Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Trigger Points & Neuromuscular Technique

"Wow, I can feel that spot you're working on radiating down my shoulder. What IS that?" It’s Neuromuscular Muscular Technique being applied to a trigger point. NMT is a wonderful muscle releasing technique that allows your massage therapist to help your muscles release effectively without overworking them. What is also wonderful about this technique is that it can keep working even after the session is over. After your massage session is over, your nervous system will continue for a while to react to the therapy.

What are trigger points?
One definition is that they are the most extreme expression of a tight muscle. A bit more of a descriptive definition is "hyperirritable spots in skeletal muscle that are associated with palpable nodules in taut bands of muscle fibers. The palpable nodules are said to be small contraction knots and a common cause of pain." When you feel your therapist putting static pressure on a spot, but feel the sensation elsewhere, you are likely feeling the trigger point referring pain along a nerve pathway. Sometimes a trigger point, one that is called an active trigger point, will refer pain on the nerve pathway without any outside stimulation. However when you are not feeling this referring sensation without the stimulation of pressure on it, it is probably a latent trigger point. These trigger points are not only uncomfortable but can also have an effect on muscle patterns, coordination and balance.

What causes trigger points?
It can be many things or a combination of things - such as even mild dehydration, overuse or underuse of the muscle, posture, nutrition, stress, and direct trauma to the area. The good news is two-fold. By making healthy lifestyle choices such as proper exercise, stretching, drinking plenty of water, eating healthy and avoiding excess intake of certain things such as alcohol, sugar and smoking, you can help your body be less likely to develop as many trigger points. Secondly, when your massage therapist compresses a trigger point and you feel some local tenderness, referred pain, or local twitch response, feel free to hum with satisfaction knowing what is going on and that your LMP is helping your trigger points to release, leaving you with less pain, better circulation in the area and maybe even an opportunity for you to improve overall muscular health.

Written by
Jessie Jo Egersett, Massage Director
Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

Fighting SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) this Winter Season

Seasonal Affective Disorder, now more commonly known as SAD, affects many people in our region. Because of the short summer and long winter months we experience extended periods of limited sunlight, leaving us in a slump when fall rolls around. You may know someone who has experienced SAD or you may have it yourself. It is marked by increased depression, anxiety, mood changes, lethargy, change in sleep patterns, and overeating during the winter months; with these symptoms going into remission during spring and summer. Why wait till summer to feel happy again?! Take action this winter to fight against the SAD winter blues!

Here are 4 do-it-yourself ways to fight SAD this winter:

1. Watch Your Diet
Weight gain is a major side effect of SAD. This is closely linked to an increased craving for simple carbohydrates, both sweets and starches, in those with SAD. A study done at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center showed that participants with SAD consumed larger or double servings of sweets during the winter months, while their cravings went back to normal in the spring and summer.

• Cut out refined sugars such as candy, cakes, cookies, white bread, rice, etc. These foods rapidly increase your blood sugar and in turn cause a quick drop, resulting in an energy crash. These foods also tend to be high in unhealthy fats and calories which ultimately result in weight gain. Instead choose complex carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains!

• Eat foods that contain tryptophan such as fish, turkey, chicken, bananas, milk, eggs, nuts, and avocados. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that affects our mood, and when it is low we have feelings of depression. Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan, which is why consuming foods that contain it can help increase our serotonin levels and lift our mood!

• Make sure not to skip meals. Keeping a consistent eating schedule will help you refrain from mindless snacking throughout the day. Also, make these mealtimes enjoyable! Meet a friend for lunch or bring a sack lunch and eat it at your favorite coffee shop.

2. Stay Active
• Exercise can do wonders for your mood! Just 1 hour of exercise 3 times a week can significantly reduce symptoms of depression, and also keep you in great shape.

• Get some fresh air! Go for a 30-minute walk around the bock to get your blood flowing. The more you can get outside during the light of day the better.

