The deadlift is one of the best exercises you can do to increase overall strength, from your hamstrings to your erectors and lats. Next to the squat, few exercises activate more musculature than the deadlift. However, few exercises have higher potential for injury if done improperly. In this week's evolve blog, we are covering the technical aspects of the deadlift, what movements are happening anatomically, the muscles engaged, and tips.
Be sure to check out last week's post on the squat pattern, as well as our other post on spine health so you get a well rounded understanding of the spine. In fact, a main objective is often to build strong and resilient back to protect the spine. Let's dive in.
Deadlifts: The Fundamentals
The deadlift is a compound movement, meaning that more than one joint is involved in the movement. In the case of the deadlift, our hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders all act in unison. All these joints are 'present' in a deadlift. Our spine is meant to stay braced, stable, and neutral throughout the entirety of the movement.
Recalling a previous post, the spine has four modes of movement: flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. With deadlifting, we want the spine to remain straight, in a neutral position, braced from our abdominals and lats, which act as stabilizers for the torso in this movement. In cases where one is attempting to pull too much weight, you will see a rounding of the lower lumbar spine and mid-thoracic, a sure indication that the movement is compromised and injury risk is heightened.
There is no need to pull more weight than reasonably uncomfortable. The movement in itself is designed to be able to move a lot of weight naturally with proper technique. Injuries occur when ego overpowers reason. This movement will be taxing no matter what, especially in hypertrophy ranges of 8+ reps for multiple sets.
The deadlift is considered a hinging movement, meaning that is primarily focused on utilizing the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex in generating power. We hinge by bending at the waist, not with the spine. In a hinge, our spine stays straight and we 'push our butts back,' which allows as to bend without compromising our spine. This is a critical component of performing a deadlift correctly. No hinge = no form = pain.
The more muscles active the easier this movement will be. By design, the deadlift is one of the most muscular activating movements in a gym-goers arsenal. That said, when not taught proper form, many people will attempt to lift the weight solely with their back, believing (falsely) that's the proper way to do it. This is dangerous.
To lift the barbell properly, one must engage the muscles required by the movement before the movement. The muscles involved in a deadlift include but are not limited to: erectors spinae, transverse abdominis, trapezius, lats, hamstrings, and quadriceps. That might seem like a lot to remember, but a few simple cues make it easy.
Cues for Execution
Again, as outlined before, just because those muscles fire doesn't mean they are firing right. Cueing yourself--or your client--is critical if you or they are to perform the rep properly. Popular cues include:
All lifts have common compensations. This happens because somewhere in the kinetic chain of the movement there is power/energy leakage or not enough tension to perform the movement safely. Luckily, you can spot most compensations with a deadlift right as its happening, and stop the lift before serious injury can occur.
First and foremost, the rounding of the spine will happen at the outset of the movement. This is an indication that the lifter is using too much weight. That said, if he or she is experienced enough, a little bend isn't bad, but necessary. It depends on experience.
Secondly, as with squats, knee valgus (knock knees) can happen if one isn't engaging their glute medius enough, the muscles responsible for hip extension and femur abduction simultaneously. These muscles keep stability in the lower body and aid in hip extension tremendously, working in unison with the glutes to push the hips forward.
Lastly, when someone has to throw their neck up and look towards the ceiling they are comprising the neutrality of the spine. In a deadlift, maintaining a neutral spine through the movement is necessary to keep it a safe movement.
On a final note, remember that the more muscles tight and engaged prior to the lift the safer it will be. The deadlift has gotten a bad rap for the common injuries associated with it (often severe), but it is one of the best movements for increasing overall strength, especially in the spinal column, back, and lower body.
I hope this brief look into the deadlift offered new insights into the movement. It is a powerful exercise with a lot to offer, if only it is done right. One of my personal favorites, the deadlift has a lot to offer when done properly and if needed, under right supervision.
By: Benjamin Cole
Beginning a new weekly section on the evolve blog is Technical Tuesday's, where we cover technical aspects of common lifts, injuries, movement patterns and more. This week we're going to cover the most common pattern in all of human history: the squat.
In this piece, we're going to cover the technical aspects of the squat--what makes a movement a squat and the muscles involved--as well as tips and cues to improve yours either as a lifter or as a coach. On the next one join us as we dissect the deadlift.
Squat Pattern: The Most Common Movement
To sit down and read this you had to squat; to get up to do what you will next you had to do a concentric squat; to sit down later and eat you have to squat. I think you get the point--we squat everyday, often. It's the most natural movement we perform.
Now, just because that it's the most natural pattern doesn't mean that it's done correctly. In fact, there's a high chance it's done incorrectly, especially under load, if someone hasn't been taught proper form by a coach or trainer.
Squats engage a large portion of the lower musculature of the body: quadriceps and hamstrings through hip and knee flexion/extension, glutes through hip extension/flexion, the abdominals for core stability, and if loaded, upper and lower back for trunk stability. Engaging these muscle groups is critical if one is to perform a squat at maximum capacity and efficiency.
Movement in Depth
How well one squats is dependent on how effectively they engage the muscles involved. All too often people will let their knees sway inwards (valgus or 'knock' knees), which means they aren't engaging the the lateral portion of the glutes or quads entirely. Conversely, outwardly swayed knees (varus knee or being 'bowlegged') is when one's knees sway too far outward, lacking the necessary control for proper movement.
