Kettlebells training and shoulders

I often meet clients who have problems with shoulder pain due to the misalignment of the shoulder joint.  This misalignment leads to pain in the shoulder or a shooting pain down to the elbow or even numbness of the fingers.  This pain is generally caused by bad posture at work and/or a sedentary lifestyle.  A lack of exercise makes our muscles weaker and slouching when sat in a chair causes the stretching of only one group of muscles around the shoulder, which leads to instability and enables this misalignment to occur.13775517_1077329549010191_3538635373911155626_n

After realigning the joint I recommend that my clients work on bringing stability to their shoulder by training the weak muscles and stretching the shortened muscles.  One of the best ways to do this is via kettlebell training.  Kettlebells are a simple tool that provides us with dynamic strengthening and stretching of the muscles whilst enforcing stability to ensure that we do not drop the weight.  Kettlebell training is also inexpensive as it does not require much space or equipment and is relatively easy to learn.

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I would recommend reading this article (link below) about the benefits of kettlebell training by Braking Muscles.

It beautifully explains in detail seven kettlebell exercises and their effect on your shoulders. I hope you enjoy the read and look forward to seeing you at one of my kettlebell sessions.

http://breakingmuscle.com/kettlebells/7-exercises-to-optimize-shoulder-health-with-kettlebells

Thank you and keep Standing Tall!

“It’s easy for you, you’re a personal trainer”

“It’s easy for you to be fit and healthy, you’re a personal trainer!”  Erm, not so much.  I often hear this statement used by my clients who believe that being fit comes easier to fitness professionals.  However, let me just explain my reality and how I became a personal trainer and therapist in the first place.

In a nutshell, it all happened as a result of me trying to resolve my own injuries and imperfections, but let’s start from the beginning – my right ankle.

When I was a young boy I was (apparently) a promising goalkeeper at one of my local football clubs and had the potential for a career as a footballer.  Unfortunately this dream was cut short as a result of a cycling accident.  I had been riding around my neighbourhood and fell from my bike, spraining my ankle.  It was pretty painful, but after a quick visit to A&E it had seemed to be on the mend, or so I thought.  After two weeks in a cast the pain was unbearable.  I was in tears and it felt as though the cast had been shrinking, squashing my ankle.  My dad decided to take the cast off to release the pressure and then take me to the hospital.  To our horror, my ankle was now yellow and had swelled to be three times the size of my other one.  We went off in a panic to the hospital where the doctors took me straight into theater to operate as it transpired that my ankle had started to rot and had turned into a huge abscess.  As a result I had to spend two months over the summer holidays in hospital following the removal of over a glass of rotten fluid and some fragments of my ankle bones.  Along with parts of my ankle, my hopes of becoming a footballer had been taken away from me.P7200059.JPG

To this day the consequences of this accident still give me problems.  My right ankle is weaker and less mobile than my left and the lack of stability of the ankle joint forces my calf muscle to compensate, causing me stiffness in my lower leg as well as knee pain.

Moving onto my shoulders…  When I was 15 I developed an interest in weight training.  All of my friends had started building muscles and so I too dreamt of becoming a body builder.  Being a teenager it is natural to be rebellious and alas I was no different.  So when the gym instructor said to start training with smaller weights we were all of the opinion that this was just a waste of time, after all, we wanted to be big and strong now!  So instead we went for the maximum weights that we could lift.  This approach worked very well – until a few years later.  Over these initial few years my strength grew significantly and whilst I only weighed 55kg I could bench press 105kg.  In hindsight I now realise that I really should have stuck with small weights as to this day if I try and perform a bench press with a significant weight my shoulders just say “no!” and I get a pain that feels like someone is trying to rip my arms off.  I still enjoy weight training today, but I now train with moderate weights and have switched to functional training with kettlebells, which reduces the pains and aches in my shoulders.

