there are many levels to injury recovery can lead to a better understanding of why a particular injury just isn’t getting any better. 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with an injury let us help reveal what steps need to be taken for optimal recovery.  Call our office today and set up consultation so that we can comprehensively and accurately determine what you need to do to get back to activity as quickly as possible.

 

Pillar 1: Exercise and Movement

We all know that exercise is important, but most people don’t realize that it is a crucial component to optimal health. Certain systems in the body cannot function fully without exercise.  Fitness as a pillar of health is an obvious one for most people, but I would venture a guess that many people have no idea how to apply certain types of exercise to particular goals.  We just think that exercise is good for us, but many times give little thought as to the specific goal of the exercise.  The ‘side-effect’ of exercise is typically that it just makes us feel better and I am the first one to tell you that this has immensely positive impacts on your health.  Just a sense of feeling better from exercise often times can be the first domino that falls in a chain reaction of getting healthier.  Many people report that diet begins to improve as soon as they start exercising because they don’t want to ruin all the hard work they just put in. In fact, many times this occurs because your body and brain start working better, which makes you think clearer, make better decisions, and crave this sense of well-being.  It can drive you to start eating better, perform better at work, and improve your self-confidence, just to name a few.   There are many reasons for these occurrences.  One is that your body begins to produce more of the hormones that promote health and less of the hormones that can negatively affect health when in excess.  For instance, as we will discuss later, exercise helps to improve your insulin sensitivity.  What this means is that your cells are much more responsive to insulin and you effectively need less insulin to do the same job.  This reduction of insulin production improves your blood sugar regulation and helps to decrease inflammation. On the other side there are hormones like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) that gets released more with exercise.  This protein helps promote the growth, differentiation, and maturation of the nerve cells.  In short, it makes your brain work better.  So, these ‘good’ feelings that occur from exercise are not just random.  It is because your body is actually beginning to work better and more efficiently and that is pretty powerful!

However, there can be a dark side to exercise that is never really talked about.  While the right amounts and types of exercise can be a huge boost to health, the wrong types, intensities, or durations of exercise can actually be harmful to your health and potentially decrease longevity.  This is why it becomes so important to understand what the goal of exercise is so that we can choose what we are doing appropriately. 

The first thing that must be said before we dive into the details is that exercise, for many people, is the only way that they can de-stress and calm the insanity of life.  This is more powerful than people imagine and can never be forgotten in the equation of exercise prescription.  Someone who runs a large volume of miles every single day can put tremendous stress on their body.  However, if that time running allows them to neutralize the other stressors in their life and get some time to themselves, then we have to take that into account as part of the health paradigm.  After all, reduction of mental stress can be a major player in helping someone improve their health.  That being said, we still need to understand a little bit more about exercise so that we can make the best choices for our health.

Also, we must discuss the fact that certain exercise volumes and intensity are mandatory if you are a professional athlete or training for a specific event.  In these cases, the exercise is matching the goal and the focus must now become figuring out how to get the most physical improvements necessary with the least amount of stress to the body.  This is the sweet-spot.  The place where training more probably doesn’t get you increased physical benefit and can only lend to higher chances of injury and/or overtraining.  This can be tricky to figure out and often times is most reliant on someone’s overall health status and ability to recover quickly.  Just know that if the goal is to get better at running marathons you’re going to have to put in the miles.  However, getting to the starting line healthy usually trumps logging all the training miles and showing up injured or tired for the race. 

We live in an ever-increasing sedentary world where people spend the vast majority of their lives sitting. While this is extremely harmful to overall health, there are also times where certain types of exercise strategies may not be the best choice either.  Movement is key to human health.  Applying the correct types and intensities of movement can ensure that it is a positive, and not a negative, impact on human health.

Next, I think that it will be helpful to look at the definition of exercise:

    exercise: activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.

 

This is a great definition and unless we are getting paid for our sport we should take this into account when choosing our training plans.  Training ourselves into the ground can many times make us tired, burnt out, and grumpy.  This is the point where we need to take a step back and figure out what the true reasons are for exercising. 

The other great thing about this definition is it opens up an entirely new possibility of exercise choices for many of us.  For instance, one of the most peaceful, and meditation-like activities I have ever done is Tai Chi.  Now, this fits completely into the definition of exercise we just reviewed.  It requires physical effort (although not excessive amounts) and helps to sustain and improve health (mental clarity, mobility, and stress relief). Now, I’m sure most people would not categorize Tai Chi as exercise, but if we begin to look at exercise as fitting into this definition then it most certainly is.  We need to get rid on the notion that exercise only counts if you are dripping in sweat and can barely catch your breath.  While sweating and being out of breath does prove that you achieved certain types of exercise goals, it does not encompass all types of exercise such as walking or basic yoga.

Now, this also doesn’t mean that you can consider daily walking as your only exercise.  While this is exercise by definition, you are not giving your body the vigorous types of exercise that it needs to maintain strength, improve cardiovascular health, and maximize hormone benefit.  In fact, I would argue that the best fitness plans incorporate many different types of exercise and movement to capture the benefits of all the various types of physiological benefits.  So, let’s look at what some of those benefits are.

Benefits of exercise:
  • Control weight
  • Improve blood sugar control
  • Improve mental health
  • Reduce your risk of heart disease
  • Improve your mood
  • Strengthen your muscles
  • Improve bone density
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers
  • Improve your sleep
  • Enhance sexual health
  • Increase your chance of living longer
  • Improve your quality of life in later years
  • Help you think clearer and make better decisions

 

This is just a sampling of benefits that can occur with exercise.  However it doesn’t really tell you how to achieve these.  Running on a treadmill everyday is not the answer for every goal, just like lifting heavy weights is not the answer to every goal.  However, this tends to be the go-to answers for most people.  Hopefully this article will help you better understand what types of exercise you should be doing for specific goals.  While it would be impossible to cover all aspects of fitness in this article, hopefully you will be armed with some better information so that you can start making the best decisions for your situation.

The best thing to do is look briefly at the main categories of fitness, some of the major goals that accompany each one, and then figure out what types of exercise you need to do to reach your intended goals.  However, I will bet that most people will think that it would be a good idea to try and capture all the benefits!  If so, you will need to have a mixture of the different categories.    

 

Resistance training

Firstly, there are many different goals within just this type of exercise.  You can execute different plans depending on whether your goal is increasing power, strength, muscle size, or endurance.  Without going too much into details about that, it is obvious to say that resistance training leads to an improvement in muscle health and size, which has numerous benefits.  It helps us become more resilient, improves bone density, improves the strength of your connective tissues, and definitely helps us avoid dangerous falls as we age.  However, what most people don’t realize is that putting on muscle is one of the best way to burn fat!  Most people think that the treadmill is the only answer, but how many calories can you really burn on the treadmill?? Not many.  While aerobic activity like running does burn calories and can help burn fat, extra muscle on your body can be much more productive.  Pound for pound muscle burns many more calories than fat does.  This means that you will automatically be burning more calories in your daily life just by increasing your lean muscle mass.  Weight, or resistance training should be a part of everyone’s routine.  This doesn’t mean that you have to go for huge muscles and enter body building competitions.  It does mean that you should be challenging your muscles to promote improved strength and lean muscle gain.  The benefits are numerous and undeniable.  The goal is not just a better physique, but a more resilient, healthier body.

