What your “miracle cure” may be missing

jesus carbs


I saw this Jesus meme the other day and, well, yes!

First let me say that I believe that prayer is an essential and worthwhile endeavor. In one way or another, prayer is powerful. Prayer is not a substitute for action. I don’t think we’re supposed to be able to pin down exactly how the whole thing works. Followers of Jesus are called to pray and that is enough for me.

The other half of the coin holds statistics on the many health issues that are due to numerous small choices that add up over many years. What I’m referring to is what researchers call “modifiable behavioral risk factors.”. Please do not read this to imply that ALL health problems are within our control, or due to something that we did or did not do.

Praying for healing is never a bad thing. But we should remember that in many cases, it’s probably not in our best interest to be bailed out of the consequences of years of neglect, imbalance, misuse, and abuse of our bodies.

Or, to put another spin on it…

Maybe Jesus is using that diabetic neuropathy or high cholesterol to show the true value of temperance and exercise, and for you to witness the boost in self confidence and rekindled physical ability that goes with that. Taking some medicine may be necessary. But this alone is not the full dose of proper treatment.

Maybe the Lord is working through that sore lower back to show you the joy of getting up and outside more. To be manipulated or medicated or injected would cause you to miss out on the fresh air and margin in your schedule that you desperately need. These treatments are sometimes necessary, but should not be the first or only intervention. A quick fix on the table and then back to the same postures, movement patterns, and schedule is missing the full dose.

Maybe the Lord is using (my) arthritic hip to show the need for moderation, a nudge toward focusing my skill set and interests to the benefit of others. To not have this would be to miss out on genuine empathy and understanding of what others are feeling and facing in their lives, whether or not their problem is self imposed. It would be negligent to hold on to the hard lessons acquired through experience.

– – – – – – –

A conversation between Master Shifu and Grand Master Oogway:

“Master Shifu, there are no aOogwayAscendsccidents.”

“Yes, I know. You said that already. Twice.”

“Well, that was no accident either.”


– – – – – – – –

Miracle cures are usually geared toward individual health problems. But these problems are  experienced by entire “whole” people who would benefit most from a more comprehensive cure. In most cases, would God not desire us to get the full dose?

Or maybe a partial fix or no fix at all is in store, to make room for a more important lesson. Even in the cold, unfeeling face of what seems to be pointless suffering…by faith I believe there is a beneficial end, even when we cannot immediately see it.

May we pray differently and rethink what should be labeled miraculous. May we catch a ray of sunlight on a cold day in February.

Core exercises do (not) make great abs

The question…

What exercises should you be doing to get a decent set of abs?

Most people are asking for a super effective and advanced plank, leg raise, or crunch, wiggling the torso in this way or that. They’re usually surprised when I encourage them to work on building their push, pull, squat and lunge patterns with good form. Developing your abs has less to do with traditional abdominal exercise and more to do with total body strength.

The core is the center of gravity where movement begins, comprised of the bones and muscles attached to the pelvis, rib cage, and spinal column. Studies like this one (example) have shown that a relatively heavy set of standing overhead shoulder presses demands far more from the abdominal muscles than does traditional seated crunch or pointer dog exercises. If you really want to work the core, do some variation of plyometrics and especially relatively heavy unilateral (working on arm or leg at at time) free weight exercises. The core muscles must work intensely to stabilize the rotational forces that result when working one arm or leg at a time.

Iron irony…

Becoming a an all-over strong person usually requires a fairly prolonged period of consistent strength training. Being able to maximally benefit from and tolerate a relatively intense resistance training program over weeks and months requires that you exercise with good -quality- to your movement patterns. Some traditional core exercises are helpful for gaining range of motion, stability, or motor control necessary to establish good quality movement patterns before going heavy with your training.  Therefore, traditional core exercises do have value, just not in the way that most people assume.

Now, having VISIBLE abs is a related but somewhat different topic. Here we must go beyond the topic of core-building exercises and address the life of a person more holistically.

