3 Random Thoughts on Training and Nutrition

I'm not a politician.  Nor do I play one on TV.  And being that it's Super Tuesday, I'm happy to be as far away as possible from anything political.

I'd also make a terrible politician as I'm a big fan of the saying, "When the facts change, I change my mind."   Label me a flip flopper, but I'm constantly questioning if I'm doing everything I can to make people move better and be more physically resilient.

The three topics below aren't sudden changes of heart, they're refined approaches to my own system of training.  Ironically, now that I sound like a politician I only have one thing left to say: enjoy!

1. Recovery is a big deal.

We tend to look at exercise as a stress reliever.  But as I wrote in one of my most popular posts, exercise can also be a stress amplifier.  So while I'll always want to lift heavy things, our ability to recover from them is just as important.

Our bodies are constantly shifting in and out of stress based on our activities and time of day.  For example, when we wake up in the morning we’re *hopefully* in a state of relaxation.  Then when it’s time to deadlift, we want to elevate our stress level in order to maximize our performance.  I find that drinking an iced coffee while blasting late 90's metal - Rage Against the Machine, Foo Fighters, or dare I say, Creed? – does a pretty good job for myself. 

But after we've finished deadlifting and listening to debatable, angst-filled music, we want to shift ourselves back into a state of relaxation.  That last switch is where most people struggle and doing a better job can help almost all of us.

Rather than extra conditioning that will induce more stress, I like everyone I train to end their sessions with positional breathing drills.  It helps bring us back down to a more relaxed state and jump starts the recovery process.  Anecdotally, I've heard nothing but positive reviews as people are feeling less sore when I see them - a key marker that they're recovering well after their workout.  Our workouts need to complement our stress levels, not add to them.  

2. Kettlebell swings are great, but they aren't for everyone.

Kettlebell swings are a phenomenal exercise.  They produce power, can increase vertical jump ability, and deliver a great metabolic training effect.  Earlier in my career I would try to teach the swing to almost everyone I coached.  While some picked it up pretty easily, it often felt like I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  Only recently did I realize why.

As I've learned more about biomechanics and functional anatomy, I've reevaluated when I teach the swing.  Compared to earlier in my career I'll only teach the swing after someone makes it through my handy logic diagram on the right (because #science).

The largest circle incorporates everyone that could walk through the door.  But the first people I'm going to eliminate from swings are those that have a history of lower back pain.  For a variety of reasons, long time back pain sufferers have a hard time repeating a great hip hinge.  If someone can't do that unweighted - never mind under a ballistic load - they're in for tough times.  That doesn't mean they'll never swing, but they'll have additional hoops to get through.

Since the swing is also an extremely athletic move, we need great body awareness to perform it properly.  We need to be able to hinge under load, feel our hamstrings, and explosively move a heavy weight with our hips.  It can be a tall task for even great athletes.

Not a neutral pelvis.  Too bad Cinderella can't help him.

Not a neutral pelvis.  Too bad Cinderella can't help him.

Lastly, it's pretty easy to understand that every exercise reinforces either good or bad posture.  If someone is a poor back squatter but they do it three times a week, it can impact their ability to move, run, etc.  Conversely, there's a reason why numerous exercises (dead bugs, deadlifts, rows), can be game changers to making people feel and move better.

Taking this thought to swings, if someone doesn't have a well-positioned pelvis - and are battling gravity with dat bootay - swings are going to reinforce their bad posture.  Sometimes it's easy to spot: knees scooping forward, hyperextension at the top or bottom of a swing, or someone's toes coming off the ground.  Other times it may be back pain even if everything "looks" correct.  In either case, swings are making bad patterns even worse and placing them farther down the line.

So what's the takeaway?  If you feel completely fine after swings, swing away.   If swings don't feel great? Bigger issues need to be addressed.  There are plenty of other ways to develop power, athleticism, and conditioning while you work your way back to them.

3. If we put more emphasis on feeling full than on calories, we'd be happier, fuller, and thinner.

I want you to know that if you count calories, I still think you're a great person.  

I say that because I'm a staunch critic against counting calories.  While it can work, the "calories in/calories out" model often leads to simplistic choices regarding our complex biology.  We're not a science project and consuming X while doing Y will not get us to Z.

In other words, if the calorie approach were completely accurate then we'd absorb the same amount of calories regardless if the food were raw, cooked, blended or mashed.   Sadly, that isn't true.  How foods are processed matters a great deal as to the nutrition and calories we can extract from it.  As this study illustrated we absorb 38% more fat from peanut butter than we do from whole peanuts.  Plus, it's widely accepted that we absorb more calories from cooked foods than we do from raw foods.

But if that weren't enough, counting calories - and restricting food - tends to go against our natural DNA. Homeostasis controls us, not the other way around.  That's the reason most people gain weight when they come off of a calorie-controlled nutrition study.  It's easy to deprive ourselves for a given amount of time, but we're going to give in eventually.

That's why I'm a fan of eating foods that are healthy and going to make you feel full (yes, they do exist!).  Olive and vegetable oils, beans and legumes, avocados and nuts are full of fiber and fat that will help keep you full.  Fat is often the scorned step child of the macronutrients - as it's 9 calories per gram, instead of 4 for protein and carbs.  In reality, it helps keep us full and away from eating the sugary, carb-laden foods we crave when we need a snack.

Don't take this to mean that you have full rein to eat a filling, healthy plate of nachos (no, that doesn't exist).  But paying equal attention to nutrient density and satiation is what makes the most successful approaches stick.