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How to Pick The Right Shoe for Working Out

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How to Pick The Right Shoe for Working Out

A question that I’ve gotten from athletes over the years is "What type of shoe should I purchase for running or for working out?" First off, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am by no means a podiatrist. However, I do have experience assessing people’s musculoskeletal imbalances, and I can prescribe corrective exercises to address these issues.

I’ll start with the most common dysfunctions that could improve by having the proper footwear. It's relatively common to have mobility limitations and insufficient movement patterns at the ankle joint. One of the more common issues I see is excessive foot pronation (feet collapsing inward) (as seen in the photo below) and lack of dorsiflexion (inability to flex the ankle).

People with flat feet or low arches will usually pronate their feet, causing them to put a majority of their weight into their arch. This can create a chain reaction of unwanted stresses up the body - up the “chain”. However, the reverse is also true, which means that if your hips are not stable and aligned, they’ll cause issues down the chain, and your knees and feet will begin to compensate as a result. Here’s a perfect example: as a result of the feet collapsing inwards, the knees will also collapse inwards. This can cause various knee issues, knee pain, and can make it more difficult to externally rotate the hips. The muscle that’s responsible for externally rotating our hips is our glutes/butt. If our butt isn’t in the game when we do lower body movements, then we’re in danger of not just having a flabby butt, but also potentially suffering from overuse injuries due to compensatory patterns.

Lack of dorsiflexion, or the lack of flexing at the ankles, is usually attributed to tight calf muscles - gastrocnemius and soleus being the biggest culprits. This issue is also usually coupled with the feet everting, or turning out, as a compensation for not being able to flex at the ankles.  Dorsiflexion allows for more freedom up the chain to flex the knee and hip during lower body movements such as squats and lunges. Besides exercises to help improve these two common mobility issues (I could write an entire blog post about these exercises), the right shoe can help solve this. That’s what we’re here for, right?! We went to our neighborhood shoe store, BAIT in the Mission to show you some examples of what to look for in a shoe.

FOR THE RUNNERS

First off, let’s start with those of you who run. I suggest getting a gait analysis at a local running shoe store like A Runner's Mind or Fleet Feet. You could also ask one of our P4L coaches to assess your overhead squat and single leg squat. From there, they’ll be able to give you feedback on the type of shoes that you may benefit from, depending on your musculoskeletal imbalances. One recommendation I could give without any assessment is this: if you’ve got flat feet, or if you put weight into your arches, get shoes that give you arch support. Make sure to do some research online beforehand to ensure that you’re getting the shoe that’s best for you.

 
This shoe is ideal for running, because it is a lightweight shoe. The difference between this and a cross-training shoe is that there's no lateral support, meaning there's minimal traction at the sole. I personally like a minimalist shoe, because it strengthens your feet while running and feels closest to a bare foot.

This shoe is ideal for running, because it is a lightweight shoe. The difference between this and a cross-training shoe is that there's no lateral support, meaning there's minimal traction at the sole. I personally like a minimalist shoe, because it strengthens your feet while running and feels closest to a bare foot.

 

FOR THE STRENGTH TRAINERS / CROSS-TRAINERS

For those of you do a variety of activities, and especially if you strength train, then please do yourself a favor and get cross-training shoes. I’ve seen countless people over the years strength train or do functional fitness classes in running shoes. Two reasons why this is not a good idea:

  1. Running shoes don’t have ankle support, so when performing lateral movements, you’re going to be more vulnerable to ankle sprains.
  2. Running shoes don’t provide as much heel elevation or do as good of a job at preventing pronation as much as cross trainers do. Cross trainers will lock your foot in place and assist in ankle flexion - however, that’s not the best reason to get cross trainers.
 
This shoe gives you more ankle support than a running shoe. The elevated heel makes it easier to flex in the ankle, thus helping you squat easier. You'll have increased stability. In addition, it has heel support and traction so that you can do lateral movements.

This shoe gives you more ankle support than a running shoe. The elevated heel makes it easier to flex in the ankle, thus helping you squat easier. You'll have increased stability. In addition, it has heel support and traction so that you can do lateral movements.

 

I will say that I do prefer a minimalist shoe, or even working out barefoot if you’re solely strength training; the reason being that you have more feedback and contact with the ground, thus giving you more natural ability to move your foot freely and to generate force into the ground with your entire foot.

Thanks for listening and I hope this helps!

