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January 29th, 2012: MUSCLE-BOUND #17: THE NEW SWING

This is Lisa.

Me & Lisa

Me & Lisa

A few things you should know about her, in no particular order:

- She’s a kook.

- She’s got a raucous tavern laugh that you can hear across the gym, one that generally puts a smile on people’s faces.

- She runs Triathlons and Iron Man Competitions.

- She wears Bert & Ernie or Oscar the Grouch mittens and taunts her gym clients with them.

- She used to play Dungeons & Dragons with her brother, she loves Bugs Bunny, she gives toy dragons to her niece, she knows enough about comics to be dangerous, and she’s a geek at heart.

- Finally… she’s my trainer.

When I decided I was going to run the Spartan Race, I knew that my current program just wasn’t going to cut it. Traditional weightlifting targets specific muscles but it does little to help the supporting muscle groups. It also does little to boost long-term endurance.

I already knew this going into training years ago. I knew that the body was divided along a 50/50 split into slow-twitch muscles and fast-twitch muscles. I knew that slow-twitch muscle fibers fired more slowly, but for longer periods, making them ideal for distance. I knew that fast-twitch muscle fibers fired rapidly, giving athletes bursts of energy for immediate short-term needs. Short-twitch vs. fast-twitch—think marathon runner versus 50-meter sprinter. Think gymnast versus Olympic weight lifter.

Staying in that Position - 30 seconds

Staying in that Position - 30 seconds

I knew this, but at the time I focused on working the fast-twitch muscles through weightlifting and satisfying the slow-twitch muscles through a bit of cardio. I wanted the muscle bulk… I wanted the sweeping chest and wide shoulders.

The Spartan Race, however, was a healthy dose of both and I remember what one athlete said when he ran the Spartan… it taught him where he was lacking in his training despite being in great shape.

I needed to switch things up, and I knew my endurance sucked. I knew it from when I was Scuba diving and came out of the water panting. I knew it from running short sprints. I also worried that I’d lose the muscle bulk I’d built up so far. But I needed more endurance and better 360 degree performance. So I asked around the gym for a good trainer, and one of two names kept coming up… someone who fit my needs… Lisa.

Simple Pull-Ups

Simple Pull-Ups

I met with Lisa to decide on a program, and I was sold on her almost immediately. She’d studied and graduated in Phys. Ed/Kinesiology from McGill University, and she wanted to test me on our first workout to evaluate my physical fitness before building a program for me. In an age where trainers were handing out cookie-cutter programs, Lisa was tailoring my needs according to her evaluation workout. And man, did she put me through a hell of a program that morning. My strength was okay, but my endurance sucked rocks. I had the power, but none of the follow through.

More so, she could tell where I needed work. By the way I moved my legs on certain exercises, she knew that my hip flexors needed to be strengthened, or that the pain I experienced on one part of the knee versus another part indicated this weakness or that. And she based my program on her observations and my feedback.

Because Kinesiology is human kinetics and how muscles and joints interplay, essentially, all the exercises and training are built around working the body as a whole. So there are no exercises that target a specific muscle group. They will target the major muscle groups and all the supporting branches at the same time. It won’t be just my biceps, for example, but my forearms and my shoulders and my upper back. She targets my balance and she works to strengthen my core. She uses some free weights, but I work more on balance balls, bosus (dome-like balance balls on which you see me doing push-ups), medicine balls and floor mats.

Bosu Pushups

Bosu Pushups

In the coming blogs, I’ll go into the exercises she’s giving me and their results, but here’s an example of the exercise she makes me do and its progression of difficulty.

Pushups: She started with simple pushups, but given I could churn out about 30-35 in one go, she made me go slower and at the apex of each pushup, I had to tap my shoulder with one hand. I knew where this was headed, so I decided to move to double taps immediately… tapping both shoulders (one at a time naturally) at the apex of the pushup. That brought my core into the workout. When she saw I could do 10-16 of those after a few weeks, she raised the stakes. At the apex of each pushup, she made me shift into a side-plank (resting on one arm, facing sideways, raising the other arm above my body). That brought my balance into the exercise. When I could do 10 easily, she made me incorporate a leg raise from that side plank position. I now brought my groin and hip flexors into what started out as a chest and shoulder exercise.

More to come in the weeks ahead, but I will say this to round out the issue. If I was afraid of losing muscle mass, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I feel stronger, more powerful than before, and across the body rather than at specific parts. The muscle fibers also feel denser, and my balance has improved 100%.  I won’t be as large as my gym peers who stick to weights, but my joints are actually less stressed and I’m gaining the long term endurance and short term power I need if I hope to do things like the Spartan Race.

Happy with the Results

Happy with the Results

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