Articles of the Week

fitness-articles

Every Sunday Free Form Academy posts a list of the best articles that will help make you a better trainer. The articles are grouped into 4 categories: Exercise, Business, Motivational Psychology, and Nutrition. The links will be opened in a new window.

Exercise

Why External Focus of Attention Maximizes Motor Performance and Learning by Justin Kompf

Is Your Ab Workout Making You Look Fat? by Bret Contreras

Torch Fat with Free-weight Finishers by Ben Bruno

Nutrition

Nine Worthwhile Habits That Increase Fat Loss by Poliquin Group Editorial Staff

How to Eat Low Carb as a Vegetarian or Vegan by Joe Leech

My Testimony to Canada’s Senate Regarding Obesity and Action by Yoni Freedhoff

Psychology

Fast Weight Loss VS Easy Weight Loss by Sean Flanagan

5 Ways to Move Forward After Experiencing Failure by Tara Schiller

7 Strategies to Shift From Goal Setting to Manifesting by Nicole Cherisse

Business

Using “Reason Why” to Persuade, Influence, and Maximize Sales by Yanik Silver

Minimizing Key Man Risk While Scaling Your Business by Pete Dupuis

Knowledge vs. Experience by Mike Robertson

Feel the Burn! How to Teach the Mind-muscle Connection

Seated Row

By pursuing a career as a personal trainer, movement and exercise is probably something that comes naturally to you.

Neuromuscular control and body awareness are not things that you have to think about. It may come as a surprise to hear that some people simply are not able to actively contract certain muscles or feel when they are working.

In a push and flexion dominant society, the most common areas that people have trouble controlling are the muscles in their back and the glutes. These muscles have the most trouble getting consciously stimulated because of lack of use.

Our bodies like to be efficient. If it finds that a muscle isn’t being used very often, it learns to shuttle its resources to areas that are being used.

The term gluteal amnesia is used to describe the phenomenon of poor glute activation. I often joke about how the glutes are muscles and not just padding for people to sit on.

According to Stuart Mcgill, gluteal amnesia is no joke. In his experience, poor glute control leads to overuse of the hamstrings and back extensors, which is a factor in low back pain.

Why the mind-muscle connection matters

The brain controls the rest of your body through a network of nerves. This includes your muscles. The more you can feel a muscle during an exercise, the more it is doing the work.

The term isolation is used to describe single joint exercises that target a particular muscle. For example, the bench press and the fly are both exercises that target the chest or pecs.

The bench press is a compound movement, as it causes motion at two joints: the shoulder and the elbow. This means that in addition to the pecs, the triceps and other muscles are also involved to extend the elbow.

The fly is considered to “isolate” the pecs more because only the shoulder joint is moving. However, does that mean other muscles aren’t involved in the movement? With the fly, other muscles in your shoulders and arms are also involved in helping the pecs perform the movement.

The point is that all of our muscles are connected. One muscle group cannot be contracted without also stimulating adjacent muscle groups. The mind-muscle connection matters because it allows you to focus on muscles that you want to target rather than having more dominant muscles take over.

Prevent muscle imbalances

The most common example of not working the right muscle is during rowing exercises. The lack of control that people tend to have in their back causes them to use their biceps more than their back. Most people need to do more rows to counteract all of the flexion that occurs in their lives. However, a program full of rows is not very effective if clients are treating them as an arm exercise.

Incorrect row where mostly the arms are being used
Incorrect row where mostly the arms are being used

 

Correct row where scapular retraction is visible, indicating proper muscle activation
Correct row where scapular retraction is visible, indicating proper muscle activation

Avoid injury

As mentioned above, poor glute control is a factor in low back pain and injury. When clients complain of back pain, they always think that it is because their back is weak. This is not necessarily the case. It is more likely the opposite: their back is actually quite strong. The problem is that because the glutes aren’t functioning properly, the back ends up taking more of the load and become overworked. Overworked muscles become tired muscles. Tired muscles get injured.

After an injury, physiotherapists often use electrical stimulation on weak muscles to help them strengthen and contract. When you help clients improve their mind-muscle connection, you are strengthening their brain’s own electrical signals to the muscles. The stronger and more effective the signal, the greater the muscular control.

How to help clients improve their mind-muscle connection

As someone who may not have this problem, it can be difficult to know where to start when trying to teach someone how to contract a muscle that they can’t feel.

It can get quite frustrating for yourself and for your client. Simply saying “just do it” doesn’t work (believe me, I’ve tried). Here are 3 things you can do to help your clients develop a stronger mind-muscle connection.

  1. Touch the area that you want your clients to contract. This will help them locate exactly where the muscle is that they should be feeling.
  2. Use isometric holds. Get your client to hold the top of the movement for a few seconds. Tell them to really “squeeze” the muscle to give them a better sense of what it should feel like.
  3. Lots and lots of repetition is what clients need. It is important not to get frustrated. Don’t spend too much time on it during any single session, but make sure that they are practicing a little bit each day.

Articles of the Week

fitness-articles

Every Sunday Free Form Academy posts a list of the best articles that will help make you a better trainer. The articles are grouped into 4 categories: Exercise, Business, Motivational Psychology, and Nutrition. The links will be opened in a new window.

Exercise

12 Ways to Know if You Should Include and Exercise in a Strength Training Program by Eric Cressey

3 Training Methods Athletes Screw Up by Nick Tumminello

6 Ways to Develop Your Grip Strength For Better Results by Karen Smith

Nutrition

Drink This, Not That! by TC Luoma

The Metabolic Killers: How to Restart a Stalled Metabolism by Jade Teta

How to Use Cortisol to Your Advantage: Nutrition Tips to Gain the Most Strength and Muscle by Poliquin Group Editorial Staff

Psychology

The Behavioral Economics Diet: The Science of Killing a Bad Habit by Nir Eyal

When It Comes to Lifestyle Change, Timing Matters by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff

Why Dieters Fail? by Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D.

