How Much is Too Much Yoga, Goal-Specific Kettlebell Workouts, Why Your IT-Band Hurts & What You Should Know About mTOR — Q&A
Q: Could too much yoga be doing more harm than good for my equilibrium?
Although, in yoga’s defense, too much of anything will eventually start working against you. From coconut oil to down dogs to the inhalation of oxygen, the dose makes the poison. And, as with any practice, it’s important for any individual practicing yoga know their “Why” and desired outcome.
If your objective in practicing yoga is to recovery quicker so you can train harder at CrossFit, or to practice for your 100m relay more intensely, how important do you suspect it is to touch your foot to the back of your head or do a split? In athletic contexts such as these, the goal should be to spend an hour off-the-grid, breathing, improving blood flow, and learning to optimize movement — not necessarily maximizing it in each pose.
I have met many yoga practitioners who live in a state of anterior pelvic tilt, as visible by a forward sloping belt line and excessive lower back curve. This “yoga-posture” is the result of an over-emphasis on hamstring lengthening and forward bending. This is in part the nature of many yogic practices but is often confounded by biases in the instructor’s teachings or that of the individual practicing — it’s easy to get caught up and rehearse, or simply “try harder” at the poses that look the most impressive.
I have even seen many mannequins at yoga stores expressing this arched back, forward-sloping pelvis posture as well, which in the context of the question, is the definition of a disrupted equilibrium. The belt line of any optimized human should be level, supported by tot synergies between the core, the hip flexors, the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and adductors. If the belt line slopes forward, the hamstrings are too long, which in effort to maintain some equilibrium, the quads and hip flexors shorten, the core stabilizers skew, and the glutes are inhibited. If you’re an athlete — none of those “costs” are worth a more impressive toe touch. If you’re a yogi posing on the beach to sell clothes on instagram — different story.
Ultimately, the three things I keep in mind while practicing yoga (especially when I was crazy enough to do a 30-Day Bikram Challenge) are these:
Stretch Responsibly. A standing, straight legged toe-touch is “optimal length” for the hamstrings — period. More isn’t better, it’s just more. And more always comes at a price.
Check the Ego. Don’t struggle, show off and aim to get better at what you’re good at. Save your struggle for your worst postures, and ease up on the others until you have evened things out.
Stay in the room. Yoga is meant to be a mindful breath-conscious movement practice, not a high-intensity workout. Make sure the 60-90 minutes you’re at yoga add to your vitality instead of taking away from it.
Q: Is it better to do 20 heavy swings or 50 medium swings?
Trick question! Just about everybody needs both. Similar to the question above, we must remember that nothing that exists is good or bad, better or worse — everything simply is and, when used properly, will provide a beneficial outcome. It’s “proper application” that should be defined and explored.
Most people need lower rep heavier swings and higher rep lighter ones, as they both have their place on the performance and healthy living spectrums. The former to raise the baseline of strength, and the latter to build endurance and skill around that new benchmark of strength. That being said, the number of people fit and skilled enough to perform “50 medium swings” with great technique is limited, so this question is really only valid in the context of a skilled kettlebeller. Once a person learns, through working with an RKC or similar professional, how to properly swing a bell, they should use the following program to help determine their next workout’s acute variables:
Standard Weights / Weight Classes
Men under/over 175lbs: 20kg/24kg
Strong Men of any weight: 24kg
Women under/over 130lbs: 12-16kg/16-20kg
Strong Woman of any weight: 20kg
Get Strong: 2-5 sets of 5 at 2X standard weight.
Live Long: 3 sets of 10 at standard weight.
Strength Endurance A: 2-5 sets of 15-25 reps at or below standard weight
Strength Endurance B: Breathing Ladders at standard weight. (Rest period is measured in inhalations equal to half the number of reps performed in the Swing, often starting with 20 swings and dropped by two each round.)
Aerobic Endurance: 1-3 sets of 50-100+ reps at 50-75% of standard weight.
Q: What are the best exercises to strengthen the IT-Band?
People seem to always want to “strengthen” the area that hurts. Please, for the love of God, let’s put an end that line of thinking.
At the start of my career, I worked with a number of people with knee pain. Many had been in and out of doctor's offices but didn’t have an “injury” per say, or enough pain to go to Physical Therapy. Yet the pain was still equal parts a limitation, a complaint, and a fear. The advice they were given time and time again by their doctor was to “strengthen the quads”.
This advice and the thinking that spawned it has likely damaged more knees than it has helped. In the case of knee pain, it is most often due to weakness in the hips, mobility deficits at the ankles, and over-dominance of the quads. “Strengthening” the quads actually feeds into the pathology and makes the problem worse (akin to a yogi stretching their hamstrings when their pelvis is already sloping forwards).
What’s more is that strength is rarely an issue at the site of pain. In fact, the areas that hurt or become injured are often the strongest — they are also the most over-worked and the most tired. This is the case with nearly all cases of low-back pain which will affect nearly 80% of the adult population at some point in their life.
In the unique case of the IT-Band, unlike a hip, low back, or a shoulder, we aren’t even talking about a muscle.
