In the midst of all the unknowns and panic-shopping that is happening surrounding this pandemic, the thing that is causing me the most anxiety is the fact that my gym closed down. I can barely bring myself to write that “I don’t want to lose my gains, bro!” It sounds so superficial. But as I analyze why that phrase represents so much to me, I feel more comfortable talking about it, and I know there are many other people who are experiencing a similar worry.
Rationally I know from previous experience (time-off from the gym post-surgery, post-injury, and post-partum) that muscle-memory is real and that any muscle I lose over a few weeks to months can be put back on in a reasonable time-frame.
But rational thought is not easy to come by in times like these. How am I going to relieve stress if I can’t lift? What if I do lose a lot of muscle mass? How are pushups and pull-ups and air-squats going to help me keep muscle on?
Realistically, as a non-binary/trans person, I experience changes to my physical body on a deeper level than most cis people would.
The main reason that I lift weights is to create a more masculine appearance for my body.
Yes, I happen to enjoy lifting for other reasons too (like, grunting and sweating is fun, and I have a thing for chalk) but what if you replaced the sentence “I’m worried I’m going to lose all my gains” with “I’m worried I’m going to start appearing as a different gender than I am”?
If a cis-male stopped lifting weights for awhile and lost some muscle mass, they would still appear as a cis-male.
When it happens to me, I start getting called “ma’am” more often, everyone defaults to she/her pronouns instead of they/them pronounds, and that triggers a new wave of dysphoria.
So, action steps are needed. I’m partially writing this post as accountability for myself but I’m hoping it will help other people in the same boat.
I don’t have a home-gym, so creativity is going to be the name of the game for the next few weeks.
Of course lifting gallon-jugs of milk or water can’t compare to the weight of heavy dumbbells, and it’s daunting to think of doing glute-bridges or hip-thrusts with whatever heavy object I can find in my house, when I’m used to loading a barbell with hundreds of pounds (bragging/not-bragging). But I’m going to do my best, because some resistance is better than none, and even though we won’t be able to do any progressive-overload to create muscle hypertrophy, we can still rely on the principles of metabolic stress (think high-rep resistance band exercises where we are shuttling lots of blood into the muscles and getting a good pump) and muscle damage (focusing on the eccentric or negative portion of an exercise can achieve this) to spark muscle growth.
This is the workout I’m going to be doing a few times this week. It’s a program of lower-body strength-based corrective exercises that I originally created for runners. The reason I thought of it for this week is that it requires the least equipment possible. There are no weights needed. If you already have a looped resistance band, that’s ideal, but most of the exercise could still be done without it so long as you are willing to be creative. You will need a sturdy chair or low table for some of the exercises. I usually offer this as a paid program, but I’m offering it as a free resource for however long this social-distancing needs to last to slow the spread of this pandemic.
The login page to access the workout (and other supporting materials) is in the white box below. You will need to click on “Protected:Gluteal edition” or “continue reading” and your password is “glutes”. Clicking lower in the white box directs you to the purchasing page for some reason.
Again, this is a free offering. If you want to view what this program/workouts offer first, you can see the summary at www.engineeringyourbody.com. And if you liked the workout program and you are financially able to support me as a small business in this time, please consider purchasing the program though that link. (All proceeds collected this month will be donated to the Trans lifeline charity in December 2020.)
I intend to keep posting workout/movement ideas for as long as gyms are closed. Gotta maintain upper-body strength too! And I’d love to hear about what’s working for you in terms of home-workouts or exercises. Please feel free to leave a comment below.
I wish I could start this review by saying that I’m typing this as I sit with the Marc Pro hooked up to my traps and shoulder blade muscles, contracting and relaxing my overworked muscles as I knock out another blog post. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to realistically find a comfortable working position while using the Marc Pro. And come to think of it, this device doesn’t really pair well with eating, conversing with other people (read: non-athletes or children who look at you like an alien is squeezing the life out of you), or performing general office activities like filing or charting. I’d really hoped I’d be able to multitask with the Marc Pro hooked up to me.
To elucidate, you are supposed to be in a comfortable, relaxed position when using the recovery tool. Their instructions caution that it won’t have the desired recovery effect if you are unable to prevent your muscles from guarding against the contractions. That is, if the electrodes are hooked up around your shoulder blades or your arms, you pretty much have to sit in a chair and do nothing for 30-60 minutes. I’ve tried eating a snack or using my phone during this time, but unless you construct an elaborate contraption to position your phone or book or whatever the exact proper focal distance from your face, you’ll be hard pressed to do too much on your phone when your whole arm is twitching rhythmically every second. I’ve tried timing my scrolling or typing so that I’m typing for one second, relaxing for one second, typing for another second, etc, but that gets unproductive and frustrating really quickly.
Eating a snack is just a joke. Unless you’re sitting on the couch with your legs out in front of you with the Marc Pro attached to your quads. That could work. But any upper-body recovery time with the device pretty much relegates you to a chair alone with your thoughts (or with the one movie you’ve propped up in front of you!) Eating while wearing the Marc Pro brings to mind an image of a toddler listening to pulsing techno music while attempting to eat food with a fork for the first time.
And for the best results for your hamstrings and calves, you are looking at a face-down position on the couch, which prevents you from really doing much else at the same time.
As for how I feel after using the Marc Pro, I feel amazing. Unicorns are fluttering around a dreamy-rainbow landscape in my muscles. I feel not-sore the next day (er, at least *less* sore). I realize soreness is totally subjective and there’s a significant possibility that a placebo effect is responsible for much of how I feel. But I can convince myself that the relentless pulsing feels like a massage and I can totally feel the lymph moving in the proper direction.
The Scientific Part:
I don’t know that I completely buy-into the descending-amplitude-wave-pattern that supposedly differentiates this machine from a cheap TENS unit. It claims to contract the muscle and then relax it slowly so that your lymph can flow out and metabolites can be cleared from the muscles. This is contrasted against a TENS unit, which just contracts and relaxes the muscle normally, blocking the pain-pathways to the brain, resulting in temporary pain relief. But the company makes it sound fancy on the website and Kelly Starett recommends it, so they got my dollars! (Actually an eBay seller who used the unit less than a dozen times and was selling his used Marc Pro for less than half of the price of a new unit got my dollars).
