Injury prevention

Can you over-exercise?

In my family, stories of my Grandma Lloyd are legend. 

She was a 4’11 Irish woman who was notorious for speaking without a filter, a lack of attention to detail, being a horrible cook (spaghetti with tomato soup anyone?), and driving on the sidewalks.

Too much fertilizer, too much water, too much exercise. Too much of anything is no good. 

Too much fertilizer, too much water, too much exercise. Too much of anything is no good. 

One of the favorite stories is when my grandfather brought home a new tree for the backyard. After a few weeks, the tree had died, and my grandfather pressed her for what happened. 

“How much fertilizer did you put on it?” he asked. 

She disclosed that she’d been giving the tree four times the amount that was recommended and had killed the tree. 

“Well,” she said matter of factly. “I thought if one cup was good then four cups must be better.”

It’s easy to laugh and shake my head and chalk it up to another Grandma Verda moment (yes her first name was Verda), but the thing is, I see this everyday. 

In fitness. 

If three workouts per week is good, then six workouts a week is better. If five workouts is great, then 10 must be amazing. 


In my college days when we we were down south for spring break, we would bust out two-a-days to take advantage of the warm weather. And even then, when we were in our teens and early twenties and our bodies could tolerate more, we did not perform two demanding workouts in the same day. We would bust out a tough practice in the morning before doing skills work and running plays in the afternoon. 

Because the most important thing in preparing for the season, aside from getting conditioned and knowing the plays, was staying healthy.

Staying healthy. 

Say that together with me. 

Stay healthy.

Working out is a lot like adding fertilizer to a growing tree or salt to a recipe. More is not always better. You can have too much of a good thing.  Less is more. 

Feel free to add your own cliche. 

If you want to dedicate that much time to your fitness though, I would offer the same message I did in my post the other day. 

Harder isn't always better.

You could go out for a long run in the morning and then spend an hour that same night foam rolling and doing active recovery work. Active recovery might get your heart rate up, but the goal is to work on your movement quality - perhaps by performing your warm up (you do warm up, right?) five times in a row. 

Instead of working out 12 times per week, workout six times and use those other time commitments to help your body recover.

Do you get soft tissue work done? Do you go for massages? 

Massage is not just a luxury. And it's not indulgent. Sure a Swedish massage can be just that, but soft tissue work can also go a long way in keeping you healthy. It can relieve stress and help you manage anxiety (both of which are paramount to keeping you sane and healthy), but a good massage can also increase your range of motion, help you sleep better, and enhance your actual exercise performance.

In fact, after experiencing tightness in my knee for the past week, I went for a deep tissue massage yesterday and my knee feels better than it has in two weeks. He worked all of the muscles around my knee and my range of motion is much better. 

Sure I could have spent 90 minutes running yesterday, since I'm signed up for a marathon - but I'm going to have a much better two hour run today because I spent yesterday caring for my body. 

And don't assume that working out 12 hours per week is going to get you to your goal faster. Because if you don't stay healthy you're going to have a tough time hitting your goal at all. 

More is not always better. 

Ok? Ok. Good talk. 

Did you know I have a newsletter? It's true. I do. I send out weekly emails with tips and tricks in fitness and nutrition. Did you also know that I'm releasing my first fitness product in April? And that I'll be giving away a free copy to someone on my newsletter list? No, you didn't know that? Well, now you do. Sign up here.  No, I won't share you email. That's just not cool. 

Do you "work out" your emotions? I do.

The other day, in a fit of rage, I hopped on the treadmill, put on Disturbed, and ran like I was being chased by an angry rooster.

Roosters scare me ok? 

This is the best angry album out there. By far. 

This is the best angry album out there. By far. 

I worked up a healthy sweat, zoned completely out for a few minutes, and ran my fastest mile of the year. Boom. Nailed it right? Working out is a healthy way to deal with your emotions right?

Yes and no.

Sometimes I have to draw a line when it comes to using fitness to process my feelings, and I’m terrible at it.  

I got on that treadmill with zero schtups* left to give. I’ve had pain in my achilles, my lower back, and in my neck. (Some days I feel every day of my 40 plus years). After working out three days in a row, I was scheduled for a day off.

But I didn’t care. I just wanted to blow off some steam. 

That's the danger zone. 

I didn't care what my body needed - I didn't care. End of story. 

The moments when we give in to the not caring are what place a level red threat on our goals and progress. 

I don’t care anymore, so I’ll eat what I want.

I don’t care anymore, I’ll drink a bottle of wine.

I don’t care anymore, I’m going to lift until my lips are paralyzed because you only live once, right?

Throughout my life, I’ve used exercise as a way to feel better when I’m depressed, or to work through anger, or generally distract myself from whatever it is I’m unwilling to feel. Sometimes the exercise itself makes me feel better, and I’m grateful for that. But that high is temporary. The relief is short-lived.  

Inevitably I have to come back to that question that Buddhist teacher Tara Brach asks frequently in her teachings.

What am I unwilling to feel? 

I don't know about anyone else, but that's a loaded question for me. Fitness helps me, and I believe helps many people, feel better. But there's a balance. And there's also a price to pay with a reality that sets in physically. 

In my twenties and thirties, I could get away with beating myself up physically while ignoring my emotions. I thought a 10 mile run or a 90 minute workout could exhaust the feelings right out of me.

In fact, as many of you who read my blog know, it was my inability to push my way through a run that helped me understand my depression.

