Want to Reduce or Stop Knee Pain While Running and Cycling? Then Get Your Butt in Gear!

Every now and then I like to pick up various running and cycling magazines just for a quick read. The first thing I usually look for is the exercise section to see what’s being recommended. One of the bigger issues for runners and cyclist alike is knee pain. I’ve learned through my work and the work of some of the strength coaches that I follow, that knee pain doesn’t always come from an issue with the knee.


Some time ago, renowned strength coach Mike Boyle posted two really good articles; “A Joint-by-Joint Approach to Training” and “Anterior Knee Pain – Site vs. Source”. To boil these two articles down he breaks it down to explain that body is a stack of joints. “Your knee,” Boyle Explains, “is caught between your hip and your ankle.”  He goes on to state that more times than not, chronic knee pain is a result of something happening somewhere else. The knee pain is the result, not the cause.

As a personal trainer, I’ve had quite a few clients (several competitive runners, triathletes and cyclist) come to me with knee issues and more times than not, the logic laid out by coach Boyle proved to be correct.
We’ve all heard of IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, etc. What I’ve found is that people with knee pain not stemming form an acute injury,  need to strengthen their glutes, in addition to stretching and foam rolling other areas. That’s right; they need to get their “Butts” in gear and working properly.  When I say getting your “Butt” in gear, let’s be clear that I’m not just talking about the part that we all see , you gluteus maximus. In addition to glute max, I’m talking about the smaller muscles that lie underneath (glute medius/minimus and piriformis) all of which serve various roles in stabilizing your pelvis and femur (that big bone between your hip and knee).

Lucky a few simple test and corrective exercise can help zero in on the problem and minimize or take away knee pain all together.

So what ar the test and what might they mean for you?:

Test #1 – Single Leg Hip Extension:
When someone tells me they have knee pain, the first test I do with them is the straight leg hip extension to test how well my client can get his/her glutes to activate. I first read about this test in an article by Nick Tuminello on Mike Boyle’s website. What I drew from this and other research on the topic is that weak glutes or glutes that don’t turn on when they’re supposed to, lead to knee pain simply because they don’t allow you to stabilize your femur when your foot hits the ground during running strides or in the down stroke in cycling. A femur that’s not stabilized allows the knee to move medially (side to side) causing increased stress on the knee.

This test enables us to test the level of glute activation one can achieve in the straight leg position. This same straight leg hip extension occurs in running and in cycling

Test Provided by Nick Tumminello

Starting Position

Begin on your elbows, with one leg fully flexed at the hip and the knee. This leg should be tucked up as far as possible into your body with your thigh in contact with your ribs.

The other leg should be extended straight back behind you and resting on the floor (see photos). The extended leg is the one that’s going to be tested.

Performing the Test

To perform this test, lift your extended leg off the ground as high as possible.
Be sure to keep that leg fairly straight and avoid bending it. A slight bend ( Additionally, do not allow your ribs to loose contact with your thigh on the opposite side.

If you can lift your extended thigh and knee at least one to two inches off the floor without struggling, you pass.

If you cannot lift your rear leg without shifting your body or deviating from the starting position, or you find yourself struggling to do so, you have some work ahead of you.

Test #2: Single Leg Squat Test:
Watch the video and try it. If you have trouble balancing or if your knee collapses in during the test, weak glutes may be the answer.


So What do I do next?…. Tune in to my next post for the answer

Quick Mini Band Exercises to Throw Into Your Workouts on The Go

Some time ago I posted a blog entitled “Build Your Better Body On a Budget” where I shared with you some of the low cost tools that I use myself and with my clients. These mini-bands are great to use if you travel for work or if you’re on vacation. (I know you’re thinking, “No one works out on vacation,” but in case you do, and there’s no gym you can give these a try.)

The video clip below shows me doing several exercises that target the lower body, upper body and core:

1) Lateral walking
2) Forward and backwards monster walks
3) Standing hip flexion/abduction/extension and
4) 90 degree open up squats.

I also threw in some pushup variations and a plank with reach for abs and shoulders. These are only a few a the exercises that you can do with mini bands.

Get your hands some mini bands and see how they can help change up your workouts.They range from $2-$3 each at PerformBetter.com

Weapon of Fat Destruction

For those of us who are not genetically blessed with a “fast metabolism” we know that burning fat and keeping it off is hard work.  With that in mind I always make sure that my session are filled with as much “hard work” as I can fit into 30 minutes or an hour.  That may mean do anything from lifting weights to pulling sleds, to doing cardio intervals via sprints, rowing, etc..