Of course, those movement distortions could be caused on a deeper level with certain bone or muscle insertion deformities, but in a general sense, they occur from a lack of mind-muscle connection with the right muscles and overall neuromuscular instability to perform the movement correctly.
So, what movements and muscles are involved in a squat and how do you perform it properly? Initially, one goes into hip flexion then knee flexion in a fluid motion. This is the eccentric phase of the movement, where the glutes and quads lengthen in tandem. In the concentric phase of the movement, one engages the entire quadricep involved with knee extension--rectus femoris, vastus medialis, intermedius and lateralis--as well as hip extension--rectus femoris, glute maximus, medius, and minimus--and completes one rep.
Cues for Execution
Just because those muscles fire doesn't mean they are firing right. Cueing yourself--or your client--is critical if you or they are to perform the rep properly. Popular cues include:
Lastly, we have to cover the compensations to look for in someone who may be not engaging the correct muscles. In my experience as a coach, I would say that the most common compensations and movement dysfunctions are lordosis and knee valgus. These two movement distortions account for most issues in squatting.
As covered in recent blogs, the spine has natural curves to it, like an elegant S-shape, that allow it an open range of motion as well as dynamic decompression. When the trunk isn't stabilized by breathing in and bracing the pelvis 'dumps forward,' and the lower lordotic curve in the spine becomes overly accentuated, putting undue pressure on the lower back, often resulting in pain over time and compressed discs.
The other major movement dysfunction is valgus knee, an inward-angled compensation of the tibia-knee due to lack of lateral muscle engagement. The body is very complex but also quite simple and intelligent; when certain muscles can't or don't activate in a movement it automatically resorts to the next best thing, which is often what we as coaches see as dysfunctional movements. Valgus knee usually occurs because one hasn't engaged their glute medius enough by 'splitting the floor,' the simple cue that gets a person to actively think of and activate lateral muscles such as glute med.
A final point to hammer home is that the body moves in multiple planes, and that all compound movements work in more than one at some point. Keep this in mind when performing a squat: what muscles do you need to activate to make this a 'multi-planar' movement? By engaging the glute medius (a laterally functional muscle) the movement occurs in more than one plane, as this muscle works in a different plane to the sagittal, the primary movement plane for this exercise. More on planes of movement later!
Ideally, this short but in-depth piece showed how complex a simple movement can become when we dissect it. Multiple muscle groups are involved when performing a squat, and utilizing the proper cues in the movement will ensure full engagement. Join us in the next evolve blog where we do the same with the world-renowned deadlift.
By: Benjamin Cole
Concluding this three part series on Evolve Blog we are going to talk about Tai Chi and qigong, mind-body meditation/martial arts practices originating from ancient China. Be sure to tune into this week's later blog on proper squatting mechanics.
Although not currently offered at Evolve Fit Studios, not mentioning Tai Chi in a mind-body series would be a tremendous disservice. Tai Chi and qigong are two of the world's premiere mind-body practices and this brief piece will outline its origins, the essence of qi and Tai Chi, and the benefits of the practice.
What are Tai Chi's origins?
Tai Chi has been a staple of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. Unlike its Hindu counterpart yoga, Tai Chi actually doubles as a self-defense system in addition to it being a healing modality. In the past, Tai Chi was passed along through oral tradition only, being primarily a practice for Chinese nobility. Come the turn of the 18th and 19th century, Tai Chi became a more publicly recognized martial art form in China, from being taught in the military to even public health.
"The history of Tai Chi includes an interweaving of three deep influences of Chinese culture," writes Dr. Peter Wayne in his pioneering book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. "Martial arts, healing arts, and philosophy." Tai Chi is a particularly unique mind-body practice in this way; no other mind-body system in the world has as a rich a substrate in these three domains and interlink them into one practice.
Tai Chi loosely translates to "Supreme Ultimate," or Tai Chi Chuan meaning "Ultimate Fist." Tai Chi has time-tested benefits for the body, mind, and spirit and is widely accepted as a martial art on top of being a healing art.
What is Tai Chi? Qigong? What're the benefits?
Tai Chi is a collection of evolving movements that are slow, graceful, and often circular in nature that are designed to cultivate, charge, and circulate the life force (qi) of the human body. It's been shown to gently massage the organs allowing for better digestion, increase blood flow throughout the body, and bring healing to physical and mental ailments.
There have been hundreds of studies conducted on the benefits of Tai Chi and qigong, including hundreds of randomized trials that show compelling evidence these practices have immunological, cardiovascular, and mental health benefits. Worth noting is that belief in the practice is critically important, as the "placebo effect" can work to our benefit.
The body and mind are deeply intertwined, and the belief that the practice will benefit the practitioner is the bedrock upon which the healing happens.
Qigong, as opposed to Tai Chi, is a slower, more meditative practice that acts as a partner to the martial arts aspects of Tai Chi. Often qigong is the other side of the coin to Tai Chi.
For decades, Western researchers have been seeking to quantify the healing aspects of Tai Chi and qigong, trying to capture the elusive "qi" or "chi" with modern methods and placebo studies. Only until very recently, using cutting-edge technology like the superconducting quantum interference device (shorthand SQUID), have scientists been able to measure the subtle electro-magnetic energy fields emanating from the human body and heart.