This doesn’t just mean using barbells, dumbbells, and weight machines.  Things like reformer pilates and exercises with bands also fall into this category.  Anything that is providing extra resistance to movement is considered resistance training.  You can even consider your own body weight as resistance in many instances.   Things like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, dips, etc, all provide fantastic muscle gain benefits even though you are not specifically adding any other weight other than your body weight.  They are all going to result in changes to the neuromuscular system.  The amount of resistance that you add, and the level of difficulty for you (think pull ups!),  will determine how the body will respond.  Lift heavy weights and your body will put on muscle faster, lift moderate weight and your body will still become stronger, but will focus more on becoming leaner and more tone.  Lift lighter weights and you will be improving the endurance of your muscles.  Define your goal and then apply the resistance accordingly.

Also, a quick note for females.  Many times I hear females say that they don’t want to lift heavy weights because they don’t want to get big and bulky.  I promise you that this is NOT going to happen.  It takes a TON of work and dedication to get big muscles.  You would have to consistently lift heavy weights and eat appropriate quantities of food to gain excessive muscle mass.  Most females that lift heavy weights become strong and very tone.  So don’t avoid lifting heavy weights with the misconception that your muscles will become too big.

Major benefits of resistance training:
  • Increases lean muscle
  • Reduces in abdominal (and total body) fat
  • Increases bone density
  • Improves strength of connective tissue
  • Reduces injury risk in daily life

 

Cardio

Typically people are either all cardio or none.  This seems to be common trend.  Cardiovascular training is really just anything that increases the heart rate.  The level at which this is done can vary and different ‘heart rate zones’ have varying benefits.  The basic equation to figure out what your max heart rate is:  220 – your age

So, if you are 40 years old then your max heart rate will be about 180 beats per minute.  While this can vary it is a good starting point.  Also, note that you should never be at or near your max heart rate for too long of a duration, unless you are extremely well-trained and doing it for a specific purpose.  This provides too much stress to the heart.

Low intensity: 50-70% max effort

Improves overall health, speeds recovery, improves endurance,  and burns fat

Moderate intensity: 70-80% max effort

Improves aerobic fitness

High intensity: 80-100% max effort

Improves performance capacity and speed

 

So, if the goal is to burn fat or speed recovery you want to maintain a low intensity in your cardio sessions.  If you are trying to improve speed or aerobic capacity you want to train at high intensities.  This is why runners vary their training to make sure they are working on all aspects of their run fitness.  The science has shown us the specific ways to affect different parts of our physiology most effectively. 

Understanding the ranges of heart rate intensities can also help to show you that many activities are considered cardio exercise that you otherwise might not have known.  Things like dancing, gymnastics, acrobatics, advanced yoga, and hiking are all cardiovascular exercises.  They all surely get your heart rate to 50% or more of your max heart rate effort.  Depending on your skill level or aggressions these types of activities can be in any of the three levels of heart rate intensities.

  

Regardless of the intensity, cardiovascular training will help you reduce blood pressure, improve lung function, improve insulin sensitivity, burn calories, and improve the strength of your heart, just to name a few.  Many of these benefits just don’t occur as dramatically with other forms of exercise.  And since your heart is a pretty important piece to your overall health, performing activities that improve your cardiovascular system should be a no-brainer.  Figuring out the correct types and intensities can vary depending on your goal, your age, and your health status.  Obviously you should not push your heart to extremes if you have current health conditions, are new to cardio training, or your doctor has not cleared you for exercise.  Also know that maintaining high heart rates for long periods, without rest, can be damaging to the heart.  As with anything, moderation seems to be the key.

Now, you can get some cardiovascular training within weight lifting if you reduce or eliminate the rest time and keep your heart rate elevated during the training, but it will not be nearly as beneficial as increasing your heart rate steadily for longer periods of time.  Also know that many of the benefits to cardiovascular training increase as the intensity increases.

Major benefits of cardio training:
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves strength of the heart
  • Improves insulin sensitivity
  • Burns calories
  • Improves brain function
  • Improves sexual health

 

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

This is currently the most popular form of exercise and for good reason.  High intensity interval training can lead to the most hormonal benefits to the body.  HIIT improves immune system function, increases growth hormone production, improves insulin sensitivity (as discussed earlier), increases release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (as discussed earlier), and increases opioid release (makes you feel good!).  However, long bouts of HIIT can also increase the amount of inflammation produced by the body.

Basically, HIIT training means that you are exercising at very high intensities with periods of rest, or lower intensity activity, at specific intervals.  This allows you to get the benefits of high intensity exercise without overloading the system and creating excessive inflammation and stress.  The science clearly shows the benefits of this type of exercise.  However, what many people don’t know is that you can achieve many of these benefits in as little as 3-5 minutes.  Constant high intensity exercise for 2 minutes, or intervals of 20 seconds at high intensity, 20 seconds at low intensity, for a duration of 3-5 minutes, can give you the hormone benefits without any risk of excessive inflammation.  And the beauty is that you won’t get any more of the hormone benefit with longer bouts!  Now, this doesn’t meant that longer duration HIIT isn’t beneficial.  You will still get improved cardiovascular and strength benefits from longer sessions, but many of the hormone benefits can be achieved in a much shorter span of time.  So, even if you only have 5 minutes to exercise, this type of exercise can be immensely beneficial to overall health. 

However, even outside of the hormone benefits many HIIT classes and gyms are even incorporating a multifaceted approach to their fitness sessions.  Not only are you varying the intensities, but you are doing both cardio and resistance training in the process.   

Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training
  • Increase growth hormone production
  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Improve brain function
  • Increase opioid release
  • Improve immune system health

 

Movement

I am going to give this its own category to highlight the difference between this and the movement involved with things like running and resistance training.  The body thrives with movement.  In fact, losing mobility is a sure-fire way to decrease your health status.  Use it or lose it is absolutely true.  So, just basic forms of movement that don’t require weights, or low, moderate, or high intensities should also be considered as exercise.  Things like basic yoga, tai chi, easy walking, stretching, foam rolling, etc.  These are also very beneficial to health even though there is no external resistance applied or significantly elevated heart rates incorporated.  They all require the body to move more efficiently and help to maintain full ranges of motion. 

These types of things not only help to keep range of motion optimized, but they also help to improve blood and lymphatic flow throughout the body.  And since these things are crucial to move nutrients throughout the body they should also be seen as an important thing to incorporate.  They also allow you to have more time to recover from the other more intense activities. 

