Friday, February 18, 2011

Vegetables and Fruit: How to Bridge the Gap

Every health organization on the planet agrees that consuming enough vegetables and fruit in your diet is paramount to maintaining good health. Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating between 5 and 10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. There’s a good reason for this: vegetables and fruits are among the most nutrient dense foods available, and contain important health-promoting and cancer-preventing anti-oxidants, as well as vitamins and other essential nutrients.

So all we have to do is consume close to 10 servings of fresh vegetables and fruit each and every day and we’re well on our way to drastically improving our health and longevity... that’s great! However, as you and I both know, that is easier said than done. Most of us eat nowhere near that many servings of these vital food groups, and when we do it’s often over-processed, over-cooked, or (unless you live near a farm) we have no idea how fresh it is. Even if you do make an effort to stock your fridge with plenty of vegetables every week, how many of you have ended up throwing a lot of it away after several days because it’s gone bad before you could eat it? It takes discipline to incorporate these foods into your regular diet.

In addition, if you are trying to lose weight, or managing diabetes, then you may need to monitor and reduce the amount of fruit you consume, because fruit (especially fruit juice) is loaded with fructose, which is a simple sugar that can lead to weight-gain and negatively affect insulin. In this case, how are you going to get the nutrition you need from these foods?

Many look to vitamin and mineral supplements to fill the nutritional gap in their diets. However, these nutrients do not absorb very well in pill form, and they are missing most of the important micronutrients, plant enzymes, and phytochemicals that you would get from eating the whole food. So basically, you are not getting the same necessary nutrition, and the vitamins and minerals you do get from most supplements are not very bio-available (your body won’t use them efficiently). Most of us are not suffering from a vitamin deficiency... we are suffering from a “whole food” deficiency.
So what can we do about this?

As a personal trainer I’ve worked with hundreds of clients, many of whom have struggled with getting enough vegetables and fruit in their diet. My focus has always been on getting the nutrition you need from real food sources, but in this case I understood that a supplement would be a great benefit for most people. After trying various “greens” products, and reading ALOT about multi-vitamin supplements, I was finally introduced to a product called Juice Plus+ by a friend of mine in the health and fitness industry.

Juice Plus+ is different in that it is a whole food supplement, simply containing the concentrated nutrition extracted from “whole” fruits and vegetables, reduced to powder form, and put in capsules. It’s not isolated vitamins and minerals like other products, or an exotic super-food powder... it’s just fresh, raw, whole fruits and vegetables, which is just what we all need.

The main thing that I liked about this nutritional product is that it is the ONLY one I found on the market that actually has legitimate scientific research demonstrating its effectiveness! Juice Plus+ has been the subject of several clinical studies performed at reputable universities and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals world-wide. Check out this research and other information about this supplement on my website at .

It’s worth looking into, because it’s important to know what you’re putting in your own body.

The second thing I really appreciated about Juice Plus+ is that when the fruits and vegetables were dehydrated into powder form, most of the sugar was removed along with the water. This makes it an excellent choice for diabetics and those struggling with weight control! You can now get the necessary nutrition from fruit without worrying about the sugar.

Because I am a fitness expert with a strong web presence, every week I am contacted by many supplement companies and invited to sell various nutritional products. Some of these other products may be beneficial in some way, but I am not comfortable promoting a product that does not have solid research behind it. I also just don’t see myself as a “supplement-sales” kind of guy. And as I said, my focus is on getting the nutrition you need from whole food sources. This is why Juice Plus+ is the only nutritional supplement that I chose to endorse.

Do yourself a favour and learn more about it at and let me know if you have any questions.  Also, if you enjoy learning about health, be sure to check out the best nursing schools.

Education is everything!

Stay fit,

Josh Hewett

Is Foam Rolling Really a Good Idea?

