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     The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2010 issue 4




Kettlebells have really been increasing in popularity recently and I frequently have people ask me questions about what I think about them.  Personally, I think kettlebell training is great and there are a lot of exercises that you can perform with them.  There have always been heavy kettlebells that are used by athletes for strength and conditioning, and now there are some lighter (and prettier) kettlebells that are starting to be used for toning and trimming in the standard group fitness classes.

The Kettlebell is a cast iron weight, which resembles a basketball with a handle.  A Russian exercise device used for more than 100 years, Kettlebells have long been a favorite in that country for those seeking a special edge in strength and endurance.

Kettlebell training is great if you belong to a club that provides them, however they are not that cheap if you were to buy a few of them for your home.  Most serious lifters that start kettlebell training will first pick up a standard 35 lb kettlebell.  The significance of this weight is in the origins of kettlebell training in which the russian lifters referred to it as 1 "pood" (16.38 Kg or 36.11 lbs).  Although you can pick up a new 35 lb kettlebell in the store for roughly $55 and be plenty happy with it, the situation still exists that you would have to run out and pick up another one (or two, or three) once you grow out of it.  Although I have posted a few plans for homemade, adjustable kettlebells in previous newsletters (1 hand, 2 hand), there is an even easier way of getting the same effective training stimulus for serious strength training!

So here's what you need:  a 50 lb bag of sand ($3.50), a heavy duty contractor trash bag or two, and a nice strong canvas duffle bag (I picked up a cheap lot of army surplus canvas tent bags that work great).  Simple enough: trash bag in the canvas bag, sand into the trash bag(s), tie it up good (duct tape optional), and close the canvas bag up (shoelace or closure).  So instead of buying a 35 lb kettlebell that I will grow out of, I made this 35 lb sandbag below that really adds a nice grip workout to my kettlebell exercises.

I love sandbags.  I probably have almost a dozen of them in my gym currently that I use for a variety of different exercises.  It may be old school, primitive, exercise equipment... but you cannot argue with the low investment and high productivity that these simple tools produce!

Here are a few pictures of some standard kettlebell exercises being performed with my 35lb bag.

So in summary, while I do believe that kettlebells are a very effective training tool, I also believe that there are alternative tools that can accomplish many of the same exercises.  If you want to invest in a kettlebell or two for your home gym, then have at it.  If not, then the kettlebag may be an option for you to mix things up!


Complex is Simple

If you're tired of enduring cardio session after cardio session to get fit, you might want to give the newest training method a try: complexes. When your main goal is to lose body fat, cardio is one of the best options to achieve results. High-intensity interval training has become the preferred method over steady-state cardio as it increases the amount of calories you burn after the session is done, allowing you to burn a greater amount of fat for the remainder of the day.

Now, however, high intensity interval training is starting to take a backseat to complex training. Don't think that complex training is just circuit training in disguise though -- with circuit training you are basically performing regular weight lifting exercises with no rest. But, with complex training you are performing whole body movements that flow together in a fashion that allows you to keep your heart rate up while also improving neuromuscular coordination.

Complex training is a type of weight lifting that is meant to replace your traditional cardio sessions. Because the body often shows adaptation to repetitive endurance activities, complexes allow you to overcome this barrier so you are consistently getting results from your workout. Additionally, because complexes are done using strength training exercises, there will be a better transfer to your lifting workouts as well.

Due to the manner in which complex training is performed you will be primarily focusing on the cardiovascular side of your conditioning, rather than the pure strength side. This means that while they are definitely a good addition to your weight training, complexes are by no means a replacement.

Training with complexes

Complex training involves a number of exercises performed in succession. During this time you will need to keep the weight exactly the same so that you can move fluidly from one exercise to the next. Because of this lack of a break period, you will increase your metabolism sufficiently so that the routine is more comparable with a high intensity interval training cardio session.

After choosing the exercises that you will perform, you will want to complete all of your specified reps for one exercise and then move to the next immediately afterward. It is not an alternating type of protocol where you would perform a squat movement, then an overhead press movement, followed by another squat movement then an overhead press and so on. Rather, you would do all of your squats, then move directly into your overhead press reps.

This type of workout is incredibly demanding on the body in terms of metabolic processes and recovery, so you will definitely need to keep that in mind. The weight you are using will need to be reduced drastically from the amount  you would normally lift, particularly as you are reaching the end of the complex series when both your muscular and nervous system are likely to be extremely fatigued. Don't try and be macho for these exercises -- less really is more when it comes to complexes.

Here are a few examples of complex exercises that you could perform.


         Bent over row

         Power clean

         Front squat

         Shoulder press

         Back squat

         Back hyperextension

         Upright row

         Reverse lunge

         Military press

         Jump squat

After you have completed each set of movements, go to the next without a pause until you are at the end of the list. Then rest for a short period of time (60 to 90 seconds) before completing the circuit again in the same fashion. Try and work your way up to completing four or five total circuits.

