A Healthy Lifestyle

Strength, Balance & Vitality for Women of all Ages

How your diaphragm and a blood pressure cuff will prevent injury.

Core stabilization is a widely discussed topic within rehabilitation and strength & conditioning communities, but to this day I still see, read and hear an array of misinformation and confusion about the topic. 

Stabilization is a complex task that requires precise timing and activation of many structures, but for ease and simplicity of explanation I will focus on the diaphragm and transversus abdominis (TVA). 

Core, trunk, spinal stability......whatever name you want to give it.....is vital for tasks as simple as walking to elaborate as a clean and jerk and all movements in between. Stability is a complex, continuous, instantaneous neuro-mechanical process that depends upon a massive amount of sensory information (tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular & visual) to mandate movement. This process is so fast, far reaching and unconscious that our central nervous system must use most of its components (spinal cord, brain stem, sub cortex and the cerebral cortex) to maintain stability for efficient movement and function.

So what is stability?  Stability is the ability to maintain a desired position (static or dynamic) despite outward force, movement or other disturbance.  In short, the ability to resist unwanted change in position.  The body however is a dynamic piece of machinery who's stability must also be dynamic.  We are continuously asking our bodies and brains to simultaneously maintain stability while performing complex tasks.  

The foundation of the body's ability to maintain stability is the pressure created within the abdominal cavity called 'intra abdominal pressure' (IAP).  This pressure creates stability in the spine, pelvis and ribcage forming a solid point from which muscles can contract to produce movement.  Our nervous system is continuously monitoring & adjusting IAP depending on the task we are performing.  A group of muscles called the inner unit (IU) helps maintains this pressure when they all function together optimally.  

The diaphragm initiates and creates IAP when it concentrically contracts. When the diaphragm contracts it expands downwards into the abdominal cavity which compresses tissue, fluid, gas and all other abdominal contents creating pressure.  This pressure creates an outward force on the abdominal wall muscles (TVA & obliques), the muscles of the pelvic floor and the muscles of the lowback (multifidi). These muscles then have a choice, do I relax and expand or eccentrically contract against the force being created? This in turns depends on two things; 1. the demands of stability needed based on the movement and 2. the ability of those muscles to contract as a group optimally and create stability. 

Far too often I see clients who can not properly expand their diaphragms and/or activate their TVA and pelvic floor....really scary I sometimes see all three muscles dysfunctional. When asked to take a deep breath more times than not I see their chest rise not their belly's expand.  Chest breathers are not able to create enough IAP which then creates a cascade of poor and improper motor programming with regard to stabilization and a completely different topic. Without IAP being generated against the IU muscles they are not 'cued' to activate and turn on.  

I have clients, some as young as 16 and dynamically active on sporting fields, struggle to take a proper diaphragmatic breath or activate their TVA and/or pelvic floor and don't understand how they got injured.  Remember, if you don't use it you lose it.  How many of you spend hours performing crunches but still have a belly paunch?  How many leak urine when you sneeze, cough or laugh hard?  These are just a few things that indicate your TVA and/or pelvic floor are not functioning.  

Without a sound base of support pain or injury will ensue either above or below your base of support and sometimes both.  Below is a list of some of the symptoms or injuries you can suffer if your stabilization ability is lacking or non existent:

  1. headaches
  2. neck, shoulder and lowback pain more then likely related to item #3
  3. muscle hypertonicity, especially of the accessory muscles of respiration
  4. joint instability
  5. joint pain
  6. ligament sprains or rupture
  7. muscle strains
  8. muscle trigger points
  9. pronation of the knee, ankle or foot    

I'm often saddened when a client comes to me and I assess a non contact soft tissue symptom or injury and advise them they need some remedial work to help correct their breathing pattern and deep abdominal wall function and they look at me like I'm nuts and tell me "but the pain is in my knee or neck or foot, my breathing doesn't affect this." 

Oh but it does.  We are a holistic integrated system of systems.  Looking at and addressing a remote area of injury without seeing the bigger picture and the underlying mechanics of pain or injury is not healing anything.  Those who have chosen not to take my advice are regular clients of mine, those who have taken my advice are my best referral sources.

Below are two remedial exercises that I recommend for all those who chest breath...

   Diaphragmatic Breathing.  Position yourself comfortable on your back and place one hand on your tummy and the other on your chest.  With your mouth closed take a slow continuous breath through your nose while allowing your tummy to swell first then your chest rise.  This will take a lot of practice and may be easier at first if you place an object with some weight (like a bag of rice) on your tummy.  This will help to cue you to breath through your belly first.  Perform for 3-5 minutes daily

 Prone TVA Vacuum w/BP Cuff.  Position yourself face down with your navel on the center of the BP cuff.  Laying relaxed pump the cuff dial up to 40.  Take a deep diaphragmatic breath through your nose, slowly exhale through pursed lips and draw the navel up off the cuff until the needle reaches 30.  Hold this contraction for 10 seconds maintaining the needle on 30 and all other muscles relaxed.  Rest for 10 seconds and repeat as many times as you can with proper form working up to 10 repetitions.  

Don't be fooled....this may feel easy for the first few reps but as the TVA fatigues it will become more challenging and you may find yourself cheating.  Signs that you are 'cheating' are:  tightening the glute & lowback muscles or pushing your knees, or shoulders into the floor. 

Happy Breathing!!  

Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine

Hippocrates, the father of medicine and the creator of the Hippocratic oath (an oath which most new physicians pledge to) coined the title of my post at some point in his life between his birth in 460BC and his death in 370BC. BC – before Christ!!  That long ago and how sad for todays society we couldn’t be further from the truth.

What we eat is meant to nourish & sustain our health with the vital nutrients that our bodies need to thrive, but today’s quick fix, take away, chemically enhanced, preservative laden, genetically modified ‘food’ (if you can even call it food) has left its mark on humanity, we are bigger and sicker than we have ever been!  We can not eliminate poor health conditions by eating foods that are less healthy than us.  It is just not possible!

The very same things that are fed to commercially raised cows, pigs, chickens & lambs to fatten them up will have the same effect on us when we consume those commercially raised animals.  When we consume animals & plants whose health has been affected by some outside source such as; antibiotics, hormones, low quality feed, pesticides, chemically treat grass, filthy habitats, I could go on & on, then………..WE BECOME JUST LIKE THAT ANIMAL OR PLANT!  Have a good think about it because it is so logical it’s scary!!  Would you put oil in the gas tank of your car and expect it to run?

Proteins & fats are a very concentrated source of nutrition and when it is low quality it is a concentrated source of poison.  We can not make healthy hormones, neurotransmitters, muscle cells or any other part of our bodies out of low quality proteins & fats.  We need proteins & fats to create new cells to replace the old ones that are broken down every second in our bodies.  Remember from my last post on water……there are over 10 BILLION biochemical reactions EVERY SECOND in the human body, that’s a lot of cells needing to be replaced!!!  We need carbohydrates, the plant variety, not pasta or bread 😉 to fuel all those reactions and to give us energy.

When we consume low quality proteins, fats and carbohydrates that are depleted or totally void of vital nutrients due to poor farming practices, chemically treated crops, poor quality feed and administered hormones or antibiotics, our bodies ‘stay hungry’ until we have consumed enough of those nutrients vital to our survival. How many of you have walked away from a meal physically full but your body is still looking & asking for more?  So we over eat and the weight starts to creep on.

When we consume low quality proteins, fats and carbohydrates that are depleted or totally void of vital nutrients, for reasons listed in the previous paragraph, it decreases the efficiency of the digestive system and causes gut inflammation. Poor digestion decreases absorption of the nutrients we need which means our bodies continue to be ‘hungry’ for those nutrients, so we eat more!  You can see how this becomes a vicious cycle, right?!  Gut inflammation will cause bloating and the mid section to swell and become soft.  Gut inflammation over an extended period of time leads to an array of health issue such as low back pain, food intolerances & autoimmune disorders.

I am here to tell you that there is NO amount of a supplement, a tonic, a tea or a pill that can improve digestion or heal the damage caused by inflammation in our gut, both are due to consuming low quality proteins, fats and carbohydrates. You need to correct the source of the problem, the quality of your food, period!  The definition of supplement is:  a thing added to something else in order to complete or enhance it.  A nutritional supplement will not correct health issues.

Yes, organic is slightly more expensive but first and foremost it is best for you, the animals, plants and environment.  Second, by eliminating all the package, process ‘stuff’ in your cabinets it will free up the funds for your new healthy purchases.  Third, you will begin to eat less because your body will not be craving more nutrients because you are fueling it with high quality food that it needs & desires.  Eating less cost less last time I checked 🙂

Below is a list where you can begin on how to source proteins & fats from best to worst:

Poultry

  1. Free range, organic, local
  2. Free range
  3. Free roaming
  4. Organic
  5. Antibiotic/hormone free
  6. Commercial

Beef/Lamb

  1. 100% grass fed & organic
  2. Grass finished
  3. Organic & grain fed
  4. Grass fed & caged
  5. Antibiotic/hormone free
  6. Commercial

Pork

  1. Pastured
  2. Gluten Free
  3. Antibiotic/hormone free
  4. Commercial

Fish

  1. Wild, line caught
  2. Wild
  3. Farmed – an FYI…..there is no naturally occurring salmon is Australia anymore, the resources have been depleted.  All salmon in Australia & Tasmania are from farmed sources.

Below is a widely recognized list of produce and what is chemically treated the most (dirty dozen) and the least (clean fifteen), I highly recommend that if you purchase produce from the dirty dozen list you do so organically.

The Dirty Dozen (in order of highest contamination)
Apples
Celery
Sweet bell peppers
Peaches
Strawberries
Nectarines
Grapes
Spinach
Lettuce
Cucumbers
Blueberries
Potatoes

The Clean 15 (in order of least contamination)
Onions
Sweet Corn
Pineapples
Avocado
Cabbage
Sweet peas
Asparagus
Mangoes
Eggplant
Kiwi
Cantaloupe
Sweet potatoes
Grapefruit
Watermelon
Mushroom

Society’s perception today that sourcing and preparing healthy food is all too hard, complicated or time consuming is a rather sad insight on how little we value our health & well-being and where they fall on our priority list.  Our food is a vital life force and not something that we should bargain shop for! An educator of mine, Paul Chek, defines health as…..”taking responsibility for yourself.”

Let’s start taking responsibility!  Until next time, to your health! Donna

Exercises to Correct and Improve...

Posture & Stability

My E-book talked about some of the structural & hormonal differences that we as women face and how faulty exercise programming can impact us not only in the gym but our daily life!  

When exercises are chosen for the sole purpose of improving appearance and/or improved performance without consideration to posture and stability the incidence of injury increases.  ANY program should ALWAYS begin with posture and stability FIRST, if not, ANY mechanical loading will only serve the purpose of accentuating musculoskeletal dysfunction which will lead to pain and injury.  It is not a matter of 'if' but 'when'!! 

