Green Prophets

1frogI have a fascination with frogs, and could -almost- be one of those people who hoard along a theme.

I would collect all things related to frogs. Large ceramic frogs would line the front yard and small frog knick-knack would sit on the window seals. There would be two frogs on an old rusty bike, green frog-shaped candles, cat tails in the corner of the foyer, a frog dream catcher in the kitchen, and one hanging from the fireplace mantle by it’s front legs.

Many people get weird with their Steeler, Yankee, ‘Sixers etc, regalia; their Gnome and Santa figurines. And I would have my frogs.

Frogs represent the natural world and stealth. They breathe transdermally (through the skin), require fresh clean water, and are a key indicator of the health of the environment. They reproduce by the tens of thousands, filling a huge ecological gap.

And God said “There are an awful lot of animals that live in and around the waters that need something to eat. And there’s a lot of annoying insects too small for them. Hmm.” And so God made frogs.

I once had an elderly patient who spent his entire career as a professor and educator on environmental protection. He spoke to me about how many in his circle called the cause environmentalism while others hated environmentalists, and preferred to label themselves  “good stewards.” Both groups got the same lecture, were chasing after the same thing, for the earths sake.

The story in the Hebrew Bible about Moses’  plague of frogs was really a dig aimed directly at the Egyption fertility goddess Heqet who was represented in the shape of a frog. To try pinning down exactly how many frogs there were and how that could happen is missing the point. The story is in there for a reason, among nine other plagues meant to roast the Egyption gods.

“THERE’S your god! You’re up to your ears in your gods. And the God of Moses is in control.”

But I think the ancients had it partially right. Frogs are a creature of new beginnings. To me they represent the spring of the year and of my life.  I remember first being told that tadpoles turn into frogs. How could this crazy idea be so; that a creature which clearly exists as as aquatic in structure and function could also be so obviously meant for land? Frogs are the ultimate underdog.

I spent much of my childhood chasing after frogs, eventually collecting every species native to PA, including massive Bull Frogs caught with a dry fly on fishing line.  I loved them all, though my favorite was always the pickerel.

I moved on with life. Learned to talk on the phone and go fishing like a proper adolescent instead of stomping through the swamp with a net. I found a love of sports, getting a degree, this obsession with (human) health and athletic performance, and then winning at adulting. Or, at least not losing while dealing with various responsibilities.

“I’ll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms

…I’ll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone.”

But all the while, if up to me, I would return to the frogs. They’re accessible but sly, just enough of a challenge to capture. To this day I continue my mission to find tadpoles that are stuck in hoof prints and ruts along the side of ponds and roads, and various evaporating puddles, in order to transfer them to lakes and streams. Even in college, not owning a single net, I kept an eye out for swamps and vernal ponds. I would retreat to them, squish-squish into class with a muddy shoe and a hint of the organic, dead-leafy smell. It’s no wonder that I didn’t date much before meeting Amy.FF4DD638-229B-4AB9-9BAF-C24583E772FD

Should it be surprising that when the days work is through, I can easily get lost in the back yard or at the pond? I don’t care too much about Sports Center, video games, golfing, repainting the hallways, or even training. Seeing my kids eagerly walk down the road with a net and bucket in-hand is like a dream.

Hopefully the kids will enjoy and protect simple things in the natural world. They will understand and appreciate green spaces at a gritty, not-just-academic level. Maybe they will even try to live simply and sacrifice some comforts for…well, really for their own good; for the good of everyone.

At dusk I hear frogs calling, filling their role far beyond the food chain. They are prophets of all that creepeth, singing hallelujah praises for undeveloped space, proclaiming a warning to those who willingly or unintentionally pollute their own lands and lives with toxins, excess, and frantic busyness.

And too many knick-knacks ; )

The Narrow Gait to Progress


“Train with intensity in the weight room two or at most three days per week. Rest well. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to various lack of gains, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to spectacular, game-changing progress, and only a few find it.”

So you want to get bigger or stronger, faster, quicker, or more powerful over the summer? Do you work hard in the gym and on the playing field, and want to see freakish and sustainable results? The kind that make someone see a performance and say, “Oh it’s just genetics.”

Genetics do matter. But it’s definitely not JUST genetics.

Athletes who grossly over-train by simply following the instruction of their two, three, or four coaches make me do a quadruple face palm.

Athletes, coaches, parents…let’s quit pretending that this is a mystery. Or rocket science. This is VERY basic human physiology.

You need to train with intensity; work hard to stimulate adaptation. But then you need to recover. Recovery doesn’t mean sitting around. But it does mean intentionally holding off on intense work, in favor of doing other things that are less stressful. Recovery means not confusing training and preparation for competition with actual competition!

