Sunday, April 17, 2011

Single best exercise - my response to NYT article

I get this question all the time. "What's the best overall exercise people should do?" It's like people just want to do a couple exercises a day for the rest of their lives and hope to be fit.

Well there's a number of issues with doing just a couple exercises a day which include:

1) Why do people want to do just a couple exercises over and over again? Boring for your mind and your body.

2) Why are people CONSTANTLY looking for short cuts to being healthy and fit? Anything really worth having takes work.

3) Our body is complex and requires movements in all different planes of movement to optimize strength, functionality, prevent injury and build muscle tissue in every major muscle group.

No exercise specialist who takes what they do seriously likes getting asked this question. With that being said, the New York Times asked several experts, "What is the single best exercise?", and got a variety of answers.


Ask a dozen physiologists which exercise is best, and you’ll get a dozen wildly divergent replies. “Trying to choose” a single best exercise is “like trying to condense the entire field” of exercise science, said Martin Gibala, the chairman of the department of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

But when pressed, he suggested one of the foundations of old-fashioned calisthenics: the burpee, in which you drop to the ground, kick your feet out behind you, pull your feet back in and leap up as high as you can. “It builds muscles. It builds endurance.” He paused. “But it’s hard to imagine most people enjoying” an all-burpees program, “or sticking with it for long.”


“I personally think that brisk walking is far and away the single best exercise,” said Michael Joyner, M.D., a professor of anesthesiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a leading researcher in the field of endurance exercise.

As proof, he points to the work of Hiroshi Nose, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of sports medical sciences at Shinshu University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan, who has enrolled thousands of older Japanese citizens in an innovative, five-month-long program of brisk, interval-style walking (three minutes of fast walking, followed by three minutes of slower walking, repeated 10 times). The results have been striking. “Physical fitness — maximal aerobic power and thigh muscle strength — increased by about 20 percent,” Dr. Nose wrote in an e-mail, “which is sure to make you feel about 10 years younger than before training.” The walkers’ “symptoms of lifestyle-related diseases (hypertension, hyperglycemia and obesity) decreased by about 20 percent,” he added, while their depression scores dropped by half.


But let’s face it, walking holds little appeal — or physiological benefit — for anyone who already exercises. “I nominate the squat,” said Stuart Phillips, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University and an expert on the effects of resistance training on the human body. The squat “activates the body’s biggest muscles, those in the buttocks, back and legs.”


“I think, actually, that you can make a strong case for H.I.T.,” Gibala said. High-intensity interval training, or H.I.T. as it’s familiarly known among physiologists, is essentially all-interval exercise. As studied in Gibala’s lab, it involves grunting through a series of short, strenuous intervals on specialized stationary bicycles, known as Wingate ergometers. In his first experiments, riders completed 30 seconds of cycling at the highest intensity the riders could stand. After resting for four minutes, the volunteers repeated the interval several times, for a total of two to three minutes of extremely intense exercise. After two weeks, the H.I.T. riders, with less than 20 minutes of hard effort behind them, had increased their aerobic capacity as much as riders who had pedaled leisurely for more than 10 hours. Other researchers also have found that H.I.T. reduces blood-sugar levels and diabetes risk, and Gibala anticipates that it will aid in weight control, although he hasn’t studied that topic fully yet.


Of the exercises listed above, I like H.I.T. for the overall benefit however it is the least functional in terms of learning proper movement patterns if done on a stationary bike. The burpee is an issue for people who don't have good core stability. The jump back in the burpee can be too much strain on the lower back for people with weak core muscles. And walking is great but shouldn't really be counted as exercise (there's my very opinionated outlook coming out). It should just be a regular part of our lives, not counted as something 'extra' and it won't help people hang onto lean body mass especially in the upper body. Of course anything is better than nothing!

None of the exercises above talked about how important it is for people to fix postural issues and work on upper body musculature. We are evolving into hunched forward humans given the amount of time we clock at computers and in cars. It is essential that people build up back muscles to hold their bodies up. The issues from rounded shoulders and overly curves thoracic spines are numerous and can truly interfere with quality of life. The pain I've seen people suffer from in their neck and shoulders stop people from sleeping at night, prevent them from being able to pick up their kids and severely limit them from doing the simplest things in life.

So I would like to nominate the...drum roll please...


With this exercise, you will get all the benefits of a squat but also work most of the upper body musculature as well. Plus it takes total concentration and coordination to do it properly and it will get your heart rate up like in H.I.T. because your whole body is engaged. And it will help fix posture by working the posterior chain (i.e. back) and your core has to be engaged or you will fall forward.

The squat cable row involves:

Starting in a squat position with arms extended (the weight shouldn't rested on the weight stack) and then using your core to stay grounded and not allowing the weight of the cable to pull you forward, you exhale and pull the cable while straightening your legs. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement, keeping the shoulders down and squeeze your glutes and add a little kegel at the top.

If you don't quite get it, just come to a class at Urbanfitt and I'll show it to you!!!

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