My Physiotherapy coursework that covered various types of muscle stimulation including interferential current, TENS machines, and Russian stimulation, never mentioned this particular type of wave-pattern and it doesn’t seem like there is a lot of information (outside of the information the MarcPro company provides) explaining how this type of waveform would actually translate to a difference in how the muscle contraction pattern allows for different recovery states.
So in summary, I’m taking off my science-based-research-hat on this one and just going off of how I’ve been feeling after using the device. I really do feel great. But I find myself seriously limited in the amount of time I can actually sit around and hook up to this machine. I’ve even tried hooking the electrodes up to my quads or glutes once I crawl into bed at night. There doesn’t seem to be any time-based contraindication to this device, so I figured if even if I fell asleep, no long term-damage would happen, and I would potentially actually be using this device to it’s fullest recovery potential. But just a heads-up, even if you manage to wrangle the electrodes and cords off your body and back onto their docking pad in the dark, you may still have a strange night. I found it wasn’t uncommon to get a few intense muscle contractions both during and after use of the device. Like intense enough to have to shut off the unit and let my muscle relax for a second. Not quite a cramp…but like it would cramp up soon. And I did have some interesting/terrifying dreams the nights I used the machine right before sleeping. For example, I woke up during the night I used the machine on my glutes, wondering why I was being stabbed in my butt with needles.
So before you purchase the device, which I do think is a nice recovery tool, I’d urge you to consider how much time you actually have to dedicate to sitting or laying around doing nothing. And also consider that there are certain recovery benefits from actually sitting around doing nothing…so how much of the recovery effect is coming from the device, and how much is coming from laying down for an hour with no work or childcare responsibilities? With all the recovery tools out there, from foam rolling and self-myofascial release work with a ball, to Voodoo flossing, to active-recovery-style walking and cycling, is the Marc Pro the right fit for your busy lifestyle?
As for me, I’m happy that I bought it, and also trying to stay optimistic that I will be able to find a few chunks of time each week to actually put it to good use.
Have you been thinking about trying a Marc Pro? What’s holding you back other than the price tag? Or have you tried one already? Post your comments below to let me know what your experience has been like so far.
The #1 reason that athletes avoid (or dislike) the bench press exercise, is shoulder pain. Specifically, a deep achy pain experienced in the front of the shoulder. There are several possible reasons for this pain, but the problem is the same: a nagging pain that occurs when you lower the bar to your chest, a pain that you need to push through, in order to raise the bar back to the start position. This eBook will review the six most common causes of shoulder pain when bench pressing, as well as discuss the appropriate treatments for each cause.
Cause #1: Too much/too soon (or simply too much volume).
Let’s start with the obvious. If your body isn’t properly adapted to a load (which occurs over time), there exists the possibility of tearing a pectoral muscle or straining one of your shoulder muscles as you attempt to bench press an inappropriate weight. This gradual increase of stress put onto the body during weightlifting is termed progressive overload. Muscle growth aka hypertrophy as well as bone, ligament, tendon, and cartilage strength are stimulated via progressive overload. Circulation and nerve connections between the brain and the involved muscles are also increased via this principle. If an athlete doesn’t build up strength slowly, overtraining can result, which can present with many symptoms including feelings of depression, fatigue, sluggishness, irritability, and a sudden decreased motivation to exercise.
Create progressive overload by increasing the weight that you lift slowly, do not jump up more than five pounds each benching day. Yes, that means busting out those wimpy 2.5 pound plates! You may feel silly putting those onto the ends of the barbell, but your patience will pay off as you make slow, steady gains. Ramping up more quickly than that is recipe for injury (not to mention frustration once you quickly hit a plateau). In terms of volume, three working sets is plenty to build strength. One or two warm-up sets with lighter weights are allowed, even encouraged, but there’s no need to do more than three heavy sets. Adding additional sets can cause acute shoulder pain during bench pressing, as well as unnecessary pain or soreness 24-48 hours later (DOMS aka Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
Periodization is one technique that can help stave off overtraining, and incorporates such methods as varying the weights of an exercise over time, allowing for adequate recovery, and mixing up the strength training program so that the athlete is not doing the same exercise too often. If the only chest exercise that you perform is the bench press, you may want to incorporate some of these principles of periodization, or work with a coach who is familiar with programming and can help you design a healthy weightlifting program.
The phrase “Terrible twos” doesn’t just apply to stormy, cranky toddlers. Too much/too soon in bench pressing can feel like a full-blown tantrum in your shoulders. Four possibilities to prevent the terrible twos include:
1. Take a few extra rest days.
2. De-load your bench pressing:
b. Vary the number of sets and the repetitions per set for less overall volume
a. After several weeks of slow steady gains, back-off 10-15% for two weeks
3. Switch up the bench press with one of the following:
a. Bodyweight or weighted pushups
b. Decline bench press
c. TRX chest presses or pushups
d. Dynamic chest work (medicine ball passes, plyometric pushups)
4. Assure proper recovery (see next section).
Cause #2: Improper recovery.
The strength and volume of a muscle are not created during bench pressing. The strenuous contractions actually break-down the muscle fibers, whereas it is the recovery time that allows for the muscle cells to repair and grow. Skeletal muscles need between 24 and 48 hours for proper recovery, which is why it is common advice to avoid performing exercises that work the same muscle group on back-to-back days.
In addition to rest, nutrition plays a critical role in muscle recovery. Eat adequate protein (especially in the one hour post-workout window) to allow the muscle fibers to repair themselves during their resting period. Animal protein sources could include eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, beef, or pork. Non-animal sources of protein usually come from dairy or grains (or questionably healthy protein powders). While some athletes feel just fine after drinking a glass of milk or eating some cottage cheese or a bowl of quinoa, others discover that they feel bloated, lethargic, or heavy after consuming those foods. There is fair evidence that grains and dairy may contribute to systemic inflammation in the body, so you may want to experiment with eliminating these foods and beverages if you suspect you are sensitive. A functional medicine specialist can help you identify which foods you might be sensitive to, and can help you develop an individual nutrition protocol that will help you recovery more optimally.
Drinking plenty of water is also important to helping your body stay hydrated during the recovery process. If you were to view this on a molecular level, the biochemical pathway that drives protein synthesis, requires the building blocks found in water, do proceed efficiently. It’s important to know that sometimes, plain water is just not enough to replenish fluids lost through exercise. This may not apply to every weightlifting session, but since most people who strength train also engage in cardiovascular activities, it is good to know that you may need to replenish your sodium stores after a sweaty workout.