Business

3 Simple (Not Easy) Steps to Grow Your Fitness Business by Ryan Ketchum

10 Business Networking Mistakes Even Top Fitness and Coaching Entrepreneurs Make by John Spencer Ellis

The 5 Biggest Facebook Advertising Mistakes by Jordan Bornstein

What We Can Learn From Vegans: Identity-based Motivation

Raw Vegan by Jovan J, licensed through Creative Commons
Raw Vegan by Jovan J, licensed through Creative Commons

“I only eat meat on special occasions.”

“I ate well all day, so I thought I could treat myself with a burger.”

“They were serving pork tacos at the staff party, so I HAD to eat it.”

Would you hear a vegan say any of those things? Now contrast those statements with what you might hear a client say:

“I only eat cake on special occasions.”

“I ate well all day, so I thought I could treat myself with some ice cream.”

“They were serving cookies at the staff party, so I HAD to eat it.”

Why is it so easy for one group of people to remain so steadfast in their choices, but so difficult for everyone else? It is common to hear of people who choose to become vegan or vegetarian and have no issues with making the change the very next day. On the other hand, it seems to be a constant battle for most clients to stay on track with their eating habits.

How to make a change stick

The biggest difference between the two is the adoption of a firm identity. Research by Daphna Oyserman shows that identity-based motivation plays a large role in implementing healthy behavioiurs. Once a new identity is established, decisions become easy because the identity provides you with a built-in framework from which to follow. An identity comes with a set of values and beliefs. All decisions are guided by whether they align with the values and beliefs that you identify with.

When someone chooses to become a vegan, the most important rule to follow is not to consume animal products. This makes it easy to say, “No,” when the opportunity to eat animal products presents itself. As a vegan, you simply don’t eat meat because you believe that it is wrong. There are no exceptions, no excuses, and no grey areas.

You can see the same philosophy unfold in those who are successful with weight loss. They make the commitment and adopt the new identity of someone who is taking charge of their overall health. It is not a struggle to exercise more. It is easy to resist an extra portion of dinner.

When you choose a new identity, you no longer have to make a choice for certain behaviours. You do it because that is what someone you identify as does.

As a vegan, you do not have eggs for breakfast. As a health-conscious individual, you do not eat desert after dinner every night.

How to change a client’s identity

When trying something as drastic as changing someone’s identity, values, and beliefs, you have to make it fun. Make a game of it. Tell your clients to think about their ideal self; the person they aspire to be. Then tell them to pretend to be that person for an entire week. All of their decisions are made based on what their ideal person would do.

A funny thing happens when you force yourself to act differently. You realize that the change is not so bad after all. It becomes more natural the more you act as the new you. Soon enough, it doesn’t become acting anymore. It is just you.

This is essentially what instilling new habits is. A conscious choice to behave differently. However, because some people have struggled for so long, making a different choice becomes more and more difficult. It’s much easier to throw yourself a pity party and dwell on the negative. A sense of helplessness sets in and the thought that change will never happen becomes impossible to escape.

This is why thinking of yourself as already changed and starting from the end is helpful. Pretending to be someone else is temporary. And temporary isn’t as scary. Pretending can also be fun. They can let go of their insecurities and try something new without judgement.

Starting from the end also removes the barriers that people believe come with a long journey. They don’t think they have the time to change. They think things are so bad now all of the changes that need to happen is just too much. Imagining themselves as their ideal self gets rid of the work in the middle. Starting is always the hardest part. Thinking of themselves as already changed is just a way to motivate them to make that first step.

When people continually fail to succeed on a goal, they lose the confidence in their ability to change. They don’t feel as though they can make the right choices. Giving your clients an option to think with a new point of view can inspire them to look at their problems differently. It acts as a built-in role model.

Many Christians carry the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” as a reminder of how to make the right choices. Telling your clients to adopt a new identity essentially gets them to ask themselves, “What would the new me do?” before any decisions. This simple question could be all it takes to get clients to consistently behave in a manner that supports their goals.

So, tell clients to act like a vegan. Tell them to be firm in their identity to live a healthier life. Don’t choose to change. Just choose change.

Exercise You Should Know: Cable Chest Press

Cable Chest Press

Why use the cable chest press?

The cable chest press is a great chest exercise that also includes a stability component. The extra stability challenge means this exercise has strong carryover into athletic performance. Athletes generally play while standing on two feet and core control is very important for performance. The cable chest press teaches clients to transfer energy from their feet, hips, and torso to generate force through their shoulders and chest.

Improved core control and stability is also beneficial for the general population. The cable chest press is a good way for clients to discover how to connect core stability and upper limb motion and power. If they are unable to stabilize their body, they will end up being pulled back by the cable machine instead of being able to press their hands forward.

This is a great “bang for your buck” exercise to use with clients who want to lose weight. You get a core stability exercise as well as an upper body strength exercise rolled into one. It can easily be inserted into any full body training program focused on compound movements.

Performing this exercise unilaterally (one arm at a time) also adds an anti-rotation component.

Coaching cues

Ensure that the hips and shoulders are square and aligned with each other. A staggered stance is recommend to start as it will provide clients with the greatest amount of stability.

Clients should be reminded to maintain stiffness throughout their entire body in order to be able to generate power in the shoulders.

Watch that the elbow does not go too far past the torso. This will emphasize shoulder stability as it does not allow the head of the humerus to roll forward.

Try the cable chest press on your clients and let us know how it goes in the comments!