There seems to be strong trend developing in the personal training / strength and conditioning industry involving the use of foam rollers to perform soft tissue work. This appears to be another fad which was borrowed from physical therapists, similar to when “wobble board” training became all the rage. I look at this as an example of a useful tool being taken out of context and significantly overused, to the detriment of this profession, in my opinion.
Great trainers and coaches (even some of the best) have become foam rolling fanatics, prothesizing the many benefits of raking various muscles over these rigid cylinders. In no way does this detract from their expertise or credibility, but I do think it is time to take a more critical look at the growing “religion” of foam-rollers.
The proponents of foam-rolling often describe it as a form of “self-myofascial release” (SMR). No, despite how that sounds it’s not something naughty you do in front of your computer late at night! OK, so what the heck is myofascial release? SMR is a technique intended to treat “myofascial restrictions” and restore soft-tissue extensibility. It is frequently misunderstood and often described in terms of pressure affecting the Golgi Tendon Organ which causes the muscle to relax via autogenic inhibition. Some argue that this technique relaxes and lengthens not only the muscle, but also stretches the fascia surrounding it, thereby improving “tissue quality” and achieving greater range of motion. Sounds good, right?

What is more likely happening during myofascial release is an increase in movement of one layer of fascia over another, or even movement of fascia sliding over muscle. It is unlikely that this will actually “relax” or stretch fascial tissue, considering the tensile strength of fascia. But it does cause your muscles to become looser. However, this is not necessarily a good thing.

Foam rolling can be compared to deep tissue massage or static “passive” stretching, which can reduce innervation of the affected muscle groups, thus inhibiting their ability to contract. Essentially, this will leave the muscles temporarily weaker and with less tone... not what I would call “better tissue quality”. This may lead to a greater passive range of motion at the affected joints, but at the expense of active joint stability. You have just put your muscles to sleep and created slack in your joints, which is NOT a good thing before training!
To quote an article by Peter Chiasson, a Neuromuscular Rehabilitation Specialist at Core Strength in Toronto:

“The relaxation response from foam rolling, stretching, deep tissue massage, and even modalities like A.R.T. (Active Release Technique) affect the neurological function of a muscle and dampen the afferent messaging process travelling towards the CNS. This makes contractile tissue less prepared to deal with unexpected load. Let’s consider this for a second… so you are “UN-preparing” your muscles for load! To tell a muscle to stop pulling so hard when pulling was exactly what it was designed to do just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.” 

(Click HERE to read his article)

Even if one was to argue for the long term benefits of greater flexibility achieved by this method, a study from the UW-L Journal of Undergraduate Research indicated that no increased range of motion was associated with the use of foam rollers.

(Go HERE to view the study)

Most professionals in the fitness and performance industry already understand the negative effects of static stretching before exercise (refer to my article on stretching), but for some reason the connection hasn’t been made with foam rolling. So if you are beginning your training sessions with a dynamic warm up, isometric muscle activation exercises, and active mobility drills, which I would argue is a great idea, but then you proceed to employ the foam roller you are essentially getting your muscles “fired up” and then subsequently “shutting them down” right before the workout!

I once heard a well known trainer use the analogy of a an off-balance bicycle wheel, arguing that if one spoke is too loose, you must loosen up all of the spokes to bring it back into balance. Does that make sense? As I understand it, to maintain stability and structural integrity of the wheel, you need to tighten the loose spoke and ensure a certain level of balanced tension between all of them.

The Painful "Results" of Foam Rolling
It is a common approach in this industry, to address muscle tension and pain by attempting to aggressively “loosen up” all of the associated ‘tight’ muscles, when in fact the more sensible approach is to assess and strengthen your weak links. As much as you dislike it, that tension is usually there for a reason; it is a form of protection to create stability where there is a muscular imbalance. If you simply stretch or “roll” away the tight muscles before addressing the related weakness and correcting the imbalance, you have just created more instability.

For example, if your shoulders and chest muscles are sore and tight, rather than stretching them, focus on activating and strengthening your mid-back. Once you have restored a healthy muscle tone and strength to the scapular stabilizers, your posture will be improved and the compensatory pectoral tension will be relieved. It’s a matter of addressing the root of the problem (which is typically weakness and instability, ie: the “loose spokes”) rather than the symptoms (ie: the residual tightness in other muscles due to compensation for that weakness). You may not get the instant gratification attained by foam rolling, but you will be building greater structural integrity and developing a long term solution.

