Our founder, Michael Leger, has been an athlete for several decades as a bicyclist, runner and martial artist. He has tried a wide variety of strength and distance training techniques. What follows here is based on that experience. As with all of our educational materials, this information is intended for health professionals only.
I'm not a big fan of going to a gym for a workout, and over the years I have developed a distaste for equipment. Simpler approaches are often better, if for no other reason than being easier to use and to actually do. I ran across a book from the Dragon Door people a couple of years ago called Convict Conditioning' by Paul Wade. Yes, Paul was an actual convict and spent quite a bit of time in jail. From the quality of the book and his techniques, not to mention his strength, his time was put to good use. Paul is an advocate of body weight training - what used to be called calisthenics - and has developed a great plan to take a total novice or injured athlete from couch potato to exceptional athlete, or anywhere in between.
There are six basic movements to his plan - pushups, pullups, squats, leg raises, bridges and handstands. This list might sound intimidating to some, but his method is not. For example, his first level of pushups starts like this: Stand about a foot away from a door or wall, place your hands on the door and then do a pushup in that position. Anyone is capable of executing this pushup. Most importantly, he carefully describes the proper technique for correctly executing a pushup, from this and every other position. Paying careful attention to his descriptions, you build tendons and ligaments along with the muscle, avoiding injury and laying down a foundation for long-term health. Paul has developed a method that takes full advantage of this aspect of body weight training; by properly using the weight of your body, the tendons, ligaments and muscles involved in stabilizing your weight get exercised as fully as the main muscle groups.
This process - easy to execute method, carefully explained form, clear path to greater strength - is followed throughout the book. You or your patients can start out at zero and stop anywhere along the way that suits your strength and health goals. The only issue I have is with full squats. At this point, I do not think they are necessary. They don't occur until about mid-way through the squat exercises though, and the succeeding movements can be adapted to a half-squat format.
Convict Conditioning can be done in the comfort of home or office. The exercises require only one piece of equipment - a chinup bar, previous knowledge is unnecessary. They work. The book and exercises get my highest recommendation. -ml
Interval training - Endurance, aerobic training
One of the biggest issues most of us encounter is the amount of time available to do things we know we're 'supposed' to do, exercise being one of them for many of us. Finding methods that provide maximum benefit in a minimum amount of time can help solve the time problem, making it easier to get the job done. Interval training can be one of these methods, in particular a method called
'Peak 8' looks like it delivers on the promise. The basic idea is to get in a short warmup - 3 minutes or so - then begin the intervals. Peak 8 intervals are 20-30 seconds of maximum effort followed by 90 seconds of recovery, performed 8 times. This is followed by a 3 minute cooldown. Total training time - 20 minutes. You can choose any type of exercise you prefer that gets you to your maximum effort zone for 20-30 seconds. Bike riding, running, swimming, cross-country skiing are some easy choices.
Some people are recommending these intervals be performed 2-3 times/week. For many people that will be excessive. The most important point here is that full recovery has to happen before the next training takes place. For some people, recovery will happen in a day or two, for others in might be four or five days and in some cases, up to one week. The most important point is to be fully recovered before your next workout.
January 2012 followup:
After following the Peak 8 style of training for 3 months, I noticed the following:
- I wasn't in significantly better shape than I was when I started
- I was very tired after doing the exercise
- I was beginning to dread doing them
- My recovery from the exercise was poor
I switched to less intervals - 6 for example - and less frequent training - down to once/week - but I did not feel significantly better after making those adjustments. The big takeaway for me is that my ability to adapt to high stress is significantly compromised. I'm guessing this is likely true for many people in western society. I do not advise this type of workout for anyone who has had a significant amount of stress in their life AND who does not have an incredible ability to quickly recover from high stress.
Peak 8, Convict Conditioning, etc, etc, etc. will not work if the proper recovery from these or any other workouts is not complete. A common notion, which is being regularly dispelled, is that we get stronger from our workouts. This is incorrect. We get stronger by recovering and adapting to the stress induced during the workout. So, the perennial question is how hard should I workout and how often.
Let's answer the second question first. You should not have a hard workout unless you feel completely refreshed from your previous workouts, especially the last hard workout you had. If in doubt, leave it out. Period. For some people, full recovery from a hard workout can happen in a couple of days. That means that there would be one hard day followed by two easy days. This is the maximum anyone can tolerate and is the pattern that properly trained world-class athletes follow. For most of the rest of us, more recovery/easy days are probably necessary. Remember, workouts are a stress to the body. If your life is also stressful, the workout is an additional stressor. So, if your life is stressful, or you are in recovery from a stressful lifestyle, it is likely that you will require more easy days before your next hard workout. OK, the first question, how hard is hard enough for a hard workout? That question is well answered in this short video from Dr. Jeff Spencer. Basically, you shouldn't feel like talking. When you finish, you should feel refreshed and your heart rate should come back to normal within a few minutes. If you don't feel refreshed and your HR isn't back to normal, it was too hard. If this response to training frequently occurs, you are exercising too hard.
Remember, recovery is where strength is built.
Tao Yin, or Taoist Yoga
Tao yin, sometimes called Taoist (Daoist) yoga, is a wonderful way to release stored tension in our bodies. The contemporary version looks and feels quite similar to Hatha yoga, but the emphasis during the movements is different from most (at least most of what I have encountered) yoga forms. The foremost proponent of Tao Yin is Karin Sorvik. Karin is based in New York, but travels throughout the world teaching Tao yin and other Healing Dao practices. In case all this Tao talk is off-putting, the practices themselves are non-denominational, requiring no knowledge or previous interest in the origins of the practices.
The general idea in this practice is to "Open the tendon line." A great way to immediately grasp this concept is to do the standard western hamstring stretch from a seated position. Place your hands wherever they comfortably fall. If they touch your toes, great, if not, consciously place your hands somewhere on your lower leg. Relax and breathe into the movement. Become aware of the feeling of the stretch. It will primarily occur in the tendons of the legs, across the back, through the shoulders and into the arms. Instead of focusing on any one part that is tighter than others, focus on the feeling that is flowing through the entire stretch. There is a unity, a flow here. It can be followed along the legs, through the back, into the arms, out the hands and into the feet. That feeling is one example of the tendon line. The focus on the tendon line removes the tendency to always be doing more, or thinking that you should. There is no emphasis on more exotic stretches. The only point is to open the flow of energy through the tendon line.
The tendon line is where we store much of our tension. Tight tendons act like dams to the flow of energy throughout our bodies. As the dam builds up, cellular garbage accumulates. Tao yin (and Yoga) release the tension, allowing the body to collect the garbage. Once proper garbage collection is established, replenishing energy can return - to the area of tension and throughout the body.
Karin has an inexpensive DVD of the Tao yin form that can be found here - Tao Yin. The voiceover for the DVD is a little distracting at times, but the movements are excellent.
Introductory videos by Mantak Chia on YouTube are linked on the right.
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