Archive for exercise research, tips for trainers, What We Love This Week, workout tips

Sleeping In: Extra ZZZs in the AM Benefit Motor Learning

by Meaghan posted October 3, 2017

As an educator, I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading lately on learning – including morning learning – and I recently came across some interesting findings from the latest sleep research.

We’ve known for quite some time that sleep is important for physical recovery, cognitive function and motor unit firing – but it turns out there’s much more to it than that. In addition to sleeping in 90-minute cycles (read more HERE), it seems that motor learning, especially, is solidified in the hours just prior to waking. Retention of facts, etc. happens in the hours just after falling sleep, but it’s those last couple just prior to waking where sleep is lighter that seem to make or break improvement in motor skills.



What does that mean for us? Well, most trainers are up quite early for work and may be missing out on the most precious sleep for maximizing certain types of training (e.g., Olympic lifting, gymnastics and other technical skills) if they don’t adjust by going to bed earlier. The same holds true for our clients, especially our newer trainees who are still trying to master basic movement patterns.

Bottom line: Make sure you and your clients don’t skimp on sleeping in! If you need to get up early, make sure you go to bed early as well so you don’t miss the most important phase of sleep for motor learning.

“Hypertrophy” Training Protocols are Kind of a Myth…

by Meaghan posted January 24, 2017


That’s right. Much of what you thought you knew is wrong.

8-12 reps for muscle growth, right? Not necessarily.

30-90s only of rest to recruit more muscle fibers, correct? Nope.

Moderate intensity is best? All wrong.

These are ALL myths.

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Polar Heart Rate Training

by Meaghan posted October 17, 2016

Last Friday, the FocusNYC staff had the honor of hosting Dave DiFabio, National Account Manager for PolarUSA, for an informative and hands-on workshop.


A long-time strength coach and educator (and esteemed member of our FPTI Advisory Board), Dave first provided some great background information about the benefits of tracking heart rate in athletes – not only to assess performance, but also to get a better idea of their recovery status.

A major takeaway was that ALL stress is reflected in the body’s heart rate response, and that stress can be caused by a number of different things – including:

  • Fitness level
  • Training
  • Nutrition
  • Sleep status
  • Environment
  • Breathing patterns
  • Work/life events

And while this makes heart rate subject to variability, as we know, it also makes it a good indicator of how well an athlete is likely to handle and recover from the stress of exercise. Polar has now taken this concept a few steps further and created a formula to track total stress via heart rate with what they call “Training Load.”

By assigning a point value to each of three heart rate zones (High, Medium and Low) and then tracking the amount of time spent in each zone during practices, games, training sessions, etc., we can quantify total training stress a lot better than traditional means – like time, sets, reps, weight, etc. – that don’t really reflect true physiology. And when tracked and measured against a baseline, over time, we can then determine the approximate number of training load points we can sustain before problems like injuries and performance decreases start to arise. Pretty useful, I think! Especially when the stakes are high.

Dave also brought sensors that tracked acceleration and deceleration during various movements, which added another major benefit: We could actually see how efficient we were and how hard we were truly working rather than just how hard we felt like we were working during different strength and power-based exercises. Can’t get away with being lazy anymore!


We also used the workout opportunity to test out a potential new format for our PT6 class – and it worked pretty well (hint, hint)!

We had a little time left over to discuss the always controversial topic of heart rate variability as well. Long story short, variability in heart rate (time between R intervals) is actually a good thing; it shows that our hearts are able to respond efficiently to various demands. We actually see LESS variability in people with heart disease. And when used in conjunction with other measures (like overall training load), it may be a good way to assess recovery status. Less variability and a high training load together makes it pretty likely that we’re pushing the boarders of overtraining and could use more recovery.

Even I think Polar has found a very beneficial use for technological advances; this system can greatly help coaches and athletes alike optimize both performance and recovery. Many collegiate and professional sports teams are using it, and even some group fitness classes have jumped on the bandwagon.

But this is one up-and-coming trend that’s more than just trendy; there’s a lot of value to the metrics when used the right way, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the data collected using Polar’s technology gets implemented in the future!

It’s OK to HIRT

by Meaghan posted October 5, 2013

“Metabolic resistance training” – or what Italian researchers and authors of a new study call “High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training” (HIRT) – is all the rage these days. And when compared against traditional resistance training, it’s easy to see why. We experience a much greater rise in EPOC (excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption, or “afterburn”) following high-intensity work.