Simply put, qi is our vital life force, our spirit, something difficult to scientifically quantify.
Qi has been best translated as "steam," in the sense that steam is the end product of work (energy) given to water, being we are 70%+ water. Like in Hindu with Prānāyāma meaning "life energy modulation/control," qìgōng, 氣功, means "life energy work, cultivation."
An embedded cosmology?
Like yoga again, there is an implicit cosmology (an understanding of the universe) that comes with practicing Tai Chi or qigong. In essence, the practice intends to teach that human being are a sacred bridge between Earth and the cosmos, and the practice aligns ones internal energy and essence with that of the universal energy and essence.
This is what makes the practice so potent. Dr. Wayne mentions that the practice becomes "an embodied spirituality" in that multiple components become unified in one practice. He captures it in his "Eight Active Ingredients of Tai Chi":
Hopefully this piece illuminated a deeper understanding of qigong and Tai Chi. The practices are similar in nature but different in practice, and both have been shown to offer a multitude of benefits at a physical, mental, and spiritual level. If you found this interesting, be sure to check out the first two posts of this three part series on yoga and pilates.
By: Benjamin Cole
Few gyms in Lane County offer the variety of classes that we do at Evolve Fit Studios. One of our most popular classes week in and week out is pilates, a mind-body practice intent on strengthening your core, spine, and improving overall fitness and posture.
This week's evolve blog explores the origins of pilates, its primary principles, and what makes it such a potent mind-body practice. If you haven't already, be sure to check out our original post on what a mind-body practice is, and if you're curious, the first part of this three part series on mind-body practices.
Where did pilates come from?
Pilates originates from Germany in the early 20th century, having been founded by none other than Joseph Pilates himself. Joseph suffered from a myriad of physical and immune illnesses as a child, but having a father that was a gymnast and a mother as a naturopath it seems revolutionizing physical fitness was in his cards.
Despite being one of the newest mind-body practices, pilates is one of the most effective at reforming the body and mind. Joseph actually formulated many of the principles of pilates while in an internment camp during WWI, where he studied the foundations of animal movement, anatomy and yoga and taught the methods to his comrades.
What does pilates do for the body and mind?
Originally, Joseph called what's now known as pilates "contrology" due to the physical demands of the fitness system. It's 'core intention' is to teach people a deep mind-muscle connection with their stabilizing muscles like the abdominals and erector spinae. Any session with a reformer and you will quickly learn how out of sync most of us are with our core and stabilizing muscles. Pilates seeks to 'reform' this connection and control.
Joseph studied animal movement and anatomy and felt that their fluidity in movement could be emulated in the human body and sought to distill this in his methodology. The modernization of society left many people in the early 20th century with bodily ailments of all of kinds and the lack of awareness in physical fitness left many with undiagnosed postural distortions, with Joseph wanted to correct with his new 'contrology.'
Joseph Pilates motto was “Mens sana in corpore sano,” meaning “A sane mind in a sound body." He dearly believed that the health of the human body followed that of the mind and vice versa. His elevation from a sickly boy with rickets and asthma to a legendary figure in fitness history is proof in itself!
What are pilates principles?
Unlike yoga, which has culturally embedded principles intertwined with religious significance, pilates does not have any hard set principles laid out by the founder. Practitioners will learn, however, that this does not mean that pilates is not without principles. To become sufficient in pilates the practice requires that one is principled in their approach and must take seriously the following:
Even deeper, pilates as a mind-body practice is different from others in that the practitioner uses equipment to form them self to and against. Whereas yoga uses a mat or occasionally balls and blocks, pilates is done with equipment like the cadillac reformer pictured above or the more common pilates reformer. These machines are deceptively difficult for those new to the practice, but can one quickly adapt to its demands.
By: Benjamin Cole
Evolve Fit Studios is a center for physical and mental wellness. We offer a multitude of classes, including but not limited to boxing, HIIT, yoga and pilates. The latter two, yoga and pilates, are what's considered mind-body practices. This three part series is intended to detail how mind-body practices are different from typical exercises, as well as outline the three most popular forms mind-body practices:
Keep in mind as you read that yoga is an ancient practice with vast amounts of literature on it. This short blog post is merely an introduction, not intended to capture it entirely.
Where does yoga come from? What is it?
Yoga is an ancient Hindu practice that's far more than a way to connect with your body. Yoga has a few different different translations, but it loosely means "to link" or "to unite, unification." Yoga has one of the richest traditions of mind-body practices because of its longtime relevance and widespread recognition. Having been practiced for over 5,000 years, yoga is one of the world's most venerable mind-body practices.
Think of yoga as both a verb and a noun. In the West, we are accustomed to thinking of yoga in terms of doing or going to do yoga. Conversely, yoga is really a state of mind or way of being; to be unified or whole in mind, body, and action. Thanks for that, Sanskrit!
What is the goal of yoga?
As outlined by its roots in Sanskrit, yoga is an attempt (a continual and consistent attempt) to unify the mind and body so that your spirit (your inner or higher self) may flow freely. It's a practice where you never really 'arrive,' but continue.
People report feeling lighter, calmer, more flexible and healthier with a consistent yoga practice. Yoga's fundamental intention is to disconnect you from that incessant thinking and analytical mind. You know, that one that won't shut up when you're trying to go to bed or have a big meeting coming up the next day? Yeah, that one!