When you’re in your teens or twenties, it’s easy to establish a pattern of doing far too much or nothing at all. Some athletes want to train with intensity for four, even six days per week. But just because you can get away with abusing your body by training hard every day does not mean that this is optimal.

The challenging, hard-to-find, and narrow road, is to work hard, and smart, and deliberately rest and recover.

The body functions as a unit, recovers as a unit. The stress (catabolic and energy producing) hormones that cause you to go hard on “shoulders day” or conditioning or long distance runs are the same hormones interfering with getting the FULL benefit from that killer workout that you completed yesterday.

That’s why I advise full body training days for everyone except those primarily interested in competitive bodybuilding. Unless you have a great reason to train yourself like Frankenstein’s monster. For every day that you train with high intensity […I know that most motivated athletes won’t listen to me, but…] you really should have one, even two days of rest or relatively lower intensity work.

If you want to get stronger and  more athletic, remember that less is more. Fill your “off” days with a light hike. Seek out some jumps and stumps with a mountain bike. Pick up trash along the highway. Team athletes, spend the “low intensity” days working on tactics or skill work, but -intentionally- no hard running, intense games, or conditioning. Learn to kick-flip a skateboard. Write a letter to your grandparents. Stop with the “recovery run,” the “little bit of abs, chest, and calves” or whatever, and just sit the heck down and recover.

Are two weight training days per week really enough?

Absolutely! If you are a hardworking athlete interested in working smarter and not just harder. This advice is not meant for a casual gym-goer or a slacker. That crowd can train just about every day because they never -truly- stress the system. And typically, they get bored or injured at around the 8-week mark, and fall back into the typical altogether sedentary lifestyle.

I built my deadlift to over 600 pounds, bench pressed 375, squatted 500 lbs for reps, (at under 200 lbs body weight), chin-ups with well over 100 pounds added, all while weight training two days per week. ***Please believe this – I’m not special. I can roll out exhibit A, B, C, D, E…all real people who had been training for years and then were startled at the results they saw when CUTTING BACK to two hard training days per week, and doing some general activity or light corrective exercise on the off days.

Either that, or all of the guys and girls who I train for the long-term just happen to be “genetic freaks.”

Please don’t confuse this with general activity for weight loss. Body composition changes happen in the kitchen and through exercising for better movement quality which allows you to do more things, more often, out in the real world. To lose weight, you will need to be physically active more than twice per week.

And don’t confuse this with two days per week advice with physical therapy rehabilitative and corrective exercises. These are mostly lower intensity activities which should be completed more frequently.

Don’t confuse “recovery” with fancy diet schemes and supplements. Nutrition certainly effects recovery, but for now I will assume that you’re going to eat mostly non processed foods most of the time. Just drink -some- darn milk, eat the lean protein and vegetables. Eat moms home cooked soup or stew and there’s no need for the fancy collagen supplements ; )

Two days per week does not include a lot of random stretching or doing the seated leg curl machine. You can do “cardio” and foam rolling on your own time. When training day comes, you need to get down to business. The two days per week plan has you doing a targeted mobility / stability warm-up, then getting on with the fundamental movement patterns and “big lifts” suited to your body and interests.

Ahhh seriously. Just see how far you come, how you look and feel and perform, when you train with consistency and -truly- respect recovery.


Four Ways That We Sabotage Our Shoulders

We rarely think shoulderabout our shoulders until something goes wrong. A shoulder grumbles when you reach up to grab a bowl from the cupboard. It yelps when reaching across to buckle the seat belt. Once shoulders have been provoked, they’re often easily offended, taking issue with benign stress like your favorite sleeping position or pouring a cup of coffee.

We ask a lot of our shoulders, and it should be no surprise that they are problematic. While our fingers and elbows must frequently bear high loads, they only have to bend and straighten. And while hips and wrists move in multiple directions, they act in a relatively limited total range of motion.  But our shoulders move frequently, in all directions, and through an extremely large range of motion.

How can we care for and nurture our shoulders? Are there stretching or strengthening exercises, manipulation, or dietary supplements that help? Some of these are beneficial, depending on the exact nature of the problem. But first, we should avoid issues as much as possible by being aware of these four ways that we often sabotage our own shoulders.shoulder ood

  1. Slumping when we sit:

The foundation of many shoulder issues is poor sitting posture. Our thoracic spine (mid back) slumps forward, our head protrudes, and our shoulder roll inward. Our neck, back, and shoulder blades are placed in this tucked forward position while we sit during our morning commute and during the work day, at lunch and while driving home, while eating dinner, and watching TV. Much of adult life is sit-sit-sit-sit. And after that, we sit.

