Long Live Lower Legs

Long Live Lower Legs

Like a good friend, it’s easy to take the muscles in the lower leg between your knee and foot for granted. But they deserve a lot of attention, especially as we age.

In this video, CBFer’s are putting the lower legs through their paces, up, down, forwards, sideways. Watch all those movements in the feet. The originate from the powerful muscles below your knee.

Unless you are off your feet or floating in water, they are at work. They keep you upright and balanced when standing. They are the source of all your locomotion, whether walking or running. They stabilize your feet when you push, pull, and rotate. They absorb what is called the jolting “ground reaction force” when you descend from a leap or stumble.

CBFers can do lots of movements safely because they also possess the strength and flexibility developed from squats, lunges, tug of wars, walk aways, three dot hops, and similar exercises.

There’s a big payoff outside the gym – more power when needed for everyday tasks, better balance, fewer falls and improved athletic performance.


Mastering the Black Ball

Mastering the Black Ball

Note: This video of last Wednesday’s Black Ball class has no sound track.

If you were in this class, take a few minutes to watch how you handled the ball. It can be really helpful to see yourself in action, as well as other CBFers.

Considering we’ve only done these a few times, everyone is doing really well. Here are some pointers to help optimize your results from the balls, which can greatly improve your flexibility, strength and balance.

- Concentrate on going all the way to your end range of motion (as far as you are able, under control and not straining). Really reach out with your foot doing lunges, likewise extend the ball away from your body as far as you can.

- Get good flexion (bend) in your knees doing squats and lunges. It doesn’t need to be 90 degrees, but make those knee and hip muscles work.

- Maintain a flat back and upright posture as much as possible, whether rotating, lunging or squatting. When you have a weight, like a med ball, held away from your body, you want your full core, not lower back, to provide a stable platform for arm movement.

- Move at a speed where you have to really grip the ball to slow it. That little pull as you stop it is good for muscles and connective tissue, and relieves joint stiffness with the multi-directional movements.

As you fatigue, it’s harder to maintain excellent form. It’s easy to take a shortcuts. Don’t worry about the count. Just focus on form with full extension.

When you master the black ball, you’ll be surprised how much they help you perform safe and effective movements in everyday life.


These Old Bones

These Old Bones

Most people over 60 have osteoarthritis (OA) somewhere in their joints - knees, hips, hands, shoulders, feet. If they’ve had a trauma, like surgery, or over-used a joint, like tennis players, it’s guaranteed.

OA is due to the wearing away of articular cartilage, a translucent layer at the end of your that looks and feels like hard plastic. This cartilage allows the bones to slide smoothly against one another in your joints. You aren’t aware it is wearing away because it has no blood supply or nerves.

OA usually develops slowly. You might feel dull pain and stiffness after using a certain joint complex. It might be hard to pin down exactly where the pain is coming from. You might not even notice it much until you are laying in bed.

Over time the pain become more persistent. The pain indicates that the subchondral layer of bone is exposed. This layer does have a blood supply and nerve endings, so articular cartilage does not grow back. 

Unfortunately, there is no permanent fix for OA, although there are plenty of temporary or surgical ones, many of little value, like these for hip and knee arthritis. Note the cautions regarding popping pills.

Due to the pain with OA, your first instinct is to stop using the joint where the pain resides, but this just leads to atrophy of the muscles and connective tissues around the joint which over the long term just makes the OA accelerate.

What’s helpful and slows the progress of OA is to flex and strengthen the joint(s) where the pain resides. The more you can preserve the overall integrity of the joint, the longer you can escape radical solutions like surgical replacements.

What’s important when exercising a joint with OA is:

- To minimize the time the joint is under high loads. Do repetitions with less resistance.

- To not flex the joint to the extreme end range of its motion. For example, if you have OA in a knee, do not flex (bend) it less than 100 degrees. If you are doing a squat, stop with the knee only slightly bent (before your thigh is parallel to the floor).