Next,  I sharing with you my go to postural & stabilizing exercises that when properly applied & utilized will have you avoiding gym related injuries while keeping those little 'niggles' that many face on a day to day basis at bay.

Postural

Axial Extension - Swiss Ball Sitting

 KEY POINTS             

  • Sit on a properly sized Swiss Ball (thighs should be parallel or slightly higher than the ground)
  • Maintain neutral lordosis (natural lumbar curve)
  • Keep chest up to minimize thoracic 'hump'
  • Maintain optimal head carriage (cheek bone over collar bone) 
  • Engage transverse abdominis (TVA) by gently drawing navel toward spine 
  • You can use your Swiss Ball for a desk chair at home & work, while watching TV or for eating a meal at the table.                                     

PROGRESSION

  • Trainer pushes gently on ball from different angles
  • Pelvic tilts (move pelvis front to back & side to side)
  • Figure 8's
  • Reduce base of support - raise one leg (pictured); medicine ball under one foot; no feet while maintaining good posture
Postural Endurance - Prone Cobra

 KEY POINTS

  • If exerciser has a hyperlordosis (increased lumbar curve) activate glutes first to reduce the over recruitment of the lumbar erectors
  • If exerciser has a flat back (decreased lumbar curve) do not activate glutes first, this will allow lumbar erectors to do as much work as possible
  • Pick chest up off ground while coupling shoulder external rotation & adduction with supination of hands (pictured)
  • Head should always be held in neutral alignment throughout the exercise
  • If performed properly there will be a sensation of muscle activity in the thoracic spine between the shoulder blades
  • Acute variables - 10 second hold; 15-30 second rest between reps; 10 reps (as strength improves gradually decrease rest time to 10 seconds - 1:1 work rest ratio)

BENEFITS

  • Strength endurance of posterior postural muscles
  • Helps to correct forward head & thoracic kyphosis postures
Postural Endurance - Bent Over Row (BOR)

 KEY POINTS

  • Begin in short stop position keeping the head aligned with the spine (pictured)
  • Maintain normal cervical & lumbar curve
  • Activate TVA by gently drawing navel towards spine
  • Scapular & shoulder joint movement should stop at the same time
  • Allow shoulder blades to stretch away from spine at the end of each rep
  • Imagine lifting the elbows towards the ceiling, DO NOT pull with the hands
  • Acute Variables - 303 tempo; 15-20 reps; 45-60 second rest between sets; 1-3 sets

BENEFITS

  • Strength endurance of posterior chain muscles
  • Strengthens lumbar spine
  • Improved scapular & shoulder timing

Stability

Transverse Abdominis Activation

 KEY POINTS

  • Kneeling on floor with shoulders directly over hands & hips directly over knees
  • Exhale, then draw the navel towards the spine and slightly upwards (DO NOT tighten your other abdominal muscles)
  • Keep the lumbar spine in its natural curve & do not allow the mid back to round
  • Acute variables - 10 second holds; 15-30 seconds rest between reps; 10 reps (as strength improves gradually decrease rest time to 10 seconds - 1:1 work rest ratio)

PROGRESSIONS

  • Prone with blood pressure cuff at navel
  • Short stop position
  • Standing

BENEFITS

  • This exercise and its progressions are the BEST way to learn how to activate the TVA
  • As gravity works in the first two progressions it activates the bodies stretch reflex to 'turn on' the TVA
  • Proper TVA activation is KEY to back stabilization!!!
Lower Abdominal - Posterior Pelvic Tilt (PPT)

 KEY POINTS

  • Place hand or rolled up hand towel at L3 level (opposite of your navel)
  • Flatten low back until pressure is felt on hand/towel while gently drawing your navel towards your spine
  • Keep your head & neck relaxed
  • Breath natural - DO NOT hold your breath
  • Acute variables - 10 second hold; 15-30 second rest between reps; 20 reps (as strength improves gradually decrease rest time to 10 seconds - 1:1 work rest ratio)

PROGRESSIONS

  • Single leg movement w/feet on floor
  • Single leg movement w/feet off floor
  • Double leg movement w/feet on floor
  • Double leg movement w/feet off floor
  • Standing

BENEFITS OF LOWER ABDOMINAL EXERCISES

  • Integrates breathing pattern while activating the lower abdominals (LA) & TVA
  • Integrates the activation of the LA & TVA w/ varying leg movement and gradually decreasing base of support
  • Strengthens the LA
Supine Hip Extension

 KEY POINTS

  • Place your head & shoulders on the Swiss Ball
  • Keep the shins vertical at all times, drop the hips straight down until your knees are fully flexed; with shins vertical extend hips by activating the glutes and pushing off the back half of the foot
  • Extend the hips to the point that the trunk is parallel with the floor
  • Acute variables - 202 tempo; 10-12 reps; 1-3 sets; 45-60 second rest between sets

PROGRESSIONS

  • Hold weight plate/dumbbell/barbell on hips
  • Perform on a single leg

BENEFITS

  • Improve hip, knee, ankle stability
  • Integrates hip, knee, ankle joint movement
  • Integrates LB muscles, abdominals, glutes, hamstrings & calf muscles

Incorporate these exercises into your daily routine for the next month and I promise you will feel the benefits of improved posture and your ability to maintain that posture through the day as well as increased levels of balance.  Don't be surprised if you notice a reduction in joint and/or back pain!  That is the added bonus of working from a sound base of support. 