Sitting in itself is not stressful on the shoulder joint. But all the stiffness and poor alignment that has developed over months and years translates into problems when we reach or lift something over head.

The first key to shoulder health is being aware of the long duration postures that we apply to our bodies over months and years. If your upper back and shoulder blades are kyphotic, your shoulders don’t stand a chance when you go to use them. Sit up tall. Stand up and move. Pull your head and shoulder blades back.

2. Reaching and lifting with poor form:

Shoulders functions best when the top portion of the humerus (the upper arm bone) has margin to spin and glide in the “socket” that is formed by the shoulder blade (scapula) and collar bone (clavicle). If you lift and carry objects with the palm of the hand facing downward and your elbow out to the side, the humerus is less stable in the shoulder socket, and the rotator cuff muscles and bursa can easily get pinched between the moving bones.  But if you reach and lift with the palm or thumb facing upward and elbow in, the humerus will be in a more stable position and spacing will be adequate for the muscles to do their work.

Whenever possible, reach overhead and lift with the palm of the hand facing up and your elbow more toward the center of your body (rather than out to the side).

3. Weekend Projects:

High performing athletes diligently train their bodies and closely monitor use of their shoulders. Swimmers and pole vaulters cycle the intensity of their practices. Baseball pitchers keep careful pitch counts. But the average adult with little physical preparation frequently dives into weekend painting, trimming, and cleaning projects that put their shoulder through thousands of loading cycles over a few days. Even with perfect posture and lifting technique, chances are slim that the shoulder muscles, ligaments, and tendons will hold up.

Be aware of the demands that weekend projects place on the shoulders. Temper your expectation and find time to prepare by stretching the chest, upper back, and strengthening the muscles of the shoulders and upper back.

4. Exercising our shoulders:

You read that correctly! Exercise programs are absolutely one of the biggest risk factors for shoulder injuries. Many people with the best of intentions take on too much – too soon (inappropriate progression), they perform exercises that are simply not a good idea (inappropriate exercise selection), or they fail to address postural and alignment issues (number one above) prior to performbad idea shouldersing typical upper body strengthening and stretching.

Seated Dips (on the right) are a common terrible exercise selection. They place the upper back and head into a slumped position while the upper arm bone is jammed into the shoulder socket.

Exercise is great, unless you hurt something. Here are a few general guidelines to get the benefits of exercise with less risk of shoulder injury.


Seated Shoulder Impingement   Machine

-Stay off the machines. Most resistance machines require you to sit and press your hands overhead or raise them to the sides. But these can not possibly fit all different shapes and sizes of people correctly, they place you in the same chronic sitting position that you already had too much of, and they do not require you to activate the core muscles that support good posture and movement of the shoulder blades.

If a machine or rack or person must hold the weight up for you, it may be more than the shoulder is prepared to handle. What cannot be lifted off the ground in good form should not be pressed overhead.  For example, sitting or standing dumbbell presses are self-limiting. This is favorable because these exercises demand support from the stabilizing muscles in the torso and you will not even attempt to shoulder what you cannot lift up off the ground.

-Stretch what is tight but not what’s already loose. For most people, this means not stretching the shoulder joints aggressively, but instead stretching the upper back and pectoral muscles.

-Strengthen what’s loose but not what’s already tight. Most of us need more upper back strengthening work, and less strengthening exercise of the chest and biceps, which act to pull the shoulder blades and humerus forward.

A few facts and stats on shoulder issues:

Shoulder pain is the 3rd most common musculoskeletal problem treated by physical therapists.

Shoulder problems are generally higher in women (15 to 26%) than in men (13 to 18%).

Shoulder problems are most common in middle age, and the onset of pain peaks at around 50 years of age.

The strongest evidence for managing long-term shoulder pain is exercise.

Ironically, one of the biggest risk factors for shoulder injuries is exercise. Do not assume that all stretching and strengthening is good for you. Make sure you’re attending to posture and form, making good choices on exercise selection, and using reasonable progressions.

  1. Kooijman MK, Swinkels ICS, Leemrijse CJ, de Bakker DH, Veenhof C. National Information Service of Allied Health Care. 2011.
  2. Barrett E. Examining the Role of Thoracic Kyphosis in Shoulder Pain, 2014
  3. Pribicevic M. The Epidemiology of Shoulder Pain: A Narrative Review of the Literature. Pain in Perspective 2012. InTech.
  4. Luime JJ, Koes BW, Hendriksen IJ, Burdorf A, Verhagen AP, Miedema HS, Verhaar JA. Prevalence and incidence of shoulder pain in the general population; a systematic review. Scandinavian journal of rheumatology. 2004 Mar 1;33(2):73-81.
  5. Shoulder Disorders and Occupation at