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Then there is my beloved left knee.  During my time training at the gym I discovered my biggest passion, Karate, which I am still actively engage in both training and teaching.  As young students we did not have much understanding of body mechanics and how to train smart, all we wanted to do was to train hard and nonstop.  This resulted in me pulling one of my tendons (ACL) in my left knee.  After consultation with a doctor he suggested I have an operation to fix it.  Given my previous ankle operation experience I was less than keen with this approach and so decided to seek opinions from a variety of other doctors.  I came across a sports doctor who advised me to keep walking for as long as I can on the knee as it is and to avoid the operation.  That was 14 years ago.  I still have problems with my knee, but I have created my own strength programme and mobility workout that helps me get along and enjoy a largely pain free walking existence.  Although occasionally I take a wrong step and my knee just collapses, taking the rest of my body with it.  These situations make me focus more on the postural aspects of my training.

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Lower back pain, yet another issue.  At a similar time to when I damaged my knee I started to experience lower back pain.  Going back to the doctors again I was faced with a now familiar story – we need to operate as we have diagnosed that you have narrow nerve channels in your lower back.  I was like “what?”  There was no way I was going to risk my ability to walk to get rid of this pain.  I would rather be in pain than bed bound.  After many visits to different doctors it turned out that there was a simple solution to my problem, which maddens me even now to think that so many doctors were so keen to operate!  One of the doctors I saw simply looked at my gait and told me to invest in a good pair of shoes that will stabilise my ankle and hold me upright.  Et voilà!  After buying a decent pair of shoes my lower back pain eased off.download (1)

Finally there is my upper back problems.  Being an experienced martial artist I decided to broaden my skillset and joined a Wrestling club, which I still visit whenever I can.  Wrestling is full of acrobatics, which is awesome when it goes right…  However, with me being confident that I was invincible and could perform any stunt I decided to prematurely try to perform a back flip without assistance.   I had been warned that I might get hurt as I was too inexperienced, but I knew better so I tried anyway.  I failed big time!  I landed on my head and it felt like my spine had been crunched and was falling apart.  When I got up I had troubles with breathing, lifting my arms up and moving my head.  It felt like I had been interrogated by a medieval inquisition.  Surely someone had just put a metal band around my chest with two spikes pointing at me and had started to tighten it!  Another visit to the doctors, but following an x-ray that did not show up anything I was told to rest for a few days, take some pain killers and all will be fine.  Well, all was not fine and I spent seven years in pain whilst doctors told me to get used to it as there was nothing wrong with me.  Nothing wrong?  I could barely move my arms above the height of my shoulders, how could this be normal?  I had lost hope that I would ever have this issue fixed, but by chance I met a martial artist, who is now a close friend, who used his Chinese massage therapy on me and within a week the pain was gone.  I was so grateful and so intrigued by his methods that I decided to become a Therapist and to help others like me who are being told to just get used to the pain.download

All of these injuries and experiences have led me down the path of becoming a Personal Trainer and Therapist, not in the search for riches, but in a search for self-help.  Through my experience I feel driven to help others and can empathise with what my clients are going through.  It is not always easy to find a fix.  My battle with my own body has been ongoing for more than 30 years now and along the way I have tried a range of conventional and nonconventional methods and am able to appreciate what has and has not worked for me.

It is easy to assume that people who are currently fit are able to achieve/maintain this state easily, but you never know what their story is.  It is very difficult for me to keep motivated to do workouts and mobility drills and present a cheerful character at all times, but whenever I slack and slow down my body starts to fall apart.  That is quite a good motivator for me to continue to study and complete my workouts.

Best wishes from a self-fixing Personal Trainer and Therapist.

It’s not WHAT you eat, but WHEN you eat…

Wouldn’t it be great to shed some kgs without cutting out our favourite meals?

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There are studies that show that this is possible.  It all started with tests on mice where scientists discovered that moving their meals closer together during the day and lengthening fasting periods overnight caused a drop in sugar and cholesterol levels, making them healthier and leading to weight loss.  In this study the mice under test ate exactly the same meals as the control mice (see study abstract below).

http://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/abstract/S1550-4131(12)00189-1

Following this, a study was conducted by the University of Surrey to test the same principle on 16 human volunteers, as shown in the BBC TV programme, ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor’.  All of the volunteers initially had their blood fat, blood sugar and body fat measured following 12 hours of fasting.  The volunteers were then separated into two groups and the test conducted over 10 weeks.  The first group was the control group and could eat as per their normal routine.  The second group was asked to shift their breakfast to be 90 minutes later and their dinner to be 90 minutes earlier and to exclude all drinks and snacks after their evening meal.  As a result of these changes the second group had 3 more hours of fasting per night.  All of the participants had to keep a food diary to make sure that they had been eating similar amounts of food as normal.