Other crucial factors to muscle and joint recovery include getting enough sleep, managing your stress, and engaging in some variation of mind-body activity (yoga, meditation, tai chi etc.)
Cause #3: Improper form.
There are three big mistakes that lifters make on the bench press:
A: Elbows flared out
If you allow your elbows to flare out to your sides, you place your shoulders in a more internally rotated position. Since internal rotation under heavy load can cause shoulder impingement (experienced as pain in the front of your shoulder), you’ll want to be mindful about keeping your elbows tucked in closer to your body. They won’t actually touch your ribs, but send them in that direction. There’s actually a trick to getting this alignment correct: set your foundation first, and your shoulders will naturally be in an ideal position and you won’t have to think to hard about where your elbows are in space. Let’s look at setting a proper foundation:
B: Unstable foundation
Plant your feet on the ground. Don’t put them up on the bench, don’t lift them in the air. Just plant them firmly on the ground! Shorter than 5’6” or have short legs? Place two 45 pound plates on the ground, and then plant your feet atop the plates. You will want to use your legs to help drive the movement so you need to feel secure in your ground contact. Next thing, arch your back as much as feels comfortable; there will be space between your low back and the bench, and your glutes and shoulder blades will remain in contact with the bench.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your arms all the way back into their sockets. Having trouble picturing this? Lie on your back, and then reach your arms up so your fingertips reach for the ceiling. Now, reach two inches higher! You get this extra reach by protracting your shoulder blades. This is sometimes the position that novice weightlifters will adopt when reaching up to unrack the bar, but it is the exact opposite of proper form for the lift! From here, find proper position by keeping your arms straight, and imagining that you could drop the top of your arm bone directly into the cup of your shoulder. Finally, squeeze your rhomboid muscles to pinch your shoulder blades together underneath you. A final cue is to think about pulling the bar apart just before you lower it. That’s your bench pressing position: retracted shoulder blades and arched back. This also prevents the top of your shoulder from rolling anteriorly (forward), which would shorten the pectoralis minor muscle, creating aberrant shoulder biomechanics.
TIP #1: You will benefit from receiving a lift-off (hand-off) from a spotter so you can maintain this close-packed shoulder arrangement. If you’re lifting the bar off the supports on your own, you may need to reset your shoulder position once you get the bar steadied at the top of your lift.
TIP #2: If this shoulder set-up isn’t feeling natural to you just yet, you can practice this on a foam roller. Place it lengthwise along your spine. Plant your feet on the ground, arch your back, and then pull your shoulder blades together and feel them “wrapping” tightly around the roller. Keep your arms straight. Release the squeeze and reach up towards the ceiling, protracting your shoulder blades, and then go back and forth several times to really understand the difference between scapula protraction and scapular retraction.
C: Touching your chest on every rep
For a lift to be considered valid in a powerlifting competition, the athlete must touch the bar to their chest, and then wait for the “green light” to lift the bar off their chest. These details of judging were developed to attempt to standardize the bench press exercise and to assure that no lifter was “cheating” by bouncing the bar off their chest. There are certain sacrifices that every athlete must decide whether they are willing to endure during the pursuit of personal or team records. For most people’s anatomy and biomechanics, lowering the bar all the way to their chest, creates a dangerous position for the shoulder to press a load. Getting the bar all the way down creates some internal rotation in the shoulder as well as forward translation of the top of the arm bone in the shoulder socket.
To geek out on biomechanics for a moment: for a muscle to generate optimal force at a joint, the bones must be properly centrated, that is, their surfaces need to be in the most optimal contact. When the humerus translates forward, it throws off the centration of the joint, preventing the muscles that attach to the arm and shoulder bones from generating proper force, and placing the shoulder in a position that invites injury. The acute risks are tearing a pectoral muscle, tearing a deltoid muscle, or causing damage to the joint capsule of the shoulder.
There is a second category of risks that is lesser known. This is the cumulative effect of repetitive motions performed from a compromised shoulder position. These risks would include shoulder impingement and rotator cuff strain. There are tricks designed to lessen the distance between the top position of the bar and the lifter’s chest, such as positioning the spine in an extremely arched position, and taking an extra wide grip on the barbell. Also, for individuals with very large or barreled chests, this issue presents less of a problem.
Powerlifters who wish to set records in competitions accept these risks as part of the sport, but for the majority of gym-goers, there is no need to lower the bar all the way to the chest. Take a video of your next lift or ask a friend to watch you, and then make sure you stop when you reach a 90 degree bend at your elbows. For most people this means stopping when the bar is about an inch from the chest. Individual anatomy differs, so you will have to discover what feels best to your shoulders. If you are bench pressing solo, you can set-up a bench in a power rack with the safety supports set at a height that allows the bar to travel almost down to your chest but not quite. That extra inch not only prevents you from going too low, but also serves as a safety net if you miss a rep.
*One caveat: some people do just fine bench pressing with the bar touching the chest. That is usually because they are:
Purists/classic bodybuilders who will “push through” or ignore their pain in order to perform the exercise the way it is presented in popular media (always bar touching chest or it doesn’t count).
Flexible enough in their thoracic spine to create a large enough arch in their back such that optimal centration of the glenohumeral joint occurs right around where the bar hits their chest. Reasoning by extremes, if you could arch your back enough to raise your chest up off the bench by one foot, you wouldn’t have much distance to cover as you lowered the bar to your chest, and your shoulders would be in a good position (although some would argue that this is a recipe for back pain).
A large-chested individual. Simple geometry dictates that the bar would hit their chest earlier (higher) than it would for a smaller-chested individual.
Cause #4: Muscle imbalance.
Even with proper form and adequate recovery, if you are pushing more than you are pulling, you are setting yourself up for shoulder pain and dysfunction due to muscle imbalance between the anterior chest and shoulder muscles and the posterior shoulder and back muscles. This imbalance is often referred to as Upper Crossed Syndrome.
Make sure you are doing some version of horizontal pull for every horizontal push and likewise: one vertical pull for every vertical push.
Horizontal pull exercises
Bent over barbell rows
One arm dumbbell rows
It’s also crucial to add in at least one rotator cuff exercise each “push” day, to assure proper shoulder health.
