The Latest From Top Fitness

Cupping for Athletic Performance: What is Cupping?

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The world was introduced to “cupping” as a practice in the 2016 Olympics, where the tell tale marks were easily visible on elite Olympic athletes that are using the practice to reduce pain and improve performance.  While it may have been little known to the general public, cupping has been around as a form of alternative medicine for thousands of years, traditionally practiced by acupuncturists and eastern medical practitioners, and now practiced by a number of more modern therapists including physical therapists and massage therapists.

Cupping works by using a flame to heat the air inside a glass cup, causing the air to expand.  The cup is then placed on the skin, where the air inside the cup rapidly cools and creates a vacuum with the skin, causing a pulling sensation that stretches the skin and underlying structures. 

From an Eastern perspective, the theory behind cupping is similar to the theory behind acupuncture.  It aids in the flow of chi, and helps to mechanically move energy throughout the body.  While some cupping does create bruises, similar to a hickey, not all cupping leaves marks.  The same cup placed on the right and left side, using the same pressure, might result in a mark on one side and nothing on the other.  The eastern explanation for this phenomena is either an excess of energy or a deficiency of energy.  If a bruise is created, then there was too much chi present, and it has now been drawn out to the surface where it can be cleansed by the lymphatic system.  If no bruise results, there was a deficiency in energy and the cup helped to bring the energy and circulation where it was needed.   

These days, more and more practitioners and athletes are using cupping for benefits ascribed by western medicine, ignoring the energy component all together.  In western medicine, cupping is often referred to as manual myofascial decompression.  A massage therapist uses positive pressure with their hands to improve tissue elasticity, break up adhesion and scar tissue, and release myofascial restrictions.  The same theory can be applied to cupping, but using negative pressure instead.

When cups are used by a massage therapist, they’re often placed on the skin after brief oiled warm up strokes with the hands, and then the cups are moved and manipulated over the surface of the skin, pausing where the tissues reaction to the negative pressure varies, as restrictions can be visibly seen by the therapist through the clear glass cups.

Subjectively, clients report that cupping can be quite uncomfortable during a treatment, but that after a session they’re feeling energized, with pain noticeably diminished and sometimes dramatic range of motion gains for restricted areas.  Objectively, therapists report that when range of motion for the hamstrings or runners of the upper back “reach and pull” muscles of swimmers are tested before the session, clients with substantial restrictions can observe a 10 to 15 degree increase in the range of motion after a single treatment.  Cupping is most effective for fascial conditions that are present right beneath the skin, including plantar fasciitis and illiotibial band syndrome. 

For illiotibial band syndrome, cups are placed throughout the lower extremity and the athlete is often asked to perform slow active movement to stretch the fascial structures beneath the skin and increase the effectiveness of the cups in place.  As this is generally a fascial overuse injury, cupping can be very effective at accessing those structures and treating the injury within just a few sessions.

For plantar fasciitis, superficial restrictions in the connective tissue in the foot and calf result in dysfunction and inflammation in the plantar fascia.  Those restrictions are often treated with massage, exercise and stretching, as well as braces and extended periods away from athletics.  Cupping works to break up those restrictions and adhesion, allowing freedom of movement within the foot and lower leg, meaning that athletes generally see benefits after a single session.  For plantar fasciitis, the cause can often be postural or related to poor footwear.  While cupping can be very effective if the cause is overuse and damage to the fascial structures locally in the lower leg, it will only temporarily ease pain if the cause lies deeper in the posture.    

Cupping is only now receiving attention by the western scientific community, and there are few peer reviewed studies as to its effectiveness.  Thus far randomized controlled studies have shown cupping to be an effective treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic neck pain and low back pain.   However, expect a number of studies to come forward in the next few years, as elite athletes are already anecdotally reporting substantial gains.

How to Successfully (and Permanently) Change Your Lifestyle

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Do you want to be a healthy person?

Someone who is in shape, without being on a diet or some crazy routine all of the time?

Do you want to make fitness a permanent part of your lifestyle?

Most people do. Creating a lifestyle that fitness fits into is the key to long term success.