One of the machines that I now use quite a bit is the Versa Climber.  I like to put the Versa Climber in the category of “machines that people walk by because it just doesn’t look right”.  While it is not as appealing as your normal treadmill or elliptical, it packs a punch.  It’s one of the few cardio machines that you can truly say works you entire body. In addtion to being rythmic in nature and getting the big muscle groups working, it challanges your core as well.

The makers of the Versa-Climber claim that it burns more calories that the treadmill or stepper (see chart below). While I can’t say that this clam is in fact true I do know that the VC is a great alternative to other machines and a great way to simply make people work harder.  How do I know that?  Because, I’ve seen clients who spend a lot of time in spin class and on the treadmill not last 5 minutes on this machine. 

If you have one of these machines in your gym walk up to it and give it a try.  I like to thrown it into my clients routines as a 2 minute cardio interval.  I would recommend starting there to get used to the machine before doing longer workouts.  For the 2 minute intervals keep your feet per minute climbing rate around or above 120 feet per minute. 

I always like to hear what industry leaders think of these machines.  Listen to what Mark Verstegan, one of the nations to strength and fitness coaches (http://www.athletesperformance.com/) has to say about the versa climber.

Good luck and keep looking for ways to work smarter and harder.

The One Machine In the Gym You Must Use

Today’s post has been a long time coming but the inspiration for it came a few weeks ago. I received an email from a PR person asking us to fill out a questionnaire for a well known women’s fitness magazine. The questionnaire asked which machines in the gym we found, as trainers, to be valuable. One of the questions asked, “what machine would you encourage our readers to avoid?” My answer, “All most all of them… well at least 75% of them.” I’ve long been a proponent of getting up and moving around. Given the opportunity, I would take 75% of the machines in our gym and put them out on Broadway with a big “for sale” sign on them.


There are,however, a few machines that I use on regular basis. The same questionnaire asked the question,“If you could recommend one machine in the gym to our readers, what wouldit be and why?” My answer, “The Free Motion cable machine, because you can work every body part, without sitting down and you can move in different directions while you’re doing it.” Most of my clients know this and have gotten to experience the free motion madness first hand. Below are 4 quick clips of a few of my favorite total body exercises to do the with Free Motion cable machine. Feel free to throw them into your workout, I’m sure they’ll make a difference:

Squat & Row:

Plain and simple, start with your arms extended. Squat and pull the cable back when you come up out of your squat.

Rotational Cross-Body Row:

Start facing away from the machine. Pivot your left leg and with your left hand reach across to grab the cable on the opposite side. Rotate and pull the cable across as you rotate. I also added a variation where you throw in a squat at the end, just in case you need to make it more difficult.

Single Leg Reach with Bicep Curl:

Start by balancing on one foot. Let the cable pull you forward and bend your knee. Squeeze you glutes as you stand up and do a bicep curl at the same time. Remember, whichever foot is on the floor you’ll be bicep curling with the opposite hand.

Tall Anti-Rotational Press:

This one used the concept of torque, you basically are using your obliques to keep the cable from turning you. Relax you shoulders and extend your arms to make sure that your obliques turn on.

Kettlebells and Dumbbells: Why They’re Different and Why Should You Care

Back in March of this year I wrote a post titled, “Turn up the Intensity….Learn to Use a Kettlebell” (http://kelvingary.com/?p=126). A couple of experiences that I had in the gym this week, along with a scary trend that I’ve been seeing over the last year, prompted me to write today’s post. The other day I walked over to our functional training area to set-up for my next session when I noticed an older gentleman standing in front of the kettlebell rack just looking at them. At first I thought he was just picking out the weights that he wanted to use but after about 2 minutes of just looking at the kettlebells I knew it was more than that. I walked over to him and asked if he was looking for a particular weight. “No,” he replied, “I’m just trying to figure out what the big deal is about them.” “Why can’t people just use plain old weights?” he asked. I tried to explain the difference between the two (center of gravity, levers, increased torque, etc.). He looked at me and shook his head as if he totally understood what I was talking about but I could tell that he was totally lost. Fast forward a day later, when I saw a couple working out together who were both using KB’s in a way that over time would surely earn them a trip to the spinal surgeon.