Remember.....it is impossible to produce efficient movement from a faulty base of support.  Let's start building a strong foundation....Donna xx

Exercises to Increase.....

Strength & Power

Part III

I hope that everyone has been working hard on developing their postural and stabilizing muscles! Remember you can not efficiently produce strength or generate power with a faulty base of support.  Have you ever tried standing in a canoe and casting a fishing line or throwing a stone into the water?  Pretty hard if you are not balanced in the canoe.......same is true of your body, you can not be strong & powerful if you are not starting from a balanced base of support!! 

Below I share some basic strength and power moves, they are movement patterns that have care over in daily activities as well as athletic activities.

Strength

Lunge

 Key Points

  • Maintain upright posture throughout the entire exercise
  • Inability to keep hips in the frontal plane (facing forward) is an indication of tight hips flexors, that side should be stretched before attempting to lunge again
  • Do not 'short step' the lunge, make sure the lunge step is long enough that the front shin is vertical when the trail knee is touching the ground (pictured)
  • To activate the glutes push off the back half of the front foot.  Pushing off the forefoot encourages 'quad dominance' in women, which is a feature of non contact ACL injuries
  • Exercise variables of sets, reps, tempo & rest will varying depending on training goals

Progressions & Variations

  • Split squat
  • Dynamic
  • Walking 
  • Walking w/medicine ball twist
  • Multi-directional

Benefits

  • Improved strength & function in multiple planes of movement
  • Improved pelvic, knee & ankle stability
  • Increase glute, quad & hamstring strength
Deadlift Row Combination

  Key Points

  • All key points from row in previous post applies
  • Prior to initiating the dead lift portion engage inner unit (IU)
  • Maintain correct spinal alignment throughout exercise
  • Knees should always track over the toes
  • Timing of dead lift movement should be synergistic with emphasis on leg activation from floor until the movement just passes the knees as which point the back muscles become the prime movers.  The reverse is true when lowering the bar
  • Exercise variables of sets, reps, tempo & rest will varying depending on training goals

Progressions & Variations

  • Dumbbells; single & double handed
  • Olympic bar with or without weight plates
  • Medicine ball

Benefits

  • Strengthens legs & back
  • Teaches & encourages movement timing of hips, pelvis, spine & shoulder girdle
  • Training in a functional movement pattern (lifting objects from the floor)
Front Squat

 Key Points

  • Keep head in a forward gaze position with eyes slightly elevated above horizon; DO NOT position neck into extension
  • Prior to initiating movement engage your inner unit (IU)
  • DO not allow knees to migrate inward or outward
  • Provided there is good upright torso position shin angle should not be a worry; let the shin angle occur natural; this allows for individual differences in anthropometrics
  • As you ascend through sticking point; 1.release air slowly through pursed lips, 2.maintain good upright chest position, 3.avoid pulling down on the barbell, 4.do not allow belly to fall out of its retracted position, 5.keep weight evenly over both feet

Progression & Variations

  • Dumb bells
  • Medicine balls
  • Barbell
  • Squat w/push press

Benefits

  • Trains front loaded pattern; this correlates highly with picking up children, bags of groceries, laundry, boxes.  Most of everyone's daily lifting is done with loads in the front.
  • Strengths entire posterior chain & quads

Power

Power and high speed exercises should ONLY be undertaken AFTER adequate levels of flexibility, stability & strength have been achieved.  Most, if not all, women do not possess adequate levels of stability or strength, hence the statistically proven increased level of injury in the gym and on the field. 

A few things to remember with power work.....

  • Women fatigue faster then men with this type of exercise
  • Technique will ALWAYS dictate load, reps & sets!
  • In the beginning the nervous system will fatigue quicker, use rest periods that will allow complete recovery of the nervous system before attempting subsequent bouts of the exercise 
Box Jumps

 Key Points

  • Maintain good posture throughout exercise
  • Integrate arm & leg movement
  • Do not allow the knees to track in during take off or landing

Benefits

  • Improve lower extremity power & agility
  • Improved timing of arm & leg movements
  • Increased speed & coordination
Oblique Toss

 Key Points

  • Keep good upright posture as you catch & throw the med ball - avoid too much forward flexion of the trunk
  • Initiate all movement by drawing the navel inwards and using the core & legs
  • Start slow and progress to quicker tosses as able

Benefits

  • Strength in the twisting primal pattern
  • Integrates rotation of the pelvis with torso & arm motion
Power Clean 

 Key Points

  • To start, think of pushing the floor away from you (1st pull) 
  • Once the bar reaches the knee explosively extend the trunk (2nd pull)
  • When the bar reaches hip level explosively shrug the bar (3rd pull)
  • Make sure that hip & knee extension happen together in pulls 1 thru 3
  • When you feel the bar is no longer moving quickly 'get under' it in a front squat stance
  • Start by using a wooden towel or broom stick to develop good technique
  • NEVER perform more reps then good form will allow.  This exercise places a lot of stress on the body if form deteriorates

Progressions

  • Start by practicing each pull seperately 
  • Use blocks to varying lifting position

Benefits

  • Develops explosive power
  • Improve vertical jump

I hope that I have been able to share with you that there are many factors involved when women participate in gym programs of any type, most of which are overlooked!  Pay special attention to some key points below before beginning, or if you are already involved in, a resistance program.