You cannot be on a diet forever – but you can generally default to eating healthy foods. You can make working out a few times a week a habit that you enjoy and look forward to.

How do you get there?

How do you get over the hump and go from a fitness routine being something you are consciously doing, to part of who you are?

The key is to change your habits. To get to the stage where you are doing the things you need to do, without thinking about it.

No motivation or accountability is required – you just do it.

If you look at the four stages of learning, many of you will be yo-yoing between conscious competence (making yourself do the right things, following a diet, getting yourself motivated) and conscious incompetence (knowing what you should be doing, but giving up, ‘falling off the wagon’ and not maintaining it).

For long term success we need to get to the fourth stage, unconscious competence.

At this stage, doing the right thing is habitual. We do it, without having to think about it or make any particular effort. It is just part of who we are.

So how do you reach the stage of unconscious competence?

You Are Your Habits

Who you are can be defined as the actions and behaviours that you engage in. You are what you do.

When you consider that the majority of what we do is habitual and not something we consciously think about, you can say that we are our habits.

We get up, roll out of the same side of bed, eat the same breakfast, drive the same route to the office, etc.

We all have habits that define our lives, without us thinking about what we are doing.

What we want, is for fitness to become part of our habitual lives. We want to habitually go to the gym and workout. To achieve that we might habitually pack our gym bag the night before, habitually drive a different route home (via the gym) etc.

The way to create permanent change is to change our habits. To maximize our chances of being successful we should aim to change one habit at a time.

Trying to overhaul everything is overwhelming and most people fail in their fitness goals because what they are trying to do is too far away from what they are normally doing. They’re trying to change far too many habits at once.

Willpower and desire will work for a while, but not forever. If you’re trying to change too many things it will become overwhelming and you will never enjoy it.

The fact is, our habits are our comfort zone. It’s important that we are getting out of our comfort zone to make progress, but not so far out of it that we are constantly uncomfortable. That is a recipe for giving up and going right back to our old habits that keep us firmly inside our comfort zone.

Playing Dominos

Certain habits are more important to change than others. Certain habits are a trigger that lead to multiple other actions. If you can change these base habits, it can set off a cascade of other behaviours that we want to create.

For example, changing the food you put on a grocery list is more effective than making a decision every time you are going to eat about whether you should eat healthy or not.

If you only buy healthy foods in the first place, you don’t have much option.

This will conserve your willpower and avoid the temptation of junk food all together. Much easier to maintain than making a decision 3-4 times per day, every day, about what to eat.

When we’re stressed, tired, rushed, etc. it’s all too easy to fall back into the wrong decision in the moment.

By changing our grocery list and only buying healthy foods, we have completely eliminated that problem with one simple habit.

This is how you should approach all of the habits and behaviours you wish to change. Peel it back to the base habit that underpins everything which follows.

Changing this one thing can create a domino effect that leads to changing many other things which follow.

This is the secret to taking small, simple actions which create big changes. It is leveraging the odds in your favour.

This is the secret to successfully changing your lifestyle.

Do it in little steps; making changes to the few key habits that have a trickledown effect on everything else. Trying to change too many things at once will always lead to overwhelm, burnout and going right back to your old habits.

Spin Class 101

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In recent years, spin classes have taken off as one of the most popular workout classes out there. People swear by spin, SoulCycle, and many other variations of indoor cycling. If you’d like to try spin but aren’t sure what exactly to expect, here is everything you need to know.

What is Spin?

Spinning is done on a special stationary spinning bike. You can control the resistance on the bike and difficultly level of the class from your seat. Spin is more than just riding a stationary bike. An instructor walks you through a full body workout on the bike. Many classes also use fun lighting and upbeat music.

Where To Spin

There are spin-specific studios, such as SoulCycle, that focus primarily on spin. Many standard gyms now also offer spin as a part of their regular class schedules. Space is limited to the number of bikes in the room, so you typically have to sign up in advance or get there very early. Even if you do sign up online, you need to get there at least ten minutes early to get set up. Some places will give away your seat if you aren’t there five minutes before class time.