- To stop the activity that has caused the overuse OA in the first place. if you have OA in your right elbow from playing a game, learn to use your other one.

- To develop overall body strength, flexibility and muscle balance so that you maintain the best bone alignment possible in your joints.

The saying “You gotta be tough to grow old” is especially true when it comes to our bones. Think of exercise as tough love.






Recovery Yin & Yang

Recovery Yin & Yang 

Taking it easy is just as important as exercising hard. It’s a yin/yang relationship. When you find your balance between the two, you are the fittest, strongest and healthiest you can be.  Too much or too little of either one and you’re not.

When you hear it’s important to reduce your exercise intensity for a day or two after a workout to recover, you might wonder: What exactly is recovering and how?

Muscle and connective tissue- The reason you feel some soreness after workouts is that exercise causes micro-tears in muscles and connective tissues. These must be repaired before you are able to generate your peak muscle force again. With older adults, this can take 2-3 days as amino acids (proteins) and various growth factors arrive at the damaged site.

That’s why no two consecutive CBF workouts exercise the same muscles at the same intensity. Observe your workouts over a week, you’ll notice different muscles are emphasized in each workout.  For example, we don’t do lat pull-downs two workouts in a row.

Energy supplies - In every workout, you use three energy systems. Each is dependent on the delivery of a certain type and mix of chemicals at a certain time to create a multi-step reaction resulting in the release of energy to contract your muscles.

Which energy system is primarily in use depends on the intensity and duration of the activity. When you are breathing so hard you can barely talk, like when on the ropes or doing fast mountain climbers, you are relying on an energy source called phosphocreatine (CP – see blue in graph)), which can be depleted in seconds.The source you use the most is glycogen (see green area in graph), some of which is stored in muscle or as glucose in your bloodstream. Glycogen is used mainly in long, slow activities, like walking, and throughout less intense exercises in workouts.

All of these energy sources rely on chemicals that get depleted during exercise and must be restored during recovery.


Metabolic by-products – Post exercise, your body is awash in waste products that must be removed. The conversion of fuel to energy in your body creates by-products, just like a car produces exhaust. That burning sensation you feel in muscles as you fatigue indicates the presence of hydrogen ions. These put the muscles into cellular acidosis, which then interrupts the delivery of fuel to the muscle. That’s why you start to get wobbly and lose form – you’re running out of gas.

Once you stop exercising, your body immediately starts to recover. But it can only recover if you don’t exercise hard again. That’s why on non-CBF days you don’t overdo it with all you other exercise passions. If you don’t give your body a chance to restore itself, you’ll always feel fatigued, perform at a lower level than you are capable of, and compromise your immune system.

There are a few things you can do to support and accelerate your recovery. The first is eat extra protein and carbohydrates within the first two hours after you leave the gym. Carbs and proteins consumed at the same time have been shown to restore glycogen quicker than carbs alone.

The second is to practice active recovery. On your recovery day don’t just curl up on the sofa and watch TV. Walk or take a slow bike ride. Do some foam rolling or light yoga. The blood and lymph flow into muscles helps the re-synthesis of glycogen and CP while also removing those toxic waste products.

When it comes to recovery, less exercise results in more fitness. And more fitness results in faster recovery.










Hit Me

Hit Me

A good thing about playing a game is when your competitive juices are flowing, your body has to perform without you thinking too much. You have to react fast, and be coordinated enough to do more than one thing at once. You have to be strong enough to stay balanced, and move safely in multiple-directions.

These CBFers display lots of skill and teamwork Speedy lunges and squats, good athletic position, powerful trunk rotations, hand-eye coordination, abrupt start-stops.

A very cool competition on a hot summer morning.



Going Primal

Going Primal

We like to do primal crawls because it develops what is called reflexive strength. These CBFers beautifully demonstrate reflexive strength in action.

Note in the video how everyone is able to reach out and support themselves with arms and hands because strong rotator cuffs hold the upper arm bone firmly in place while bearing the full weight of the body. Ditto in the hips where a stable platform is provided for the large muscles in the legs to propel you forwards.