  • Address postural deficiencies before attempting any type of heavy resistance work 
  • Help prevent orthopedic injuries by increasing the function of stabilizer muscles before attempting any type of heavy resistance work 
  • Minimize machine use
  • Respect hormonal fluctuations & PMS symptoms
  • Ensure your nutritional habits support overall good health
  • Select exercises that support a females body such as; compound exercises & exercises that activate stabilizer muscles

Until next time, my wish for you is safe, happy, injury free exercise!  Donna xx

Stress May Be Making Your Pants Tight!

So we have talked about the importance of good quality water and food in the ratios that are unique to you, and how this will help with weight loss, energy & vitality.  The next area we need to talk about so you can continue your new healthy journey is.......

STRESS!!

We encounter stress in various ways all day long and the response we have to those stressors causes an array of health issue such as weight gain or the inability to lose weight, poor digestion & elimination, hormonal imbalances, disrupted sleep & recovery and decreased energy levels just to name a few. But for this post we are going to focus on weight loss.

Not all stress is bad, just as bones & muscle need physical stress to stay strong we also need a certain amount stress to stay healthy.  There are six key areas that we encounter stress in, they are physical, chemical, electromagnetic, psychic, nutritional & thermal.  We need a little stress from each everyday to maintain homeostasis.  

For example, a good physical stress is some form of exercise and/or movement everyday, but too much exercise can cause an immune system suppression which will lead to respiratory infections, chronic fatigue, cold & flu and other maladies.  In athletes too much work will lead to overtraining symptoms such as disrupted sleep, loss of appetite and decreased performance.  Poor posture is another example of a bad physical stress.

The effects of sunlight on our skin that result in vitamin D production & sunlight that helps regulate cortisol and melatonin production are good forms of chemical stress.  A bad chemical stress is the daily exposure to synthetic chemicals in the form of medical drugs, food additives, pesticides, herbicides & fungicides that our bodies do not have the mechanisms to neutralize. On a side note it is estimated that nearly two billion pounds of chemicals are sprayed on the US food supply annually and the average American consumes his/her body weight is food additives each year.

An appropriate amount of sunlight daily is an example of a good electromagnetic stress. Too much sunlight (sunburn) would be an example of a bad thermal stress on the body.  All the devises that we have access to all day long and well into the evening is a form of bad electromagnetic stress, some of us sleep with our phones at a bedside!!!!

Our negative thoughts create a stress response in our bodies.  How many have literally worried themselves sick about something?  Are you a glass half full or half empty type of personality?!

So, what happens when I encounter too much stress in one or more areas you may be wondering?  In simple terms we activate our fight or flight response in the body which triggers the adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol, cortisol triggers the liver to release glucose and inhibits insulin production in the pancreas.

To fight or flee our perceived threat the body needs energy, glucose.  The body inhibits insulin so to make the glucose readily available to fight or flee.  The problem is in todays society our 'threats' are more benign in nature as compared to thousands of years ago. We are not physically fighting or fleeing anything!  Our body needs to do something with all the excess glucose it has just produced, there is a mildly boring cascade of biochemical events that take place in the body, which I will spare you, but long story short the glucose is stored in fat cells, predominately in our mid section!

A few other ways cortisol effects weight are as follows:  consistently high blood glucose levels along with insulin suppression lead to cells that are starved of glucose.  But those cells are crying out for energy, which in turn sends hunger signals to the brains.  This can lead to over eating and, as we already know, unused glucose is eventually stored as body fat.  Another connection is cortisol's effect on appetite and cravings for high calorie foods.  Studies have demonstrated a DIRECT association between cortisol levels and calorie intake in populations of women.

Most of us live our daily life in a constant state of fight or flight and wonder why we struggle to lose weight.  We create stress responses with the crap we eat and drink, sitting too long at a desk in poor posture, being plugged in and a slave to every device we own, our 'stinking thinking'.  Throw in work, partner and kids and you can see how easy it is to tip the scale, literally, out of balance and out of your favor. Then to top it all off we drag our self to the gym in the evening, thinking we are doing something good, but for some it is just adding insult to injury.  I would be rich if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say..."I don't understand, I'm at the gym 3-4x a week and can't lose my gut?!" 

Keep in mind, no matter what the stress is or where the stress comes from the physiological affect is the same!!  I offer a few tips on how you can start de-stressing your life.....

  1. Re-read my post on hydration & maconutrients and start drinking and eating according to your unique needs.  The internal stress of poor food choices will only magnify any external stress you experience.
  2. Identify your primary stressor!
  3. Make a realistic plan to address your primary stressor and set short term goals which will allow you to recognize progress.
  4. Pick an appropriate amount and type of daily exercise unique to your needs.
  5. Get Mental!  We attract into our life the people & circumstances that are in harmony with our dominate thoughts!  Be that glass half full personality! 

I offer a few more tips below.  Will it be easy, maybe not, but most times the best things in life come with a little struggle.  Until next time I send positive energy & love xxx Donna

Are Your Protein And Granola Bars Really Good for You?

The Hidden Dangers in Your 'Healthy' Food

Most of us have seen on grocery story shelves, or may even have in our own kitchen cupboards, Nature Valley and Carmen granola and protein bars, just to name a few.  The makers of these bars cultivate an image of a healthy, nutritious snack that helps meet the demands of our busy society.  They use clever marketing on the package with words like wholesome, all natural and healthy.
I want us to pick up the package, turn it around, read and understand the ingredients in that 'healthy' bar and not just take the manufacturing and marketing companies at their word....literally.  Sadly, while these companies boast of their bars health benefits the reality is....all processed foods are highly toxic and most even carcinogenic.
Let's take a look at some of the red flag ingredients:
Palm Kernel Oil

Palm kernel oil comes from the African Palm tree and is abundantly produced in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Central America. While some palm kernel oil is responsibly sourced, in other cases valuable rain forest is being destroyed which is affecting our ecosystem.