Yoga, when done right either alone or with a teacher, will give you mental and emotional equanimity and stability. By letting go of those thoughts that may be plaguing you and by being present in the body, the mind will have no other choice than to cease its motion (through being present in the body's motion with coordinated and aligned breathing/movement).
It's this very moment that yoga occurs, as the mind becomes one with the body. This is what's known as 'Samādhi' in Sanskrit, or the unbroken concentration of the present, which leads to 'inner wholeness or illumination.'
Devout practitioners seek to maintain this inner state of awareness throughout their everyday waking lives. Easier said than done!
What are yoga's primary principles?
There are four main principles that guide yoga practitioners: breathing, posture, mantra, and meditation. Think of these as circles in a Venn diagram; where they intersect in the middle is the 'state of being' being sought after, aka inner harmony.
Briefly, here's what those entail:
If that's a lot to take in and remember, you might just sign up at one of our group broga classes, a modern type of yoga intended to calm your body and mind, make you more flexible, and bring you into alignment literally, physically, and mentally!
Hopefully, this brief introduction to yoga taught you something you didn't know and piqued your curiosity about the wealth of tradition yoga is steeped in. Volumes upon volumes upon volumes have been written about this practice for thousands of years, so it is arguably the most successful mind-body practice ever created.
Now that says something!
About Benjamin Cole
Benjamin is a multimedia freelancer and health and wellness practitioner. He has been training the mind and body for nearly a decade and writes and speaks regularly about the benefits through various channels and pages. Through his work he hopes to inform people on how they connect to their inner guidance and higher self so that they may live more informed and inspired lives.
By: Benjamin Cole
To conclude this three part series on our body's energy dynamics, we're going to take a deep look into pre and probiotics. Yes, there are prebiotics too! If you haven't yet, be sure to check out the earlier posts in the series on the body's metabolism and energy sources in macros and micros.
This week is perhaps the most important, as pre and probiotics are the most critical piece of a well functioning digestive tract, and by extension, immune and energy system. Join me in this brief but informative post that dives deep on the different fiber types, fermented foods, and how to cultivate a digestive fire that keeps you healthy, fights infections, and allows you to eat what you want and when.
Fiber plays a crucial role in digestion and nutrient absorption. Without fiber, the foods you eat would run right through you. There are two types of fiber:
-> Insoluble Fiber (doesn't dissolve in water)
-> Soluble Fiber (dissolves in water)
Soluble fibers, those that dissolve in water, attach to particles of food and cholesterol and slow digestion down, helping to regulate blood sugar. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, helps prevent constipation by 'giving form' to stool and helps to pass food through you digestive tract quicker.
Worth noting is that the digestive tract/gut biome have their own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system, that communicates bidirectionally with the central nervous system.
Fermented Foods = #1
Kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, and kombucha are all examples of foods that are fermented. These foods act as a rich source of nutrients for the microbiota (gut bacteria!) that live in your gut by the hundreds of millions. Harvard Medical estimates there are over 100 trillion bacteria living in the gut!
These are the probiotics, the little bacteria that act as the producers for a host of neurotransmitters, worker bees for digesting food of any kind, and the extraction of nutrients from our diet. The show that is our body generating energy from food would not work without these critical microorganisms.
Fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut, depending on the quality and fermentation process, act as a rich source of new bacteria that help your body digest food and stay healthy. Additionally, they act as a prebiotic with the bacteria feeding on the raw, fermented vegetables they're introduced with.
To ensure the best firing digestion possible, it's important to have a balanced diet with probiotics and prebiotics. Prebiotics act as the food source for probiotics to live on and multiply. In tandem with probiotics, they are the other side of the coin of a healthy digestive tract.
A common misunderstanding is that having just probiotics is enough to take care of your digestion. If you eat pretty bad regularly, having a probiotic supplement isn't enough to fix your gut health. You need to have a balance of things for the probiotics to feed on and live from, like the fermented carrots or leaves of cabbage in kimchi. Apple skins, potato skins, bananas, and other fruits or vegetables also act as a source of nutrients for these microbiota to feed on.
Having an apple or banana a day or a variety of raw or roasted vegetables throughout the week offer the perfect feeding grounds for these little bacteria to live, multiply, and keep you healthy.
Eat Good Now, Eat Bad Easy Later
If you eat junk or fast food regularly, dunked in hot oil and made-to-order from flash frozen processed foods, your gut likely isn't functioning properly and is at a higher risk of leaky gut syndrome, a stomach/intestinal lining issue that doesn't allow you to get the full nutrients from your diet.
If that's regular, having a kombucha or even probiotic supplement won't be enough to fix your digestive issues. When it comes to building a robust digestive fire, it is a process of cultivation over weeks to get the balance right inside. It sounds harder than it is, and after awhile you'll be able to feel what works for your body and what doesn't.
Your stomach can literally tell you what to eat and when! Anyone can build this type of internal 'dialogue' with their digestive tract/stomach. When you have a happy tummy, you have a happy body and brain. A happy body and brain is a happy life. Quite literally, the gut creates over 90% of our body's serotonin, the principal neurotransmitter that regulates our mood, sleep, metabolism, and libido.
