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Dealing with Muscle Soreness, Part I

May 4, 2011

One challenge for trainers working with clients who are new to fitness is avoiding delayed-onset muscle soreness. When a person tries a new exercise program, or ramps up the intensity, the change creates tiny tears in the muscle fibers.  These tares repair, creating larger, stronger muscles. This is why rest (allowing the muscles time to repair) is critical to any smart exercise program.  Although DOMS can be a positive indicator of a good workout, muscle soreness and pain can deter reluctant exercisers from further workouts, so trainers often try to introduce new exercises slowly, and start with only a single set per exercise.

If you know you have had a tough workout, but want to avoid muscle soreness the next day, here are some things you can do to minimize soreness:
*Make sure you have a protein rich snack after your workout (when I increased the protein in my diet I noticed a huge reduction in DOMS). Milk may be best for those who digest it well.

*Drink lots of water

* Be sure to stretch after your workout and foam roll or stretch before bed

* Take a warm shower, or better yet, a shower in which you alternate warm and cold water.  It can feel great to put on flannel pajamas and stretch a little after a warm shower before bed.

* Oddly, MOVEMENT is the best cure for DOMS.  If you wake up the next morning, and feel stiff and sore, you may be tempted to be less active. However, if you are confident you are experiencing sore muscles (all over ache and tightness, no localized pain), exercise can be the best cure.  It is a terrible idea to do a hard workout, but light movement can make you feel much better and reduce soreness the next day.  If you are sore from a weight workout, a light run or some swimming can help you loosen up.  If a tough cardio session made you sore, try a longer walk.  Mobility work or yoga can also help.  No matter how much the soreness makes you want to curl up on the couch, try to talk yourself into ten minutes of easy movement and see how much better you feel.

*For the more scientifically inclined, MC at Begin to Dig reviews the scientific literature on what causes DOMS and how to cure it .


Weekday Moves: Ankle Mobility

May 2, 2011

Because sometimes it can be rough to settle back in your desk Monday after the weekend, I’ll feature a mobility move, stretch, or healthy choice you can make during the workday every Monday.

Like most members of industrialized society, the majority of my movements are sagittal. Combined with a love of running, and a tendency to wear both high heels and flip flops more often then is good for me, I have very stiff ankles. I used to think my tight hamstrings inhibited my squat, but as I learned more about biomechanics, I realized my tight ankles and limited dorsoflexion kept me from squatting below (or originally to) parallel. I’d love to one day master the pistol squat, and I know I need to improve my ankle mobility to do so.

When on a conference call or seated around a table at a meeting, I try to flex and point my foot, then do ankle circles in both directions. I can feel ‘sticking points’ during my ankle circle– places I can’t really trace the circle– and I try to move back and forth over these points.

Want to learn more about the ankle joint? Begin to Dig has an excellent explanation with pictures. TrxTV also just posted an ankle mobility related warm up for the sprinter’s start I am eager to try!

Preliminary Review of Flavia Del Monte’s “Full-Body-Licious” System

April 28, 2011

I talked myself into purchasing this workout system last night in a fit of insomnia.  So far, I haven’t tried out the workouts, but have done a preliminary watch of the videos to get a sense of the program. I may write further reviews once I try the workouts. I tried to find a link for you that was less, er, informercialicious, but after no avail, here you .


The package consists of five downloadable workout videos that consist of exercise demonstrations and tips, five PDFs that have printable guides for each workout, and one program overview PDF. The plan is 5 one hour weight-focused workouts per week, featuring a fairly innovative lower body split coupled with frequent upper body work. Although the ab workout has a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) element, no additional cardio is prescribed.  The five workouts are:

1) Tight and Trim Thighs- quad focused program with some work for the chest, back, biceps, triceps and abs.

2) Showoff Stomach– a mix of traditional ab work, planks, and HIIT

3) Booty Booster- a glute focused workout that like the quad workout, includes a healthy dose of upper body work

4) Sleek and Shapely Shoulders- shoulder workout with some ab work and very light lower body work for a cardio effect

5) Beautiful Backside- hamstring and glute focused workout with upper body work


Flavia has a great personality and seems warm and knowledgeable.  I really enjoyed hearing her speak and thought her form pointers were spot on.  She ‘coached’ through part of each movement, but is encouraging, and neither as chatty nor as aggressive as Jillian Micheals.  In general, I dislike instructors who talk too much about “tone up those buns for bikini season’ etc, and I was worried this workout would have that feel based on the program name, but it was generally not condescending.

The moves were fun but still effective. It isn’t a traditional body building workout, but moves have a solid foundation. No ‘balance on a Bosu while extending one leg behind you and do 100 arm circles’ here.

I am intrigued by the heavy lower body emphasis.  When I design programs for myself, I typically pair 4-5 lower body moves with 4-5 upper body moves because I find this combo allows me to slack on cardio a little/drink more beer. My impression is that her formula of very intense lower body work (many upper body exercises throughout the workout are also paired with a lower body move) does make the workout an effective calorie burner without much formal cardio. However, I think there are some pitfalls of lower body intensive training for some trainees, and I plan to write more about this in the future. I also appreciate that there is a decent amount of unilateral work.