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The Move More, Eat Less Challenge

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The Move More, Eat Less Challenge

A few weeks ago, something dawned on me while my girlfriend and I were strolling through our neighborhood in the Sunset. We passed by our favorite local ice cream joint (which is located directly across the street from our gym by some twist of cosmic irony) and were overcome by temptation for the second day in a row. Normally we exercise more restraint, but alas, the ice cream won that day. Jokingly I said, “Well, as long as we workout more times in a week than we eat ice cream, we'll be okay.” I then realized that for most folks, they eat out far more often than they exercise. From that, an idea was born.

Here in San Francisco - where we take our food very seriously - the old adage of ‘move more and eat less’ isn't shown enough love. A lot of people engage in some amount of regular exercise, but the amount of it relative to the volume of food consumed isn't in the best proportion. I realized that most clients I have worked with go out to eat quite a bit more than they engage in vigorous exercise. As such, this version of the ‘move more and eat less’ challenge was born: on a weekly basis, try to get in the gym and perform vigorous exercise more times than you go out to eat.

Every challenge needs some guidelines to be effective. Although I don't want to make a rule set that's overly-specific or restrictive, some structure is needed to adhere to the spirit of the challenge. I'll make some suggestions below to help guide this process.

  1. The exercise session needs to be a minimum of 45 minutes in length, and it needs to be hard. Something like walking through the city doesn't count. Honestly, many forms of yoga or pilates wouldn't really qualify either. I'm not saying they have no value, but the level of energy expenditure is simply not high enough for our purposes. The exercise should increase your heart rate significantly and make you sweat (and not just because it's outside in the heat or in a hot room). If you can't engage in vigorous exercise for some reason, exercising to the level of a brisk walk for 90 minutes would also suffice.
  2. As far as whether or not a meal is considered “eating out” is a bit more subjective. However, a good rule of thumb is if you're selecting your meal based purely on taste, then it should probably count as eating out. If the meal is selected in an attempt to make it balanced and nutritious (and reasonably portioned), then it doesn't add to that count. So, if you cook a giant bowl of fettuccine alfredo at home, that's still “eating out.” Conversely, if you get a grilled chicken breast salad at the lunch spot near work, that's not “eating out.” I think you get the idea; it's about the spirit of how the meal is composed, not the technicality of who prepared it or where it was consumed. Additionally, every 3 drinks (1 beer, 1 glass of wine, or one shot of liquor) you consume in a week is considered eating out. So, if you drink a beer or glass of wine every night with dinner, that's 7 drinks or 2 extra counts of eating out for the week. If you go out to eat and drink a few drinks, then you just ate out twice. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but I consider it so impactful that I felt it was worth using our imaginations a bit.
  3. Tally up both of these things, and try to make sure the number of exercise sessions is greater than the number of times you eat out in a week - it's really that simple. Start by trying to do this for a month, but you can aim to make it more of a long-term lifestyle choice as well.

The beauty of this challenge is that it helps you understand just how much exercise is required to counteract poor nutrition habits. For most people, the sensible choice is to change both habits a bit: exercise a few more times per week, and eat out a few less times per week. However, if eating with tons of freedom is important to you, then you do have the option of trying to balance that out with a massive volume of exercise. As well, if you really don't want to exercise much (I recommend against this option the most) or have health issues that prohibit this, then you can be very strict with your eating habits. Try it out and see how it goes!

Hopefully this arms everyone with yet another tool in the battle to enjoy the finer things in life while staying healthy. If nothing else, it will provide you some perspective on your lifestyle. That's all for today… Cheers!


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Why You Should Be Using Kettlebells

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Why You Should Be Using Kettlebells

First, what are kettlebells?! Kettlebells were first developed in Russia and are traditionally cast-iron rounded weights with a handle. Though you may have seen or used one in an exercise class, they’re actually still used a lot by special forces, martial arts masters, and national champion lifters, as well.

What makes this certain type of weight so special, you may ask? It’s because of how many athletic components you’re able to work. Research has shown kettlebell-specific routines to increase strength, strength endurance, general endurance, work capacity, balance, coordination, and agility, and to lower heart rate and blood pressure. A study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in 2010 found that, during a kettlebell snatch (a type of olympic lift) workout, subjects were burning at least 20.2 calories a minute. This is equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace, and they compared that calorie expenditure to the amount of calories burned while cross-country skiing uphill at a fast pace. With all of these possible benefits that basically cover every spectrum of fitness and athletics, why not train with kettlebells?

If you’re just getting into training and are overwhelmed by all the different machines and weight types throughout the gym, the kettlebell can be your answer to simplify things. I recently earned my StrongFirst Kettlebell Certification, which focuses on 6 lifts that can essentially be the entirety of your workout routine. You may need a couple different weights, but you can basically replace an entire gym full of equipment with just a couple of kettlebells. A national champion track and field thrower, Dan John famously said “with this kettlebell in my bedroom I can prepare for Nationals.” Form and technique are very important while using kettlebells to train, so make sure you’ve got a coach that can introduce you to the basics - as StrongFirst says: “safe execution first, perfect is a journey.” Even with light weight, just because of the nature of the exercises using this modality, you will get a large training effect.