Tuck a rolled-up hand towel into your armpit before you begin these exercises, this will keep your shoulder in the correct position. Pick one of these three options, and perform 3 sets of 15. Use very light resistance for these! Descriptions are for right shoulder rotator cuff strengthening. Reverse directions for left side.
Option 1, Cable machine:
Set the cable machine to it’s lightest setting. Stand in between the two cable stands, so that you could easily grab one with each hand. Use your right hand to reach across to grab the handle on your left. Return your body to the starting position and slowly step to your right until you feel adequate tension on the cable when your right elbow is tucked into your side at a 90* bend and your hand is facing forward.
Slowly externally rotate (pull your right hand out towards your right side) against the resistance of the cable. Slowly return your hand to the starting position. There shouldn’t be any “bicep-curl” action happening, rather your elbow should stay at 90* throughout the motion.
Now you can use that same cable for this internal rotation exercise, just position your body so you are facing the opposite way. Your starting position will be your right hand swung out to the side (remember elbow is still bent), and then you will internally rotate (pull your right hand in towards the midline) until it ends up in front of your elbow. Slowly release the tension to return to the starting position.
Option 2, Theraband tubing:
Anchor tubing securely to your left (at elbow level). Grab the end with your right hand, and proceed as you would in the cable machine option.
Option 3, Dumbbell:
Hold a light dumbbell (2 to 5 pounds) in your right hand, and then lie prone on a table with your right arm hanging off to the side and your elbow bent to 90* and supported with a small pillow or towel. Keeping your elbow stationary, raise and lower the weight in an arc from full external rotation to full internal rotation. Repeat for 3 sets of 15 arcs.
If you are experiencing any shoulder pain during bench pressing, de-load your bench pressing for a few weeks and focus on pull exercises and rotator cuff rehab. If the issue still doesn’t resolve, a sports chiropractor can help you determine the exact cause of your pain and set you in the right direction for treatment and rehab so you can get back to bench pressing pain free.
Cause #5: Joint fixation.
This isn’t the most common reason for shoulder pain when bench pressing, but when fixation (subluxation) is present in either the shoulder or the thoracic spine, restoring normal motion to the involved joint(s) brings huge relief to the painful shoulder(s). If you’ve perfected your form, allow for proper recovery, are pressing an appropriate load, and are balancing your pushing with your pulling, this may be what’s holding you back. A sports chiropractor can perform an exam to find out whether you have joint fixation, and would perform the appropriate adjustment(s) to restore the biomechanics of the area.
Cause #6: Soft tissue adhesion and/or trigger points.
Any time a muscle becomes chronically overworked or overused, it tightens up, receives decreased supply of circulation, and if left untreated, develops scar tissue (adhesion) that limits range of motion, decreases muscle firing time, and causes pain. Common muscles in the upper body that develop adhesion are the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, anterior deltoid, and the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles of the rotator cuff.
In addition to developing adhesion, muscles can also develop trigger points. Trigger points are taut, irritable bands (knots) that develop in a muscle when it is injured or overworked. Commonly a cause of joint pain, they are known to cause headaches, neck and jaw pain, low back pain, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome. They are usually sensitive to pain when compressed, and may send referred pain to other specific parts of the body.
Trigger points are slightly different than a muscle spasm. A muscle spasm is an entire muscle contracting vigorously, whereas a trigger point is a local twitch response concentrated in a small point within a muscle.
The good news is that you can generally use the same tools to address both adhesion and trigger points. If you notice any tenderness or tightness in any of these muscles, your first line of action should be self-myofascial release followed by static stretching.
Self Myofascial release (self massage) for trigger points:
Trigger point therapy can reduce the discomfort associated with trigger points. This is done by applying pressure directly to the trigger point. Find the trigger points by palpating your tissues for areas of “knots” and discomfort. Hold pressure at each trigger point for 30 seconds or until the tenderness dissipates. This technique also generally helps to breakup adhesions.
What tools should I use for treating my trigger points?
Tennis ball, hard rubber ball, racquetball
Is it time to call in a professional?
If you can’t locate the source of your pain, or repeated self-treatments aren’t lessening your pain, it’s time to call in an Active Release Techniques (ART) specialist. ART certified sports chiropractors are trained to locate the problematic muscles and treat them appropriately to reduce the adhesion and allow you to bench press without pain.
How is your bench pressing going? Continuing to hit PRs? Or experiencing nagging shoulder pain? What steps are you going to take to resolve your pain? If you have any questions please feel free to send an email to Dr. Sandy Baird at email@example.com.
Have you been prescribed manual therapy in Oakland for your injury? This article explains what’s the difference between manual therapy and massage therapy and which works best for injury?
The terms manual therapy and massage therapy get tossed around interchangably, but it can be important to really focus in on the differences so that you can best choose which is going to help you resolve an injury. From an insurance perspective (which is an influential perspective but not the only perspective), manual therapy (CPT code 97140) includes all of the following:
According to the CPT code definition for code 97140, manual therapy providers use hands-on techniques during treatment. So as you can see, massage falls under the umbrella of manual therapy, but a manual therapist can offer a wider-spectrum of therapies.
If you are in need of manual therapy in Oakland, we offer the full spectrum of hands-on therapies listed above. In addition to that, we also offer several instrument or tools assisted therapies (IASTM) to help you breakdown the tightness in your muscles and fascia to restore normal tone and function. You can book your manual therapy session on demand HERE.
You may find yourself wondering about the mechanisms of how manual therapy in Oakland works. There are no clear-cut answers, but there are several proposed mechanisms.
How manual therapy works:
Neurophysiological: Manual therapy produces an inhibitory effect on the nervous system. Releasing the built-up tightness in muscles and connective tissues changes the brain’s perception of pain by altering the pain pathways. It also relaxes the nervous system, so that your brain can make more intelligent movement choices from a calm state.
Biomechanical: Manual therapy creates short-term change in the pliability of our soft tissues, it improves range of motion, and it corrects positional faults. Muscle firing is increased because the muscle spindle’s mechanism gets reset with manual therapy, much like your buggy phone or laptop starts working properly again following a reboot.
Psychological: A manual therapy session may offer some of these benefits depending on how patients view and respond to care.