Because palm kernel oil and palm oil are naturally free of trans fats, inexpensive, and have a longer shelf life, they have become the chosen preservative fat for processed foods. However, if they are modified or partially hydrogenated (as they usually are in processed foods), then they become harmful trans fats. These trans fats have a variety of negative health implications that include suppressing the satiation center in the brain that tells you to stop eating. This negatively affects your perception of hunger which can lead to unwanted weight gain.

Canola Oil

Canola oil comes from the rapeseed plant.  This is a plant that is genetically modified to survive after being heavily sprayed with toxic herbicides (Monsanto’s Roundup) to control weeds. These toxins are absorbed into the plant and follow them into the processing of their oils and then into your food. Once these toxins get inside your body they can lead to conditions such as leaky gut and even cancer.

If that’s not bad enough, the high temperatures and hexane (a petroleum-based carcinogenic substance) used for extracting the oil create trans fats which increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol. Acrylamides are also created in this process and cause the infiltration of free radicals − adding even more to the cancer risk.

Then the oil has to be bleached and deodorized which further adds to the chemical cocktail and toxicity of the product.  You're safest to avoid all canola and vegetable oils.

Mixed Tocopherol

Tocopherols are a preservative made from more than one type of vitamin E - which is good if these vitamins are organic and not chemically extracted.  Organic vitamin E that is especially high is gamma tocopherols is very healthy - but what are the chances of getting that, it is more likely, since they don't specify, that you are getting a cheap alpha tocopherols from either a synthetic source or a genetically modified grain like corn. cottonseed or soy.

Soy

Soy in general is not a healthy food according to clinical studies. It is believed to be a major factor contributing to digestive disorders, malnutrition, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive problems, cancer (especially breast, prostate, and uterine), and other chronic illnesses.

This is because soy is susceptible to carrying xenoestrogens − aka environmental estrogens. These come from plastics, tap water, herbicides, and pesticides. They are endocrine disrupters.  The endocrine system controls the hormones which are the messengers for our core physiological systems’ proper functioning. This is the reason we see so many health problems in our world − and they are directly attributed to processed, mass produced foodstuffs that were not meant to be consumed by humans.

Soy Protein Isolate

Soy protein isolate is made from soybeans through an extraction process that separates the protein from the remaining components of the soybean. According to Soyfoods Association of America, soy protein isolate is 90% protein and nearly carbohydrate and fat free.

This process does not however remove the negative aspects of GM soy. The source of soy protein is genetically modified to withstand heavy spraying of Roundup, the herbicide containing glyphosate.

Glyphosate contains phytic acids that demineralize the body thus being categorized as an anti-nutrient. Not only does it leach minerals, but it blocks very important mineral absorption including magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc, and copper.

These minerals are vital for oxygenated blood, bowel movements, bone health, and overall metabolic health. The side effects of glyphosate are numerous and affect men, women, and children − especially infants and fetuses in the womb.

Moreover, it is an endocrine saboteur whereby it interferes with the production of natural estrogen by introducing estrogen mimickers that are known carcinogens causing breast, uterine, cervical, and prostate cancers. Glyphosates increase the risk of infertility, breast cancer, uterine cancer, prostate cancer, endometriosis, and placenta destruction leading to fetal death.

Another hormone mimicker in soy are isoflavones, which contain goitrogens. These inhibit thyroid function causing mood swings, insomnia, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. Eventually they lead to thyroid, stomach, liver, and esophagus cancers.

Genistein and daidzein are phytoestrogens in soy that cause enlarged breasts in men and women, mood swings, crying spells (men and women), reduced sex drive, and impotence.

To make matters worse, the process of creating soy protein isolate includes washing the soy protein in an acid solution in aluminum tanks. This in turn leaches aluminum into the soy isolate product. Even small amounts of aluminum in your food accumulates in the body and is linked to Alzheimer’s, aggressive and antisocial behaviors, mental issues such as brain fog, inability to concentrate, learning disabilities, and dementia.

Some hidden names of soy products include: soya, Mono-diglyceride, textured plant protein, natural flavors, bullion, lecithin, textured soy protein (TSP), textured vegetable protein (TVP), and MSG.

On the other hand, if organic soy is properly fermented it is an inhibitor of these chemicals and thus it is safer to consume.

Maltodextrin

Food manufacturing companies are happy to use this genetically-modified starch derivative because it’s not classified as a sugar. Therefore they can claim low sugar or no sugar on products, when in reality the GI (glycemic index) is twice as high as sugar. Glycemic index is a measure of how your blood sugar will rise after eating a food. Even though Maltodextrin is not technically a sugar, it has a glycemic index of a whopping 130 while white sugar looks like a hero in comparison with a score of 65.

Foods with a high glycemic index cause a huge spike in blood sugar levels resulting in heightened levels of insulin. This is a recipe for disaster. Think: hormone imbalance, circulation of bad estrogens, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, infertility, increased risk of heart attacks, and strokes.

Furthermore, your body will store this as fat in your liver and sugar feeds the bacteria and tumors. It also creates more problems for your GI treact and healthy gut bacteria.