So if you eat good now, with a balanced diet of healthy and hearty fruits and vegetables aided by helpful probiotics like yogurt, kefir, or kimchi, your digestion will be firing on all cylinders. This way, when you inevitably want that cheat meal or 'bad' food (whatever that is for you), your digestive tract will be ready to annihilate it in the the inferno of your well functioning digestive tract.
It's actually pretty amazing how sensitive our digestive tract/enteric nervous system is. That sensitivity can actually be a superpower. For example, take a pregnant mother who has suddenly taken an ardent aversion to raw fish or meat to the point she can't even look at it. Multiple systems play into this, but fundamentally the body (and its nervous systems) reject it because it has a higher likelihood to carry bad bacteria and disease than its cooked alternative. All of that is without conscious awareness!
The body, communicating with itself in different places, makes a decision for the pregnant mother that having certain foods in her body isn't good for her or the baby at that time. That is a miracle at work!
This piece was intended to be brief but full of important information regarding digestion and pre/probiotics. Be sure to check out our earlier post from founder Mike Staszak on probiotics and digestion for a deeper look. From a healthy gut stems all bodily wellness. Our gut is where our body destroys food and generates energy, where it creates essential neurotransmitters for brain function and health, and where those instinctual 'gut decisions' come from.
Take care of it and it'll take care of you! Be sure to join us on next week's evolve blog.
By: Benjamin Cole
The human body is an extraordinary energy converting machine. Most things you eat are rapidly broken down by the stomach and intestines and transformed into usable energy to think, move, breathe, and live. How does it do this? By breaking down the macro and micronutrient content in your foods and chemically converting it into glycogen, a type of primary biological fuel the body uses to perform, or into other ready-made nutrients. Whatever else is stored in the fat cells of the body or bone marrow.
This week's Evolve Blog is a continuation from last week's part one of three on bodily energy dynamics and the metabolism. This week's article is intended to highlight the importance of macros and micros, what they are and where they're found, and to give you a framework for eating healthy.
To be clear, this isn't a diet plan for body types but general information for eating well. Let's dive in.
But First, BMR
Your body is burning energy right now and you don't even know it. Just reading this and interpreting what I'm writing to you takes energy, albeit subtle. On top of that, you're body is partitioning the food you ate this morning to execute on what it deems important; muscle repair, cell recycling, hair or nail growth. Every minute of the day the human body is functioning, formulating, and fortifying.
This is what's known as the basal metabolic rate, or BMR. Your BMR is dependent on multiple factors, chiefly your metabolism, which is determined by your age, sex, daily activity, substance use, and more.
BMR is your daily base energy requirement. It's the caloric requirement for your body to just live. If you were to not move a single muscle all day and lay in bed catatonically your body would still burn energy. It stores it in various places (as you know, not always aesthetically pleasing places) to be used when necessary. Your heart has to beat, blood has to pump, and brain needs to function every single day.
You Become What You Eat Regularly
Of course you've heard the phrase "you are what you eat." That's true, you are. But saying "you become what you eat regularly" might put it in a just different enough frame for you to really understand how important our food is. On a hot midsummer day an ice cream cone isn't going to make me fat; an ice cream cone everyday after dinner will. We become what our diet makes us over time.
Simply put, our body is composed/constituted of things. These things are innumerable, but consist of trillions of micro-organisms, enzymes, proteins, bacterial flora, and even fungus. The quality of these 'things' is dependent on the quality and diversity of the food you eat. Eat well and they'll live well, eat bad and they'll live poorly. Our body becomes what we eat regularly because that's how it creates itself.
The body will take the base ingredients of what it is provided through your diet and work magic to make it work for you, but that's not to say that working is the same as working well. There's a reason elite athletes are picky about their diets and where their food comes from. If you read Part 1: Metabolism, you'll recall the idea of race cars taking race fuel. Athletes are aware the higher quality the fuel they put into their body the higher the output they will get for their abilities. Poor fuel = poor performance.
This is an integral point: your body constitutes itself upon the building blocks its given; you can build the temple of your body and brain with quality, nutritient-dense foods (like with sturdy steel rafters) or with empty, nutrient-absent foods (like a straw mud hut). It's not a matter of shopping at Whole Foods versus your neighborhood grocery store, it's a matter of choosing living vegetables, fruit, and ethically sourced proteins instead of dry, dead, shelf-stable grains, wheat or corn products with little nutrients.
Macros & Micros: Definitively
If you've been in the field of fitness for any length of time you've heard someone say, "I'm watching/counting my macros" or "that doesn't fit my macros." Macronutrients make up all foods and include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. All macros have calories, and calories are the body's fuel.
Macros are pretty easy to identify when you get the general idea. Rice is a carbohydrate, chicken is a protein. Eggs are a mix of fat and protein, milk is a mixture of carbs, fats, and protein. This isn't to say all macros are created equally, because they're not. You know the calories from the carbs, fats, and protein in an ice cream birthday cake is not the same as that chicken and rice meal. One is clean, one is 'dirty.'
The cake is mostly composed of simple carbohydrates, like sugar, that the body can use immediately and store somewhere in excess. If your chicken and rice meal is with brown rice, a complex carb, the body will generally slowly digest that and use it gradually. Simple carbs are quickly utilized, complex over time.