There is strong evidence in the literature to support the therapeutic use of manual therapy, including several articles showing a positive effect of manipulation/mobilization in acute low back pain. (Ann Intern Med 1992;117(7):590-598) and again in the Physical Therapy journal 1992 (Article on Efficacy of Manual Therapy). More recent articles show strong evidence that combining corrective or functional therapeutic rehab exercises with manual therapy give the best results in reducing pain and returning to activity. Kinesiotaping is also helpful to help re-activate the nervous system once it has been reset by manual therapy.
For a lot of people, myself included, once you age out of your twenties, sleep injuries are FOR REAL! Waking up with excruciating neck pain that ruins your day is no fun at all, and luckily there are some concrete steps that you can take in order to prevent the chance of that happening. In this video, I’m going to show you the two safest sleeping positions, including tips and tricks for making them the most comfortable in terms of preventing achy hips, shoulders, and necks. And then I show you a GOLDEN TIP for what to do with your head and neck ANYTIME YOU SWITCH SLEEPING POSITIONS so that you won’t wake up with that terrible neck pain anymore! Click on the image to watch the video.
Is twisting good for your back? Does it miraculously detox your internal organs as some yoga teachers claim? Or is twisting terrible for your spine as some physicians assert? Well, truthfully, the answer lies somewhere in between. Spinal rotation is one of the primary movements that the lumbar spine (low back) should be able to move through. You should also be able to bend forward (flexion), extend your spine backward (extension), and laterally bend your spine (leaning to the side) which is actually a specific type of rotation. But this video zooms in on rotation (twisting). I show you how to safely twist into a forward twist, and how to safely twist backward. I also explain why twisting while leaning forward gets such a bad rap, and what you can do to minimize your injury risk. See the full transcript below for “Safe Twisting For Your Back”.
“Hello I’m Dr. Sandy Baird from Riverstone Chiropractic here in Oakland California and today I’m going to show you how to safely twist. Now we’re gonna be twisting to the back and twisting to the front and there’s different spinal biomechanics that are involved with each one so I’m gonna break it down and show you how to do that. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about twisting your back… some people would say it’s the worst thing you can ever do for your spine, other people would say that it “detoxes” your internal organs, so I think the answer is somewhere in between those two extremes. Spinal twisting or rotation is one of the main movements that your spine needs to be able to do to promote healthy biomechanics to properly lubricate the joints and to safely move you around. So there’s flexion, which is rounding forward, there’s extension, which is arching back, there’s rotation to either side, and there’s lateral bending which is kind of a variation on rotation butI’m going to show you how to safely twist your spine when you’re going in to an extension based twist and how to safely twist your spine when you’re going into a flexion or forward based twist so stay tuned for that.To do a safe twist in a forward facing or flexion direction, what you’re gonna want to do is flex forward first and then rotate so I’m going to show you what happens if you were to rotate first and then flex… so I’m just gonna hold on here just so you can kind of see degrees of rotation… so if you were to rotate first this is about as far as I can rotate and then if I want to flex forward I get to right about there before I feel some binding and pinching through my right-sided low back. Now if I come back to this position and I flex forward first and then I take my rotation I can go a little bit further and it feels much smoother, I don’t feel any catching or binding in my back so it’s different for going into extension and I’m going to show you that next. If you want to do a twist into extension meaning your low back is going to arch back in this direction, as you twist you want to think about doing your twist first and and then adding your extension, so if I’m going to the other side we’re twisting and then extending and this is actually like a nice mobility exercise you just kind of get into the flow of twist extend come back through center, twist extend and come back to your center. If we were to do the opposite if we were to go into extension and then try to twist it doesn’t feel that great and you can actually see like I’m trying to twist as far as I can and you know I can probably like move my shoulders to get a bit more twist but my torso is not able to twist more because I’ve already maxed out the extension of my spine, so for extension rotate extend and back to center, so that’s how you safely do a twist into extension. I think a lot of the bad press about rotation and flexion meaning coming to this position and then you know you’re you’re putting your kid in your car seat and then they wiggle or kick and you fight that and oh my gosh all of a sudden your back is killing youI think that that is what gives us the bad rap like we don’t want to be holding load and then going into this position that does create a lot of pressure on the intervertebral discs in the low back, but unless you have certain very rare spinal conditions there’s nothing wrong with a bodyweight twist where you’re flexing and coming to one side it’s one of the motions your spine is designed todo and in my opinion if you don’t use your motion you lose it.”
I’m excited to announce a FREE RESOURCE for our community that I’ve been working on for the past few months. Released today! This is a picture and video-rich guide to the stretches, strengthening exercises, and mobility techniques that you can do at home to reduce the neck, shoulder, chest, and back tightness and pain that stems from wearing a binder. Take a look below and download it for free for yourself or for a friend!
For about two months as I was training for the trans bodybuilding competition, I tracked my macros very accurately, very consistently. In most cases I would plan them out so that I wouldn’t have any big surprises at the end of the day. I would input my big meals first. I’d already prepped my meals so I knew what was coming. I would put a protein shake in there, make sure my breakfast was logged accurately. And whatever else was left in there, then id do a quick scan of what I might want to eat. Maybe there’s a treat that I could fit into my macros, maybe I’m craving peanut butter, maybe I haven’t eaten fruit in awhile and our fig tree is producing, maybe we’d just bought something interesting at the grocery store. Whatever that was, I would fit that in. And then I knew that I would end up with a certain amount of calories at the end of the day. And I couldn’t get to any point at the end of the day where I wanted to eat something but realized it wouldn’t fit into my plan.
Now if you want to know the science behind nutrition timing, I would suggest you check out Jeff Nipard’s youtube channel, specifically the video he did on the post-workout anabolic window myth. This article is going to be more focused on the intuitive nature of meal timing, or listening to your body in terms of what it needs based on the activities you are asking it to perform.
So my “always plan-ahead” method was great and it worked really well. I met my goal of preparing for the bodybuilding show. But I did have a lot of anxiety or fear around the possibility of being hungry. I feel like I had to intake so many carbs and so many electrolytes (which usually have sugars built-in) to get through my intense workouts, and then I’ve got to eat enough protein right after workouts to recover properly. And I was constantly thinking “Oh my gosh, I’m just not going to have enough calories left by the end of the day”” Or “Oh no, I’m going to be hungry in between my last two meals of the day!” And for that period of time it really was an anxiety-ridden thing, but I just went with it and stuck to the plan and told myself “its going to be what its going to be” because these are the calories that are on my plan that are going to get me towards my goals.