I also liked her attention to pairing horizontal push and pull exercises as well as vertical push and pull exercises. I think it’s productive that she included a row and a lat pull exercise each time. As a woman who aspires to one day do chinups and pullups AND who wants to look good in her open-backed wedding dress, I found the added back focus helpful. I do think that for those of us who sit at a desk all day (yes, you reading this now), it’s ideal to have two “pull” exercises for every “push” exercise to counteract hunching, but I find this hard to program without sacrificing the chest and shoulders/free time. So many programs have too many push exercises that I think the balance in this program is laudable.

Sometimes, I am reluctant to try a new program wholeheartedly because I love my mixed routine of kettlebells, TRX, free weights, valslides, etc.  While this workout only requires a bare minimum of equipment, it was easy to see how I could integrate all my favorite toys, which made me more eager to try it.


Despite the forthcoming list of dislikes, I really liked this program and look forward to trying it out.  However, I’m a critical thinker, so it’s always easy for me to come up with things that could be improved or just rankle me.  From most serious to most petty/self-centered:

I worry that there aren’t clear progressions in this program. For some exercises, Flavia shows more advanced or basic versions, but she never talks about how to select the correct weight or when to increase your weight.  She may assume women using this program already know this, but in my experience, women will use too light weights or not increase their weights unless encouraged to do so. Progressive overload is necessary for achieving results, so I found this omission troubling.

While the program included a far share of planks and stability work, I thought the emphasis on traditional ab work was overdone. In general, other than some stability work, I prefer not to train my abs in isolation at all but engage throughout my workout. I know most women want a more ab-focused workout, and it’s hard to talk people out of this, but I cringe at the hour of ab work and HIIT workout. I’d rather see a mix of mobility moves with HITT if she wanted to include a HIIT day.

I also wish there had been a warmup. I guess she could assume most people would know to perform a warmup, but I think some guidance would make made it a more complete program. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed her personality, so I think a guided dynamic warmup would have been a nice touch.

Her dumbbell swing can be added to the massive, massive list of fitness professionals who have cruelly butchered derivatives of the kettlebell swing. It was much more of a squat than a hinge.  However, it was still a hip centric movement, and is probably still a good movement pattern, it just made me sad because I find a correct swing so effective.

Personally, I only like doing cardio after weights because as soon as I get very sweaty, I either want to keep moving quickly or be in the shower.  I don’t enjoy alternating between cardio and weights for this reason (abs/HIIT workout).  However, this is definitely a “me” problem, not an everyone problem!

The names also bother me, because I’m not into the licious and I think booty is too cutesy, but that’s par for the course in the fitness world.


When I test this program, I’m curious whether lower body soreness will impede my ability to do the workouts as the week goes on.  I think it’s an intelligent split that gives muscles some recovery time, but I worry that the first week, the light lower body work in the shoulder workout will be challenging. I am curious about the demand on the shoulders, because there is some shoulder work in days 1, 3, 4, and 5.  I think because Day 4 doesn’t use a traditional press, it may be all right.  Flavia says users may split the workout however they prefer, but she uses a Day 1/Day 2/Day 3/Off/Day 4/Day 5/Off split which sounds sensible. I think doing all five workouts in a row, or going from Day 5 back to Day 1 without rest in between could compromise results due to reduced effort due to soreness.

In general, I am skeptical of compound muscle movements in general purpose workouts.  I don’t mean naturally compound movements, like a pushup or a deadlift, but movements in which you combine a squat and a biceps curl, etc. I understand why these movements are appealing to workout instructors, because  they allow the instructor to integrate small muscle work while maintaining a high energy demand (calorie burn for those who had to hear it). However, I worry that for all but the most advanced exercises, they result in some sacrifice of form. Even for more advanced exercisers, I think fake compound movements reduce the amount of strength the exerciser can devote to each movement and may impede strength building. However, I was ok with the compound exercises in this program.  I think it is because: 1) there was no pressure to do them quickly (“as many as you can in 30 seconds! the faster you go the higher the burn!”) which can further deteriorate form 2) the upper body movement was generally done in one of the hold positions of the lower body movement, rather than the two movements happening concurrently.  However, I am curious to see how I feel when doing the workout in person.

Who Is This For?

This is undoubtedly a high volume program that relies on some initial strength. For instance, the pushup is frequently repeated as a chest move, and while I think modifications are possible, I would hesitant to recommend this program to an exerciser who couldn’t do a single pushup from their toes.

I think this program would serve women who are intermediate exercisers and want to ramp up the intensity to improve their conditioning and look better. I don’t think it’s the ideal workout for building strength because of the volume, but I think if someone adhered to it while holding diet consistent they would get a lot leaner and make modest strength gains.

While I think Flavia has a lovely body, I can imagine some women thinking she is too bulky or muscular.  Although she says this program is what she did to get in shape for the video, I imagine she already had a pretty good base and is extremely lean, which makes her muscle definition look more extreme.  Also, she is able to do the most advanced progression of every exercise (pullups, one arm towel grip inverted rows) which will not be typical of most exercisers. I don’t think this program would make most women more muscular than they were comfortable with, although I do think the target look is more muscular than, say, a Valerie Waters program is shooting for. It’s also possible some women would want to skip the quad work; as I said earlier, the amount of ab work is not appropriate for my goals.