Benefits of Movement:
  • Increase or maintain range of motion
  • Improve blood flow
  • Improve lymphatic flow (your body’s drainage system)
  • Reduce stress
  • Speed recovery

 

 

Hopefully this article has helped to define the various types of exercise so that you can apply them with a purpose to your training plan.  Many times you will have to focus mainly on one type if you are trying to achieve a specific goal, but you should also be aware of how beneficial it is to add brief bouts of the other types within your plan.  If your true goal is optimal health and longevity then you should definitely be incorporating each of these into a well-balanced fitness attack.  Also note that sometimes you may have health restrictions that prevent you from this.  Injuries or poor health status can many times cause us to alter the ways in which we exercise.  In these cases, knowing all of this information can be even more helpful.  If you can’t perform certain types of exercise, know that there are many different options that can boost health from many different aspects.  Whatever your situation, just know that exercise is a critical part of your health.  You must always make exercise and movement a priority to keep your health at optimal levels. 

The 5 Pillars of Health

I think that most people understand that there is no magic bullet to achieving optimal health.  There are many different aspects to human health and so it would make sense to try and gather some knowledge about each of these so that we can make healthier decisions in our daily lives.  These decisions would theoretically lead to improving health instead of harming it.  The perfect scenario just doesn’t exist so don’t try to find it.  However, we should at least strive to make improvements in our lifestyle and habits in order to maximize these critical areas as much as possible.  This article is a look into what I consider the Five Pillars of Health.  These pillars are what I have found in my research to make the greatest impact on human health and should be addressed whenever trying to holistically approach a program intended to improve someone’s health.  This is an introduction to these 5 Pillars and it will spread out into a 5 part series.  Each article will take a closer look at one specific pillar, help to explain it, and give you some tips on how best to analyze it and improve it in your life.

Trying to focus intensely on just one pillar while ignoring others is just not going to improve your health drastically.  The classic example is the person who works out hard 7 days a week, but eats poor foods, sleeps 5 hours a night, and is stressed out 24 hours a day.  If this doesn’t describe you I’m sure that you know many people who fit this picture.  I’m a firm believer that having a very fit physique can sometimes be a very misleading thing.  While there is an illusion of health on the exterior, interior health does not necessarily match.  In today’s society we put so much value on having the ‘beach body’, that people have been automatically conditioned to think that it equates to optimal health.  However, many times there is an exterior appearance of high fitness, with a poor level of internal health.  I have seen this be the case on many occasions.  Most times this is because the fitness pillar was given all the attention and energy, despite the fact that the other pillars were suffering.  If the sole goal is to have a beach body then that would be sufficient, but if the goal is to improve your health you may not be moving the needle as much as you think.

The Five Pillars allow you to have a good understanding of which areas of your life you should pay attention to and learn how to improve.  Each pillar is crucial to the overall health of a human being and sometimes failure in one can bring the whole system crashing down.  My Five Pillars of health consist of:

  1. The Neuroendocrine System
  2. Nutrition
  3. Fitness or Movement
  4. Sleep
  5. Stress Management

Figuring out the most efficient strategies to improve these areas can be the best way to improve your health.  Maintain a healthy balance of them all and you’ll be setting yourself up for the best chances of a long life filled with vitality.     

Below is a brief summary of the each of the 5 Pillars.  Again, each of these will be discussed in much more detail in the upcoming newsletters.  Each newsletter will contain an article on one of these pillars to help you learn more about how best to assess your health and things you can do to make improvements today.

Neuroendocrine System

The Neuroendocrine System basically consists of the numerous mechanisms that make up your nervous system’s interaction with your hormones. The neuroendocrine system is the mechanism by which the hypothalamus (part of the brain) maintains homeostasis (healthy, normal balance), regulates reproduction, metabolism, eating and drinking behavior, energy usage, and blood pressure. This is a very important pillar to address because if your brain and hormones are not working efficiently then it becomes difficult to fix anything else in the body. Many of the times this will be the main, initial focus in my wellness programs because of its high level of importance. Things such as your adrenal system, sex hormones, neurotransmitters, energy levels, and food metabolism parameters need to be addressed and analyzed so that you can understand how to make improvements in areas that are not performing well. Normalizing hormone function can often be the missing link and normalization can make the rest of the health journey significantly easier!

But the other important thing to know is that dysfunctional hormones are typically a result of other things going wrong!  This future blog article will go over the 3 most common causes of hormone dysfunction.  You will understand what these are and why you must first address these if you truly want to normalize hormone function.  You will also learn how your gut is directly linked to this system and plays a larger role in a healthy brain than you can probably imagine!

Nutrition

Most people understand that nutrition is a key component to optimized health. However, the marketing machine of the food industry confuses people. The goal is to uncover each person’s specific nutritional needs while learning about making wise decisions and deciphering the food labeling chaos. Food sensitivities and allergies are becoming exceedingly common and without the correct information many people are continually causing damage to themselves simply by eating certain things every day. Nutrition information changes at a rapid rate and without proper mentoring it can be very difficult for the average person to stay well informed.

There are so many different types of ‘diets’, or eating strategies, to consider.  Applying the correct eating strategy can make all the difference in someone’s success of failure.  Apply the wrong strategy and sometimes you can feel worse!

Nutrition has become very complex and confusing.  It seems like every month there is something new and some other nutritional fact contradicted in the news.  This has caused many people to lose sight of the basics and the key components that really make a difference in their health.  Some of these concepts have been popularized in the media, however the real understanding of these concepts has been skewed and altered such that people continue to make unhealthy choices, but this time unknowingly.  The complex tricks of the food industry and the loads of misinformation in the general public have made nutrition more complicated than it really needs to be.  Learning the basics of food and how to understand what you’re eating is paramount if you want to navigate the food industry and make the correct choices. 

This future article on Nutrition will give you a much better understanding of how nutrition is such a big part of your health.  It will also help to clear up some confusion that may be causing you to unknowingly sabotage your health.

 

Movement/Fitness

We all know that exercise is important, but most people don’t realize that it is a crucial component to optimal health. Certain systems in the body cannot function fully without exercise. The fitness pillar is an obvious one for most people, but I would venture a guess that many people have no idea how to apply certain types of exercise to particular goals. The dark side to exercise, that is never really talked about, is how too much exercise can actually be harmful to your health and potentially decrease longevity. 

We live in an ever-increasing sedentary world where people spend the vast majority of their lives sitting. While this is extremely harmful to overall health, there are also times where certain types of exercise strategies may not be the best choice either.  Movement is key to human health.  Applying the correct types and intensities of movement can ensure that it is a positive, and not a negative, impact on human health.

This future article will discuss the many possible goals of fitness and some of the best strategies to achieve those goals.  It will also help to uncover some situations in which exercise may be causing more damage than good, and when the wrong type of exercise was chosen for a specific goal. 

Sleep

Sleep is one of the most important functions of the human body.  New discoveries on the importance of sleep are occurring every year.  The only time that we are truly growing, recovering, and healing is while we sleep.  Reduction in sleep duration and quality is getting worse every year and is one of the reasons that global health continues to decline.  This pillar analyzes the true science behind sleep, why it is so important, and many tips to help improve duration, quality, and rhythm of sleep.

