We’re getting into the holiday season which, for most of us, means some added stress, maybe some travel, and usually an uptick in food intake. It’s not easy coming out net zero on the scale after Thanksgiving, I know I’m certainly guilty of that. It’s the time of year to eat, drink, be merry, and share your time with loved ones. Dieting is usually back of mind with those kinds of events. However, there is one simple thing you can focus on to aid in your digestion as the food starts coming in.
At this point in your life, whether you’re a star athlete or someone who spends most of their day at a desk, you’ve probably been beaten over the head with the phrase “Sit up straight!” This saying is not only irritating, but also wildly unhelpful. Our bodies get used to the positions we put them in. Over time “sitting up straight” does nothing but put us in unsustainable postures. Now, even though the cue of sitting up straight provides zero constructive changes, it does raise a valuable point about digestion and your internal organs.
When we slouch forward, we tend to focus on how that impacts our backs and our spine. While this is important, we tend to forget that the spine and back have a direct relationship to organ function and position within your body. If I’m spending most of my day, week, month, year, or life in a slouched position, I’m not only doing a number on my spinal curve, I am also compressing and repositioning my organs which, not surprisingly, makes them less effective at doing their jobs. Imagine all the things you have do in a given day. Now imagine doing them rolled up into a little ball. Not exactly a comfortable thought right? That’s what happens to your organs when we slouch forward. Processes like adrenal function (physical and mental energy) and digestion (food and nutrient processing and elimination) are intimately affected when this happens. Now I know this blog has been an anatomical bummer up until this point, but fear not, there is a solution.
Stretching, specifically progressive emphasis stretching (PES) that we do in our studios, is a great way to improve posture, realign important joints, and aid in digestion. PES focuses on active repetitions and helps guide the body into better positions. The dynamic nature of PES invigorates processes in the digestive organs through stretches like back rotation, hip flexors, and glutes which makes digestion and your day-to-day life that much easier. It’s almost like a massage for your insides which is about as interesting as it is a disturbing mental image, but an important point, nevertheless.
Stretching is an awesome way to mitigate the pains of oversitting and the consequences that follow, either mental or physical. However, undertaking any sort of health and wellness program can be overwhelming at first, especially during the holidays. If you need some inspiration, if you need a little boost in your performance, even if you just need an hour to decompress, then we’re here to help. If you have any questions about getting started and taking control of your body, please feel free to reach out to any one of our LYMBR studios. Have a great Holiday Season!
Written by Conner Fritchley, LYMBR Master Trainer, Darien Stretch Therapist.
Dieting, for most, is often the most challenging part of any health journey. Food is delicious, especially foods that aren’t great for you. I, myself, am a huge doughnut aficionado and will gladly die on that hill. For a lot of folks, dialing in on food is the last step towards longevity, and that step is often more of a leap over jagged rocks. Remember, the whole point of longevity is sustainability, and following plans that are going to get you the greatest result long-term.
Dieting is not an ‘all or nothing’ approach. In fact, I would say that most successful diets are not like that at all. You don’t need to survive on skinless chicken breast, spinach, and egg whites. Trust me, I’ve done it, and it’s just as terrible as it sounds. Most successful diets work on the approach of portion control, and understanding which macronutrients make you the fullest. These diets usually work within the principle of adherence, which is allowing flexibility within the diet to avoid burnout and eventual departure from the diet itself. Furthermore, these plans avoid using nomenclature such as “good” or “bad” to describe foods, and use principles like energy balance (calories in, calories out) to tangibly target weight loss.
In this article we’ll outline LYMBR’s five laws of sustainable dieting for longevity. This may not be the advice you get from a nutritionist or the shredded guy at your gym. Our belief in these principles are rooted in the philosophy of health and sustainable dieting practices, not “bro-science” or elimination diets.
Rule number 1: The key to a successful diet is adherence.