Micronutrients, on the other hand, don't provide much energy at all. Rather, they provide the lubrication and facilitation for the pathways the body uses to generate energy and perform its needed functions. You can get them through your diet or via supplementation.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C and B vitamins, for example, play a critical role in countless bodily functions including nerve synapse health, immune regulation, and much more. Micros don't typically have calories, although you get micros from foods that are macros and have calories. A chicken breast is a protein-dominant 'macronutrient meal' that contains micronutrients vitamins B6 and B12, zinc, selenium, and magnesium to name a few. The cake, by comparison, will have the micronutrients of what it was made with, primarily from wheat, eggs and dairy.
Worth noting here is that if we are what we eat regularly then what we eat regularly is what it consumed regularly. Referring back to idea above that it's not so much where you shop, it's what you shop for. i.e., a pasture-raised chicken breast versus a generic, flash-frozen chicken breast is going to be 'made' out of different quality protein because the chickens were given different diets/lifestyles.
The density and quality of the micronutrients of the chicken breast is dependent on what it ate and how it lived; the quality of your body and life is dependent on how you live and what you eat (and what you eat ate! Plants eat too, so where your food is grown and what it consumed matters in the long run.)
Nutrient Density > Calorie Density
Just because something is calorically dense does not mean it is nutrient dense. Taking the cake example again, the cake is calorically and therefore energy dense; the combination of dairy and sugars make it energy dense. This is not to be confused with nutrient dense, which isn't always calorie dense.
A fillet of salmon is a great example of something that is both calorically and nutrient dense. A gram of fat is 9 calories, so an 8 oz salmon fillet would be roughly 400 calories. By comparison, an 8-ounce can of coke is approximately 140 calories, all from sugar. The salmon has omega fatty acids critical for brain and joint health on top of the protein; the can of coke is essentially empty, it's immediately used or stored.
If you're dieting, bulking, or maintaining, it's of critical importance you consider what you're eating and what you're eating ate. A person's 'dirty bulk' from a caloric overload of In n' Out to gain weight isn't going to be the same as the person eating just above maintenance calories with nutrient dense foods.
To recap, the body burns energy to live no matter what you do (BMR), you become what you eat on a regular basis, and all macros have micros and all macros have calories and micros are needed to properly use macros. You need to eat in a way that works for you.
Another way to think of 'right nutrition' is if you have to 'work off' what you ate is it really working for you? Conversely, when what you eat works for you you're working with your diet and not against it.
Holistic nutrition is taking into consideration all the factors outlined in Part 1: Metabolism and those outlined here to make good decisions about your diet. You consider what your needs are, which may look like less or more calories, and then decide on what foods to eat and where they come from.
Choose properly sourced nutrient-dense foods, those that have a lot of micronutrients like zinc, B vitamins and more, drink a lot of clean, mineralized water (with magnesium, potassium, and salts), and enjoy the meals that aren't necessarily the 'healthy option.'
(just don't make it your regular meal!)
This piece was intended to provide you a deeper look into the world of nutrition. Nutrition is certainly a science and this brief article is merely a glimpse. You must keep in mind that every single person on the planet is going to respond differently to foods and has a highly unique set of genetic and biological idiosyncrasies that make them, them. Hopefully this offered a general guideline and framework for you to navigate your nutritional needs and gave you that macro-micro x-ray vision to eat healthier.
Catch you on next week's blog on pre and probiotics!
By: Benjamin Cole
The singular most important thing we can do next to drinking clean water and breathing fresh air is ensuring our body digests food properly. If our body doesn't digest food correctly or completely then our brain and body is not getting sufficient nutrients to function at its best. In fact, most ailments people face come from digestive issues, nutritional deficiencies, and toxicity buildup in the body and brain.
Join me in this three part series that breaks down our body's energy and digestion and how to do it right. Drop in next Tuesday for part 2. In this week's Evolve Blog we're going to dive deep on metabolism and our body's energy systems.
A Radiating Body of Energy
The human body is an infinitely complex and living machine of nature. It has over 30 trillion cells communicating to each other, atrophying and creating, digesting and dying, and just about everything in between. This apparent cacophony of cellular activity is actually a finely tuned orchestra of bodily homeostasis and at any given second 37 billion billion chemical reactions are taking place.
This is what's known as the metabolism, or the sum total of cellular and chemical interactions and reactions occurring in a person's body. Why do some people have a fast metabolism, some slow? There's a lot that goes into what makes a person's body their own, but aside from genetics there are a multitude of factors that contribute to person's metabolism including but not limited to:
Race Cars Use Racing Fuel
Comparing the human body to a high performance race car is an apt example to give us a better understanding of how to build a resilient and well-oiled body and brain. If you own a Porsche, are you going to put diesel in your twin turbo flat six? Of course not! (I shuddered at the thought, too :) You're going to put in filtered high performance fuel so that it runs smoothly and lessens toxin buildup.
Clearly. But why? The engine would likely last only a few dozen miles on diesel, if that. In the same way, if you only put fast food, highly processed 'dead' foods, soda and coffee in your body you are not going to last long. Sorry, but it's the truth! We can't survive on those tasty McDonald's hash browns and McCafe's :'-(
As much as your body will utilize that for current energy production it is a losing strategy in the long term. It ruins your body's digestive ability firstly, as things that are deep fried have an overly acidic effect on the lining of the stomach and can lead to leaky gut syndrome, which lessens our body's ability to uptake the nutrients we get from our food. AKA, the whole reason we eat in the first place.
