Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ask a Certified Personal Trainer

Last week I took the ACSM test to become a Certified Personal Trainer. I passed, and the next day I had an interview with the Fitness Coordinator at the PSU gym so she could evaluate whether I was ready to train clients.

Turns out I am ready, and I will be training clients this upcoming term.

In the meantime, people are now coming to me for workout advice--a situation that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. "Go read a novel," I would have told them. "Give your brain a workout." But now I've discovered a dose of joy in being active and I'm looking forward to helping others find that joy, too.

Anyway, after I helped a friend out with some advice, he suggested running an "Ask the personal trainer" feature on this here blog, and kindly offered to let his question be the inaugural one.

Eric writes:
As I get older (42 now, not THAT old) ... and since I lug the 2 year-old around ... and walk around on these ultra hard hard floors in our apt. in Bangkok -- I'm finding that I am incredibly sore/stiff in generalized places, particularly my back and legs.

When I go to tie my shoes I can barely bend over sometimes and can hardly reach my shoes. (but there is not one specific place in my back/legs that's sore -- just general ultra stiffness.) AND, my feet and lower legs ache when I wake up.

So I figure this is likely just being TOTALLY out of shape -- I work from home, don't work out at all, only workout is walking places. not enough.

1-- someone said that 'core strengthening" might be a smart way to start
2-- do you recommend any general (1) stretches or (2) gym workouts (this building has an ok set of gym machines...)

Hey Eric, I'm sorry to hear about your back problems. People with toddlers often have back issues--I did.

Have you considered the Sun Salutation? It's a series of yoga poses done in sequence, many of which work on your core strength, others work on flexibility. If you did it three or so times before bed and when getting up, I bet you would start feeling better fast. Try some "cat-cows" too.

Other core exercises include push-ups and crunches and "the plank." I try to make sure to do stuff like this while I'm watching TV instead of just sitting there.

Backs are so tricksy. Statistics say that most of us will be affected by low back pain sometime during our lives. Making our backs stronger through core work and proper stretching can help make sure our back pain is fleeting, rather than chronic.


Eric said...

Here's a question for the personal trainer. your blog is about fitness over 40. Here is one phenomenon that kicks in after 40: horrible cracking noises emananting from knees, foot joints, joints in general. I always remember some john updike line where he described his knees, upon squatting, as emitting "twin rifle shots."

Can fitness lower the number of cracking noises? Do they mean anything? are they inevitable?

Miriam said...

I don't think you need to worry about it, Eric. Unless it is accompanied by pain. Then worry. When I was a little girl taking tumbling and dance lessons, the teacher would crack our backs by putting us in the bridge position, then picking us up and shaking us.

Eric said...

I've started up... no machines yet, just the two yoga things. today I just did that sun salutation several times and the cat and dog also. I sure don't look graceful. The main thing that I notice is that in stressy positions my muscles shiver hugely. I guess that's a sign of how out of shape I am. however, I definitely do feel more limber afterwards. cool.

Eric said...

Some follow-up questions about stretching:

-- I am not an experienced yoga person, but miriam has told me to try out the Sun Salutation. How long do I hold each of those 12 positions? 15 seconds? 10?

-- Also, since I don't have a yoga background: Since my goal is to help my core strength and make my back less prone to disaster, how bad is it if I do a poor job at timing my breathing as per the directions for the sun salutation? Is the breathing key to my goals, or is that peripheral? (maybe a loaded question.)

Eric said...

New Questions Part II:

1-- You say that on the leg-press machine I should tighten my glutes at the Apex. When is the apex? Is it when my legs are the furthest extended out? because, on this machine, that happens to be when there is very little resistance compared to when I first start pushing. Or, rather, is the apex when you are straining the most with your muscles?

2-- When I use the Bench Press machine and am pushing upwards and straining, I feel as if the vertebrae in my upper back are going "crickle-crickle-crick!" and then on the way down again, "crickle-crickle-crick." Is that a terrible sign, or is that somewhat common?


Miriam said...

Coincidentally, I'm reading a book on mindfulness and meditation, which, of course, wants you to learn the breathing before you progress to the exercises. For stress reduction, I think that breathing is crucial. But for your purposes, less so. Just keep working on the breathing as you go, but don't stress on it. (tee hee). As far as how long to hold each position, generally 20 seconds is considered the time at which stretching starts to give you results. So work up to there and past if you can.

I'm sorry I wasn't clear on the leg press instructions. It's not crucial to tighten your glutes, but I've been obsessed lately about giving my glutes a workout, since I think most of the things I do hit my quads more than my glutes. So don't worry about the tightening, but if you want, you could tighten up those butt cheeks when you feel your muscles are the most contracted.

Regarding your crackles, I'm more concerned with how you feel during and after than any noise you emit. That said, if it's something *you* are worried about, you might want to visit someone who could diagnose for you (like a physical therapist or a back doctor). What I've read in general is that cracking is not dangerous, but again, back health is so important, I hesitate to diagnose from half a world away.

Eric said...

A few observations as I wander like a true absent-minded, insufficiently committed newcomer into the stretches you recommended:

-- What made this really attractive to me is that you gave a tangible "package" of stretches (and also exercises) for the lazy, out-of-shape guy who has arrived at 42 and whose back has just started to rebel. From now on I will think of the sun salutation and the cat-cows as being the "starter kit" for someone like me. Part two would be the gym exercises you recommended, particularly the stability ball extensions and the stability ball crunches.

-- because my back has been "going out" frequently, my approach to these stretches and exercises has gone:
(1) do it for one or two days (usually just the stretches not the exercises.)
(2) my back goes out, maybe because of lifting the kid wrong or maybe because of too much zeal in the exercises or because of my lame desk chair and laptop computer. Therefore I take 2 days off so that I am not stretching a hurt back.
(3) I forget about it for 2 more days. Then, back to (1).

-- it occurs to me when doing the plank and a few others, that sometimes these stretches ARE exercises, which leave me spasming and sweating.

Do you remember Blue Montakhab, the SFBG intern? on his facebook page he was talking about his new bad back and sciatica. I passed on the cat cow info, and he said he started physical therapy soon.