3. Get Social
• Make sure to continue on with normal social activities. The less isolated you are the less you will have time to feel down and out.

4. Light Therapy
• If you are experiencing extreme symptoms of SAD please consult your healthcare provider about light therapy. This is a way to help treat SAD without the use of depression medication. It takes about 30 minutes out of your day, but has made a difference for a great deal of people.

Written by
Alison Wilson, Wellness Director & Nutritionist
Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

Monday, January 18, 2010

Interval Training - A Great Way To Spice Up Your Workouts

There’s been a lot of buzz recently about Interval Training. So, you may be wondering what it really is and, more importantly, why you should incorporate it in your fitness workouts. Well, if you want a workout that can help propel you to the next fitness level, burn more calories, increase your speed, improve your power and more, then it’s time to learn more about this effective technique.

A simple definition of Interval Training is: short, high-intensity exercise periods alternated with periods of rest. These higher and lower intensity periods are repeated several times to form a complete workout . Here’s a basic example: walk for 5 minutes at 3.5 MPH, walk for 1 minute at 4.2 MPH and then repeat this sequence several times.

Most people spend their workout time only performing continuous training exercises. These are exercises where the intensity level is basically constant throughout. An example of this is walking at 3.5 MPH, at 0% incline for 30 minutes.

Continuous training is very effective and should not be eliminated from your weekly workouts. However, it’s recommended that you include both Interval Training and continuous training sessions as part of your fitness regimen.

Why should you include Interval Training? As previously mentioned, there are many benefits to this type of training and execution is relatively simple. Interval Training can help you improve cardiovascular fitness, increase speed, improve overall aerobic power, burn more calories, break-through a plateau, increase workout duration, reach new exercise levels, expand your workout options and increase your workout threshold – just to name a few.

Plus, this training method has useful applications for beginners, intermediate exercisers and even conditioned athletes. There are two basic types of Interval Training. For the majority of exercisers (novices and intermediate) Fitness Interval Training methods are recommended. Athletes can choose a more advanced technique known as Performance Interval Training.

The Fitness training method utilizes periodic increases in intensity. Typically the higher-intensity levels range from 2-5 minutes in duration and are followed by lower-intensity periods that also range from 2-5 minutes. And, a critical element in Fitness Interval Training is determining the appropriate level for the higher-intensity periods. This level should not exceed the anaerobic threshold (which is usually reached below 85% heart rate reserve).

On the flip side, the Performance training technique involves periods of near maximal or even maximal intensity (e.g. >85% heart rate reserve – even reaching 100%). The higher-intensity levels can range from 2-15 minutes in duration and are followed by lower-intensity periods that also can range from 2-15 minutes in duration.

Don’t let the two types of training and their ranges confuse you. Incorporating Interval Training methods into your exercise routine is actually quite easy. Since the majority of exercisers fall into either the beginner or intermediate category, we’ll focus on getting started with those techniques.

To begin, choose the type of exercise: walking, jogging, swimming, biking, etc. Next determine your lower-intensity level. This is usually somewhere between 50-65% target heart rate. This will be your baseline, lower-level intensity. Then simply increase the intensity-level up to where you feel like you are working hard to very hard, but avoid reaching a level over 85% target heart rate. If monitoring your heart is not feasible, instead use the RPE scale where 1 is basically at rest and 10 is working extremely hard. For example, if you find that when you are exercising at a comfortable level you rank a 5, then bump up to a 7 for the higher-intensity intervals.

You may choose to systematically raise and lower your intensity (e.g. 2 minutes lower intensity followed by 1 minute higher intensity and repeat) or you can alternate more randomly by raising and lowering the level at your discretion. To increase your intensity, you may choose to change the speed, incline, or some other variable.