For those athletes out there trying to up their game, this style of training will be hugely beneficial for you, as well. A big component of what makes kettlebell training transfer to sports is the relationship between relaxation and tension that is ever present. To hit a ball it’s furthest, or to throw the most powerful punch, an athlete needs both of these components at certain times. First starting loose so that they can react, then an initial tensing as they initiate the movement, followed by another relaxation period as the arm or bat flies to its target at top speed, and finally when connection has been made, tensing with everything the athlete has against his or her target. With this order, you can achieve maximum speed in the movement while backing it with power and strength. By training with kettlebells, you’re working on these same ideals, especially during the kettlebell swing which, of the main kettlebell lifts, most closely mimics this order. In the swing, you’re relaxed as you swing in the down motion, followed by tension to initiate the movement, relaxation as the bell starts to swing up, and finally achieving full tension at the top of the swing. The swing, snatch, and clean are all considered “ballistic” movements by StrongFirst and will follow this same basic principle, while the get-up, front squat, and overhead press are considered “grinds” that’ll improve the amount of tension and strength your body can achieve. Prof. Leonid Matveyev, a soviet scientist, noted that higher-level athletes could relax their muscles faster, observing an 800% difference between novice and olympic-level athletes in the speed of tension to relaxation in muscles. If you can’t relax your muscles, then they can’t hit maximum speed, which will ultimately hinder how much force you’re able to produce.

What does all of this mean? It means that any level of athlete can gain big benefits from a kettlebell workout routine, whether you’re training for a sport, competition, or just to look better. If you’re looking to mix things up - or to improve your own kettlebell skills - I suggest looking for a Strongfirst SFG certified trainer and get swinging!


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"Can I Work Out if I'm Pregnant?"

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"Can I Work Out if I'm Pregnant?"

Our co-founder, Justine Sharifi is a newly expectant mother, and you may have seen her being a total badass handling business per usual at the gym, directing the build-out of our second location, and even boxing with one of our pro boxers, RJ! I've been training her for the past few months, and I wanted to answer a few questions about exercising while pregnant for other expectant mothers.

Is it safe to exercise while pregnant?

Yes, in most cases.

You should always check with your doctor, but if you were active before being pregnant, then you should be alright to carry on with physical activity. In fact, it’s usually recommended that pregnant women do at least some form of physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day. Of course, goals will change when you’re pregnant, so it’s important to keep in mind that the focus of your exercise will need to shift from aesthetic, fat loss, etc. to your individual needs while pregnant.

What types of exercise are best?

As far as exercise selection goes, choose exercises that are:

  • Low impact (to minimize joint stress)
  • Low to moderate intensity (due to the fact that your heart rate and body temperature are already elevated from pregnancy)
  • Resistance-based, aerobic, or a mix of both.
    • A couple of notes:
      • Resistance training should focus on spine support and addressing low back pain by strengthening the hips.
      • Avoid exercises that keep you in a supine position (on your back) for long periods of time.
      •  Limit static stretching (i.e. yoga - instead, look for prenatal yoga).

Due to the changes your body’s going through, you have to take into consideration the extra stress to your body added by exercise and hormonal changes. For example, an increase in the hormone relaxin is to be expected, which is secreted to relax the ligaments down below, the uterus, and the cervix to prepare your body for child development and labor. However, the increased relaxin levels will also affect other parts of your body, such as the muscles preventing stomach acid from coming back up, which can lead to heartburn. Further, you’ll have to keep physical activity at a low to moderate intensity because your body is already stressed and working hard to create another human.  

What are the benefits of exercising as an expectant mother?

  • Stress control/relief
  • Maternal muscle strength (pelvic floor strengthening)
  • Helps with urinary inconsistency
  • Weight control (pre- to post- pregnancy)

Don’t be afraid to exercise, but don’t over-do it! Always be sure to get your doctor’s approval before starting an exercise routine. Do things that will complement this significant change to your body and to your life, and do things that will make this experience the best that it can be.


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Earn Your Carbs

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Earn Your Carbs

As much as people argue otherwise, ultimately, the most important piece of being successful in altering body composition is energy balance (i.e. how much energy do you expend relative to the amount that you intake). There are a lot of variables that alter energy balance and create some nuance in truly figuring this out, but the old adage of "move more and eat less" is basically true - assuming your goal is fat loss.

