Category Archives: The Mind/Body Connection

Beginning Parkour Training

I am a big proponent of personal training–not just for my clients–but for myself, too!

I’m always eager to learn new ways to exercise and have fun, so when my friend Rick Seedman of the Bar-barians offered to teach me about parkour, I jumped at the chance. (Literally!)

About Parkour
Parkour comes from a French word meaning “obstacle course.” Basically, it involves navigating an urban landscape with quickness, efficiency and grace. As Rick says, “Parkour is about expressing yourself through movement.”

Parkour training is playful and less structured than most formal types of exercise, but there are a few basic moves that all traceurs (that’s what parkour practitioners like to be called) should be comfortable with.

Precision Jumping

One key aspect of parkour is precision jumping. Just like the name implies, this movement involves jumping and landing (often onto or off of an object) with the utmost precision–something I am still working on!

Underbars

An underbar involves passing between a narrow, horizontal opening by jumping through the obstacle and landing on the other side. The most common situations to use underbars are passing through rails, trees, or scaffolding.


Rolling

Rolling is used primarily to spread the impact of a jump throughout your body (so you don’t take it all in your knees and ankles). Rolling also allows for a smooth transition into the next movement.

Pain and Posture

This is a guest post by Jamie Nischan.

Old “Doc” Plume, the local hardware store owner, who was known for his miraculous cures for arthritis, had a long line of patients waiting outside the door when a little old lady, completely bent over, shuffled in slowly, leaning on her cane.

When her turn came, she went into the back room of the store and, amazingly, emerged within half an hour, walking completely erect with her head held high.

A woman waiting in the line said, “It’s a miracle! You walked in bent in half and now you’re walking erect. What did Doc do?” She answered, “He gave me a longer cane.”

It’s funny, most of the people with bad posture or pain syndrome that I run into want to know a miracle exercise that will cure their dysfunction. Sure, exercise can help and be a big part of a program designed to deal with pain and posture, but more often than not, it is the little things in our everyday lives that could use some adjusting. With that, here is a short list of activities to be mindful during:

Driving
Do you slouch, or lean to one side more than the other? Maybe you keep one hand high on the steering wheel and the other low, causing you to shrug one shoulder more than the other. The point: try to shift and change positions often if you spend lots of time in the car. The best position will always be hands at 10 and 2, holding your back tall and flat against the seat.

Desk
You should know by now that posture at the desk is important. You’re in this position for several hours at a time and it can have BIG repercussions on your health. Get up often and be aware of any favoritism to any particular positions you might find yourself in. Reaching and twisting from a seated position is a big no-no. Try to organize your desk to be more spine friendly by putting often-used folders and materials within arm’s reach.

Sleeping
Our sleep posture is one of the most overlooked aspects of our life. You spend 8 hours (hopefully) a night in either one or various positions that could have a large impact on your posture during the day. Do you pile the pillows high? This leads to excess stretching of the extensors in the neck, possibly contributing to a forward head posture. Do you pull the bed sheets tight over your feet, pulling your toes into a pointed position? This can lead to limited ankle mobility, which then affects your entire body mechanics, from walking to sitting. Do you sleep on your side with one leg bent and across your body? This can lead to an imbalance between your left and right spinal erectors, which then could be contributing to your back pain. Paranoid yet? I didn’t even mention how sleeping on your stomach can contribute to an excessive lordodic curve, which may then lead to excessive compressive forces on your lumbar spine!

Final Thoughts

We need to pay more attention to our bodies when they’re NOT in motion. It’s the little things like these that add up and contribute to a life of constant, nagging pains. Practice a technique known as mindfulness. Every once in a while turn your attention inwards and ask yourself, have I been in this position for too long? Could I do something to make my current posture more comfortable and back-friendly? Before you know it, the pain that once prevented you from doing normal everyday tasks will have disappeared and become a thing of the past.

Jamie Nischan owns and runs a successful fitness coaching business in Stamford CT. Through the use of posture correction and exercise he treats pain often associated with excessive use of computers. More about Jamie can be found at www.thebuffgeek.com.

Working out in the Morning or the Evening?

Split legged front leverDo you have a hard time fitting workouts into your busy schedule?

People often ask me when is the best time of day to exercise.  Let’s weigh the pros and cons of a few different approaches:

Morning People
A lot of people like to exercise first thing in the morning in order to get it out of the way. If you do your workout before the stresses of the day start to pile up, then you don’t have to worry about life getting in the way and derailing your plans. I like this approach.

On the other hand, a good night’s sleep is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Sacrificing sleep in order to get a morning workout might be solving one problem, but it creates a new one in the process. Besides, you’re unlikely to muster up the energy for a great workout if you’ve only had 4 or 5 hours of sleep.

The Lunch Crowd
If you can slip away from the office in the middle of the day, it can be a great time to fit some exercise into your schedule. Gyms are usually pretty quiet in the afternoon, which can let you get your workout done without a lot of distraction and wasted time. Just make sure you don’t skip lunch. Nutrition (especially post-workout) is a key part of the fitness equation.

After Work
The evening is generally the most popular time to go to the gym. After a stressful day, exercise can be a great way to blow off some steam. Plus you don’t have to wake up any earlier than usual!

The downside is that the gym can be very crowded and you may wind up spending half of your time waiting for the equipment you need. It’s helpful to have a back up plan and to be able to improvise in these situations.

Additionally, some people find that evening workouts rev them up too much and cause insomnia. If you are going to the gym in the evening, you might want to give yourself a few hours to settle down before bed.

Trainer Tips:
It takes time to make a habit stick–eventually early risers will go to bed earlier and it will get easier. But for night owls, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can allow for deeper and more restful sleep.

No matter when you get your workout in, the important thing is consistency. Get it in when you can fit it in, but don’t stop working for it or it might stop working for you!