Optimizing your sleep, like every other pillar, is critical to achieving overall health.  Many times people sacrifice sleep in order to be more productive, but in the end they will actually lose long term production when health starts to decline.  You must start to consider sleep as an integral part of your health and not just something you can neglect because coffee will get you through the day. 

The future article on sleep will explain more about why sleep is so important to your health, explore the most important things to consider about your sleeping habits, and highlight things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene.  There is a reason that sleep deprivation is so damaging to normal function.  It is so important that if you remove sleep for even a small period of time, normal human function is not possible.  It is finally time to learn about and appreciate your most important recovery and detoxification tool: Sleep.

 

Stress Management

One thing that we all have to deal with is stress. It will never go away completely so the real trick is to learn how to manage and deal with stress effectively. This pillar is one of the most crucial and without addressing it, the other pillars can be negated. Not only does improved health allow you to manage stress better, but learning effective self-care strategies can make a massive difference in your well-being. For this reason stress management is a pillar that I often focus on with my clients.

This future article will help you understand the different types of stress and how they all can impact your health.  Understanding how your body responds to different stressors can be helpful if you are trying to minimize the amount of stress in your life.  It will also give you many different suggestions of ways to track and reduce the stress in your life.

This is a brief explanation of the 5 pillars of health.  I will go more in depth on each of these in the upcoming newsletters.  I hope that you take the time to read the articles so that you can have a better chance at positively impacting your 5 pillars of health!

If you are interested in customizing these areas specifically to your needs, our wellness programs can help you take control of your health with a systematic approach to wellness.  Learn everything you need to know to improve and protect your health for the rest of your life.  For more information on how our wellness programs may be able to change your life, contact us today and schedule your Functional Medicine Consultation.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is currently one of the hottest topics in health and wellness.  It is a strategy that has been used for hundreds of years.  Its popularity is well deserved as it provides numerous health benefits, but as with anything it is not always an appropriate strategy to implement.  This article will help to explain some of the benefits of intermittent fasting and also some of the instances in which intermittent fasting would be a poor choice.

Before we get into the benefits of fasting you should know that there are numerous types of fasting.  While we are not going to list them all in this article it can be very helpful to understand why there are so many and what they are trying to accomplish.  Fasting can deal with the following variables:

  • Increasing the number of hours without food
  • Reducing the daily ‘feeding window’, or the time when you are allowed to eat
  • Reducing the number of calories at specific feeding windows
  • Specifying which types of foods you can eat during feeding windows

Some fasts will manipulate many of these variables while others just focus on skipping meals.  Regardless of the exact type of fast, the benefits that you are attempting to achieve are the same.  Many systems in the body begin to work more efficiently when periods of fasting are introduced.  In fact, our bodies were designed to be able to ‘switch gears’ in times of reduced food supply.   After all, food in abundance is a relatively new phenomena in human existence.  This article is not designed to review all the different types of fasting, but rather to explain more about how fasting works, when to avoid it, and things associated with fasting that you need to pay attention to.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

The benefits of intermittent fasting are evident.  The body has a physiologic response to food deprivation and many of those responses are beneficial.  This doesn’t mean that not eating is the best way to live, it just means the using this as a dietary strategy can provide many benefits to our health.  Here are some of the benefits that you can achieve when you are fasting.

  1. Increases the production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

HGH is a hormone that is involved in body composition, cell repair, and metabolism.  Many people have heard about athletes using this illegally to help with muscle gain and recovery.  It is a vital hormone to optimal health and we lose production volume as we age.  Helping keep this hormone active can help support weight loss while preventing muscle loss.

2.   Reduces insulin and improves insulin sensitivity

Insulin is released by your pancreas when blood sugar levels rise.  So, when you don’t eat you don’t release insulin.  This has a secondary effect on your cells.  When less insulin is present in the body the cells become more sensitive to insulin.  This means it takes less insulin to the same job.  This is a really good thing because it means that your pancreas has to produce less insulin when you eat.  The flip side of this coin is when your cells become insulin resistant, meaning there is excessive, chronic insulin in your body and the cells stop accepting insulin.  This is exactly what leads to and causes diabetes.  So, long story short, insulin sensitivity is a great thing!

3.  Burns fat instead of sugar

When you fast you are not putting any carbohydrates of sugars into your body.   Your intelligent body senses this and switches to start burning fat for fuel.  Your body’s main source of fuel is sugar (which carbs eventually become), but when sugar is not available it can make fuel from fat that is stored in your body.  So, fasting makes your body switch to fat-burning in order to keep your body running properly.

4.  Improves cellular health

During periods of fasting it appears that your body begins to ‘clean house’ more efficiently.  A process called autophagy begins to be increased and your body begins to remove waste and recycle cellular parts to create new healthy parts.  Other healthy cells begin to become more resilient and work more efficiently in the presence of less nutrients.  Basically, healthy cells start to work better and damaged cells get recycled and improved.

While all of this sounds amazing it doesn’t mean that we should just constantly be in a state of fasting.  That is one of the biggest problems when something becomes popular in the media.  People always assume that if a little is good, more must be better.  This is many times not the case.  The body does needs constant supply of nutrients in order to achieve optimal health.  The real trick is to know how to implement it as one dietary strategy.   There are definitely times when applying intermittent fasting would not be beneficial to health.  Some of the most common instances of this are listed below.

Bad Times to Use Intermittent Fasting

Poor Adrenal Function

If your adrenal system is dysfunctional, intermittent fasting can make this worse!  One of the jobs of cortisol (a hormone produce by your adrenal system) is to pull sugar from cells and bring it into the bloodstream for quick use.  If you begin to restrict food under these circumstances it is going to put more stress on your adrenal system and never let it return to normal status.  Restoring normal adrenal function should be the priority before turning to intermittent fasting.  In these instances keep blood sugar stable with healthy, low-sugar, whole foods is the best strategy

Chronic Caloric Deficit

I have seen many people in my office who are chronically under eating.  There can be many reasons for this but adding calorie restriction or reduction of feeding windows will only make this problem more intense.  A perfect example is the active person who trains intensely 5-6 days week and doesn’t eat enough calories to support this activity level.  In this situation the body is already lacking the calories that it needs to match output, so adding more calorie restriction would be a poor idea. 

Hormone Dysfunction

When hormones are not at proper levels restricting food can make it worse.  The production and regulation of many hormones can be affected by food intake.  While intermittent fasting can in many instances make hormones work more efficiently, it should not be attempted if you know that hormones are already at poor levels.

Eating Disorders

For anyone who has an eating disorder, concentrating of eating less will only make the problem worse.  The negative consequences of adding intermittent fasting to this situation far outweigh any benefits that may be achieved.

If you think you may fall into one of the categories above it is best that you consult with a healthcare practitioner. Improving those situations first will make a massive, positive impact on your health.