The IT-Band is a tendon lining the outside of the thigh that is non-contractile. In other words, it’s a thick, tendinous band, not a supple muscle, and its length is it’s length. Dysfunctional and greedy “neighbors” in the hip and lower leg, above and below the IT-Band, lead to a “tug-of-war” on this non-contractile tissue which inevitably ends in pain. So rather than strengthening the IT-Band, let’s work on the above and below to take some of the stretch off the innocent tendon.
Beginning from the bottom-up, you want to increase the function and mobility of the lower extremities first. This will help “feed” the system with every step and decrease the amount of work you’ll need to do later higher up the chain. Note: this is not an exhaustive program and every case is unique, but this should help most people put a dent in their pain. I highly recommend picking up our RUNGA Mobility Balls for these exercises and joining my email list as I am about to release an e-book titled Breathe Better, Move Better that contains a more complete repertoire that will further support IT-Band problems — among other areas of pain!
Foot Rolling: Using your Mobility Ball, roll the bottom of the feet for 3-5 minutes per foot while wiggling the toes.
Wall Ankle Mobility (WAM): 2 sets of 10 per side. (Click here for video.)
WAM + Big Toe: 2 sets of 10 per side. (Skip ahead to the 1:00 mark of the same video.)
Shin-Release: *IMPORTANT* This muscle literally becomes your IT-Band and a lot of the tension stems from here. Follow this video instruction.
Hip Lift: 2 sets of 10. (Click here for video.)
Dead Bugs: 2 sets of 10 per side. (Click here for video.)
Deficit Reverse Lunge: 2-3 sets of 6-10 per side .(Click here for video.)
Q: How to activate mTOR and what the benefits of doing so are for health and performance?
Before we dive into mTOR, there are a few other terms we must define and get familiar with:
Protein Synthesis: The natural and regulated building or repair of cells and their component parts.
Autophagy: Rooted in Ancient Greek symbolizing "self-devouring", autophagy is the natural and regulated destruction or disassembly of cells and their component parts.
AMPK: The body’s “master switch” enzyme that regulates all cellular energy production. In other words, AMPK decides, based on energy demands and available raw materials what systems and pathways we activate — including anabolic pathways such as mTOR or protein synthesis, and catabolic pathways such as autophagy and cellular breakdown.
mTOR: Once activated through AMPK, mTOR initiates and regulates the body’s “building projects” through protein synthesis that include the growth, proliferation, and motility of cells.
So, now that we’re all on the same page, the question of how to activate mTOR and the benefits of it, is quite simple. mTOR is activated when we provide AMPK, which is present in every cell in the body, the raw materials necessary for its activation. Given mTOR regulates protein synthesis, it is an anabolic enzyme that responds to the presence of amino acids in the system. The more amino acids, the more mTOR we activate, and the more muscle building we experience. The benefits of the mTOR pathway then include increased muscle recovery, hypertrophy, and strength. Sound pretty good?
We thought so too. Until recently, just about any health and fitness professional, or dietitian for that matter, believed this was a pretty good thing to keep going - especially for athletes. This notion of avoiding “starvation mode” at all costs to prevent muscle loss is what scared people into “eating every two hours” for the last 10-15 years. Yet, we may have learned the hard way yet again that every Yang needs its Yin.
“Starvation mode” is what allows us to remove our unhealthy and disturbed cells before they proliferate. If you had cancer autophagy may start to sound pretty good!
Well, we’re all “cancering” at all times. In fact, I highly recommend listening to this podcast with my good friend Eric Remensperger who is one of the smartest guys in the world on this topic. He cured his own stage-4 prostate cancer through this understanding: We are all creating cells that are abnormal, and luckily for us, our bodies are pretty good at clearing them out — so long as we give them the chance to do so. This is where time-restricted eating and intermittent fasting comes into play. Activating mTOR enough to get the fitness benefits, but allowing AMPK to push us into autophagy enough to ensure that we remain healthy.
When I say health and fitness should not be confused with each other (and that at times, they can be opposites), this is what I mean.
The strongest mTOR activators, foods you may consider consuming during your eating periods or when you want to push yourself into a state of repair,. include milk, eggs, and red meat. The strongest AMPK/autophagy activators, which you may consider consuming while fasting to push your body further into autophagy, include turmeric and berberine. Both are included in the list of supplements I make sure my mom takes just about everyday.
In short, it seems for our health, spending 16-hours per day in an autophagic state is desirable. This means consuming all calories within an 8-hour window. In fact, the research on this performed on mice demonstrated that they got healthier every time they reduced their feeding window by two-hours. The 14-hour window mice were healthier than the 16-hour mice, the 12-hour mice were healthier than the 14-hour mice, and so on until the 8-hour mice being the gold standard.
As an athlete, this is extremely challenging and can even become destructive. You cannot maximize health and fitness at the same time. In addition, hard exercise activates AMPK better than just about anything, which is a “reboot button” that people chasing health and not fitness may not be getting. That’s the reason I keep most of my athletes at a 12-hour fasting/eating period. Yin, Yang.