So what’s the big difference between the two? Strength coach Mike Davis did a great job of condensing the explanation in his article on strengthcoach.com. He explained:

“In general, a kettlebell is a solid (metal i.e. steel, iron, etc.) ball with a handle attached in a way that resembles a tea kettle without the spout. By virtue of its design (the center of mass is displaced from the handle), the kettlebell offers a variety of ways to manipulate the resistive component of a lever system. This differs from the dumbbell in that with the dumbbell the center of mass is relative to the handle and this relationship remains constant as long as one uses the handle. In other words, no matter how one grabs the handle of a dumbbell, the angular torque or direction of resistance is relatively the same. A kettlebell can be handled in a variety of ways including the traditional carrying position, rack position, bottom up, palm pressing, or on the side of the handles. Each grip offers a different degree of torque or angle of resistance.”

Said in an even simpler way, you can use a 20 lb dumbbell and a 20 lb kettlebell and they will feel like two different weights because of the effect that the “design” of the kettlebell has on your body. This is also one of the reasons that it’s easier to injure yourself if you have bad form while using a kettlebell. For this reason, I always recommend finding a good coach or trainer, even if it’s for a few sessions, if you’re just starting out with KBs.

Just a little something to keep in mind.

11 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Results

This a great blog post from a blog called Life Hack (http://www.lifehack.org/) it was originally posted there on May 18, 2010. It was recently reposted by Strength Coach and Fitness Expert Mike Boyle. Read Carefully :-)

All of us have goals. Goals like losing weight, earning more money, finding a life partner, setting up our business, achieving performance targets, being fitter, building better relationships, and so on. Some people seem to have no problem achieving their goals. Some, on the other hand, don’t seem to be able to make any progress.

I’ve a good amount of experience with goal achievement, having been actively setting goals since 10 years ago. I’ve experienced setbacks and successes in my goal pursuits. Running The Personal Excellence Blog (which is all about how to live in excellence and achieve our highest potential), I often receive reader mail seeking help for situations they are stuck in. I work with clients who are not getting results in life and want to turn things around. This has given me a lot of insights on what keeps people from success.

At the end of the day, if you find yourself stuck in your goals, it boils down to one (or some) of these 11 reasons:

1. You Procrastinate. You keep putting things off. You talk about how you want to do something but you don’t act on it. You are like the howling dog. I recently wrote the story of the howling dog at The Personal Excellence Blog. The story refers to this dog, who keeps howling because it’s sitting on a nail. However, he refuses to get up from the nail. Why? Because it’s not painful enough. You procrastinate on taking action because the situation is not painful enough for you yet. However, the times when it does become painful enough are often the times when it’s too late to do anything. Either you start taking action, or you forever lay in peace. Your call, I’ll leave it to you.

2. You underestimate your goal. Achieving a goal is about getting from point A to B. From point A, you create an action plan that gets you to point B. Sounds foolproof, except the action plan isn’t 100% valid. That’s because you’re setting the plan from point A. You haven’t even been to point B, so how do you even know if it’ll get you to B? At most it’ll be help to bring you closer to point B, but it’s not going to be 100% accurate. Almost all the time, people fail because they underestimate what it takes to achieve their goals. What should you do then? Over-commit your resources and review your progress constantly. (See Step #11 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity). Adjust your plan of action and adapt accordingly.

3. You spend more time defending your problems than taking action. You complain how you are not getting XYZ results. When people try to give you suggestions, you spend more time justifying why their suggestions will not work and defending your lack of results than brainstorm with them on how to get out of your rut. Spend less time talking about your problems and use that time to think about solutions. Then act on them. You’ll get a lot more results this way, and you’ll be happier.

4. You’re too enclosed in your own world. You don’t venture out beyond your normal routine. You do the same things, talk to the same old friends, act the same way, circle around the same issues. It’s no wonder you stagnate. Open yourself up – take active steps to grow. Get to know more people – people who are driven, positive and focused. Get new, refreshing perspectives. Read new books. Add new blogs to your subscription. Ask for feedback on how you can improve. Read my other lifehack guestpost – 42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself.

5. You’re not working smart. You do the same thing over and over, even when you don’t get results. You apply brute strength to your goals, without strategizing how you can apply this strength more effectively. If you are not getting what you want, it’s a signal it’s time to change what you have been doing. See how you can do this in a different, smarter, more effective way.Look at people who have achieved the same results before, and learn from them.

6. Avoidance (Fear). You avoid taking action because some of the things you have to do intimidate you. You rather delay the process as much as possible. Unfortunately, results are not going to come automatically from delaying. Results come to people who pay their dues, not people who avoid the work. The fear isn’t going to go away by waiting it out. Face the fear and do it anyway.

7. You’re easily distracted. You get distracted by things thrown in your way. Your attention gets diverted from your goals. Your ability to stay focused is instrumental to achieving your results. Be clear of what you want and stick to it. Don’t let anything (or anyone) distract you. These are the obstacles the universe sends your way to see how serious you are about getting what you want.