Assuming that you are in a good position to attempt intermittent fasting one of the easiest ones to begin with is a 16-18 hour fast.  This is the easiest to do because it takes advantage of the hours that you are sleeping.  So, simply put, it is really just eating dinner at a normal time (between 5-7pm) and then not eating again until lunch the next day.  Many of us have probably done this inadvertently when we were rushed in the morning and didn’t have time to eat breakfast!  So, you unknowingly completed an intermittent fast.  However, there are three really important pieces of the puzzle that you must consider as well.

1. Restricting feeding windows doesn’t have to mean restricting calories

Just because you spend less waking hours eating doesn’t mean that you should necessarily be restricting total calories.  If you are fasting for 24 hours or more then obviously you will be reducing calorie intake, but a 16-18 hour fast doesn’t mean that you have to, especially if you are an athlete or very active person.  You can still realize the benefit of fasting without dropping your calorie consumption too low.  Just consume the same amount of calories in less time.  This is often time reported as reducing feeding windows, or time that you consume food.

2. The types of food you eat really matter

Gaining the benefits of intermittent fasting and then filling your body with processed and unhealthy foods doesn’t really make sense!  Many of the benefits of the fast will be negated by putting harmful foods into your body after the fast.  If you are using intermittent fasting as a health strategy then you should also be conscience of the foods that eat when you are eating.  Eating whole foods can help to continually promote internal health and boost the benefits of intermittent fasting even more.

3.  Re-feeds can be where the magic is

There is some research that shows the real magic and benefit to fasting comes when you break the fast and ingest food.  Your body is ready for nutrients to assimilate and use more efficiently than ever.  Also, restoring your levels of glycogen (stored carbohydrate, or sugar) will help get your body primed for activity and ready to operate smoothly.  So, paying attention to what you eat and how much eat post-fast can be a very important part of the process.  Don’t think that its all about how many hours you can avoid food.

Hopefully this can help you understand more about intermittent fasting and whether or not you should do it yourself.  As was previously mentioned, there are many different ways to fast so if you are interested in it, begin with a 16-18 hour intermittent fast and then begin to experiment with other types of fasts. You may start by a simple fast once a week and then graduate into multiple times per week.  From there, you can increase the fasting windows and see how you feel.  Just remember that it is supposed to be done to improve health, so if you notice negative symptoms when you attempt it, maybe you are not in a good position to do it.  Best thing is to always consult a health professional to uncover the best fasting strategies for your situation. 

Inflammation Decreases Recovery Potential

Inflammation is the root of all evil.  In fact, we know that it’s a part of every disease process known to man.  The tricky thing is that it can be caused by many different things within the body and if it is present it dramatically hinders the body’s ability to perform properly and recover efficiently.   

Inflammation can come from overuse, trauma, gut dysfunctions, food sensitivities, improper eating patterns, hormone dysfunction, and many other things.  The trick is to figure out if there is inflammation present, what various things are causing it, and what strategies are needed to eliminate it.

Unfortunately, most people only think of inflammation in situations where they can see visible swelling.  A sprained ankle, for instance, creates obvious swelling and the damage is apparent.  If the ankle were to stay swollen for many months it would make you concerned and wonder why it wasn’t healing.  You would probably then take appropriate steps to seek medical advice in order to determine why the swelling remains and what to do to eliminate it.  However, inflammation can be present in your body and causing damage without any obvious signs.   This can be the worst kind because it goes on for months, sometimes years, undetected and causes continual irritation and destruction.  This destruction can show up in many different forms: unhealthy skin, dysfunctional bowel movements, brain fog, painful joints, fatigue, frequent sickness, repetitive injuries, etc. 

One of the most common causes of systemic inflammation is gut dysbiosis.  This is basically just a dysfunction or imbalance of the gut environment.  There are many things that can cause this, but all of them cause gut irritation and increased levels of inflammation.  Some common things that cause gut inflammation are chronic medication use, food sensitivities, chronic constipation, viruses, excessive bacterial growth, infections, inefficient enzyme production, alterations in acid production, as well as many others.  What’s concerning about this list is that many of these are very common.  Most people don’t consider GI symptoms like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, etc., to be anything serious. The reality is that these symptoms are telling you that something is wrong!  And if these are causing inflammation then your ability to recover from workouts and the stressors of life is drastically reduced. 

Another common situation that I see in my office is the dysfunction of the adrenal gland.  The adrenal gland is responsibly for many hormones, but most notoriously for cortisol, which is known as our ‘stress’ hormone.  When cortisol is dysfunctional it can not only promote inflammation, but it can also cause problems with sex hormone function and your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar effectively.  These things can further lead to the promotion of inflammation.  Since our collective stress levels have never been higher in the history of mankind, this is an important area to normalize in the body.  Especially for athletes whose use of cortisol is increased due to the normal stress of training on the body.  Training, by nature, creates inflammation on its own, so it is important to know if your ability to handle and recover from that stress is diminished.

First of all, you should understand that inflammation is actually a good thing.  It is a smart response by the body to kick-start processes that lead to healing and detoxification within the body.  Without inflammation we would not be able to heal.  However, the real problem lies in situations where inflammation is excessive or never turns off, and this is more common than you can imagine. 

I like to educated my clients by using the analogy of a bucket.  Your body can handle a certain level of inflammation without negative consequences.  However, when this bucket of inflammation overflows it becomes too much for the body to handle and symptoms begin to appear (fatigue, brain fog, poor GI health, unhealthy skin, painful joints, recurring injuries, etc).  The goal is to keep inflammation at manageable levels and not let your bucket overflow.  Now consider that you have a dysfunctional gut and you consistently eat poor foods.  Inflammation may never shut off and your bucket may be constantly half full just from poor lifestyle choices.  When you add the stress of training to the mix, your bucket begins overflowing and your ability to train hard is reduced.  If you can identify and remove the things that are keeping your bucket constantly half full, then your training will no longer cause the bucket to overflow.

Recovery is your body’s ability to clean up any damage from the day, rebuild tissue, and hopefully grow stronger and more resilient.  It is mainly done while you sleep, but can be hindered if there are constantly fires that it is trying to put out.  If excessive inflammation is present then your body is using all of its energy trying to remedy those situations and has less energy to spend on recovering, rebuilding, and growing.  This is why a reduction in inflammation can help speed and improve recovery.  Your body now has more energy reserves for the building process.  Again, another analogy to help this sink in.  If firefighters are continually putting out fires in your house you have little time and energy to start rebuilding the damaged areas.  Give the firefighters less fire to put out, they can finish the job, then you have plenty of time to rebuild. 

Remember, your ability to recover greatly influences the gains you can make from training.  This is because you are poorly equipped to spend energy on getting bigger, stronger, and faster, if your body cannot sufficiently recover from the previous training session.