Then during my trip to Atlanta for my bodybuilding show, I ate according to more-or-less the same rubric, but I didn’t track my macros very closely, actually I didn’t track them at all for four days. And then when I came back to town, I didn’t track but only held a loose idea of my macros in my mind. But I didn’t track. And I actually found that I wasn’t very hungry after 3 or 4pm. After I’d eaten my first and second of my three daily prepared meals (not including breakfast), I was pretty content for the rest of the afternoon. I didn’t need a lot of snacking. Sometime it would even be to the point that come 7pm, when it’s time for that last meal, I was a bit ambivalent about eating it. I mean, I did eat it, because it was in the plan! But I wasn’t that hungry at 7pm. If I had to skip a meal, I would feel fine skipping that one.
It didn’t dawn on me until after the competition, when a lot of the stress was off, I didn’t feel the need to track everything so carefully, it really did dawn on me that I wasn’t using my body physically so much in the later parts of the day. I would burn some energy treating patients, sure, my job is moderately physical, but compared to my morning workouts, I wasn’t burning nearly as much energy, and I realized that maybe it’s ok that I front load my day with my proteins and my carbs and my calories. I mean, if that’s what I need to get through my workouts and to recover from them, then why the heck not?!
So what I’m trying this month is I’m still going to plan my day out so that I meet my required calories, I’m still trying to eat at a slight deficit to get leaner, but I’m not going to worry about whether Ive eaten 70% of my calories before 2pm or not, because it probably doesn’t matter in the long run. As I understand Nippard’s summary of the post-workout anabolic window nutrition timing, the research shows that there is somebenefit in intaking protein within a thirty (or so) minute window, but not a huge benefit. And he stated that carb intake during that window was irrelevant to muscle building assuming a person had an adequate overall protein intake. Specifically, the anabolic window doesn’t open/shut as fast as a light switch flicking on/off, but there there is some benefit to intaking protein sooner rather than later. He didn’t list exact percentages of performance or recovery benefit associated with intaking protein ASAP versus a few hours later. But I honestly think I would get a 10% improvement if I could just shake the stress and the anxiety that comes with worrying about whether I had eaten a certain amount of calories by a certain hour. To feel good, to feel relaxed, to feel energized, and well fed, well fueled, well nourished. Thats where its at for me right now!
If you are looking for help setting up your own nutrition plan, please feel free to contact me. I offer customized nutrition planning to help you eat towards your goals!
A common approach to eating is to eat 80% “clean” food and 20% treats/sweets/not-so-healthy foods. It makes sense initially that this would be a less strict way of eating that could increase your long-term compliance to your diet. But upon further exploration, it turns out that it might not be the best fit for you. Let me explain.
To quantify in calories (kcal) what 80% and 20% of your daily calorie intake might look like, let’s assume that you were eating 2000kcal/day. This is a reasonable estimate for someone who is around 150-175 lbs, who exercises moderately 3-5 times a week, and who is trying to eat at a maintenance level (neither lose nor gain weight). Using this nice round number as an assumption also makes the math really easy. If you want to calculate your personal energy requirements, this “How To Calculate Your Macros” video will show you how.
Setting aside any judgement of what defines a food as “dirty” or “junky” or “clean”, I am choosing to use the words “clean” and “junk food” solely for ease-of-reading. So if you were going to eat 80% clean foods, you would be eating 1600 kcal of clean food. And since 20% of 2000 is 400, so you would be eating 400 kcal or junk food on a 2000 calorie diet. Further, we can assume that the 400 kcal is most likely going to be coming from carbohydrates (carbs) (and perhaps partially from fats) since no one is going to choose boiled chicken breast as their junk food. Since there are 4kcal/g for carbohydrates, choosing junk food such as chips, cookies, cupcakes, and sugary crackers translates to about 100g carbohydrates. (The calculation is slightly different if you were to choose ice cream or fried-foods that were more fat-laden than carb-laden.)
Now for a lot of people, 100g carbs is likely more-than-half of their daily carb totals! You can watch the above linked video that explains how to calculate your daily nutrition needs in terms of quantities of proteins, carbs, and fats if you want a refresher. So if you are trying to eat towards your goals, and you eat half of your carbs in one sitting on a big junk food snack, you are going to be left with the unfortunate struggle of trying to pack in a lot of protein into your day with very little carbs to go with it.
On top of that, for many people, eating 100g carbs at once feels pretty terrible! Your blood sugar spikes up, your body signals insulin to rush in to mitigate that sugar rush, and then since such a big dose of insulin was rushed in, you end up with low blood sugar, which can cause headaches, dizziness, wooziness, and other uncomfortable sensations.
I think a better approach is to shoot for about 10% of your daily calories coming from junk food. 10% of 2000 kcal/day is 200 kcal, and that is plenty to fit in a small cupcake, muffin, cookie, sweetened yogurt, or a small serving of ice cream. If you know that you can fit one thing like this into your diet everyday, you are less likely to binge eat everything in sight when the stress of attempting perfection for too long backfires. Try it out and let me know what you think.
Front double-biceps pose 10/6/18 Trans Bodybuilding Competition in Atlanta.
Bodybuilding. Sounds interesting. Building one’s body. Training hard in the gym and eating right. Seeing some results. Work a bit harder. Consider competing. Realize one’s options as a non-binary person are 1) Compete in stilettos and a glittery bikini or 2) Sign up for a mens competition. Neither option feels like a good fit. Get discouraged. Lose focus on weightlifting and nutrition. Feel yucky in own body. Start going to gym again and eating right. See some results. Consider competing. You can see how this becomes a frustrating and not-very-gender-affirming-cycle.