8. You over-complicate situations. Common among the neurotic perfectionists. If you are a neurotic perfectionist, you blow the situation out of proportion and create this mental image that’s so complicated that it’s no wonder you don’t get anything done. Things are usually simpler than you think – be conscious when you are adding unnecessarily complications for yourself. I wrote about this in detail in Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

9. You give up too easily. You give up before you even get anywhere. If you read “The Dip”, you’ll know all big goals comes with a dipping point – a chasm where it seems nothing you do is giving you results. It’s normal. This is the point that differentiates those who deserve the goal and those who are just taking a casual stab at it. I’ve a client who has a penchant for giving up in his goals early on. He realized soon that there’s no “easy” way out, and all goals have their own set of obstacles to be overcome. Persevere, press on, and it’s a matter of time before you reap the fruits of your labor.

10. You lose sight of your goals. You settle for less, forgetting the goals you once set. That’s bad because then you are just stifling yourself and making do with what you have – and this isn’t who you are meant to be. You have to first reconnect with your inner desires. If you cannot fail at all, what would you want to do? What are your biggest hopes and dreams for your future? What is the future you want to create for yourself? Reignite your vision and don’t ever lose sight of it. It’s your fuel to your success.Read more about goal-setting in Step #1 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity.

11. You’re too stuck in your ways. You insist on doing things a certain way. You don’t open yourself up to new ideas. Guess what? You’ll remain stuck in your situation, too. Open yourself to new methods. Experiment. You can only improve if you are willing to try new things.

If you haven’t noticed, these 11 reasons are self-created problems – you can easily dismiss them just as you have created them. The more accurate title for this post should be “11 Reasons Why You Aren’t Successful – Yet“. Your goals are in your hands – you can achieve them as long as you strive for them. Address the 11 things blocking you from your success, and it’s a matter of time before you achieve results you seek.

Eat More Meat to Burn Fat?

Now I know you’re thinking, “Really” but just hear me out. The argument that lean protein (more specifically lean animal protein) helps facilitate fat loss is a pretty compelling one. This is laid out nicely in the book, “The Paleo Diet” by Loren Cordain, Ph.D.. In the book, Dr. Cordain makes the claim that lean protein can help promote weight loss in the following ways:

A) Protein Helps Burn More Calories – We know that all calories are not created equal. Of the calories that we take in and burn, a large portion is burned in the normal operation of our body (the heart pumping, lungs working, etc). Another portion is burned during our daily activities. Still a smaller yet significant portion of the calories that we burn can be attributed to what’s called the “Thermic Effect” of food. This is the energy that it takes to ingest, digest and metabolize the food that you eat. It’s also known as DIT or “Dietary-Induced Thermogenisis”. Proteins are known to have a much larger DIT compared to carbohydrates and fats. “This means that protein boosts your metabolism and causes you to loss weight more rapidly than the same caloric amounts of fat or carbohydrate,” Dr. Cordain concludes.

B) Protein Satisfies Your appetite – Research has shown that lean animal protein satisfies hunger more than fats and carbohydrates alone and helps reduce hunger between meals. “It’s also very hard to over eat lean proteins”, Dr. Cordain says.

C) Protein Improves Your Insulin Sensitivity – Insulin is a hormone that serves several functions in the body. Among them, an elevated level of insulin in the bloodstream prompts the body to store fat. Research has shown that lean protein help the body metabolize insulin where as high carbohydrate/high GI diets (that may spike blood sugar levels) increase insulin production.

Now I’m not a dietitian or nutritional counselor so I can’t prescribe specific nutritional advice. But I am a scientist (engineers count as scientist) and a certified fitness professional and love when there’s research and solid data to back up an argument. As a personal trainer, my job is to do the research and provide my clients with my take on the nutritional information that’s available. My take on this book and this plan is that it’s work your time to give it a look.

Good Luck!

*All of the information in bullet points above can be found in the book, “The Paleo-Diet”

The Right Calories In: Why Cutting the Right Calories Out of Your Diet Makes a Big Difference

Some time ago I wrote a quick blog regarding the thought that to lose weight, calories in have to be less than calories out. Since we know that there are 3500 calories in a pound of fat, it’s easy to assume that if we cut 3500 calories out of out diet then we’ll lose a pound. I’ll admit that the truth goes deeper than that. As my good buddy, NYU Stern classmate and Crossfit junkie (don’t get me started on that one) Joe Rosen pointed out to me, the notion that “weight change = calories in-calories out“ discounts the effects of both hormonal causes of obesity and the effects of the types of calories that you take in.