Interval Training can be especially helpful in situations where you are trying a new form of exercise. For example, this can be very beneficial when first learning to jog. If you attempt to jog continuously without building up to it, you will probably fatigue quickly and even give up. However, if you begin with intervals of walking interspersed with jogging periods, the workout will be much more enjoyable and effective. Also, you will be more likely to stick with the program and achieve the end result – continuous jogging.

Now that you know the benefits of Interval Training and the basic techniques for it, why not give it a try for yourself. Not only will it provide health benefits and improved fitness levels but it is also a great way to avoid workout boredom. Plus, with Interval Training workouts often are more enjoyable, go by quicker, and improvement results come faster. So why not try spicing up a stale, run-of-the-mill workout with Interval options? You may even find yourself excelling in an activity you were skeptical of even trying.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why Partner Yoga?

Partner yoga has been a popular trend in yoga and like most of yoga, can be many different things depending on the class and the teacher. For most of us partner poses in a regular yoga class can be quite intimidating, always wondering who you will be paired up with and whether you can trust a class mate if you don’t know them. What if they don’t know what they are doing and hurt me? What if they smell? As a yoga teacher, partner work in teacher training workshops happens fairly regularly, and I must admit it has always led to personal anxiety on my part for the mentioned reasons above. Partner yoga with random strangers (even with fellow yoga teachers) isn’t always fun.

Partner yoga with your mate or partner is a completely different matter. Issues of trust, and smell are known, and therefore you can go into the poses relaxed and have a good time. Doing yoga with someone you know and love is a great way to stay motivated and interested and is really fun. It is a positive way to introduce yoga to someone you care about, especially if that person has fears of taking a beginners class on their own. It is also a great way for the experienced practitioner to go deeper into the poses or to maximize stretches and work on more challenging parts of the practice, such as inversions or back bends.

For me, the ultimate date night has always been to get a sitter for the kids and take an evening yoga class with my husband and get a bite to eat afterwards. I must admit that it is really not his idea of the ultimate date. Although he has taken a beginner series and knows the basic poses, he does not find it fun or interesting to take a class with me because it may be too hard and he doesn’t want people to notice him. Doing partner poses together has been a great way to get him to do yoga and a time when we can do something together and laugh a lot. Partner poses work for each individual even if the partners are not at the same level or have different body types and limitations.

I teach the basic standing poses with partners’ backs toward one another and some facing each other. The partners’ bodies support each other and holding of hands allows each person to reach their own individual stretch in the pose. Basic twists and balancing poses are done together as well. Working together you are able to reassure and correct alignment in the poses and to really go deeper into the stretch. It requires listening and watching the other person so you know their limits and their needs. It is a fabulous way to reconnect to one another and allows each person to relax to their deepest level. One of my favorite partner poses (and a favorite of my husband’s) is partner massage in child’s pose, where the partner’s back is extended and lengthened by holding onto the other’s ankles, while enjoying a back massage. There are also breathing exercises, that when done together allow you to focus, and tune into one another by synchronizing the breath.

Learning partner poses with your partner can really jazz up your home practice, or maybe even motivate you to start to a home practice because you have someone encouraging you along. Once you learn the basic poses that can be done together, you will be able to structure your own partner practice and have a date night in the privacy of your own home!

Written by
Renee Davis, Yoga Instructor
Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Perfect Squat

Do you FEAR the Squat?
Squats are one of the most avoided exercises in the gym but truly beneficial. Why you ask? Squats help facilitate overall body strength, balance and functional independence. They are responsible for strengthening some of the largest muscle groups in the body (i.e., quadriceps, gluteals and hamstrings) which means we are talking about burning some serious calories. Squats also help with strengthening of the knees, back and mid section. Contrary to popular belief, squats can be beneficial to those with sore knees and backs if modified and performed properly.