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Finding The Minimum Effective Dose

by Meaghan posted June 20, 2013

In the past, we’ve recommended a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise – either continuous or broken up into 10-minute bouts throughout the day – on most days of the week for the general population. More recently, we amended this recommendation to include an alternative option of at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise 2-3 times per week. But some people still can’t seem to “find” the time to exercise…


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Finally, Some Foam Rolling Research!

by Meaghan posted May 19, 2013

You may not know this, but one of the fitness industry’s currently well-known and loved practices is actually very under-researched – at least until now.

OK…I don’t if everyone would love that…

Thanks to Bret Contreras for breaking down the most recent foam rolling research HERE. As far as the literature goes, here are the main takeaways on the use of foam rolling:

On cardiovascular  health: Arterial stiffness seems to decrease acutely after foam rolling, so regular self-myofascial release with a foam roller may be a useful tool for improving cardiovascular health in the general population.

On performance: Foam rolling prior to working out has shown no DIRECT beneficial effects on performance and should not be done under the belief that it will lead to the ability to increase volume or intensity in a training session.

On range of motion: Foam rolling DOES, however, significantly improve range of motion without the detrimental effects on power output that we’ve seen with stretching prior to working out – so in this sense, it may be viewed as performance-enhancing.


No real surprises here. Granted, we have a lot more work to do in the lab regarding foam rolling. But the cart is well ahead of the horse in that we see very positive effects in real-world practice with the use of foam rolling. Release of unwanted tissue tension helps us feel and move better, and I don’t think we really need a study to tell us that improving movement can at least help prevent injury and therefore indirectly improve performance in the long-run by allowing us to train longer and harder pain-free.

Complete Spinal Health and Core Training

by Meaghan posted March 13, 2013

I think anyone in this industry who knows me also knows I’m a little opinionated when it comes to core training… Research aside (and there’s a lot of it), a simple consideration of kinesiology tells us that certain joints were meant to move – the hips and thoracic spine, for example – while others were meant to NOT move – like the lumbar spine. This simple joint-by-joint analysis should, for the most part, dictate how we train.

Of course, there are always structural abnormalities, postural deviations, conditions, etc. that may warrant a different approach, and this is precisely why assessments are so important. I’ve always admired Tony Gentilcore for constantly acknowledging these things, and I admire him even more now for making his recent core training seminar available:

Together with Dean Somerset, Jeff Cubos and Rick Kaselj, Tony discusses how he assesses his athletes to determine things like whether or not back pain (or the potential for back pain) is flexion- or extension-based, the role of posture and breathing, the importance of hip mobility and glute strength in the prevention and treatment of low back pain, and where foam rolling/massage and core stability fit in. BUT, he does so without losing focus of the goal: PERFORMANCE.

As trainers, we don’t treat pain, and most of our clients don’t want to spend money doing just “corrective exercise.” They want to train. We just have to understand what movements and loading patterns are likely to cause pain and what interventions are likely to help prevent or improve symptoms.

I don’t want to give away too much, so check out this video for a little more about Tony Gentilcore and Spinal Health and Core Training:


If you like what you see so far, the full seminar is available HERE.

Happy New Year!

by Meaghan posted January 2, 2013

As we spring into 2013 with our New Year’s resolutions plans in full gear, it’s good to remember what’s worked successfully in the past – and, of course, what hasn’t. After all, you know what they say: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

That said, there was a bit of controversy recently over a study from Duke University that looked at what type of exercise worked better for fat loss – aerobic or resistance training – and found that aerobic training was the more effective of the two.

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Q&A: Is Interval Training Really Harder Than Steady-State?

by Meaghan posted October 18, 2012

An interesting study in this month’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests not.


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Our Youth Exercise Efforts Aren’t Working…

by Meaghan posted October 4, 2012

As you may have recently read in THIS ARTICLE from the New York Times, a recent review of 30 studies – published between January 1990 and March 2012 – regarding exercise interventions in children shows that for the most part, all of our efforts have been in vain. While the interventions were well designed and implemented, and may even have produced some initial positive results, at the end of the day (and more importantly, at the end of the interventions), kids really weren’t moving more.

You can check out the full review HERE.

My question to all of you is, where are we going wrong??

Formal interventions (e.g., Michelle Obama-led Let’s Move!) clearly aren’t working, but educating adult parents about the importance of exercise doesn’t seem to be working either. I think it’s pretty well-known at this stage of the game that childhood obesity increases the likelihood of being overweight or obese as an adult. Knowledge just isn’t power in this case.

The NY Times article posits a change in environment and an adjustment in the time of the interventions as potential solutions, but I’m curious to hear other ideas – so bring ’em on!