Even before Joe brought him up, I had heard of the work of a scientist by the name of Gary Taubes. Taubes is the author of “Good Calories , Bad Calories” and numerous other books and articles. Taubes had a recent articles in the New York Times Magaizine: “Is Sugar Toxic” (April 17, 2011). I also recently took the time to go through Taubes’ latest book, “Why We Get Fat: And What We can Do About It”. While I disagree with some of the points he makes about exercise and with some of the points about eating not being psychologically driven, he lays out a solid argument that it’s not how much we eat that makes us fat. More so it’s what we eat that not only makes us eat more and but makes us store more of what we eat as fat. In particular, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sugar and refined starches. All of the mentioned have become staples in the typical American diet and have the effect of raising insulin levels, which is your body’s signal to store energy. The longer your insulin stays high, the longer your body stays in fat storage mode. With HFCS, the implications on fat storage are even greater.

I won’t get deep into the details in this post, as that’s already been done for me. I highly, highly recommend taking the time to watch the video below by Dr. Robert Lustig entitled, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” It may seem long but it’s well worth it. Bookmark it and watch it in bits if you have to. While he uses the term “obese,” the point he makes also applies to that person who wants to shave of that extra 5, 10 or 15 pounds.

I also recommend checking out Gary Taubes’s work. The link for his New York Times Magaizine article is: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sugar-t.html?_r=1. In “Why We Get Fat,” he spends the first 10 chapters laying out the facts and data to make his point and doesn’t get to the good stuff until around chapter 11 (Yes, I do skip through tivo’d shows to get to the good part faster as well). Good Luck!

Proper Planning Yields Better Results

A few weeks ago I did my second duathlon race of the year that just so happened to be on the exact same course as my first race. The Mother’s Day Duathlon in Prospect Park, Brooklyn was a race with two 5K runs (mostly uphill) and a 14 mile bike ride squeezed in between. After doing my first race I set a goal of beating my time. I not only wanted to beat it, I wanted to beat it by 10 minutes. After that race I put myself on a plan to improve my running, biking and transitioning. I had a little less than two months to execute this plan and achieve my goal.

Between mid March and early May, I executed my plan that targeted every discipline. I ran sprint intervals and hills twice a week. I did time trialing specific power interval workouts twice a week on the bike. I even practiced transitioning, by seeing how fast I could change out of my running shoes and put on my biking shoes and helmet. I know that seems like a bit much but I was able to cut over a minute and a half off my transition times just from practicing.

The day of the race came and I knew during the race that I was crushing my previous time. When the finishing times were posted I realized that I’d reached my goal of shaving 10 minutes off my previous time. Then I realized that I hadn’t shaved 10 minutes off, I had actually shaved almost 15 minutes off. Now you could say that it was warmer and less windy and those factors may have accounted for a few minutes, however, having a plan to get better and executing that plan is surely what led to the better results.

Long story short, if you really want to see better results have a plan and execute it. I don’t care if it’s working out, training for a marathon or even eating well throughout the day. Proper planning prevents poor results! If you’re going to the gym to workout, think about and write down what you’re going to do before you get there. If you’re trying to eat well and you have a busy job, don’t wait until you’re stuck in that all day meeting to ask yourself, “What should I eat for lunch?” Plan ahead to keep yourself on track.

Having a plan is half the battle. A plan isn’t worth a damn if you don’t follow through. So once you have a plan, stick to it and follow through!

Good Luck and as always feel free to drop me a question if you have one.

Just What is a Plyometric Exercise? (Video)

Today’s post is an add- on to last week’s post: “Plyometrics for Runners?”  I wanted to take a second to clearly define what plyometrics are, why we use them and give a few examples of some basic plyo exercises.  I could put this all into my own words, but I think Wikipedia did a good job of hitting the nail right on the head:

Plyometrics (also known as “plyos”) is a type of exercise training designed to produce fast, powerful movements, and improve the functions of the nervous system, generally for the purpose of improving performance in sports. Plyometric movements, in which a muscle is loaded and then contracted in rapid sequence, use the strength, elasticity and innervation of muscle and surrounding tissues to jump higher, run faster, throw farther, or hit harder, depending on the desired training goal. Plyometrics is used to increase the speed or force of muscular contractions, providing explosiveness for a variety of sport-specific activities. Plyometrics has been shown across the literature to be beneficial to a variety of athletes. Benefits range from injury prevention, power development and sprint performance amongst others.

With that in mind, in the video below I give a few examples of some basic plyo exercise that almost anyone can put into their routine.  Have a look and give them a try.