One of my long-time personal training clients hit a snag in his weight loss. He had gotten as far as exercise was going to take him on its own, and he needed to dial in on his eating. He asked me what the best diet was, and if cutting out booze would help him shed a few extra pounds. I get these questions a lot, and I always respond the same way. “The best diet is the one you’re going to stick to, and if cutting out booze makes you double fist pints of ice cream, then please for the love of god, keep drinking.” Dieting is a lot of trial and error and picking the lesser of two evils. This is, in a nutshell, the essence of adherence. It doesn’t mean you’re a regular at Carl’s Jr., but it also doesn’t mean you beat yourself up for breaking your diet in a moment of weakness. Adherence is also a lot of introspection. Make sure to ask yourself if you can stick to a diet before you start. If you love pasta and bread and the diet has you on 0 grams of carbs, then that’s probably going to blow up in your face. The best diet that I have found is a “no diet” diet. Eating less of the foods you already love is a great way to start reducing the overall calories you’re consuming. Calorie surplus is why you gain weight. Simply halving your portions, you are creating a deficit which will result in weight loss.
Rule number 2: There is no such thing as a “good” food or a “bad” food.
Is a piece of cake a bad food? No. Is spinach a good food? Also, no. It’s just food. It doesn’t donate to charity and build schools. It also doesn’t rob the elderly or vandalize churches. They are inanimate objects devoid of feeling. They are not good, nor bad, they just are what they are. Despite this glaringly obvious idea, many apps, companies, and people assign negative or positive attributes to different foods. I’m sure you’ve seen zealots on either side of the aisle spouting “carbs are bad” or “trans fats are bad” which is as untrue as it is unhelpful. There are some really great studies that show this line of thinking is actually very harmful to a person’s mental health, and can result in the formation of an eating disorder. I would encourage you not to look at food as bad or good, but rather to understand the calorie breakdown of those foods. Once you understand the calorie breakdown it’s a matter of deciding whether eating that food is going to push you over your calorie threshold, or if that even matters to you. This is a more objective and cerebral approach to eating, rather than subjective and emotional.
Rule number 3: Start by eating less.
As we’ve covered throughout this article, calories make you gain weight, not carbs or fats but the overall accumulation of eating those carbs, fats, proteins, etc. I would always encourage people to eat more whole fruits and vegetables, but even by eating less volume of the foods you already love, you’re inching towards a calorie deficit. Remember, the whole idea of this article is to show you sustainable diet practices. If you jump into a weight loss journey eating a bunch of foods you hate then it probably won’t last very long. Dieting is hard enough; dieting with food you don’t even like is next to impossible. This may not address the nutritional deficiencies in your diet, but it does address the calories. Once you’ve lost some weight and you’re keeping it off eating things you enjoy, your confidence goes up, and you can start to add in extra things like exercise, fruits and veggies, and more protein.
Rule number 4: Eat a boat load of protein
The best way to diet is to eat foods that make you full. The less hungry you are, the less likely you’ll binge. The less likely you binge, the less likely you regain the weight. Protein has something called “the highest thermic effect of food” which means it helps raise your metabolic rate by 15-30% thereby helping you burn calories at a higher threshold. Protein is also typically the most “satiating”, meaning it makes you feel fuller, longer. Between these two reasons, hiking up your protein intake can be an invaluable strategy for weight loss, more specifically sustainable weight loss.
Rule number 5: Understand the difference between low calorie, and nutritious.
Do you remember that whole avocado phase? It seemed like every influencer and their grandmother was shouting from the rooftops about how good avocados were for you. Don’t get me wrong, avocados are great! Having said that, they’re extremely high in calories. Nutritious? Absolutely, unequivocally healthy. What if I’m trying to lose weight? Not so much. An avocado is 200-300 calories, which may not seem like much, but after you mix it with olive oil, throw it onto a giant piece of sourdough with butter or ricotta, and an egg, that’s an 800-900 calorie breakfast. You can have 4 eggs and 4 pieces of bacon and that won’t even touch 500 calories. So it’s extremely important to understand the difference between low calorie and nutritious. If you’re trying to eat more nutritious foods, then eating things like bananas and avocados is a great way to go. However, if you’re trying to lose weight then you need to be focusing on low calorie. Low calorie foods aren’t always nutritious, but nutritious foods aren’t always low calorie. Understanding that distinction will help you avoid what I call “The avocado toast trap”.