More of Al's Best Running Playlists

Running w MusicWhat makes for a great running playlist?

Well besides the obvious stuff, like picking your favorite genre (I like rock music) or finding songs with inspiring lyrics, I like to find songs that I can sync my pacing with rhythmically.

When I time my foot strike with the beat, it helps me to keep my footing even. It also enhances my focus when I match my movements to the music.

Depending on how fast I want to try to run, I can select songs with various beats per minute (bpm). The bpm of the song correlates with the amount of strides I’ll take in a minute. I usually take around 170 strides per minute, but I’ll sometimes go a bit faster or slower depending on the circumstances.

Here are some songs I like to warm up to:

Judith–A Perfect Circle–Mer De Noms
Long Division–Death Cab for Cutie–Narrow Stairs
Another Space Song–Failure–Fantastic Planet
I Want You So Hard (Boys Bad News)–Eagles Of Death Metal–Death By Sexy

Below is a playlist comprised of faster songs. I used this playlist for my recent 4 mile race:

Closer–Nine Inch Nails–The Downward Spiral
Heroes–Shinedown–Us And Them
Fill My Little World–The Feeling–Twelve Stops And Home
Elite–Deftones–White Pony
Dandelion–Audioslave–Out Of Exile
Sound Of Madness–Shinedown–The Sound Of Madness
Defy You–The Offspring–Greatest Hits
Blood And Thunder–Mastodon–Leviathan

Click here for my marathon playlist.

What are your favorite songs to run to?

Stretching: Before or After Your Workout?

Sophia is very flexible!

Sophia is very flexible!

Most fitness professionals agree that stretching is a worthwhile part of a well rounded exercise routine, but lately there seems to be a lot of debate about when to stretch.

For a long time, conventional wisdom held that stretching should be performed before your workout, as a means to loosen up the muscles.

The theory behind it being that tight muscles would prevent athletes from being able to perform at peak levels, and that loose muscles were also less likely to get strained. This is still common practice for many recreational athletes.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

Men are generally less flexible than women.

However, recent studies, like the one mentioned in this article from last years New York Times, have indicated that stretching prior to exercise can potentially loosen you up too much, thereby actually decreasing performance capabilities while increasing susceptibility to injuries. Go Figure.

Personally, I am not a big fan of stretching before a strength training or cardio session; stretching tends to have a calming effect on me, whereas I want to be amped up before a run or training session. Stretching at the end of a workout when my body temperature is already up and I am more relaxed has usually felt better for me.

I don't recommend you try this unless you're warmed up

I wouldn't try this without a warm up first!

On the other hand, stretching can be a means of warming yourself up. Flexibility is a cornerstone of yoga practice–and I am a big advocate of yoga (I do it myself, in fact). If you do like to stretch as a warm up, just be careful not to push your stretches too far at the start. You have to ease in.

Like I often tend to point out, there are so many different approaches and it’s up to you to figure out what works best for your body. I know a lot of people who want to just be told what to do without having to think, but I urge you not to take that path!

Pay attention to your body while you are working out and experiment with different approaches to see what feels right. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to make mistakes; there aren’t always such clear cut distinctions between right and wrong. Case in point–this recent article from the Times suggests that having tight hamstrings could actually be beneficial!


For more information, pick up a copy of my new book, Stretching Your Boundaries.

Assisted Stretching

Hamstring/groin stretch It’s common knowledge that flexibility is an important part of overall fitness, yet many people still neglect this key component of a well rounded exercise regimen.

One way to make stretching more interesting (and in many cases more effective), is by having a partner or trainer to assist you.

One great stretch to do with a partner is for your hamstrings and inner thighs. Start by sitting upright with your legs stretched out in a V shape.

Have a partner sit across from you in the same position with one person’s feet pressed up against the other persons ankles. The person with shorter legs should have their feet on the inside (see photo). Grab your partners wrists and have them pull you in.

Keep your back straight and your chest up and take the stretch in your hips and legs. Hold for at least 20 seconds and then switch and stretch your partner.

Chest stretch Another great stretch to have a partner assist you with is the one pictured to the left.

Sit with your hands behind your head and your fingers laced together. Have your partner stand behind you and pull back on your elbows. It may be helpful to have your partner’s knee or torso pressed against your back for leverage. You will feel this stretch in your chest and shoulders.

Remember to breathe deeply and try to stay calm while stretching. Of course, thinking about relaxing always makes it harder! Simply focus on your breath to help you relax.

Headstands and Handstands

There are a lot of different ways to do a headstand.

There are a lot of different ways to do a headstand.

It’s important to use your head when you’re working out–literally!


Headstands and handstands are great ways to improve your balance, core stability, and upper body strength. They are also a lot of fun!

Using the tri-pod technique is one way to learn to do a headstand. Start by placing your head on the ground with your hands about shoulder width several inches below your head. Your head and hands should be in a triangular formation. (See the video clip below for a full demonstration.)

Next, straighten your legs so that your hips are over your head and walk your legs up onto your arms. Slowly shift your weight into your head and lift your legs away from your body. I recommend practicing with a wall behind you in the beginning since you will likely lose your balance a lot at first.

There are other ways to get into a headstand but this is a good one to start with. Eventually you may even try to work up towards doing a hands-free headstand.

Handstands are generally harder than headstands for most people because less of your body is in contact with the ground. Handstands are not only great for building strength and control in your core, but also in your shoulders, arms, and hands–a lot of being able to do a handstand is in the hands themselves.

I haven’t had any sort of formal gymnastics training but through practice and dedication, I have taught myself how to do these moves. I continue to practice regularly and it continues to be something that challenges me. Consistent practice is the common theme here, people!

See the video below for demonstrations and more:
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BehQ8snueU