So here are some things that can you do to try and reduce your bucket of inflammation:

Eat healthy

Avoid sugar, processed foods, inflammatory oils, known food sensitivities, etc.  What you put in your mouth is the most important thing you can do for your health. Learn how to do it properly and what works best for you.

Sleep well

This is where you recover most so take advantage of it.   Focus on quality, quantity, and timing of sleep.

Supplement with quality supplements

Things like turmeric, fish oil, resveratrol, boswelia, glutathione, etc.  Just remember to only use high-quality supplements from trusted brands or practitioners.  Otherwise you are probably not getting any benefit.

Optimize your adrenal function

Tests like the DUTCH test can help comprehensively assess your adrenal function.  Find someone qualified to help you.  If you don’t know someone then we will be happy to order and analyze this test for you.

Make sure blood markers are looking good

Obviously, blood labs are one of the best ways to analyze internal health.  Running comprehensive panels instead of standard basic panels can help you analyze your overall health, rather than just look for disease. Find a practitioner who is interested in using blood labs to assess your overall HEALTH status.  Again, if you don’t have one then we would be happy to help you with this.

Manage emotional stress

You’ll never conquer stress completely.  Learn strategies that help you reduce your anxiety and stress.  Everyone is different so find what works for you.  Some ideas are meditation, yoga, gardening, walks on the beach, tai chi, etc. If you feel like the activity helps shut off your brain then it is probably a good thing for you!

In summary, we all know that inflammation is a problem when it is allowed to continue excessively in our bodies.  What we need to realize is that there are many things that can cause inflammation that don’t signal us to a problem as clearly as a sprained ankle.  Uncovering and eliminating other more subtle areas of inflammation allows your body to recover faster and more efficiently.  After all, recover is simply the name of the game!  Improve recovery ability and you can train harder and longer!

The Top 3 Things Your Medical Doctor is NOT Testing

Running labs can be one of the best tools to assess heath or uncover disease processes.  There are countless things that can be scientifically tested and the technology gets better and more accurate everyday.  Most people are surprised to find that some of these tests are even possible and that many health status factors can be tested in the comfort of your own home.  The biggest problem is that most of the labs that are typically run for patients are driven by what can be medicated.  Unfortunately, this only tells us when we have already reached the stage where we have a disease.  Don’t you think it would make more sense to start using lab testing to assess health so that you can avoid the diagnosis of a disease?  Well that’s what we are doing at Momentum!  There are many different tests that we use to help people correct or optimize their health.  Here are three examples of ones we commonly use in our clinic.

1.  Adrenal Status: DUTCH testing

If I asked you to tell me one major thing that impacted people’s health negatively, I’m sure many of you would say STRESS.  And for those of you who said that you would be absolutely correct!  However, most people have never had their adrenals tested accurately.  Cortisol, one of the major hormones produced in the adrenals, is your stress hormone.  Your body uses this to help you respond to stressful environments so that you can ‘run from the tiger‘.  However, in today’s world we never stop running from the tiger.  Accurately testing adrenal function can help uncover a huge piece of the health and/or performance puzzle.  DUTCH testing is the newest and most accurate way to assess adrenal health in a comprehensive fashion.     

2.  Digestive Health: GI-MAP

All of the cutting-edge research is continually uncovering the importance of the GI system in overall health.  The ‘second brain’, which is the new name for the GI system, is one of the most important organs in the body.  Not only is it responsible for the absorption of nutrients, but it is also responsible for immune system health, hormone production and conversion, and many other critical processes.  Ensuring that the GI system is healthy and free of harmful ‘bugs’ is a great way to assess health.  The newest technology is called the GI-MAP test.  This test uses DNA technology to analyze the sample for pathogens such as bacteria, parasites, and viruses.  The testing is extremely accurate and one of the best ways to see if your GI system is compromised.

3.  Organic Acids

One advantage of lab testing is that it allows us to create detailed strategies to correct any dysfunctions.  The organic acids test is a great test to give you a snapshot of what is going on inside the body.  The test we use gives 40+ metabolite markers that help show how efficiently numerous reactions in your body are occurring.  It helps to assess nutritional deficiencies, antioxidant deficiencies, fatty acid metabolism, yeast overgrowths, neurotransmitter levels, and Krebs cycle (energy productions) abnormalities.  This comprehensive test is probably one of the best ways to optimize health and improve function. 

These three tests are just a sample of things that can be scientifically tested to truly get a picture of your health.  Once we start using labs to improve normal function instead of just reacting to disease, we can start to help people feel better and avoid many chronic diseases. 

While these are just a few great tests that we use there are certainly many others.  Click below to learn about other labs that we frequently test with our patients.

LAB TESTING

If you are interested in taking look at your true health status, contact our office today for more information.  We can help determine what labs may be best to run for your specific situation and how we can help you optimized your health and start feeling your best!

Top 5 Tips to Better Sleep

 

Sleep is really an under-appreciated art. Many people brag about how little sleep they can get away with and still function at high levels. Sleeping 5 hours and night is seen as a milestone and many people are jealous of those that can pull it off. This ‘achievement’ is only seen as a benefit because our work lives get more and more demanding every year. However, all the most recent research is starting to show the real importance of sleep and how much it plays a role in overall health and longevity. For instance, we now know that sleep is the only time that our brains gets to detoxify. Without proper deep sleep this process cannot occur efficiently and toxins can build up in the brain. And we do not want any toxins lingering in our brains for long.

Sleep is also the time when our hormones work to regenerate our bodies, recover from the day’s stressors, and repair any damage. Limiting the hours of ‘shut-eye’ reduces the time that your body can grow, heal, and restore. So, while it may seem counter-intuitive, the more you sleep, the more productive you may become. While sleeping excessive hours can reduce brain performance, sleeping too little can also do the same. However, I think that we can safely say that most people are not struggling from a problem of getting too much sleep. Those instances are few and typically because of a chronic disease process that is occurring. For the rest of us, sleeping more should only prove to improve health. And it is not just hours spent in bed, but the quality and quantity of time that you are actually sleeping. So, here are a few easy tips to help you try and achieve that goal.

Get Rid of the Blues

Blue light is part of the spectrum of light, but is specifically important because it can directly affect the body’s circadian rhythms, or biological clock. This is important because if too much blue light it detected by the eye at night then the body thinks that it is the day and time to fire on all cylinders. This obviously is a bad idea for someone trying to sleep. Problem is that most people are exposed to blue light just before bed as it is present in our phones, laptops, computers, TVs, etc. So, get rid of the electronics at least 1 hour prior to bed to avoid this ‘blue-light confusion’. Or, if you just can’t you’ll need to wear blue-light blocking glasses to avoid telling your body it is daytime.

Stay in Rhythm

Your body’s circadian rhythms are very important to regulating many functions within your body. Many hormones fluctuate based on these rhythms so allowing your body to maintain a ‘normal’ is important not only for getting the right amount of sleep, but also so that you don’t set up an environment for dysfunction hormones. We are naturally geared to use light and dark as our body’s signals. However, given our current lifestyles we can stay in bright environments whenever we want. For best health try and keep the same sleep/wake cycle every night. This means having a set bedtime and a set wake time. While this may vary slightly, trying to stay on a normal rhythm will help you get better sleep.