There are a ton of diets out they're preaching all kinds of food restrictions. There’s paleo, which suggests you need to eat things that we’ve been eating as a species for some arbitrarily long amount of time. You have intermittent fasting, which basically suggests you skip breakfast and eat only in a small window of time during each day (or sometimes fast for entire days). You’ve got ketogenic diets, which restrict you from eating anything that has more than an insignificant amount of carbohydrate in it. There are, of course, many many more. What do all these diets have in common? They cause you to decrease net caloric intake. Paleo causes you to ingest fewer calories by mostly consisting of foods that are very satiating and have a lower amount of processing, meaning that the thermic effect of food is higher (it’s harder for the body to digest, and thus, it takes more energy to do so). Intermittent fasting simply makes it such that you don’t ingest as much food because it’s hard to overeat in such a small eating window. Ketogenic, or low carb, dieting is the one most relevant to the topic today. It succeeds by removing a massive source of calories in our modern, plentiful diets.

Carbs get a bad rap, and for misguided reasons. I do think removing carbohydrates from your diet works for fat loss, but it’s not because carbohydrates are "bad for you." The problem is that carbohydrates, especially in some of the forms we find them today, tend to be our greatest source of empty calories. Think about the things that people overeat: pasta, rice, breads, desserts, soft drinks, etc. All of these things are primarily carbohydrate-based. In my opinion, there are a few reasons this tends to happen. First of all, we have simply been conditioned to recognize what actually amounts to several servings of carbs as being a single serving. I’m not sure how or why this has become the norm over time, but usually the amount of rice or pasta we put on our plate, or the serving size found at a restaurant, is actually several servings of carbs. Second, the type of processing carbs are subjected to means that they’re a great way to sneak in a lot of extra fat and/or sugar into a package of the same size. A great example is french fries. Potatoes are actually a very healthy food, but if you deep fry them, they absorb a huge number of extra calories from the oil. Additional processing can also reduce the thermic effect of food by “pre-digesting” some component of the food (so your body doesn’t have to expend as much energy to digest it) and can also make it less satiating (so you feel less satisfied, likely leading to overeating). Another great example is a pastry at a coffee shop. You can easily find a muffin at Starbucks in excess of 700 calories. For a small and sedentary female, that might be half the intake, or more, she needs to consume for the day to successfully lose fat. A Starbucks muffin does not keep you satiated for very long, either - the tradeoff between calorie consumption and nutritional value/satisfaction is very poor. Finally, carbs are a great vehicle for sauces, which is another large source of extra calories. In a place like SF with a great food scene, you find tons of aiolis, gravys, and cream sauces. While they may be delicious, they’re usually very calorically dense. The vehicle on which you often find these things is some form of carbohydrate.

I’m not telling you to stop eating carbs, but I do want to a propose a solution. Because these foods tend to be the most dense source of calories out there, I suggest “earning your carbs.” What I mean is this: don’t feed yourself starchy carbs unless you earn them through expending a decent amount of energy. Otherwise, stick to fruits and vegetables for carbs. So, if you go on a hike, hit the gym, walk 3 miles home from work instead of taking the train, or something along those lines, allow yourself some starchy carbs. This does two things: it only allows the most calorie-dense foods to be consumed when you balance out the other end of the energy balance equation (energy expenditure), and it promotes being more active. Do you want to stay home all day on Sunday and watch Netflix and chill with your significant other? Fine! However, you’ll be eating only protein, fruits, and veggies for the day - you didn’t do enough to earn anything more than that. Let’s flip it and say you’re traveling and hike for several hours to see a beautiful view of the town you’re visiting. Great! You expended a lot of extra energy, so go enjoy that pasta dish you’ve been wanting to try later that night. Let’s say you do something somewhere in the middle. Your day is largely sedentary, except you get in the gym and do some weight training for an hour. Alright, you weren’t totally lazy today, but you didn’t go on an epic all-day hike either. In this case, the meal after you work out can include a sensible amount of starchy carbs in it. For some kind of reference, jogging or walking a mile expends around 100 calories (This does vary pretty significantly, depending on body weight). So, in order to work off the 700 calories you consumed with that Starbucks muffin, you need to walk or jog about 7 miles. Keep that simple rule of thumb in mind next time you succumb to an impulse food purchase like that.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule. I don’t like giving people overly restrictive suggestions when it comes to cleaning up their diet. Most of the time, I think that’s a recipe for failure. However, I do think this strategy is a useful proxy for balancing energy expenditure with energy intake, hopefully helping you lose fat or maintain your weight if that’s what you want. Go forth and sensibly include delicious carbs in your diet, and I’ll catch you in the next blog!

 


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