At the end of the 10 week period both groups repeated the measurements that were taken at the start of the test.

The study demonstrated significant changes that were very similar to the tests on mice.  The group that had the longer fasting period showed a change in their levels of blood sugar and cholesterol, but no change in blood fat.  This group was shown to have lost body fat as a result of the experiment.

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Consequently, this study has confirmed that the time that we eat DOES matter.  Eating late dinners is likely to result in weight gain and longer periods of fasting will improve the chances of losing some kgs.  Combining this knowledge with exercise and a healthy diet could produce incredible results.

For more information about this study please see the link below.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/zBx3JZJCKfNBrWgT0Qyj93/the-big-experiment-could-i-lose-fat-just-by-changing-my-meal-times

Kettlebell Training

The kettlebell, a lump of metal with a handle, is a tool that was originally used in Russia and Eastern Europe as a measure of weight of goods.

13775517_1077329549010191_3538635373911155626_n Now they are popular exercise equipment that offers lots of benefits and exciting programmes, providing a great range of exercises with just one tool.  Below are a few reasons why I think kettlebells are a great workout option.

  • Kettlebells are cheap to buy and for your own training not many are required. Those that you do use will not take up much space in your home or gym.12032989_920001121409702_8068011744656368947_n
  • The movement pattern is more functional and natural than barbells or machines. The whole body is engaged in moving the weight, which involves balance, coordination and the cardio vascular system.12038469_919828461426968_8663445653634720322_n
  • When correctly used, kettlebell training can help with back pain and should instability/mobility. If you spend a lot of time sitting (for example in an office) kettlebell training will help you to stand tall as a lot of the techniques engage the back and shoulder muscles, which will help to reduce slouching.12003164_900478936695254_7874755332325664916_n
  • They are great to use as a part of different training methods like HIIT, Tabata or just strength training – these bells can get you exhausted in minutes.11753654_875390812537400_1651106829045295122_n
  • Building overall strength rapidly. As kettlebell workouts involve the whole body you can quickly see improvements in strength, not just for specific muscle groups but also for the core and overall strength.  This makes kettlebell training a superb tool for athletes as well as anyone who is looking to get fit.12036414_909775542432260_5713195938980107215_n

If you have never tried kettlebells I urge you to give it a go as it is a great way to have interesting workouts with notable health benefits.  Who knows, you might like it!

Why I don’t like boxercise

Please note that this article is not intended to criticise individual instructors, but rather a comment against the current system of education and qualifications in pad work.  I love training and teaching pad work routines.  Using pads is an integral part of martial arts training and brings great benefits.  It is a great way to improve fitness, coordination, strength and self-confidence.  My issue with Boxercise and other similar systems is the time it takes to become a qualified instructor.  Being able to hold pads and being able to punch pads are two sets of skills and to become skilful in anything takes time.  To be able to effectively teach these skills requires experience as well as knowledge of teaching in either a 1-2-1 or group situations.

012In browsing through social media I have noticed a surge of instructors offering pad work.  From the images and videos I have seen it appears as though they have very little experience of how to hold pads safely.  Seeing the way that they hold these pads raises the question in my mind why are they teaching?  It turns out that in order to qualify as a pad work instructor typically only requires a one day course – that is why they are teaching.  However, being able to obtain an instructing qualification quickly extends beyond the realm of pad work.  When I did my PT qualification we received 4 hours of kettlebell training.  After this we were assessed on what we had learnt and having passed this assessment all of the participants on my course were qualified in kettlebell instruction. I found this slightly surprising and so I spoke with my classmates about their confidence in teaching kettlebells.  Most of them said that they did not wish to teach kettlebells because they had no prior experience and did not feel that the training they had received was enough for them to feel confident in teaching others correctly.

In my opinion this system of having just a 4-8 hour course to train instructors will sooner or later result in injury.  Recent studies suggest that the shortest time it takes to learn a new skill 20 hours (for example: https://first20hours.com/) with more traditional views suggesting it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.  Certainly in the case of martial arts I think 10,000 hours is more realistic – I am not aware of anyone who has been able to proficiently learn a martial art in 20 hours!  Even the fast learning systems implemented in organisations such as the Army to fast track soldiers to be combat ready takes 140 hours.