As you start making progress on this type of training, you can work on completing either more reps per movement, a greater number of circuits or decreasing the total time  between exercises. Do keep in mind that your goal is to not make these endurance sessions. They should be kept relatively short, so if you progress far enough that you are at about eight reps per exercise and completing six circuits, your best move then is to increase the weight slightly.

Final points to keep in mind

Keep in mind are that you should always be using familiar movements that you are comfortable with. You want the entire sequences of exercises to flow really smoothly and if you are struggling with simple execution factors, this will definitely be an obstacle.

Also, the weight that you can comfortably do on the weakest exercise should be the weight that you choose to lift for all the exercises remaining in the sequence. Because of this factor, you do not want to choose isolation exercises to use in your complex training -- such as bicep curls or tricep kickbacks -- because these smaller muscles will not be able to handle the weight you are using on the more complex lifts in the sequence. You could reduce the weight in order to accommodate these isolation exercises, but then similarly the complex ones will not be challenging enough. Your best bet is to simply stick with more compound lifting movements.

Lastly, try and use exercises that will flow naturally without you having to move into awkward positions to readjust yourself or having to change hand placement a whole lot on the bar. The less downtime you have during these complexes the better the benefits and your conditioning level will be.

the simplicity of complexes

So, next time you're on the treadmill, bike or elliptical trainer and are feeling less than enthused, consider replacing that type of training with complexes. They will take up less of your time and you will reap much greater rewards provided they are performed correctly. Just remember that these are very taxing on the body so you will need to be sure you coordinate them well with the rest of your workouts along with making sure you get enough rest between sessions. Doing complexes twice per week to start is a good recommendation and then you can adjust as you see fit over time.

Here's a link to a sandbag interval complex that I've been doing.  This 25-30 minute workout gets my heart rate up around 160 bpm towards the end and I definitely feel like I've kicked my own butt enough by the time I'm done!


Sandbag Interval Complex




Partner Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

Partner Dip

Dips have long been a favorite exercise for toning and building strong and shapely triceps.  This partner dip may look unusual, but it provides an excellent option when there is no access to appropriate equipment (or a chair).  Remember that the next time you need to get a quick pump at the beach ; )


Target:  arms and core (triceps and abdominals)

Count:  2 count

Description:  Starting position begins with one person getting into a crab position, raising up, and maintaining an isometric hold... keeping their knees completely still.  The other person places their hands on their partner's knees and extends their legs out straight.  The dips are performed by lowering down for full range of motion and extending back up.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a common, painful foot condition. Patients, and sometimes doctors often confuse the terms plantar fasciitis and heel spurs.  Plantar fasciitis refers to the syndrome of inflammation of the band of tissue that runs from the heel along the arch of the foot; a heel spur is a hook of bone that can form on the heel bone (calcaneus).  70% of patients with plantar fasciitis have been noted to have a heel spur that can be seen on X-Ray.

Who gets plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is most often seen in middle-aged men and women, but can be found in all age groups. Plantar fasciitis is diagnosed with the classic symptoms of pain well localized over the heel area of the bottom of the foot.

Plantar fasciitis is sometimes, associated with a rapid gain of weight.  Plantar fasciitis is also sometimes seen in recreational athletes, especially runners. In these athletes, it is thought that the repetitive nature of the sports causes the damage to the fibrous tissue that forms the arch of the foot.

Could something other than plantar fasciitis cause this pain?
Plantar fasciitis can be confused with a condition called tarsal tunnel syndrome. In tarsal tunnel syndrome, an important nerve in the foot, the tibial nerve, is trapped and pinched as it passes through the tarsal tunnel, a condition analogous to carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist. This may cause symptoms similar to the pain of a plantar fasciitis.  There are also other less common problems such as nerve entrapments, stress fractures, and fat pad necrosis, all of which can cause foot pain. Finally, several rheumatologic conditions can cause heel pain.  A doctor may consider testing for any of these other problems while diagnosing the issue.

Causes of Plantar Fasciitis
The most common cause of plantar fasciitis is very tight calf muscles which leads to prolonged and / or high velocity pronation of the foot. This in turn produces repetitive over-stretching of the plantar fascia leading to possible inflammation and thickening of the tendon. This strong and tight tissue contributes to maintaining the arch of the foot. It is also one of the major transmitters of weight across the foot as you walk or run. Therefore, the stress placed on the this tissue is tremendous. As the fascia thickens it looses flexibility and strength.

Some practitioners think overpronation can always be determined by the dropping and rolling in of the arch. This is not always the case. Sometimes it can only be seen with foot scans, especially if the patient has a high arched foot.

Other causes include high arch or low arch feet and other biomechanical abnormalities including oversupination which should be assessed by a podiatrist / physiotherapist / biomechanist.