Secondly, in the same way crud builds up in the pipes of our engines from low quality or unfiltered fuel, toxins buildup in our arteries, veins, and intercellular matrix that decreases just about everything our body does well from autophagy (cellular breakdown for rejuvenation) and nutrient exchange. If the body can't kill what it needs to for new life or is impeded from its normal functions you increase your risk for inflammation, cancer, and other autoimmune diseases.
Lastly, there's more to just racing fuel for race cars. There's good oil, sticky tires, and all the other lubricants that make it 'go.' Your body is the same way. You need clean, mineralized water for a balanced bodily pH, the slightly alkaline state (7.35 to 7.45) of the body's water matrix that makes it a conducive liquid for cellular communication. 'Sticky tires' for the car's traction could be equated to joint health and their lubrication with collagen and healthy fats. Analogies abound, but hopefully you get it. Fuel properly!
Regular Maintenance & Report Cards
The body, if not properly maintained with regularity, will give you report cards. Painful ones at times. Do you have acne? Good chance something in your diet is building up toxins and releasing it (as best it can!) through your skin. Stomach issues or lethargic? You're likely not digesting properly and don't have enough fiber, pre or probiotics. (More coffee won't fix low energy; better digested food will.) Brain fog in the mornings or can't focus throughout the day? If not a sleep issue, maybe you're zinc or magnesium deficient. Or both!
This is why regular maintenance of our body is so important. If you love your car enough to get its oil changed and pay for good fuel, wouldn't you treat the vehicle you have for life, your body, the same way? A yearly check-in with a health professional, your doctor, a trainer, PT or nutritionist will save you not just money but your life in the long run. Take care of your body and brain and it will take care of you.
This short intro piece was intended to illuminate to you the deep complexity of the body's processes and how important little things like clean water and good food can 10x how you feel and act in the world. Hopefully the race car analogy showed you how taking care of our body like it were a high performance vehicle gave you a clearer understanding of this magnificent machine of a body we all have and how regular maintenance will keep you from getting bad report cards.
Make sure to drop by for next week's Evolve Blog and Macros and Micros, the energy the body uses to make stuff work and life happen. Oh, and if you haven't dropped in already, there's a spot waiting for you in next week's Fit Fusion or other awesome class at Evolve Fit Studios. Drop ins start at just $25!
By: Benjamin Cole
Perhaps the biggest phrase the fitness industry next to "what'd you hit yesterday?" is "form fits function." This phrase expands beyond fitness but finds a good home here in that our bodies fit the function we need them to, for better or worse. In this week's Evolve Blog, we're going to talk about ergonomics and morphology, the underlying sciences of the "form fits function" mantra in the fitness industry.
Ergonomics = Environment
The study of ergonomics is crafting our tools, equipment, and environment to better suit the human body and our productivity. Wikipedia states that ergonomics is a combination of numerous disciplines, ranging from engineering and biomechanics to psychology, physiology, and UX design.
Something that is 'ergonomic' is intended to fit your function. A quick Amazon search of 'ergonomics' will provide you with well over 100,000 different tools and equipment, from chairs and desks to mice, footrests, neck pillows, keyboards and more. If you want to work comfortably and productively, you have to do so in an environment that's conducive to those goals.
If you're writing your thesis or working from your computer there's a good chance you'd rather do that in a comfortable chair in an office with good wifi and a cup up a coffee (or two) versus a concrete floor with no support. In ergonomics, you are crafting your environment and equipment to suit your function, with you being the fit.
Morphology = Form of Organism
According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, morphology is "the study of the size, shape, and structure of animals, plants, and microorganisms and of the relationships of their constituent parts." Said another way, morphology is the study of how an organism is structured in relation to what it needs to do by looking at what makes it up and how it "is."
If ergonomics is matching function to fit, morphology is analyzing fit to function. Quite simply, the human body's morphology has been designed over millennia by Mother Nature to be active, move often and stand more than sit. Modern society has forced us to sit down for our work, our commutes, our entertainment, and our gatherings. Some health experts are even saying sitting is the new smoking.
This recent Evolve Blog dives deep on that and spine health. Basically, our modern world and way of life is opposite to how Mother Nature designed us to function. Human Being's morphology indicates that we are meant to move, stand, and run regularly, not sit 10x more than any of those. A lot of us don't have a choice; our work demands of us that we "sit down and get to work."
How can we make the work fit our morphology? You might have seen the relatively recent craze for standing desks and even treadmill desks that are pushing the limit on how we work. This is a great example of abiding by our morphology by using ergonomics to match our function to our fit.
Mindful of Morphology
The point of this article in a large sense is to bring awareness to how the human body was designed by nature and how our modern work environment is at odds with that. Trainers and PTs all across the world deal with their client's postural distortions through corrective exercise and remediating their everyday positions that lead to their conditions. Upper and lower crossed syndrome and kyphosis and lordosis; all-too-common posture dysfunctions caused from excess sitting and poor posture.