Quick videIMG_1441o of an actual busy, pale, 41-year old dad, just AFTER the holidays, provides evidence that you don’t need to waste time with a lot of (traditional) core exercises.

I mean, this is day 14 of my 2018 detox so buy my product and program ; )

Important factors in having VISIBLE abs include…

  1. Genetics. Some people are predisposed to building/growing/gaining, and others to staying lean. I have personally witness how some fit, high-performing athletes must exercise twice the discipline in their training and diet to see half the results show up in their mid section. Others seem to be naturally lean without a whole lot of extra effort. These are the folks that have a hard time gaining size and strength when they want to.
  2. Diet. You absolutely can out-exercise a poor diet. But not for long. Developing healthy habits and doing the basics well over the long-term is far more important than specific diets and ingredients. Common-sense, non-strict dietary habits in combination with reasonable exercise that causes you to carry some muscle may not get you to 3% body fat, but it will carry you far.
  3. Overall activity level.  I work on my feet for most of the day, moving with variety and relatively low intensity. I have house- and yard work, play with the kids, and have difficulty sitting still. I give myself no mental “credit” toward a bigger desert for being active. The many people who sit for the majority of the day may benefit more from sustained cardio. Of course, you could always find manual work to do around the home or community. An hour of coaching soccer or picking up trash along the road burns far more calories than your 7-minute ab routine.
  4. Muscle mass. Most people are unaware that carrying muscle all of the body helps the abs in at least two ways. The abs are “worked” when they are required to counteract and stabilize the strong hip and lower back movements. A well developed back side literally fills up your skin and pulls it tight around the abdominal area.

Relatively unimportant factors include lots of sustained cardio, epic high-intensity brain and body frying workouts, special restrictive diets, and special secret ab exercises.

Seven Common Assumptions Holding You Back

Futurama-FryAuthor and speaker Dan John recently wrote a brief essay encouraging individuals to question their assumptions when it comes to health and fitness. He calls these “Givens” the things that we don’t even notice yet have a huge impact on our daily lives. We all carry assumptions in this regard. I have them and often come across them as my clients physical therapy clients describe their health and fitness wins and losses.

Of course, our assumptions may or may not be true. We should definitely take inventory and question them. Here are a few that I either frequently confront or are simply matters near and dear.

  1. “So I figured that more stretching can only help.” 

You would be surprised at how many people turn a mild muscle strain into a chronic nagging injury by repeatedly and indiscriminately stretching it. With lower back and neck pain, stretching the wrong direction often provokes the pain or radiculopathy (pinched nerve). We should not wonder why the numb irritation in the arm or leg persists. They speak about why their essential oils and glucosamine supplement regimen is not working while doing neck rolls or flexing toward their toes, reinforcing the poor static alignment and movement dysfunctions that got them into trouble in the first place.

2. “I’m out of shape and need to get back to the gym.” 

Many busy adults run into this assumption when they have to balance late nights and early mornings with hectic days at work and hauling kids around. The resolution lasts for three months and soon becomes impractical. If the environment of a traditional big gym helps you stay on track, then get there. But the most often cited barriers for a consistent, long-term exercise program are time and cost.  Investing in some know-how, creativity, and basic fitness gear pays great dividends. Most people who train in or around the home benefit greatly from a bringing a training partner or small community on the journey with them.

3. “I need to take yoga in order to become more flexible – or – …to work out this pain.” 

Let me first repeat that I’m not against yoga. Yoga can be helpful, at times, when practiced well. But just like anything else, it has limits. Not all aches and pains are due to inflexibility. Hypermobility (too much flexibility) is often the cause of pain or sub-optimal performance. Some perceived stiffness/tightness issues have nothing to do with inadequate muscle length or joint range of motion. And when muscle or joint stiffness truly is the problem, most of us will habitually move around the restricted areas.  Unless you have outstanding body awareness and cues to pay attention, yoga can exacerbate this taking the path of least resistance.  A good yoga instructor will detect issues and guide you here.