Excessive walking in footwear which does not provide adequate arch support has been attributed to plantar fasciitis. In addition, overweight individuals are more at risk of developing the condition due to the excess weight impacting on the foot.

Symptoms of plantar fasciitis are typically worsened early in the morning after sleep. At that time, the arch tissue is tight and simple movements stretch the contracted tissue. As you begin to loosen the foot, the pain usually subsides, but often returns with prolonged standing or walking.

Treatment of plantar fasciitis is with short-term rest and controlling the inflammation. Here are the steps patients should take in order to cure their plantar fasciitis:

  • Rest - Avoiding the precipitating activity; for example, take a few day off jogging or prolonged standing/walking. Just resting usually helps to eliminate the most severe pain, and will allow the inflammation to begin to cool down.

  • Apply Ice Packs - Icing will help to diminish some of the symptoms and control the heel pain. Icing is especially helpful after an acute exacerbation of symptoms.

  • Exercises and Stretches - Exercises and stretches are designed to relax the tissues that surround the heel bone. Some simple exercises, performed in the morning and evening, often help patients feel better quickly.

  • Anti-Inflammatory Medications - Anti-inflammatory medications help to both control pain and decrease inflammation. Over-the-counter medications are usually sufficient, but prescription options are also available.

  • Shoe Inserts - Shoe inserts are often the key to successful treatment of plantar fasciitis. The shoe inserts often permit patients to continue their routine activities without pain.

  • Athletic Taping - A good plantar fasciitis taping technique can help the foot get the rest it needs by supporting the plantar fascia. Tape is applied in strips across the plantar fascia taking the stress off the foot which healing to take place.

  • Night Splints - Night splints are worn to keep the heel stretched out when you sleep. By doing so, the arch of the foot does not become contracted at night, and is hopefully not as painful in the morning. 

These modalities alone will cure the plantar fasciitis pain in most patients. Be forewarned that the symptoms will not resolve quickly. Most patients find relief within about three months, and over 90% within one year.

If the pain does not resolve, an injection of cortisone can decrease the inflammation of plantar fasciitis. However, many physicians do not like to inject cortisone because there are potentially serious problems with cortisone injections in the heel area. The two problems that cause concern are fat pad atrophy and plantar fascial rupture. Both of these problems occur in a very small percentage of patients, but they can cause a worsening of heel pain symptoms.

A new treatment for chronic plantar fasciitis is being investigated. This treatment, called extracorporeal shock wave therapy, or ESWT, uses energy pulses to induce microtrauma to the tissue of the plantar fascia. This microtrauma is thought to induce a tissue repair process by the body. ESWT is recommended in patients who have failed the previously mentioned treatments, and are considering surgical options. For more information on shock wave therapy treatment:

After successful treatment, how can I prevent plantar fasciitis from coming back?
To prevent the recurrence of plantar fasciitis after treatment, proper fitting footwear is essential. Many people use shoe inserts to relieve pressure over the tender area. Custom orthotics can also be made if there appears to be a problem with the mechanical structure of the foot. It is also important to continue the stretching and exercises to maintain the flexibility of the foot and prevent the plantar fasciitis pain from returning.

What if the symptoms do not resolve?
In a small number of cases (usually less than 5%), patients may not experience relief after trying the recommendations listed above. It is important that conservative treatments (such as those listed above) be performed for AT LEAST a year before considering surgery. Time is very important in curing the pain of plantar fasciitis, and insufficient treatment before surgery may subject you to potential complications of the procedure. If these treatments fail, your doctor may consider an operation to loosen the plantar fascia, called a plantar fascia release.

Because the diagnosis of plantar fasciitis can be confused with tarsal tunnel syndrome (as described earlier), most surgeons advocate performing a tarsal tunnel release (or at least a partial tarsal tunnel release) along with the plantar fascia release. This surgery is about 80% successful in relieving pain in the small group of patients who do not improve with conservative treatments.

It's Go Time!

Ah spring... now that's what I'm talking about.  Although I workout all year round, I can't say that I am a particular fan of indoor cardio.  I'd much rather go for a ride or run outside.  The change in scenery, the feel of the wind, and overall energy that the outdoors brings does quite  bit for my motivation.  In addition to motivation, the outdoors brings so many more options to choose from when planning your workouts.

If spring motivates you too, then take this opportunity to commit to some type of fitness challenge.  There are plenty of walks, runs, and rides for charity that you can register for now.  Get a friend to register with you while you're at it.  Once you make a serious commitment by registering, it will provide you with continuous motivation between now and game day.

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Exceed Your Potential!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

"You do not pay the price of success, you enjoy
the price of success

youtube of the month --> Dan Gable Inspiration
Although Dan Gable was a legendary wrestler and coach, you don't have to be a wrestler to appreciate his determination and attitude! | Personal Training | News | Tips & Tools | Fitness Stuff




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