Equipment

While some people may wear special cycling clothes or shoes, it’s not at all necessary. As long as you wear a shirt, pants and sneakers that you’re comfortable working out in, you’ll be fine. Some women find leggings more comfortable than shorts. The facility will provide the bike and any weights. You will want to bring a sweat towel and a water bottle.

Terminology

There are a few basic spinning terms you should get familiar with. The saddle is your seat. Resistance is like gears on a bike—it affects how hard you’ll need to pedal to move the wheel. Positions refer to where to place your hands on the handlebar. There are three—one is at the base, two is on the outside, and three is at the top of the handlebars. Flat is riding at a steady pace. A climb uses an increase is resistance to mimic riding uphill. A sprint is riding as fast as you can. “Jumps” on the bike take you from a seated to a standing position.

Class Types

There are a few basic types of spin classes. An endurance class works gradually uphill to improve stamina. In interval rides, you’ll do periods of hard work followed by periods of rest. A strength class uses higher resistance and a lot of hills to help build muscles in your legs. Other classes may incorporate hand weights and core work.

Setting Up

You need to get there early to set up your stationary bike. Like with a regular bicycle, the seat height, handlebar height and handlebar distance need to be tailored to you. The seat should come up to about hip height while standing. You should be able to mostly extend your legs with a slight bend in your knees while seated. Ask the instructor to help you the first few times you go.

Safety

Always follow whatever your instructor is telling you to do. If you feel faint or dizzy, slow down and lower the resistance. Drink water throughout. Let the instructor know if you any existing injuries or conditions they should know about that might affect your ride.

Anti-Resolutions: 6 Things to Stop Doing in 2017

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New Years Resolutions FitnessAs it’s January and people like to start and stop new habits for their New Year’s resolutions, I thought I would list a few bad fitness habits that we should all stop doing.

These are things that will hinder your results, leave you frustrated, or just flat out annoy everyone around you.

1. Stop comparing yourself to your favorite Instagram Selfie Guru

Here’s some home truths that will hopefully make you feel a bit better about your current physique.

– These people are professionals. It is literally their job to go to the gym and be in shape. They don’t work long hours in stressful offices, have screaming kids waking them up, or attend dinner parties full of rich food.

– Half of the girls have had plastic surgery and a lot of the guys are on steroids. No amount of training or discipline will catch up to that.

– They’re probably not happy. People in the fitness industry are some of the most insecure people around. When you define yourself and your value solely on your body, it is very easy to feel bad when you’re a bit bloated, your muscles look flat, or that cute chick in the gym didn’t check your biceps out.

– This amazing lifestyle and perfect photo? They got dressed up and did their makeup, simply to take the photo. They can’t actually afford to be there. They took 300 photos and scuttled home to choose the best one to see the light of day on Instagram.

2. Stop doing cardio before lifting

You do not ‘burn fat and then tone up’. That is not a thing. You burn fat by manipulating your metabolism. The best way to do this? Lift weights.

Doing cardio is just wasting energy (physical and mental) that will detract from your proper workout. Do cardio after lifting, or separately.

3. Stop eating dry chicken and soggy broccoli

You can get in shape without being this strict. In fact, you can get in shape without being utterly miserable at all!

You should eat clean, but there’s clean and then there is just stupid. Frankly, being too strict and one-dimensional isn’t healthy anyway. You’re missing out variety in your diet to get a full complement of nutrients.

Not to mention there is a 100% chance that you will binge eat on the weekend if you’re too strict during the week. You know this happens, and you know that you eat about 5000 calories in 2 hours on a Saturday night. Why not just split an extra 2000 calories over the week, enjoy your food a little, and not have the binge?

Bonus! You’re much nicer to be around when you will eat normal food. You can eat with family and friends, go to a restaurant or grab lunch on the go without flipping out. Trust me, I’ve fallen into this trap. People like you more when you have some degree of normality to your eating habits.

4. Stop leaving your weights all over the floor

If everyone put all of their weights away, they would all be 3.6% lower body fat from exerting all that additional energy.

Seriously, it’s not hard to put your weights back. I know it frustrates you when you can’t find the second of a pair of dumbbells because it’s scattered on the floor somewhere in a far flung corner of the gym. Why do that to other people?

