Random Fitness Wisdom: Installment #2

It's been a few months since my last installment of "Random Fitness Wisdom" and I always enjoy writing these posts.  My inner introvert loves to think deeply, secluded from everyone (a la Harper Lee).  I also feel free to ramble on a few unrelated topics that don't always make for a full post (a la Billy Madison).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this installment!

1. Jacked up calves usually means lower back pain.

When I was in high school my calves were a source of pride.  You read that right - my calves. 

Besides causing rampant cases of calf-envy among my friends, I thought having monster calves were my personal version of "PF Flyers." They'd make me jump higher, run faster and be a more powerful athlete.  It turns out that my big calves were only indicative of the foot and back problems I'd experience over the next 10+ years. So whether you have big calves like me, or your calves are just constantly tight, know this: it's a problem.

As I mentioned in my last post, "extension" is a posture where our quads, hip flexors, lats and spinal erectors are turned all the way on and never quite calm down.  This posture forces us on our toes and leads to tight and/or big calves.  In a way, our calves are what's helping us stand  as sitting on our heels would make us fall over.  This extension posture is the most common cause of back pain I see with clients, and strengthening our calves is only going to exacerbate the problem.

(**This train thought also explains how one of the real causes of plantar fasciitis may actually be dysfunctional breathing.  But we're not going to jump down that rabbit hole today, Alice.)

How to fix it?  It's complicated.  But breathing, strengthening your hamstrings, and more dead bugs is a good start.

2. Running is a better predictor of injuries than physique changes.

To be clear, I don't hate running.  For the right person, at the right time, and the right distance, it can be a phenomenal exercise choice.  The problem is finding the person who matches all three criteria.

We run into trouble (pun intended) when we think of running as a weight loss tool.  With the barrier to entry so low - you only need a pair of shoes - running is one of the first activities people take up when they want to lose weight.   And since most runners are "thin" because they have to be, it adds (false) credence to the notion that running makes you lose weight.

But unless you're strong and have correct gait, things are going to break down eventually.  Any imperfections or asymmetries we have are only amplified with every step we take and increasing other variables - weight, miles, speed, fatigue - are a big reason why 80% of runners are hurt every year.

If you're really interested in losing weight there are a ton of better options - strength training, interval work, and taking a closer look at your diet.

3. The deadlift will help most people with lower back pain.....but that doesn't mean everyone is ready to deadlift tomorrow.

You knew something deadlift related had to make this list, right? ;)

The hamstrings often get a bad rap because they're A) tight or B) force your #1 draft pick in fantasy football to miss the past three weeks (it's ok, I'm still undefeated anyway).  Instead of thinking of our hamstrings as just another muscle in our body that needs to be stretched, we need to think of it as a key player in back health.

Here's a great video from Mike Cantrell explaining the crucial role hamstrings play with our pelvis and spine.  I met Mike last weekend and he's definitely as handsome as he is smart (don't be worried, Lindsay):

Besides strengthening our hamstrings, deadlifts help to reel in our pelvis.  They force us out of the extension posture I wrote about above, and get us to a more neutral position.

Of course, not everyone is ready to deadlift tomorrow.  If we have an extremely unstable pelvis, it may take some work before we're ready to learn how to deadlift.  Others may never deadlift as we commonly know it, because the idea of hurting their back is just too great.  But some type of deadlift is needed in every training plan.  Not only is it good for us, but it's also training for life.

4. "Healthy" people eat fruits and vegetables because they want to, not because they "should."

I don't talk about my weight and body fat often on here for a big reason - they're really not that important to me.  In fact I only think about my weight when I'm calculating how much to deadlift in order to become a member of the 3X bodyweight club.

Having said that, my weight is currently at 186 and body fat is at 8.7% - the former being the lightest I was since high school and the latter being the lowest reading ever.  Besides needing to eat a bit of humility, I'm never hungry between meals nor am I overly strict on what I eat. It has everything to do with my taste preferences.

Five years and 40 pounds ago I would've told you that if it doesn't have meat, it's not a meal.  I never would've dreamed that I'd eat as many fruits and vegetables as I currently do - my orange palms from an excessive intake of beta-carotene confirms that.  But the human palate is extremely adaptable and it changes based on what you provide it.  By slowing decreasing the amount of sugar, meat and processed food I consumed, I changed my taste buds to prefer more nutrient dense foods.  Consuming fried food or pizza just doesn't sound appealing to me, and I love eating my usual lunchtime mixing bowl of salad.

The path to a healthy diet is hardly linear.  Slow changes, consistency, and eating like a grown up all still ring true.