Be Cool

Research shows that sleeping in a cool environment is more conducive to quality sleep. Our body is wired to cool internally close to bedtime so that it is easier for us to sleep and achieve deep sleep. Too much heat and it disturbs our ‘shut-off’ process. This doesn’t mean that you have to feel cold, but the room should be a cool. A temperature of 65 degrees in the room is shown to have best results, but having it as low at 60 degrees can also be beneficial is you sleep with excessive amounts of sheets.

Come to the Dark Side

This means the darker the better. Even ambient amounts of light can be enough to rouse our brains and prevent full, deep REM sleep. While this sounds obvious most people’s bedrooms are littered with light from their clocks, TVs, DVD players, fans, phones, etc. These lights can be sensed by our bodies and can disrupt sleep. So try to eliminate all artificial light in the bedroom and get blackout curtains if you live an area that has lots of neighborhood light. This ensures that your brain and body know it is bedtime and can get the appropriate rest.

Keep Caffeine as a Morning Treat

Caffeine consumption does have an affect on sleep. Whether or not you can fall asleep it can disrupt your ability to get quality, deep sleep. Remember it’s not all about how many hours your eyes are shut, but the quality of sleep that you get. Caffeine stays in your body longer than you’d think. Avoiding caffeine after lunch can help your sleep quality improve and maybe just get rid of some of your fatigue that is causing you to drink so much caffeine in the first place!

 

If you are not doing any of these already, give them a try and see if you can improve your quality of sleep.  Remember that the quality of your sleep is really important.  ‘Sleeping’ for 8 hours is not going to do very much good if the sleep is disturbed and broken.  Using these 5 tips does not take anymore time.  It is simply trying to improve the quality of sleep while you are actually sleeping.

If your sleep hygiene is already dialed in and you are still having difficulty sleeping, then it may be time to take a closer look at what may be causing this.  Long term lack of sleep can cause many downstream health conditions.  So, take the time to find someone who can help solve this riddle for you.  It will not only improve your health, but will most likely improve your productivity and mental function.

For any further questions about improving your sleep, feel free to contact my office.  We would be happy to start helping you sleep and live better!

Recovery: The Missing Link

When someone is training, whether it be for an event or just to get in better shape, many hours are spent not only planning each days’ activities, but also in working towards a goal.  Most athletes spend most of their time making sure that they get enough training hours into each week.  A smaller number of athletes spend adequate time ensuring that their nutrition supports their training efforts (which is as equally important as the training itself).  However, very few athletes give enough attention and respect to one of the most important parts of training:

Recovery. 

 

Recovery is the glue that holds everything together. 

Without this glue areas in the body will gradually become dysfunctional and begin to fall apart.  Physical training, in any form, pushes the body to its limits.  This causes the body to breakdown as limits are surpassed and the athlete tries to make improvements.  As muscles and other soft tissues are stressed, as in training, they essentially breakdown and cause micro-tears in the muscle fibers.  After training, the body responds by building that tissue up stronger than before to support such efforts the next time.  This is how muscles become larger and performance is increased. 

Now, what happens if you put your body through the same physical stress before it has had time to recover? 

Essentially, you will be breaking down tissue that began the day at 90% instead of 100%.  This means that by the time you are done training you will have once again broken down the muscle tissue, but this time to a greater extent since you were not 100% at the start of training.  Now, the body is a remarkable machine that can adapt to many situations and learn to cope with many stresses.  By no means does this mean that you have to be 100% rested and fresh before each day of training.  However, if this scenario is repeated numerous times you can see how eventually the tissue will not be able to withstand the same levels of training.  Soon the tissue will be starting the days’ training at 20% and little work can be done before the tissue fails and injury occurs. 

Recovery is a complex puzzle that requires more than just a little time off.  Understanding the importance of recovery and how to implement it correctly into your training plan will not only boost performance, but it will keep you active and injury free.  I am amazed at how many people completely ignore their rest days, or don’t pay any attention to their bodies to help themselves feel better.   It happens ALL THE TIME!

Question: Would you repeatedly push the limits of a Formula 1 car without tuning up the engine, rotating the tires, and tightening any loose parts?

The answer is NO WAY!  However, for some reason we think that we can just push our bodies to the limit everyday and not have maintain them.  The harder you push your body, the more time you have to pay attention to assisting with recovery.  Now, the biggest reason I hear for why people don’t do this is they don’t have time.  Trust me, I get it.  Time is essential, especially when you are working full time, have 2 kids, and are training 10+ hours per week.  I’m not talking about spending an hour each day on recovery.  If you do little bits each day it will pay off HUGE down the line.  One of the reasons people get hurt at the peak intensity of training is because they didn’t put in the 10 minutes each day taking care of their bodies.  Most people want to wait until they have pain before they think about pulling out the foam roller, getting some chiro work or massage work, or stretching.  This just isn’t going to cut it.  Rotating the tires once all the tread is gone isn’t going to help you very much.

So what can I do?

I knew you’d be asking that right about now so here are some things that you can do to keep your body tuned up:

  • Foam roll: everyday! (or better yet get yourself a HyperVolt)
  • Eat healthy: this plays a much bigger role that you can imagine
  • Take specific supplements: it is important to support your active lifestyle and give your body all the ingredients it needs to perform at a high level
  • Make sure your internal health is dialed in: get periodic comprehensive testing to makes sure your hormones and blood markers are supporting your training
  • Epsom salt baths: help your muscles recover, improve blood flow, and just relax!
  • Strength train: you must stay strong in order to support whatever sport your participate in (and don’t tell me your running is your strength training)
  • Get regular massages: from an actual therapist, not just someone who is going to press and rub on muscles
  • Get sport appropriate tune-ups: sports chiros are the best (of course!): make sure muscles are healthy, joints are moving appropriately, and you’re moving at functional levels
  • Stay hydrated: many people miss the boat on this one
  • Sleep: if you are not sleeping well enough or enough hours you are missing the #1 way to recover

 

This list could go on and on, but don’t underestimate how important each one of these are.  If you are not doing these then start now.  Most of them don’t have to take too much time out of your schedule.  Just understand that they will pay off when you are not taking time off from training because you are hurt!

And of course, we can help you with each of these ( and more).  This is specifically why I have added assessment of all of these pieces to my practice.  Recover is the name of game.  Find a way to maximize your recovery and you are guaranteed to be able to train harder and perform better!

When Does Training Hurt You?

One of the most overlooked pieces of any training schedule are the days and times where you are supposed to do NOTHING.  While most competitive athletes consider these days as a waste they are probably the most important days.  In fact, many times I see that athletes are not building enough of these into their training schedule.  Your body only gets stronger when you are resting.  Training is used to tear the body apart so that it can grow back stronger.  This increase in strength (or speed or endurance) can only fully be realized if the body is given enough time to recover.  If not, the next day of exercise stress will occur to a body that is beginning the day at a sub-optimal level.  