It’s disrespectful to the gym and everyone else who uses it. You will always find that the biggest, strongest, most experienced guys are respectful of their surroundings and keep the place tidy. Maybe there’s a lesson there?

5. Stop looking for validation on social media

Here’s a novel concept. You can go to the gym…without checking in to tell everyone on social media that you are going to the gym.

I promise you, it still works. Your body doesn’t revolt at lack of social validation and refuse to grow fitter.

Really, why are you going to the gym? I’m sure you started because you want to make some internal changes to your body, your mindset and the way you perceive yourself. Don’t lose sight of that and just go through the motions to be someone who ‘works out’ but never gets anywhere because it’s just for show.

Real validation will come naturally, when you’re in great shape. People can’t help but look at you, give you respect and desire you. You don’t need to tell everyone you go to the gym. It is immediately obvious, just by looking at you.

6. Stop making excuses

You can make excuses or you can make progress. Choose one.

You must play the cards that you are dealt and make the best of the situation.

If you’re busy, someone else is busier than you and still putting work in at the gym.

If you’re naturally skinny/fat and fighting your genetics, someone else is genetically worse off than you and still putting work in at the gym.

If you’re intimidated, someone else is more intimidated and still putting work in at the gym.

Etc.

Realign with why you want to workout in the first place and find a way to make it work. it might not be perfect. Results might be slow and you might have to work twice as hard as the next person for the same outcome. So what? You can do the work and achieve something, or you can stay exactly where you are right now. Which do you choose?

I don’t usually do negative-oriented posts, so I thought I would mix it up with a little rant. These are some pet-peeves of mine, some as a fitness professional and some just as an avid gym user.

I get to experience gym culture on both sides – being and interacting with people who love the gym and see it as a core part of their identity, and also helping people who don’t like the gym, are unhappy with their body and desperately want to change it. I can empathize with each.

If everyone stopped doing these 6 things, I think we would all be a lot better off.

How to Get the Most Out of a Workout Class

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Joining a workout class is a great way to exercise. You’ll meet new people who share your interests. You’ll have an instructor and coach who can provide direction and help you with your form. Many people are also more likely to push themselves in a class than they would exercising on their own. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your workout class.

 

Commit

If you find a workout class you like, commit to going at least once a week, but preferably more. Once you choose one, pencil it in like an important meeting or a doctor’s appointment. When you go regularly, you’ll be able to see your progress over the weeks and months.

 

Find A Friend

It’s less intimidating and more fun if you work out with a friend. A workout buddy can hold you accountable to coming to class when you’d rather be on the couch eating ice cream. Plus, you can turn the class into a little friendly competition. Find something each week to play—a pushup contest, spin distance or balance challenge. Loser buys smoothies! If you think you don’t have time, replace a weekly friend dinner or wine night with a weekly barre or spin class. You wallet and your waistline will thank you if you replace happy hour with gym time.

 

Set Goals

A workout class is just like any other exercise routine. Instead of going and blindly following along each week, set goals for yourself within the class. If you go to a strength building class and use five-pound weights, make it a goal to increase to eight-pound weights by the end of the year. If you do yoga, make a commitment to master a challenging pose. That way you have something to work toward and the class won’t get too easy and boring.

 

Get to Know the Instructor

Don’t just show up right before class and leave immediately after. Try getting there a little earlier to talk to the instructor. They’re there to help people work out and get in shape, so share your fitness goals and talk about how you can use the class to help you reach them. You may find that they’ll tweak their class a bit to help you build shoulder strength or do a headstand. If you have any fears or worries, an instructor can help ease them. Always let them know if you have any preexisting injuries or limitations. They can offer modifications if you need them.

 

Switch It Up

Instead of going to the exact same class with the same instructor every time, try switching up the instructor or class style. If you practice yoga, don’t just go to hot or power classes all the time. There are many different styles of yoga that do different things for your body. At body toning classes, different instructors will focus on different areas—some will work legs while others will put a heavy emphasis on core.

 

Have Fun

If you hate the class, you’ll probably end up quitting. Don’t force yourself into spin every week just because you think it’s the “best” workout. The best workout is whatever one you’ll stick with! If you want to do Zumba or water aerobics, so for it!