The last piece of advice that I would give you is to enjoy this process. Many people view dieting as restrictive and a chore. Reframe your mindset and perspective about what you’re doing. You’re not restricting yourself; you love yourself enough to create balance in your life. You’re not doing a chore; you’re taking accountability of your health so that you can be the best version of yourself for you and your loved ones. Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, pick something you’re going to stick to, and ignore the white noise around dieting. Unless you’re an elite level athlete, you don’t need a complicated, over-managed program. Eat less volume, eat more protein, and don’t keep the leash too tight. I have used this quote many times in many different articles, but it bears repeating, and I think it’s a wonderful quote to end on: “If it makes your training five percent better, but it makes you hate your life ten percent more, that’s a terrible trade off, and don’t do it.”
Written by Conner Fritchley, LYMBR Master Trainer, Darien Stretch Therapist.
Several years ago, I wrote about the dangers of early sport specialization. The article outlined 3 key factors into why, as a fitness professional, I would discourage young kids from playing a single sport for 12 months out of the year. These three key factors were a higher rate of injury, a higher rate of psychological stress, as well as a high degree of burnout. As time has progressed, a number of articles have come out warning of these very same risks. Despite the warnings, sport specialization has seen an increase in recent years, and I see the effects of it on a weekly basis at the studio. 3 years ago, I had four kids below the age of 16 on my schedule for overuse injuries from early sport specialization. This year I have close to 15. My studio has close to 30. These kids are in chronic pain. Not a stiff elbow, not a sore knee, but chronic joint pain. They are experiencing joint pain that I have only ever seen in people above the age of 45. Their range of motion is severely lacking for their age, and they are complaining of symptoms that shouldn’t manifest until their early thirties. Even on a micro level, this is alarming. As you zoom out to the rest of the country, you can see this is not isolated to Fairfield County. It’s systemic. It’s an epidemic, and nobody, I mean nobody seems to be listening. If they are, they don’t seem to grasp the severity, and short sightedness of this style of play. Rather than writing another article outlining the same things I did 3 years ago, let’s instead talk about some of the factors that may contribute to this mindset, and some of the reasons why that mindset may be inaccurate, to put it lightly.
I want to be great:
One of the biggest reasons coaches, parents, and young athletes choose to specialize is the wanton for greatness. That dream lives in every young athlete, and it’s not my job to extinguish that flame. I think every kid should do their best to live to the fullest of their athletic potential. However, there is very little data to support early sport specialization relating to elite level performance later in life. There are outliers, figure skating and gymnastics being the only two I would excuse, however data for almost all other sports does not connect the dots between early specialization and later elite performance. In fact, most high-level collegiate athletes report having played multiple sports in their youth, often starting out with a different activity than the one they later specialized in. It’s not uncommon to say that most Division I athletes did not specialize before the age of 12. Furthermore, the athletes that played more sports required less time to specialize. Most world class athletes don’t start training for their sport until later adolescence (the statistical average would be around age 15). Early athletic diversification has been shown to decrease the amount of time it takes to excel in a specific activity due to the transfer of pattern recognition from sport to sport. Athletic diversification in youth followed by specialization in later adolescence provides more enjoyment, fewer injuries, and longer participation, all of which are important for success in a chosen sport later in life. If that’s not enough, I would turn your attention to Norway. This is a country with 93% youth sport participation, where early specialization, quite literally, does not exist. The economic cost and barriers for entry are extremely low, travel teams don’t start until teenage years, and coaches do not separate the elite from the average until high school. With only 5.8 million people, Norway handily crushed our medal count with 39, compared to the United States with only 23. We would do well as coaches and parents to adopt a more Scandinavian approach to youth sports.
The Professionalization of youth sports, and the 10,000 hour rule.