My challenge for you today, (and for myself, let's be honest), is to take inventory of our intentions. To pay attention. To be aware and to recognize that soft and tender place where we hold our emotions. To be kind to ourselves for having feelings. To be patient with ourselves as we learn how to handle those feelings.

Yes, work out. But work out from a place of care. Not from a place of suffering. 

*Another word for cares. Zero cares left to give. 

What does it mean to train your core?

Every Sunday I FaceTime with my parents, and as they fill me in on their week of working out and the weather in Western PA, I ask if they’ve tried the new exercises I sent them using links to You Tube videos.

Dad: What's youtube?

Me: You can also find the link on my blog.

Dad: What's a blog?

Aside from encouraging my parents to do more core training, I also get this request from many clients looking to lose belly fat. And it's a fair assumption that doing more exercises that target that area, or feel like they target that area, is the solution. 

Core exercises aren't going to slim down the waistline though. That comes down to nutrition and reducing your stress. But core training is important for many other reasons, not the least of which is helping to protect your spine as well as improving your overall balance and stability. Yesterday a client mentioned to me that her goal for the summer is to get out of her kayak without help. 

The solution? More core training. 

But training the core isn't the same as training the abs. 

When many of us think of core training, we think of training the ab muscles (the transverse abdominus, the rectus abdominus, the internal obliques and external obliques) which are the muscles that make up that traditional six pack. While it's important and feels good to strengthen those muscles, it's also important to train your obliques (the muscles on your side) and your erector spinae, which is a group of muscles in your back. When you strengthen all of these muscles in a 360 approach, it contributes to better balance (catching yourself when you slip on the ice), better squats, and most importantly, when these muscles are stronger your body doesn't have to rely solely on your bones for support. 

Thanks to the research of Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, we now understand that too many crunches and sit ups, or too much flexion of the spine, can cause damage to the spine. Rather than doing the traditional sit ups, crunches and side bends ("you can do side bends and sit ups, but please don't lose that butt..") - training the muscles that protect the spine for endurance is what could really make a difference in overall back and spine health.

Do this test right now. Get down on the floor, and using your forearms instead of your hands, press yourself into a front plank position. Like so:


Can you hold that position above for at least 30 seconds? If so, that's great. Continue working on it. If not, then that's a good sign to include more front planks into your workout routine. For more information on how to perform the front plank, check out the video below which I recorded when my arm was supposed to still be in a sling, so don't mind the fact that it's just sort of hanging there. 

Equally important to the front plank, is the side plank or side bridge.

The back muscles used in the side plank, the erector spinae, multifidus and longissiums thoracic are used to stabilize your spine, which in turn prevent it from bending to the side. To perform a side plank, make sure your elbow is properly stacked directly underneath your shoulder (not up by your head) and using your knees, press your hips up from the floor. Squeeze your butt cheeks and work on maintaining a straight spine. 

It helps to wear your Captain America Shirt. 

It helps to wear your Captain America Shirt. 


If this position above doesn't feel challenging enough perform the same movement, but raise both your knees and your hips off of the floor as well.

It also helps to wear your Captain America socks. 

It also helps to wear your Captain America socks. 


An additional modification if the short side plank (from your knees) is too easy, but the full side plank is a little too challenging, is to use your top arm for support:


Do your planks and side planks. 

Do them!

In the case of both exercises, perform them for breaths as opposed to time, which I explain more in the plank video above.

And enjoy your St. Patty's Day weekend. 


Top three exercises to target the glutes

It's almost impossible for me to write a post about glutes that does not, in some way, reference Sir Mix A Lot:

"Oh my God Becky, look at her butt. It is so big..."

Every time this song comes on the gym, all of the over 35ers stop whatever they're doing to get their groove on. 

Everyone else just watches.

Working on the glute muscles is more than just impressing Becky and her friend though. The glutes are responsible for stabilizing the pelvis and can help promote back health. Here are a few exercises that you can incorporate into your workouts on a weekly basis to help build the kind of butt you can bounce a quarter off of. 

If you really want to know everything there is to know about glutes, you want to check out this guy - Bret Contreras, also known as the Glute Guy.

In the meantime, here are a few of my favorites.

Cable pull throughs

Everyone loves doing these in public. And I mean everyone. This is one of the best from the awkward exercise selection, but in all honesty is one of the best for you. 

Key coaching cue: Use your hips, not your hands. Keep your spine straight throughout the movement and squeeze those cheeks at the top like you're cracking a walnut.

Monster walks

This is an easy exercise to rush through, so be sure to take your time with them. Start with a lighter band around your knees.

Key coaching cue: The focus here is not stepping forward but loading your weight into the planted leg and lifting the working leg, which makes the movement look more like a Frankenstein walk (hence the name) than a traditional walk.

1-legged hip thrusts

Chances are if you try this one out, you're going to hate it. If you hate it, do more of it. No, not because I'm a sadist, but because it's really good for you. 

Key coaching cue: Maintain a straight spine throughout the exercise, not letting your butt sag throughout the movement. 

Technique Wednesday: What the church lady can teach you about your hip flexors

I grew up on Saturday Night Live in the 90's - Dana Carvey, Al Franken and of course, Adam Sandler. 

But one of my favorite skits of all time was with Dana Carvey's Church Lady:

Well as it turns out, I've had plenty of cause to reference that character lately when teaching clients a good way to stretch their hip flexors. 

Check the video out below for more. 

And don't forget that beginning in March, there will be some free Facebook Live videos coming from my Facebook page, so if you haven't liked me but want to like me, you know, that would be cool. :)