4. “I need to detox after eating all that junk over the holidays…” 

I’ve read that those interested in weight loss need to focus on learning how to eat, not being told what to eat. If your detox means valuing the rhythm of work, rest, and food, eating mostly unprocessed foods and getting colorful vegetables most of the time, then yeah…have a detox. But the detox  that appeals to most people (for some reason) usually means short term gimmicky cleanses and weird special foods combined in a blender. Weight loss is more about behavior change than special foods or ingredients. Also, leading an active lifestyle and carrying muscle on your frame provides plenty of margin for an imperfect diet without paying for it in the mid section or blood lipid levels.

So make sure your detox includes plenty of iron!

Recommended reading: Detoxes – An Undefined Scam 

5. “I need to hit that ab routine to work on the core.” 

Most people understand that “spot reduction” is a myth. Activities that improve overall muscle size/ tone and lessen body fat are far more effective than pummeling one part of the body, like doing 400 crunches or leg raise variations for the abs. Here I want to take that idea a step further. You probably don’t need an entire ab routine. In therapy, we use “core” exercises like bird dogs, planks, and various leg raises in order to work on fine-tuning motor control and alignment.  Some of these are worthwhile as part of an overall sports performance training routine. But an entire hour of them, without getting on your feet is…suboptimal.

Disclaimer: I’ve never taken an actual Pilates class. But I’ve seen them and read about them in both peer reviewed literature and general fitness entries. If you love Pilates and it’s that or nothing, by all mean, do Pilates. But for athletes (anyone who functions on two legs moving their body and objects against gravity), I think the benefit is limited. Quite honestly – I’ve seen too many Pilates fans who can barely control their pelvis in the frontal plane (not tilt) during a step-up. I’ve seen too many Yoga gurus who cannot do a single push up with a good, neutral core.

Core exercises done as “prehab” or at the end of a workout are usually worthwhile. But the majority of your training should involve doing what it takes to lift and stabilize relatively heavy resistance against gravity.  Any time that you sprint, leap, squat, push, and pull, the core is absolutely involved. When you overhead press or lunge while holding half your body weight extra, and maintain good form, the core is worked to the extreme. In particular, unilateral (single leg and arm) exercises with significant resistance demand the core to work in all three planes of movement. The trunk muscles must resist the various twisting and side bending torques created by moving the resistance with one extremity.

The relatively heavy, total body resistance exercises are where it’s at for strength and performance. But doing these with good form often requires some attention to detail with corrective work and traditional core exercise.

So do what you must to have your core work include plenty of iron!

-video on this to come-

6. “I need to get -that supplement– for more energy.” 

No, you probably need to truly prioritize sleep over Netflix or late night reading. You need a steady and methodical approach to vigorous exercise that is not often crazy or super high intensity. You need an appropriate and meaningful challenge,  a long-term goal, and some plain old fun. Dan John says that taking up (something like) rock climbing or dancing will do more for your hormone profile than anything in the supplement aisle.

7. “So I’m going to run a 5-minute mile…the half marathon…cross country…”

If you love to jog long distances, by all means, go for it.  Progress gradually and do complimentary exercise to make your body resilient to all the pounding. But don’t assume that distance running is the best route for those who want to feel and look better. To feel and look better, learn to move with good -quality- and carry some muscle mass.

Distance running will keep you in cardiovascular fitness, but it’s certainly not the best way to be the fastest, quickest, most powerful version of yourself for sports that involve sprinting, cutting, and being pushed around. To perform better, work on strength and power in a manner that matches the demands of your sport. Do not assume that running a 5 or 6-minute mile will suddenly make you into a star in all athletic realms.weight 2

In summary, yes, my biases are toward strength training and the various irons. For some, strength training is enough as a means unto itself. But for all athletes, resistance exercise is one of the most efficient, accessible, and effective tools for improving how the body interacts with the environment.

Do you have assumptions that need to be examined?

Feel free to comment on my assumptions.