There are many factors at play when it comes to the push of early specialization. One of which is most certainly money, however there are other variables such as the professionalization of youth sports, and the application of Malcolm Gladwells “10,000 hours makes a master” rule. If you’re unfamiliar with the book “Outliers” by Mr. Gladwell, then this may not make any sense to you. The book studied elite musicians and their rise to glory through ten thousand hours of practice, usually over the course of ten years. Since the release of this book many parents and coaches have latched onto this ideal and incorrectly applied it to youth sports. Obviously if you want to get good at something, you need to practice, and practice a lot. However, the exchange rate from music to athletics is not 1:1. Furthermore there is no literature to back up early specialization for elite status like it does for musicians. If that’s not enough, look at some of the most elite hockey players today. Blake Coleman, center for Calgary was an all-star soccer player in Texas. Anders Lee, left wing for the Islanders, was an all-star athlete in Minnesota. He won Gatorade player of the year for football while also lettering in baseball and hockey. Chris Kreider was another dominant soccer star in high school before lighting up the collegiate hockey circuit at BC. The mindset that 10,000 hours creates a master holds true for many things musically, where technical ability is of the utmost importance. However, this idea does not always hold true for sport, especially when you’re trying to pack 10,000 hours into the first 5 years of your participation. The other variable at play here is the professionalization of youth sports. Whenever I have a new child athlete at the studio, one of the first things I have them do is tell me about their practice and game schedules for the week. It never ceases to amaze me that these weekly commitments often exceed the child’s age in hours practiced. This goes against the advice of many of the top sports medicine doctors, who recommend never exceeding the child’s age in hours practiced until high school. They also recommend at least 3-4 months of an off season. When you focus that much on one sport at that age, injury shoots through the roof, and burnout is inevitable.
Remember, for almost all sports, specialization before puberty is not necessary to achieve elite level performance, in fact it will most likely detract from it. Most sports medicine doctors recommend exposing kids to as many sports as possible at a young age, and when it comes time to specialize, let them drive the decision-making process. A general rule of thumb is to never exceed the player’s age in hours of practice per week until high school and give them a 3-4 month off season.
Written by Conner Fritchley, LYMBR Master Trainer, Darien Stretch Therapist.
Whether you feel overworked, overloaded, or overwhelmed by personal and professional concerns, stress is probably the root of the issue. Feeling stressed at work not only is unpleasant but can negatively affect productivity. When you start to feel stress creeping up, try these four activities to manage those emotions, and optimize your performance to best reach your professional goals.
Having to sit all day at work can leave you feeling tense, stagnant, and gloomy. Instead, get up and get moving. It’s important to do some stretches from time to time to help unwind poor posture and fight against slumping at your desk. There are numerous ways poor posture can harm your health when we’re sitting in poor posture for years on end. Sub-optimal circulation, respiratory issues, and a heightened chance of injury to name a few. Why not encourage your co-workers to get active too? Try doing some group stretching with your co-workers to take a break and get in some healthy movement! This could be the start of getting your workplace conscious about wellness. Helping your workplace become more health conscious can lead to establishing regular corporate wellness sessions to help foster healthy activities at work and beyond.
Rest Your Eyes
Staring at your computer screen all day may not make you feel that great. Too much screen time can bring on computer vision syndrome causing you to feel things like sore muscles and eyestrain. Before you know it, you are so dialed in that you have been looking at your computer for hours, stressing over getting everything done. Do yourself, your eyes, and your mind a favor by allowing them to rest. It is important to take in a different view from time to time. Get up and look off in the distance, or, if you’re able to, go outside. This can help relieve some tension and prevent your eyes from feeling tired and dry. In addition, trying some eye exercises or even using a blue light screen filter may help.
If you are feeling anxious at work, it is important that you seek support. Speak with your supervisor and let them know that some assistance would be helpful, whether it be loosening up a deadline, providing you with extra hands on deck, or allowing you to take a personal day. Knowing how to talk to your boss about burn-out can be hard. However, it is better to let them know and advocate for yourself rather than have assumptions made based on your attitude or work performance. Don’t hesitate to talk to someone outside of work either. Managing work stress can be difficult, especially if it’s impacting your performance and more importantly your mental health. Seeking professional help and finding some anxiety treatments online could be highly beneficial. Addressing your concerns can help to alleviate some anxiety, shift your perspective, and create a better work-life balance.