Any food that claims to be part of a healthy diet should not contain even a pinch of this substance. And yet we find this ingredient in almost every food on the market. It’s even in kids cereals (including Muesli), which gives kids a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

Natural Flavors

Natural flavors” are just MSGs in disguise. The problem with monosodium glutamate is it belongs to a larger category of excitotoxins. Just as it sounds, this is a toxic substance that excites the brain cells, specifically in the hormone control center, the hypothalamus. This small area of the brain is responsible for controlling many of our vital functions hormonally. When this is damaged, sudden death can occur, as well as cancer, obesity, neural disorders, and a multitude of serious health issues.

According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, these nerve stimulants cause a vicious chain reaction in the nervous system to be repeatedly activated, or excited, and doesn’t stop until the cells die from overstimulation. These toxins are added to processed foods to enhance the flavor − but the damage they inflict is criminal.

In Closing......

Keep in mind, these ingredients are not just found in protein and granola bars but most packaged, processed foods.  Some have upwards of 8 of these ingredients in one product. Start reading your food labels!  If a 'food' can last on your shelf for months on end without going bad something is not right.

Food manufacturing companies claims of 'healthy' food is so far from the truth and the standards that I have set for myself and my families health.  'Foods' that contain any, some or all of these ingredients lead to; compromised immunity, liver disease, obesity, endrocrine disruption, neural disorders and MANY forms of cancer and should not be consumed!

Is it any wonder that as a society we are bigger and sicker then we have ever been?! Food manufacturing companies are pumping society full of toxic chemicals, but one bright note, as consumer we are becoming much more aware of what we are putting in our bodies and slowly demanding that food companies give us back our 'real' food!

Until next time, stick to real, whole organic sourced foods that you prepare for yourself at home.  Your health depends on it ;-) 

Are You Dehydrated?

Do you get headaches, have trouble concentrating, are you irritable, bloated, constipated, do you get muscle cramps or wake up with stiff joints for no apparent reason?  These are just a few symptoms of dehydration.

Water, it’s one of the simplest places to start when it comes to our health, yet the one area that is often overlooked or considered to be not as important as food or exercise.

This is the first area I always address when working with new clients and continually go back to with existing clients, why you may be asking…..we are made up of about 75% water, our brains are about 90% water, there are over 10 billion biochemical reactionsper second happening within your body that are all dependent on water, the minerals in good quality water is what creates the work potential for those biochemical reactions.

Yet everyday most of us do not get the amount of water we need from a good quality source.  When talking with clients, presenting at sporting clubs or networking events or just interacting with the general public most believe they are drinking enough water and where they are getting it from doesn’t really matter.

Let’s start with the quality of your water first, because it does matter.  Government agencies worldwide allow chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride be added to the public water supplies in ‘safe’ amounts.   Consider you are drinking, cooking, cleaning dishes, brushing your teeth and bathing (our skin absorbs 60% of what we put on it) in tap water daily over the course of years those toxins build up.

Fluoride was added to help with tooth decay in the 1960’s & 70’s but research studies from 2006, 10 years ago! have shown that fluorides major effects happen topically when applied to the tooth. Why then is it still added to our water?  I know sunscreen is good for me but I do not want to drink it!

Pool grade chlorine is added to our water supply to kill bacteria, but there is good and bad bacteria in our gut, both of which we need!  When we drink tap water treated with chlorine it kills ALL the bacteria in our gut which leads to digestive disorders, not to mention an array of other health issues such as cancer and heart disease.

My first tip is to buy filtered water or get a small home filtration system. That filtered water you drink then needs to be remineralized because the act of filtering the water strips it of the minerals we need.  Get a good quality, organic sea salt, celtic is best, or himalayan salt and add a pinch of it to each liter or 33 ounces of filtered water.  In addition, the salt will help eliminate the endless trips to the bathroom because your body will keep that filtered, remineralized water on board because it has in it what your body needs.

Second, let’s figure how much quality water you need everyday.  For my American friends divide your bodyweight in half, that is how many ounces you need daily.  For everyone else who uses the metric system 🙂 multiple your weight in kg’s by 0.033, that is how many liters you need daily.  Keep in mind those amounts are just for your body to function optimally.  If you are exercising, work outside in the heat, or drinking anything other than water you will need to add a bit more to your original daily intake.

To Your Health, Cheers!  Donna

Women and Exercise

What EVERY women needs to know before she heads to the gym

Part I

I have been very excited over the last 10 years that women of all age levels and regardless of their athletic background are no longer afraid or intimidated to get in the gym and 'move some metal'.  For proof of that just look at how popular programs like Crossfit & F45 have become.  But unfortunately with this surge in physical activity I have also seen a surge of gym related injuries, such as neck & low back pain, ankle sprains, patellofemoral pain syndrome & shoulder impingement, with women in my practice.   

So to help you continue to achieve your goals I would like to share with you some structural and hormonal differences that we have compared to men, some of which you may already know and some you may not. We need to embrace and work with these differences to keep us healthy, injury free and performing at our peak! 