Strong cores ensure straight backs as limbs move on opposite sides (contra laterally) – you don’t see exaggerated twisting or sagging in the spine.

Because crawling is a total body exercise – arms, legs, core, feet, neck – there’s a tremendous amount of activity going on in the central nervous system to time and sequence every movement.

All of this makes for a physically skilled older adult who can safely fall or push a car stuck in the snow or hold onto a leashed dog that takes off after a squirrel. And walk or run.







Grappling with the Exercise Grizzly

Grappling with the Exercise Grizzly 

Your body reacts to exercise the same way it reacts to an encounter with a grizzly bear – it triggers the fight-or-flight response.

Because exercise is a major stressor, your body releases a cascade of hormones to ensure you can physically perform to meet the challenge, just as if you were in a life threatening situation.


Just consider what epinephrine, a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands, does for you as your exercise intensifies and you start to feel discomfort:

- strengthens your heart contractions

- expands arteries (vasodilation) supplying blood to your heart and muscles

- constricts (vasoconstriction) blood supply in non-exercising muscles to force blood to muscles in use

- widens passages in the lungs to maximize oxygen intake

- reduces digestive activity to divert blood to exercising muscles

- mobilizes stored carbohydrates and fats to provide energy (which is why exercise helps sustain weight loss)

- increases alertness (but there’s a tradeoff – you have faster reaction times, but will find it hard to do math – try to do multiplication tables while on the ropes).

Exercise in the gym is preparation for real life in more ways than we realize. You’re developing will power, strength, endurance, and resilience as you grapple with that grizzly in the gym.





Heavy Breathing

Heavy Breathing

You may hear that demanding male trainer at CBF shout “Breathe!” As if anybody needs to be reminded! If you’ve lived long enough to be there, you’ve lived long enough to know how to breathe, right?

Actually, during most of your daily life your breathing takes care of itself without you giving it a thought. However, during exercise, things are very different. Your body is under significant stress as your skeletal muscles, heart and brain demand oxygen and energy to fuel your movement.

Here are a few breathing techniques you can use to help yourself exercise effectively and safely.

lungsFirst, NEVER hold your breath. Sometimes people hold their breaths to get an extra push on a weight or max out the last ten seconds of the ropes. Don’t. Holding your breath can spike your blood pressure to dangerous levels because it restricts blood flow back to the heart, making it work even harder. Grunt, pant, gasp, but never stop breathing.

Second, when you are working with resistance, such as a kettlebell, machine, or tubes, exhale as you lift (when muscles contract) and inhale when lowering (when muscles stretch). For instance, when doing the kettlebell swing, exhale when you contract your glutes and hamstrings to send the bell up, then inhale as it swings down between your legs. When doing a lat pull down on the machine, exhale as you pull the weight down, inhale as it goes back up. Ditto with tubes. Exhale as you push your hands out in a chest press, inhale as they come back.

Third, when doing an exercise targeted at your core, like band knee to knees, walkaways, or primal moves, purse your lips as you exhale. Do a quick experiment on yourself. Put your hand on your belly, take a deep breath, and exhale hard with your mouth open wide. Now do the same thing, only this time exhale hard through pursed lips. Feel how your abdomen tightens. You just activated the transverse abdominus, a powerful band of muscles that is key to proper core activation and exercise performance

Finally, when you are running or sprinting, maintain an erect, head-up posture to maximize the volume of your thoracic cavity, thus space for lungs to expand. Breath so deep so your belly button goes out and in, as your chest rises and falls. Help your body engage the breathing muscles in your ribs and back that are idle when you are not exerting.

With good breathing technique, you’ll find you have more strength and endurance than you thought.



The Black Ball Workout

The Black Ball Workout

Last Friday CBFers participated in the first solo/pairs workout with new medicine balls that begins easy and ends not so easy. It’s a great addition to our program for older adult fitness.