So be mindful of your morphology. You don't have to buy a treadmill desk, but buying a more comfortable chair, walking every 45-60 minutes, and taking the stairs are all easy ways to be in accord with how the human body was designed to function. What is your function and how can you either improve your function to your fit or your fit to your function?
Form Fits Function
Now you likely have a good idea of what this phrase means. Your form, how you are, is the perfect fit to your function. If you have an arched back, forward shoulders and protruded cervical spine (forward head posture) there's a good chance you sit more than stand in a day and don't do any corrective exercise to combat this everyday positioning. Your form fits your daily function.
On the flip side of this, you can imagine how an athlete's program is designed. What function is the athletes body or mind needing to form to? What a defensive lineman needs is going to be vastly different from what the quarter back or wide receiver needs; their functions are different mentally and physically but their form fits their function individually. Trainers and PTs work to create the environment and fit for their clients function, be it reverse engineering how it's given them pain or how they can excel in game.
Deliberate Program Design
On a final note, trainers and PTs often look at what your day-to-day is like so they can combat what might be causing your pain or keeping you from your goals. In a way, we reverse engineer your lifestyle, showing you how your fit is matching your function, and we design programs that help you "fit better."
If there's ever a good reason to hire a PT, it's to have another set of eyes see what's your function, how you function, and how you can be more fit to lessen any pain or struggle you might have.
Ideally, this short piece gave you a new lens to view how you function, what "form fits function" means, and what trainers and PTs are doing when they ask you all these questions about how you do your life.
By: Benjamin Cole
In this week's Evolve Blog we're going to cover a topic that many people may not know a lot about--stretching. When to do it, when not to do it, and the few different ways you can stretch properly for your workouts, recovery, and general wellbeing. We're going to have to dive into some industry jargon first, so bear with me. By the way, if you didn't know, at Evolve Fitness Studios we have weekly group classes for broga, a strength-based yoga routine for everyone that will teach you all you need to about stretching :)
First, an anatomy lesson.
The idea that static stretching before vigorous exercise or strength training is detrimental to total output and might even increase risk of injury has gained significant traction in recent years. It use to be that if you're going to workout out you should always stretch, after all, that makes intuitive sense. You are indeed warming up muscles when you stretch. However, what was taken for granted is the elastic-like effect that makes muscles work well is reduced when muscles are overstretched. Let me explain.
Muscles pull from origin to insertion, that is, from where a muscle originates on a bone site to where it inserts. Your biceps, for example, originates at the coracoid process of the scapula (deep shoulder) and inserts at the radial tuberosity, a notch on your radius (one of your forearm bones!). So when you perform a curl you are 'pulling' your forearm towards your shoulder. This occurs from sarcomeres shortening, which are little units of muscle fibers that make the show work, to put it simply.
To move a weight efficiently and effectively sarcomeres shorten and tighten the muscle like a very hard cord between origin and insertion sites. When muscles do the opposite and lengthen in the eccentric portion of a movement, they are still holding a tremendous amount of tension. You can imagine this somewhat like a rubber band, but not exactly. Biochemical interactions between actin and myosin make this process possible.
Whereas a rubber band stores potential energy when it is lengthened, muscles hold the same in isometric and lengthened positions, awaiting signals for contraction and movement.
The point is significant tension make the movement possible. When you stretch the intention generally is to stimulate the Golgi tendon organ (GTO)--the sensory neuron at the end of a muscle that regulates muscle tension--so that it will relax and allow more blood flow into the muscles. This would be antithetical to, say, a heavy compound movement.
An example: if you stretch your quads for 15-20 seconds twice before hopping into a 1RM squat, you won't be in good shape. The muscle that has to hold huge tension to move that weight has been greatly lengthened before having to dynamically shorten and lengthen under load.
I sort of get it. Can you just tell me when & how to stretch?
Yeah, I get it. Anatomy :/ Anyway, put succinctly, you don't want to static stretch too much, if at all, before weightlifting. Static stretching is when you hold a position for a few seconds to get that GTO effect I mentioned. Same with cardio, like running: the muscles involved in a run rely on the bouncy and rubbery effect of the muscles to move efficiently and easily.
If muscles are too lengthened they A) won't be able to hold right tension under heavy load, and B) maintain their rubbery effect to contract and relax for fluid movement.
"When do I stretch then?!" Well, we haven't even gotten to dynamic stretching! That's where you actively take a body part or movement through it's usual range of motion not by force but as it will. Leg swings are perfect examples. They bring awareness and blood flow to that area. Some light leg swings before that squatting session or run would do you great.
Static stretching should be reserved for rest days or post workout. Stretching to stimulate that GTO will allow the muscle to relax and infuse more blood into the muscle, helping with recovery and that nice 'ahh' feeling after a good stretch.
Going for a run? Some leg swings and heal-to-rears will be great. Hitting a PR for shoulder press? Don't static stretch--some light windmills and shoulder circles will get you plenty warm. Sore after a tough workout? Static stretch to bring blood into the areas for recovery.
I hope I didn't bore or lose you with the anatomy. I wanted to lay the foundation so you'd leave with a good sense of what's happening when a muscle moves so that it makes sense why you shouldn't static stretch before a workout. Or, you could always book a session with one of our stellar trainers or PTs that will teach you all you need to know :)
Now go lift well!
Evolve Fitness Studios
Check out posts from our trainers, healthy recipes, and tips for staying motivated and more!