There are 3 main structural differences

  1. Increased First Rib Angle.  Females breast bone often sits one spinal segment lower than males and because of this women have increased incidence of; rounded shoulders, forward head, tissue stress (Dowager's hump), sternoclavicular (SC) joint stress, thoracic outlet & brachial plexus syndrome along with breathing pattern dysfunction. #1 priority....Female programs first need to support optimal posture.
  2. Wider Q Angle.  Dr Vladimir Janda believed 'the pelvis is a major control center for posture'.  Females pelvic bones are up to one third wider than males, increasing the angle the thigh bones comes into the knee joint. In the presence of muscle imbalances this can lead to increased instability at the hip, knee, ankle & foot which increases the incidence of; pronation injuries such as patellofemoral pain syndrome, lateral tracking of the patella, ITB syndrome, glute medius, tibialis posterior & achilles tendinopathies and an array of other muscle tendonitis'.  #2 priority...Female programs must support increased stabilizer function over male based programs.
  3. Increased Pelvic Anterior Tilt.  The female pelvis tips forward more than males which again leads to increased instability in the presence of muscle imbalances. This increases the incidence of; pronation injuries listed above, increased hip pain, sacroilliac joint (SIJ) pain & dysfunction along with thoracic & lumbar facet pain which leads to pain inhibition, Pain inhibition 'shuts down' the muscle(s) acting on painful joints to protect the joint.  Increased anterior tilt also alters the length tension relationship of the abdominal and back muscles. A second reason for female programs supporting increased stabilizer function over male based programs.

Hormonal Differences

Women and men have estrogen and testosterone in different levels, we all know that, women have more estrogen and men more testosterone.  Estrogen increases ligament & tendon laxity, which in turn can increase joint instability in the presence of muscle imbalances.  Estrogen levels gradual increase during the premenstrual phase. This is anywhere from ~days 14-20 which will vary from women to women, further increasing ligament & tendon laxity and possible joint instability.  Proper program design MUST take this fact into consideration, FULL STOP.  A third reason for female programs supporting increased stabilizer function over male based programs.

Two Australians, Judy Daly, PhD & Wendy Ey, at the time a retired track & field athlete, conducted a study with elite level female athletes, that was published in book form in 1996.  It highlights the effects of the menstrual cycle on performance,  I share with you two, among the many, interesting facts....... 

  1. 64% of those participants reported abdominal cramping and bloating. 
  2. The majority of non contact injuries suffered during the study happened during the premenstrual phase of the athletes cycle.

So what is the importance of fact #1 you may be wondering... don't most women suffer those symptoms? Yes we do.  Studies have shown that abdominal pain and/or inflammation (bloating) will down regulate the abdominal wall.  Down regulation simple means the affected muscles reaction to an external stimulus (exercise) is slowed.  So if the deep abdominal wall muscles are slow to respond (stabilize you) to the work (exercise) you are doing, you are doing that work from an unstable platform.......then fact #2 comes into play, and an injury can occur.   Injury can be as minor as a strained muscle in the neck or low back to as severe as an ACL rupture. A fourth reason for female programs supporting increased stabilizer function over male based programs. 

Ladies, it's OK to back off during this time of your cycle if you are not feeling up to the challenge.  Manage your training schedule around this time, make whatever work you are doing during your pre menstrual phase lighter and less explosive in nature if & when symptoms are at their peak.  Then when progesterone is high and estrogen low, ~day 21-28) you can hit it hard in the gym.  Estrogen levels remain rather low until around day 8-10 with estrogen levels reaching their peak levels around day 14-16.    

Men have more testosterone, testosterone is an anabolic hormone, meaning it is tissue building.  The average adult female has the testosterone levels of a 7 year old male. Men can train harder, for longer and recover quicker because of testosterone.   Additionally, women fatigue quicker with eccentric exercise, eccentric exercise is all the explosive (plyometric base) type movements that are very popular in today's gym setting.  

At 100% effort (1 rep) of eccentric work women and men are the same, and that is where the similarities end!  At 80% of maximal effort women are fatiguing at ~8 reps and men at ~15.  At 60% of maximal effort women are fatiguing at ~18 reps and men ~30 reps. 

How many women are sharing classes with men, with a cookie cutter approach to exercise variables such as reps, sets, tempo & rest period?  I am hoping by this point in the blog you are beginning to see how detrimental that can be, both from an injury and performance perspective.  Imagine how much more efficient and dynamic you could be, while minimizing your risk of injury, when working from a sound base of support.

Before you embark on ANY type of strength or power work, be it in a class setting, with a personal trainer or on your own, I strongly recommend you assess the level of function in your postural and stabilizing muscle groups. Some of those muscles are, but not limited to....the cervical flexors, the shoulder rotator cuff, the transverse abdominus, the pelvic floor, the lumbar multifidi, the hip adductors & the deep hip rotators.

Increasing strength of your prime movers, the pecs, glutes, quads, hamstrings, in the absence of a correlated level of strength in postural & stabilizing muscles is you flirting with disaster!  Ladies....we suffer more of the same types of injuries, participating in the same sports, while training for the same amount of time as our male counterparts.  I blame faulty program design.

If you are not taking the following into consideration with your program design now is the time to do so, these are listed in my order of priority when working with clients......

  1. You must have a sound anatomical foundation for the prescription of ALL exercise.
  2. Design your program to address posture & stability first, then strength & power.
  3. Proper technique is a must!
  4. Identify primary objective.
  5. Design your program based on training age.  (The numbers of years you have consistently worked with a trained professional)
  6. Design your program with considerations to menstrual cycle.
  7. Design your program with little to NO machine work when possible (Remember...when you isolate a muscle with a machine you must then integrate it back into the neuromuscular system)
  8. Design your program with proper warm up & cool down.
  9. Once able, design your program with squats, lunges, deadlifts and basic explosive movements.
  10. Design your program with more anaerobic & LESS aerobic work

Until next time, train - don't drain!  Donna xx