Now, the body can handle this routine for quite a while, but at some point it will become overwhelmed and not only will injury occur, but continued training will provide no benefits.  As you can see in the graph below, increasing exercise intensity improves your health to a certain point.  

However, there is a time where continued exercise drives a person into metabolic overtraining syndrome.  This is not a good place to be as an athlete.  Many things can start to change at this point both physically and mentally.  Some common overtraining symptoms are:

  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Excessive and chronic muscle soreness
  • Increased injuries and pain
  • Irritability and moodiness 
  • Depression
  • Frequent sickness
  • Loss of motivation
  • Difficulty sleeping

When athletes reach this stage not only are their training hours being wasted since increased performance is no longer a result of training, but their injury-risk goes through the roof!  And not only are injuries a concern, but overall health also diminishes.  This leaves an athlete open for things such as fatigue, sickness, decreased mental function, elevated heart rate, irritability, lack of motivation, and many other symptoms.

This is really why rest days are so crucial.  Rest days allow the body to fully recover from the multiple bouts of training stress to the body.  This allows athletes to start the next day at 100% (or close to) which allows for much better training sessions and less chance of injury.  It is the same reason why endurance athletes have a taper period at the end of the training schedule just before the race. This is to allow the body to fully recover so that you are feeling 100% for race day.  Nobody thinks twice about allowing this increased rest into their schedule, but they many times have a difficult time taking time off throughout the earlier portion of training plan.  Getting to the start of the race or to a competition at 100% is much better than completing every single training session and getting there at 80%.   Seems obvious but many athletes are doing this all the time!  We become so neurotic about not missing one single thing in our plans that we loose sight of the fact that the entire thing is designed to make us perform better.  And if performance hinges highly on health status (which is does!), then we need to start paying more attention to our bodies and not just what our GPS and fit watches say.

I’m sure many of you have had times where you were unexpectedly forced to miss some training sessions due to work or home life.  I’m also confident that you have also at some time noticed that some of your best training sessions were just after taking this extended time off.  This is probably because you were headed into metabolic overtraining syndrome and the extra time off allowed you to actually fully recover.  That was not a fluke!  Sometimes less is more.  Most of the time when this phrase applies to athletes it is because their training is excessive in relation to what their body can handle.  

Now, the longer you stay in this overtrained state, the less work you can actually do before you start having a decline in health.  You ability to handle training volume and intensity begins to decline.  This is a double whammy!  Not only are you hitting the point of diminishing returns, but you are going to start hitting that point at early points in your training sessions.

This may be another thing that you start noticing.  If you have repeated training sessions where you notice fatigue much early than you should, this is probably what it happening.  This should tell you that it is time to rest, give you body some time to recover, then come back strong once you’re recovered.

After looking at both of the graphs in this article the question should really be, “ How can I push that point on the graph upwards instead of downwards?”.  If that was what you were thinking then nice work!  

…………………………….

The answer to that is improve your overall health and fitness.

…………………………….

The healthier you are as an individual the more stressors your body can endure and recover from without harm.  So, some ideas you can start thinking of are:

  • Improve your nutrition
  • Reduce overall inflammation
  • Make sure hormones are balanced and sufficient
  • Incorporate things to speed physical recovery (massage, chiro, foam rolling, epsom salt baths, grounding, etc.)
  • Make sure total caloric intake is appropriate for your exercise output
  • Hit the best carb, protein, and fat counts specific to you
  • Make sure blood labs look good
  • Improve your sleep quantity and quality

As I’ve said many times before, improve your health and you will improve your performance.  Too often we put 100% confidence in our training program without thinking much about the status of the person going through the program.  We figure that if we can just check off every workout then we will automatically hit our goal and become better.  Unfortunately, this is not the case all too frequently.  Injuries sideline us, burnout crushes us, sickness overwhelms us, and then the target is never reached.   Or, if we are able to get to the end goal, the performance gains are nowhere near where they should be.

Understanding this concept of metabolic overtraining syndrome can really help you appreciate and enjoy the days off from training.  After all, this is where the real magic happens.  Don’t consider yourself lazy or unproductive when you are not training.  You are actually both improving your health and your performance on those days!

Sciatica: What is the Source?

sciatica_legpainSciatica: What is the Source?

One of the most common things that I see in my office is Sciatica.  In fact, many patients come to their first visit and tell me straight away that they have sciatica.  Self diagnosis is common today as you can find anything you want on the internet.  However, what most people don’t understand is that sciatic symptoms can have multiple different causes.  This means that sciatica treatment can vary depending on the primary cause.  The real trick is to uncover the true source.  Is is stemming from poor soft tissue health in the low back?  Scar tissue build-up in the hips and glutes? Poor pelvis function?  Poor lumbar spine function?  A herniated disc in the lower back?  Poor postural position of the low back and pelvis?  Or more commonly, is it a combination of many of these?  Many times therapists take a cookie-cutter approach to sciatica.  Adjusting the lumbar spine and pelvis, stretches for the piriformis, and maybe some electrical stimulation to the area.  This can sometimes help overcome the pain and symptoms, but most of the times function is never addressed.  This is the real source of the problem.  Some dysfunction in postural positions or movement has taken place that led to the problem.  Unless this is addressed the problem is likely to return.

The other issue I see is that people many times have an MRI that is done because of nerve symptoms that are present.  While this is not a bad idea you always have to remember that the pain is not always caused by what is found in the MRI.  For example, if you take an MRI of someone’s low back, many times you are likely to find that is does not look perfect.  You may find some mild narrowing of spaces or even some mild disc bulging.  This does not mean that you can automatically assign these findings to the source of all the patient’s pain.  This is why many times surgery to the lumbar spine fails to resolve the patients complaints.  The surgeon did a great job at making the MRI look ‘normal’, but it may not have been the actual thing that was causing the symptoms in the first place.  In fact, in the vast majority of cases conservative care will be enough to take care of the symptoms and restore function without pain.  However, there needs to be a comprehensive approach to this care.  You must address the soft tissue health, the proper joint function, the nerve health, postural positions, strength capacity, AND movement patterns.  You cannot just pick one and roll the dice.  If you fail to correct postural and movement patterns then treatment will likely fail or the problem will shortly reoccur.  We see this many times in our office as patients come to us after numerous other practitioners have failed to resolve the problem.  This is not because they are bad at the services they provide, it is simply because they did not address all of the problems at the same time.

Understand the basic premise behind sciatica treatment is taking pressure off of the sciatic nerve, wherever the compression may be happening.  Whether this is caused by scar tissue, poor joint movement, or poor functional patterns, it doesn’t really matter.  All we have to do is uncover all the dysfunctions, restore normal function, and then let the body heal on its own.  If you are suffering from sciatica, just make sure that your sciatica treatment program is comprehensive and addressing all these areas to ensure you the best chance for success.