I am a strong advocate of a technique called Muscle Activation Technique (MAT), founded by Greg Roskopf. There is plenty of great information on this technique on the website, explaining the importance of addressing muscle weakness rather than muscle tightness. Check it out.

OK, but what about trigger points... don’t we need to roll those out? I’ll let Mike Nelson, CSCS, answer that:

“Now before you get all crazy on trigger points and how they affect muscular force (which is a good point), how did the trigger point get there? I’ve done a fair amount of cadaver work and so far I have yet to see one trigger point. Actually non-fixed (fresh) tissue does not hold tension on its own. I have yet to see a slab of muscle get tense! Yes, certain structures are stiffer than others, but I have yet to see any muscle or tendons that resemble piano wires that I see in most people’s necks. The nervous system is controlling the level of tension. Plus the thought of adding high amounts of external tension to your body in order to relieve tension seems odd to me. So I should add the thing I am trying to reduce?”  

(Read his FULL ARTICLE here)

I understand that my opinion on this subject is not a popular one, but despite the fact that it may not benefit me to share this information, I do believe it will benefit you, the reader.

So the next time you are considering raking yourself over your Extra-Rigid High Density Foam Roller to tenderize your IT bands, I’m suggesting you think again. Do your research and consider what your goals actually are. Do you want to achieve muscle looseness and passive range of motion at the expense of stability, or are you looking for muscle strength and stability with a healthy active range of motion?

I’m not saying that the foam roller has no practical applications. I am simply implying that it is over-used and inappropriately applied. If you are still convinced of its effectiveness, at the very least I strongly recommend that you refrain from using it before training and aim to be more specific and a little less “aggressive” with your rolling.

I hope I’ve given you something to think about and provided an alternative viewpoint on foam rolling. If you have questions or want more information on the subject, please feel free to contact me.

Stay fit,

Josh Hewett

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Jack Lalanne's Self-Improvement Plan (A Tribute)

As you may already know, the world lost a fitness legend last month; Jack Lalanne passed away at the age of 96. Jack was an inspiration to millions, myself included, and his impact on the health and fitness industry was immeasurable.

He was promoting the "fitness lifestyle" well before it became popular in the mainstream, and shared his message on the television show he hosted and through the numerous books he published and videos he produced. This man was way ahead of his time.

We can all learn alot from how Jack Lalanne lived his life and the lessons he shared. I've shared a few of his quotes that I particularly liked below.

Nutrition and Exercise:

LaLanne summed up his philosophy on nutrition and exercise as follows:

"Living is a pain in the butt. Dying is easy. It's like an athletic event. You've got to train for it. You've got to eat right. You've got to exercise. Your health account, your bank account, they're the same thing. The more you put in, the more you can take out. Exercise is king and nutrition is queen: together, you have a kingdom."

Training Intensity

Jack had a strong opinion regarding the importance of training with intensity, as opposed to long, slow, easy workouts:

"I train like I'm training for the Olympics or for a Mr. America contest, the way I've always trained my whole life."

"Do [exercise] vigorously, like somebody is chasing you. You've got to do it hard. Otherwise, if you just take it easy and do it longer, you are spending all that time when you don't need it. Use that extra time with your weights instead."

Sex Life

When asked about his sex life, Jack LaLanne had a humorous response, saying that even as they become older, he and his wife still made love almost every night:
"Almost on Monday, almost on Tuesday, almost on Wednesday..."

-LOL! I'm going to have to steal that one for down the road!

Motivation for Exercise

He explained his reasons for exercising as follows:

You see, life is a battlefield. Life is survival of the fittest. How many healthy people do you know? How many happy people do you know? Think about it. People work at dying, they don't work at living. My workout is my obligation to life. It's my tranquilizer. It's part of the way I tell the truth — and telling the truth is what's kept me going all these years.”


Here is a short, inspirational excerpt from his television show, where Lalanne outlines a Ten Point Self-Improvement Plan:

He was also quoted as saying, "I can't die, it would ruin my image."

Don't worry Jack, your image remains untarnished. We will miss you.