Enter Trangender (trans) bodybuilding competitions. When I saw the trailer for the film “Manmade” that was screening at this years Frameline Film Festival in the Bay Area, I was shocked! I had no idea that this type of space had opened up in the bodybuilding arena. But it was really just a passing thought in my mind that I would ever be a part of of something like that. I’d never felt like I was lean enough to be a “real” bodybuilder. But then months later, I saw a facebook post for the International Association of Trans Bodybuilders event that was coming up in Atlanta in October. I thought “yeah, maybe if I lived in Georgia I would go try that, but that would be crazy to fly in from the Oakland Bay Area just to go flex my muscles on a stage! But I couldn’t shake the idea from my mind over the next few days. I peeked into my calendar just to check whether I was free that weekend. I texted my mom to see if she happened to be available to watch our kids for a long weekend. I told her it wasn’t for certain, just considering making a trip to Georgia for what I thought at the time was a self-indulgent and frivolous reason. And sure enough my calendar was blank and my mom was free. I asked my spouse what they were doing that weekend. Hmm, they were free as well. And my brother and his family had just moved to Georgia a few months prior so I would have a place to stay and could also spend some quality time with them if I made the trip.
The cards seemed to be lining up. But I had one HUGE lingering doubt. And that is, “Would I be lean enough?” By the time I saw the event posted, I would have exactly eight weeks to prepare to step onstage. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by showing up too fluffy. I’d been making some great progress with my workouts and had been consistent with tracking my nutrition since I started working with a new personal trainer (Emmet Logan of YesBodies, they/them pronouns) in February of this year. I was generally feeling pretty great in my body, but I wanted to get leaner and continue to appear more masculine. I ran the idea by my personal trainer. A long rambling stream of words tumbled out of my mouth….”So there’s a trans powerlifting and bodybuilding competition coming up in eight weeks and I’m thinking of doing one or the other or maybe both and I know I’m not super-lean but I’m getting there and what do you think? Is it crazy or is there a chance I could be ready in time?”
My trainer gave some very thoughtful answers to my question and helped me clarify my goals in terms of focusing on the bodybuilding competition over the powerlifting competition. The main thing that I took away from our conversation was that I might as well try my best and go for it, and even if I didn’t meet all my aesthetic goals, that I would still come out of the competition knowing if it’s something I’d want to pursue further or just something that was fun and interesting for a one-time experience,
So Emmet designed an 8-week strength-training routine for me with the goals of putting on as much muscle as possible in as little time as possible and torching off as much body fat as possible while keeping me healthy and strong. It included some new (to me) tortuous techniques such as German Volume Training (10 sets of 10 reps of compound exercises at 70% of your max with only one-minute rest periods) and Muscle Flushing (Multiple drop sets that run so much blood through a muscle that you think you’re going to puke with the aim of pumping up the muscle with nutrients and stimulating growth). And then I think there was a variation of the German Volume Training thrown in there for one of the four-week cycles of muscle building. But my trainer is smart and sneaky so they didn’t call it that by name. They just wrote down the reps and sets of the exercises I needed to complete and I methodically worked through four intense weight-room workouts on my own each week and then Emmet pushed me on Fridays when I trained with them.
I experience a variety of emotions throughout this training cycle. Strong bursts of rage, anxiety, sadness, and excitement punctuated longer periods of focus and empowerment and fatigue. The first time we did German Volume Training, my quads were in shock from doing so much volume (total of all sets x reps) of front squats. They were twitching and fiery and, despite doing variations of back squats and front squats for years, I finally felt them working and growing. I swear I watched them grow a whole inch in circumference as I was driving home from the workout. But around my sixth set I’d really settled into my front squat form in a really comfortable way. I’d struggled with that particular lift before and just the repetition of having to pick the bar right back up every minute felt really amazing to lock in that form. And it was also really hard. And Emmet said something like “get into position, elbows up, and let’s go…picture yourself walking onstage!” And at that moment I just felt so much anger. I wanted to stop and rest and all the anxiety I had about whether I’d be “ready” for the competition had already melted away under the weight of the barbell and I don’t even know where the anger came from or where it was directed but I experienced anger in my quad muscles, anger in my back, anger in my blood. And I got through the set, and the emotion passed as soon as my quads were no longer under mechanical tension. I was exhausted after that workout of deadlifts and squats, but was surprised by what happened next.
Two days later, I was foam-rolling my quad muscles to try to release some of the tension and soreness that had built-up from the squats. It was painful. Really painful. Painful, but necessary. It’s the kind of pain I could push-through while keeping my leg muscles mostly relaxed and not having to hold my breath. I guess birthing a baby prepares you well for foam-rolling! So I was mentally prepared to get through this necessary evil, so that the post-workout soreness wouldn’t last more days than necessary. But just moments into rolling out my right quad, I felt that quick fiery flash of anger jabbing into my brain and electrifying my whole body. And as soon as I recognized that emotion as anger, it crashed into sadness. Waves of sorrow and sadness flooded my body with every breath. If I’d stopped foam-rolling and distracted myself by scrolling through Facebook on my phone, I think it would have rolled to a stop. But I kept going and kept breathing and kept feeling whatever this was that was coursing through me. And crying uncontrollably face down on a mat at the gym. As a healthcare provider who releases built-up tensions in people’s bodies all day long, I recognized this as trauma leaving the body. All the what-ifs and am-I-good-enoughs and do-I-look-a-certain ways that had entered my quads during the vigorous muscle building were now being processed and healed and remodeled and repaired through this self-muscle work. I tell my clients all the time that foam-rolling is good for their muscles, but I’ve never told anyone (yet) that it can be a spiritual experience if you keep breathing and lean into the discomfort.
I didn’t tell many people that I was preparing for a bodybuilding competition. I guess I was afraid that if people responded with a surprised “I didn’t know you were into that?!” then I would take that as “Wow, you don’t look like a bodybuilder” or “You don’t look very lean”. I knew I looked strong. But not necessarily lean. That was my insecurity. I wasn’t afraid of being in the spotlight on stage and forgetting my poses. I wasn’t stressed-out about wearing a sports-bra on my chest when everyone else would be bare-chested. (The sports-bra selection process was mentally-consuming because I wanted to get it perfect. Minimalist in the back to show my back muscles but not feminine or strappy, etc.) But really, my whole eight-week preparation was plagued by the worry that I wouldn’t get lean enough. I was professional-archery-competitor-accurate about weighing and measuring all my meals. I didn’t eat at a restaurant for eight weeks. I prepared an egg-white scramble with spinach every morning to eat with my gluten-free toast. In total, I shook-up sixty protein shakes in my blender bottle, one each morning to have it prepared for the day. I prepared 180 boring but not unpalatable protein-rich healthy meals in portable containers so I could eat my other meals spaced out at approximately 11am, 3pm, and then 7pm. I took my own food to a wedding. I took my own food on a camping trip. I mixed up electrolyte powders, creatine powders, BCAA concoctions stirred into pre-workout drinks, and post-workout and evening recovery supplements. Everything was very organized and dialed in. And it took a lot of my mental energy to track my macros (food intake) and check off all the boxes.