Stress at work can come in many forms, whether it be being under pressure, at odds with a colleague, or feeling unsatisfied or unfulfilled. Stress can crop up throughout your workday. It is important to not be too reactive, and rather just pause, breathe, acknowledge the feeling, and then take a break. When you feel stressed or anxious, do something to get your mind off it and decompress. Take out your headphones and put on your favorite song, doing so can lift your mood, be motivating, and energize you to get your work done. To step it up a notch, use noise-canceling headphones, which can help you block out any frustrating and distracting background noise, and help you meditate as well. You can also try something like deep breathing during a quick desk meditation session. Close your eyes, and count to five as you inhale slowly and exhale. Doing so will slow you down if you have a racing mind or heart.
You are probably not the only one that experiences lots of stress and pressure at work. Many of your co-workers are probably feeling the same way at one time or another. Therefore, share what you know about stress management, and doing so will help to create a supportive environment and help to make your team and workplace more wellness conscious.
Out of all the injuries someone will go through in their life, there is none more prevalent and debilitating than that of a low back or spinal injury. Not only does the injury drain you of your power, strength, and mobility, it can also impact your mental wellbeing, and can be very tricky to fix.
Many diagnoses come from observing MRI scans, and if something appears “off” on the scan, it is assumed that this specific area of the body must be the source of pain. This presumption could be incorrect for many reasons. First and foremost is that disc bulges are extremely common and very often show up on MRI scans. Researchers estimate that at least one third of healthy, pain free 20-year-olds have some sort of bulging disk in their spine. Not to mention the number increases by 10% for every decade of life. This means that about half of all 40-year-olds likely have a disc bulge yet experience no back pain whatsoever.
In 2006 a group of researchers collected 200 MRI scans of individuals without any history of back pain. Those who developed severe pain during the study had new MRI’s taken and these results were compared to the original MRI’s. Shockingly, around 84 percent of these individuals who developed pain had absolutely no change in their spine from the original scan. In fact, some people even had improved markers compared to their original MRI. This study proves that abnormality in the MRI does not always correlate to that area being the root cause of pain. This is because it’s very hard to distinguish whether this is a day-old injury or one, they’ve had for 20 years.
The MRI is also a very incomplete picture of how the spine functions. Most people with back pain experience pain doing different motions. For example, one of my clients with a bulging disk had absolutely no pain when he was standing or walking. However, whenever he bent over to pick something up, he felt it almost immediately. Other clients experience pain in extension, others in rotation, others with a combination of the two. Each of these individuals require drastically different treatment plans, but the only way we would be able to see that is by having them perform these movements. This is one of the very rare cases where a picture is not worth a thousand words. It’s simply a picture, and one we really shouldn’t be placing that much emphasis on. This is not to say to completely throw away the advice of your doctor. In fact, I would argue your doctor should be the first stop along the way to help with the diagnostic portion of your treatment plan. Even if a herniated or bulging disc is not the root cause of the problem, it is still a good idea to get a breakdown of what you’re dealing with. Disc issues can transfer to facet joints in the spine and eventually lead to things like plate fractures or spondolythesis. Always make sure to keep your doctor in the loop throughout your recovery process. If you have not seen any progressions in terms of movement and pain management, or if you are experiencing incontinence (loss of feeling or numbness) in your low body or pelvic floor, it may be time to discuss surgery options with your physician.
TREATING YOUR BACK WITH MOVEMENT
So, if we want to fix our backs through movement, what can we do about it? In Physical therapy and movement-based therapies such as the ones we perform at LYMBR, we take our clients through something called a Movement Screen. Obviously, all back injuries are different, but most of them fall under the following categories.
Flexion intolerance (bending over to pick up a box)
Extension intolerance (arching your back)
Rotation with extension intolerance (Think golf swing)
Load intolerance (Think barbell squat)
Our therapists are trained to help with any of the movement maladies mentioned above. However, there are 3 things you can do that can help no matter what you’re going through.