Think about how you move every day – forwards, backwards, sideways, facing up, facing down, turning, reaching, tossing, throwing, crouching, kneeling, and other …ings.

Often you must complete these movements while managing a light load of one to ten pounds – laundry, groceries, a child, skis, a case of beer, daypack, firewood, coiled hose, box of books, a chair, a stack of dishes.

These diverse movements require strength and flexibility, in equal amounts, from head to toe. There’s no better or safer way to develop this combination than by moving a weighted medicine ball against gravity – in multiple directions, at varying velocities – throughout your range of motion.

twins1 (1)In the fitness world, you hear the phrase “range of motion.” Maintaining a useful range of motion is really important for older adults to continue participating in life’s many activities and remaining independent deep into old age.

twins2 (1)

Having a useful range of motion is much more being able to reach up or bend down or twist into a static yoga pose. That’s just the beginning. You also need to be able to generate force and absorb force.

For example, when you reach up to the overhead bin to remove a bag on the airplane, if you have a useful range of motion, you’ll not only grab the bag, you’ll also control its descent, avoiding dropping it onto the passenger seated below. When you need to move a shovelful of dirt, you’re be able to sequence the flexion of your ankles, knees, and hips to reach it, then able to quickly straighten them to lift the load, rotate, and toss it away.

The physical advantages gained with medicine balls is more than stronger muscles. The wide range of movements improve the tensile strength and elasticity in ligaments, tendons, and the connective tissue that surrounds every muscle. These are what tend to get injured when you are not fit.

Check the pictures of excellent range of motion for 50+ adults. These exercisers are able to extend their arms straight out from their bodies while holding up the weighted balls because their arms and shoulders are strong. Their arm and shoulder actions are supported by a stable platform provided by their flexed ankles and hips. Straight backs and engaged cores protect them from dangerous pressure on their lower backs.

We spend lots of time in the numbered circuits developing raw strength with heavier resistances in isolated muscles, like biceps, triceps, quadriceps, and hamstrings, as well joint complexes like shoulders or knees.

In the Black Ball Workout, these strengthened body parts come together, preparing you for useful movement in the real world.

And it’s fun. One CBFer said it was one of the funnest things she ever did in her entire life.









Love That Fantastic Elastic

Love That Fantastic Elastic

One of the best workouts we do is with tubes because they develop total body, multi-planar strength that you can’t get with machines or free weights.

You might wonder when you lay awake at night: How can simple tubes be superior to all those pneumatic/cabled contraptions and hardware in the globe-gyms?


At CBF we believe poet Elizabeth Barret Browning was thinking about exercise tubes when she penned Sonnet 43, which begins: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

First, tubes create resistance in multiple directions – overhead, diagonally, sideways, forwards – that are impossible to replicate otherwise. Research shows you engage more muscle fibers around joints, like those in the rotator cuff.

Second, the typical way you call on muscles to work in everyday activities or sports is when you are on your feet, not seated or laying down as is the case with machines. Many more muscles must engage. Think about when you do overhead triceps. The triceps are the prime mover, but in back the muscles of the legs and torso must create a stable platform for the triceps to move.

Third, as the tubes pull against your body from various angles, you improve your balance, whether upright doing front presses or on one knee doing wood chops. Your body is forced to make subtle adjustments to variable forces to the changing resistance as the band stretches and contracts.

Fourth, the maximum resistance of the tube occurs at the end range of motion, where injuries often happen in daily life, eg, you reach up to lift a heavy object off a shelf and pull a muscle. Tubes provide resistance from start to finish, increasing your resilience.

Fifth, tubes are especially effective for use by older adults because they develop cross-sectional strength in the targeted muscle, while also incorporating integrated movements  that are required in everyday tasks and athletic pursuits.

Sixth, tubes are very safe. You can quickly adjust resistance if you fatigue, and they are easier on tendons and ligaments that can be threatened by weights that are too heavy.

Tubes are used routinely by elite athletes these days because there’s so much to love.