I applied a self-tanner. Oh yes, that was a whole experience just by itself. It required five coats and lots of stained towels and sheets and several patient helping hands. I am naturally a very pale person and it was shocking to see the difference a tanner made in seeing my muscle definition. I realized that I was closer to my leanness goals then I had realized. And it made me mad to realize that probably every fitness model who has every been on the front cover of a magazine had great lighting and a tan and that they don’t naturally look like they do in those pictures if you were to see them in the offseason. And so much crap is marketed towards us with the messaging that you aren’t good enough.
So I arrived to the Seven Stages Theater on a warm afternoon in Georgia. I was thankful that we didn’t have to stand around outside for too long because the sun was hot and my tanner was temporary (the top-coat layers tend to drip off when you sweat). Six of us contestants gathered and shook hands and started talking about where we were from and how we heard about the competition. I instantly felt at home with these guys. We all have many similarities in our life-stories even though we are at different points in our transitions or in our fitness journeys. I met two people at this event who had lost over 100 pounds. Two other people had competed as women (butches) earlier in their bodybuilding careers and were now reuniting to compete as men in this trans bodybuilding event. It was a friendly competition. I got some tips on how to pump-up before the show. Other guys were sharing tips on when to carb-up and how to pose.
We had a lot of waiting around time while they set-up the weigh-in area. It felt like catching up with old friends even though I’d never met these fellows before. We all had a good bonding moment when Wes (the overall winner of the competition) walked in. He strutted in wearing a bright red stringer-style tank top. His traps and lats were popping out all over the place and he looked amazing and it was so clear that none of us stood a change against him! Someone joked about trying to run off a pound to get into a lower weight class so they wouldn’t have to compete against him. Another wondered what could they quickly eat before the weigh-in so that they could move up to heavy-weight class to avoid competing against him. We greeted him not with, “Hi man, how are you?” but “How much do you weigh?” It was all in good fun and I felt very supported by this community as I dealt with the nerves of getting out there to do my posing routine.
Behind the scenes view of side triceps pose. AP photo on Ottawa Citizen webpage
The organizer and the stage/theater-manager were both very conscientious with checking in about the use of pronouns. I was also offered a choice to go onstage with the other trans-men or have my own category (non-binary gender). I opted to go onstage with the other guys because I was too nervous to go up there all by myself. No one made any comments about what I was wearing. There was a lot of general banter about top-surgeries and transition-related topics. When the time came, we were all called up onto stage by the order of our numbers (there were a total of eight contestants). The judges called for some quarter turns, which from what I can tell are called relaxed poses but you don’t look or feel very relaxed in them because you are semi-flexing and trying to remember to smile). And then they introduced each of us and had us do our favorite pose. The crowd was super-supportive and high-energy and it felt very empowering and celebratory as we went through our poses. Then we walked off stage and then came back separated by weigh-class.
Side “relaxed” pose
I had spent a lot of time debating whether I was going to try to make the lightweight class. I was really close to the cutoff of 145 pounds. After weighing over 205 at the end of my pregnancy, and then 185 after delivery, I’d gotten down to 175 by February. Between February and July I’d come down to 155 or 160. And I knew that it would be tight having only eight weeks to get to 145, so I set it as my goal and decided to see how close I was a week out from the competition before deciding if I wanted to do all the water loading and cutting and carb manipulation and sweating and spitting that can be common in weight-class competitions.
Most recent few years of my fitness journey include weighing 185 top left, 160 on the foam roller, and 147 competition day.
I was weighing in at 148 or 149 the day before I hopped on the airplane to Atlanta, so I decided that I would probably be holding water from traveling anyway and I decided not to do all that stuff and just get out there and look the best that I can and show off my hard work and not worry about weight classes. Even though moving down into the lightweight division would have meant getting a third-place trophy, I think I made the right decision to not add that extra layer of stress to my experience. I ate a bunch of jelly beans the night before as I alternated between coats of tanner and practicing my poses (which is actually more work than you might think it is to hold all those muscle contractions). I didn’t weigh or measure my meals that weekend and only loosely followed the rubric of what my meal plan had looked like the months prior.
And I felt fantastic. I felt energized. I felt masculine. I felt powerful and strong. And I had a lot of fun. Everyone’s first question to me now is “would I do this again?” And it’s a really hard question to answer. Yes I definitely would do a trans bodybuilding competition again. I felt like there was such a nice mix of body types and body fat levels and throughout this whole prep I’ve focused in on the fact that this is allowing me to redefine what bodybuilding means to me. It doesn’t have to mean sparkly swimsuits and booty poses and high heels. And it doesn’t have to mean starvation diets and extreme dehydration techniques. In every way I have been celebrating this body that I have built and it was an amazing experience to participate with a group of athletes who are also redefining and rebuilding their own bodies.
But traveling to Atlanta isn’t something that I can likely do every year. It wasn’t cheap and it took a long time to get there. On the other hand, to my knowledge, there are currently not other opportunities to compete as a non-binary person. I can still do my thing in the gym and stay on top of my nutrition, but in terms of a community event, I really hope that the IATB can grow and expand their vision and bring trans bodybuilding to the Oakland and SF Bay Area! We have a growing community of LGBT focused gyms and trainers and I would think a trans bodybuilding community would be a natural extension of that. Maybe by 2020?
Riverstone Chiropractic is conveniently located on Grand Avenue in Oakland CA. We serve patients from Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, Richmond, Walnut Creek, El Cerrito, Emeryville, San Leandro, Alameda, and surrounding cities in the bay area. Riverstone sports chiropractor Dr. Sandy Baird uses their background in athletics and massage therapy to provide their patients with effective and personalized sports medicine treatments, which include Active Release Techniques, chiropractic treatment, deep tissue massage, and rehabilitation exercises.
Riverstone Chiropractic - 3409 Grand Ave #5 Oakland California 94610 - (510) 465-2342