As an example of the types of areas covered by these 1 day instructors courses please find below an extract from the Boxercise website of the topics covered in 1 day:

“Punches – learn and practise the eight fundamental punches ensuring correct & safe technique. Learn the importance of good footwork and stance.

Group Work Section including instructing skills & Boxercise Aerobics       

Boxing Equipment Discussion and good practise recommendations. Class format and design.

Padwork – Learn all the relevant safety and coaching points for using the focus pads. Also learn how to coach every punching fault so you are prepared for when it occurs in a real world situation.

Assessment – Working in pairs you will be assessed on your ability to coach, teach and instruct a novice puncher and demonstrate all punches safely and effectively. Pass mark 70%.

Class Examples of four different styles of Boxercise class, including bootcamp style.       

The Boxercise Instructor Course includes footwork drills 1-17 for the Boxercise Footwork Training System.”

This is a lot to learn in one day, especially when you consider that you then have to be able to teach someone else.  I have been practicing martial arts for nearly 20 years and have been on both sides, as the puncher and as the pad holder.  Based on my experience I would definitely say that to be proficient at either takes more than a day.

Instructors often post pictures from their training sessions and from these you can notice basic mistakes such as holding the pads too high or too wide.  From this you can deduce that the holder does not have sufficient tension in their arms to prevent injury.  It is also not very realistic for the person who punches – unless they are fighting with a very tall person with two heads.  Another common mistake I have noticed is the pad holder doing all of the work, smashing the gloves of their client.  This may sound and feel stronger for the client, but it does nothing for his/her fitness.

Here are some points to avoid when holding pads:

  • Pads at the wrong height

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    too high

Holding the pads very high causes a lot of stress on the shoulders as muscles are not able to provide support to the arm when receiving a punch in this position.  This is also bad for the person punching as they do not learn realistic targeting.  The pad holder should keep the pads at an appropriate height for the target such as the head or body in relation to their build.

 

  • Pads at the wrong width 

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    too wide

Holding the pads in an unrealistic position where the pads are too wide apart can cause the person who is punching to overstretch and slows down their technique.  In the same way that holding the pads too high causes stress on the shoulders, holding them too wide does as well.  The pads should be held within your own shoulder width at the appropriate target position (head or body).

 

  • Relaxed arms 

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Keeping your arms relaxed is dangerous for both the pad holder and puncher.  The puncher does not get any feedback about their technique and risks hyper extension whilst executing a punch due to lack of resistance.  Conversely, without tension in their arms the pad holder does not have much control over their muscles in order to protect their joints when receiving a punch, which might easily lead to injury.

 

 

  • Hitting oncoming punches     

01 - CopyMany instructors hit the punch of their client with the pad in order to make it sound and feel more powerful.  By doing this we create a false distance for the target and cause unnecessary impact on the joints of both the holder and puncher.  This behaviour teaches the puncher to shorten their technique and therefore they cannot develop full power.  There should be a very slight movement towards the punch just before contact so that your joints can prepare for receiving the impact, but this movement should be minimal.

  • Lack of instruction

It is not enough to just ask the client to punch with a particular combination.  You have to actively monitor and correct his/her technique throughout the workout.  For example giving tips on footwork, striking technique and body mechanics.  The instructor should be looking to spot errors at all times, but in order to do this he/she needs experience in punching and body mechanics.

In summary good pad holding helps to:

  1. Prevent injury to the pad holder and puncher
  2. Establish the correct distance for each technique
  3. Enforce the use of proper body mechanics
  4. Improve punching skill
  5. Support a smooth transition between punches

All of this takes time and practice.  As with other manual skills, our brain and muscles need time to develop neuromuscular patterns.  In my opinion a few hours on a course does not provide enough time to attain these skills and in this article I have only touched on the basics.  There is a lot more to consider in pad work such as punching technique, structure, moving, progression and use of different types of pads.  It is such a vast topic that it is not surprising that great pad holders are paid top money for their instruction.   They spend years developing their approaches.

If you want to learn how to hold pads correctly I would recommend visiting a boxing gym or martial arts club where the use of pads is embedded in their system of training.  Alternatively find a pad work instructor with demonstrable experience.