The following are steps for a basic squat:
1.) Stand up straight with feet shoulder width apart. Make sure toes, knees and hips are in a straight line.
2.) Shoulders back and chest out.
3.) Pull your belly button into spine and keep your abdominals tight and contracted.
4.) Slowly lower yourself bending at the hips and knees so your thighs are parallel to the floor. Avoid letting your knees pass your toes. The movement should feel like sitting down on a chair.
5.) Keep the weight of your body in your heels while maintaining good posture. Head up, shoulders back and chest out.
6.) To return to starting position, you will want to stand up by pushing through the heels of your feet.
7.) At the top, try not to lock your knees. Keep them soft with a slight bend.
8.) People tend to hold their breath while performing this exercise so making sure to breathe is important. Inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up.
9.) Repeat this movement 12-15 times for 1-3 sets.
10.) Remember to stay slow and controlled throughout the movement and avoid performing this exercise too fast. Maximize your rep by counting 1, 2 on the way up and 1, 2 on the way down.

Written by Crystal Kennedy
Wellness Director – Personal Trainer
Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Best Way to Lower Your Golf Handicap

One of the best ways to lower your handicap in Golf may not be to improve your equipment but to improve the function of your own body. The Golf swing is a dynamic movement, which requires balance, flexibility, strength and power. It must be performed with exact precision over and over throughout a round to achieve a good score, thus requiring a significant amount of muscular endurance as well.

What is separating the top performing, most consistent golfers today is their level of fitness. Lets take a look at each of the fitness components mentioned above and see how each relates to the sport of Golf.

Balance in Golf can mean two things. It is the ability to stay in control on your feet throughout the swing without falling over or having to take a step out to the side. It also refers the muscular balance of your body. If your muscle groups are out of balance they are overly tight in certain areas and overly weak in other areas. It is important to identify these imbalances and correct them with proper flexibility and strength training. This can improve your accuracy and consistency.

In order to create the range of motion necessary for a proper swing you must be flexible. Specifically the muscles that stretch and allow your torso to rotate must have the proper flexibility.

Strength and Power are the two components that work together to produce clubhead speed. Strength is the ability to move a certain load and power is the speed at which you are able to move that load. A golf is swing is a prime example of both of these factors coming in to play in order to hit the ball with your club and hit it far.

Lastly, endurance is your ability to repeat the same muscle action over and over without losing strength or form. When your form starts to go in golf it is pretty easy to predict what will happen, thus making endurance training an important component of any golf fitness program.

Golf season is here, and what better way to spend your time here at the SAC than improving your fitness to play this great game! All of these fitness components combine to play an integral role in making consistent accurate golf shots. It is important to remember that you can affect and improve all of these with the time you spend in the gym.

Written by Paul Nelson
Personal Fitness Trainer, Seattle Athletic Club Northgate

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Debunking Pilates Myths

1. It’s expensive
A one-on-one session is a great way to start your Pilates training, but when you learn your routine, you can work out with a partner or small group to cut costs.

2. It’s only for women
Joseph Pilates was a man, and he created a system of exercise meant for every body, male or female. Pilates requires concentration, focus, coordination and agility.

3. It’s repetitive
Pilates builds a foundation of core strength, and that requires some deep, precise, consistent work. Only after your core is established and muscles correctly firing can you move on to the more complicated, advanced Pilates exercises. So yes, Pilates can seem repetitive in the beginning. But be patient! Your repertoire will expand as you become stronger and are able to demonstrate control in your body.

4. It’s only for dancers
Joseph Pilates was not a dancer; he was a boxer and wrestler, studied yoga and gymnastics. When Joseph and his wife Clara set up shop in New York City, George Balanchine sent many dancers to Pilates to rehabilitate ballet injuries. The news of a workout that promoted strength with stretch spread quickly through the dance community, and has been popular ever since. However, Pilates is beneficial for all populations.

5. It’s easy
Pilates can be easily modified to accommodate nearly any injury, but true Pilates, once the basic concepts are understood, is challenging to the most fit person.

Written by Danielle Zack
Pilates Director
Seattle Athletic Club Downtown