1. First and foremost, take a look at your hips. Research has shown that rigid hips are a huge risk factor in the development of low back pain. Stiffness in the hip complex can lead to the spine moving out of neutral alignment during sport or day to day movement. Things like getting in and out of your car can become extremely painful as your tight hips result in the lower spine sustaining uneven forces as it moves into low positions. Another huge portion of the hip complex are the glutes. Many people do not have full access to their glutes due to pain in the hip complex. When we experience pain, the brain shuts down the neural drive to that particular part of the body in order to protect it. Mobility and activation exercises such as assisted hip airplanes, and glute bridges are beautiful corrective movements to help reintegrate the glutes into your biomechanics and assist in fixing back pain.
2. Once these mobility restrictions have been addressed, you can start to build in better core exercises. I emphasize better because you’re not going to be doing a thousand crunches. In fact, the only three exercises you should be worrying about are referred to as “The McGill big 3”. These exercises were developed by famous Physical Therapist and spinal reconstruction wizard Stuart McGill. These exercises are phenomenal for spinal mechanic coordination, and are amazing for those with back pain as they are performed without placing excess stress onto areas of the back that are aggravated due to injury. Start with the Cat-cow stretch and perform this for 1-2 minutes before jumping into the following three exercises. (All exercises are demonstrated below.)
McGill curl-up: do 3 sets of 5, 3, and 1 holding each rep for 8-10 seconds.
Side plank on the knees: do 3 sets of 3 holding for 10 seconds each rep.
Bird dog: Do 3 sets of 3-5 reps holding each position on each side for 10 seconds. Make sure to keep your back nice and straight and only extend from the hip and shoulder.
3. Lastly, and this is very important, stop thinking of back pain as a low back problem. Your spine is one cohesive structure, and without all parts working together, you will never be entirely pain free. Just as the hips can create pain in the low back, restrictions at your thoracic (mid-spine) can be just as problematic. Stretches such as a “prayer stretch” or the Feldenkrais shoulder and neck integrator can be extremely helpful in loosening up the mid back.
MRI’s can be extremely helpful in understanding the diagnostic breakdown of your body. However, targeting one specific area of pain based on the results of an MRI is what I would call rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. It’s a nice gesture, but this is doing very little to contribute to the solution to the current problem. Addressing the root cause of spinal dysfunction is the best way to remedy pain and promote a healthy, fully functioning body. If you are experiencing back pain, we encourage you to come into our studio for an assessment and stretch with one of our stretch therapists. Our therapists can assist in eliminating any movement and mobility restrictions and get you on the path to recovery. Below you’ll find links to all the exercises listed above, as well as an option to book a session on our website.
CAT COW: As you breathe in, arch your back and look up to the ceiling. As you breathe out round your back and drop your chin to your chest. Repeat for 5-10 breaths, do one or two times.
ASSISTED HIP AIRPLANE: Keep the leg up throughout the exercise. Open your pelvis up and hold for 2 seconds. Repeat going the opposite direction. Repeat this for 5-10 times on each leg. Do it twice.
MCGILL CURL UP: Bend one leg up, and place that same side hand underneath your low back. In this exercise imagine your head is on a scale. All you have to do is get that scale to read zero. Very slightly lift your head and hold for 10 seconds. Do this for 5 reps, 3 sets.
BIRD DOG: Hold the top position for at least 3 seconds. Do 8 reps on both sides while pulling your belly button towards your spine. Repeat 1-2 times.
PRAYER STRETCH: You can use a stationary bench or foam roller for this exercise. I prefer a stool or roller chair. Keep your weight back and extend your arms forward. Make sure to keep your weight back as you drop into the stretch or you will fall forward. Repeat for ten reps holding the bottom of the stretch for 2 seconds.
FELDENKRAIS SHOULDER AND NECK INTEGRATOR: Grab your forhead and rotate backwards, repeat this 10 times on both sides. Breathe in as you turn back. Breathe out as you turn forward.
Movement is medicine! These exercises and stretches are great to do even when you’re back is feeling really good – be proactive with your health and keep moving.
Written by Conner Fritchley, LYMBR Master Trainer, Darien Stretch Therapist.