Thursday, November 20, 2014

Your Holiday Survival Guide

It's here - whether you're ready or not. Just look at the seasonal shelves in your favorite store. Retailers like to call it ‘holiday season' but let's be more accurate – it’s “weight gain” season and it starts now and runs straight through New Year's Day...

These next six weeks will bring ample opportunity for all of us to expand our waistlines.

So why discuss it now just days away from Thanksgiving? Because now is the opportunity to plan for the weeks ahead. Once the craziness begins, you'll be too busy to put a plan into action.

So I want to help you take this moment of clarity, this calm before the storm, to outline a two-part plan that will save your waist from unwanted holiday inches.

Part One: Your Exercise Plan. 

Exercise always seems to be the very last thing people think of doing when they get overwhelmed, and the holiday season is notorious for empty gyms. This year do something different - MAKE yourself to exercise. Making a promise to “try” making it to the gym more simply won't cut it, either. You need to go public. Get others involved to hold you accountable so that you won't drop the ball.

Sign up to work with a personal trainer or health coach - This is the perfect solution for consistent, challenging and effective workouts. You'll get the one-on-one attention and assistance needed to power you through the holidays in better shape than ever - talk about motivating!

Join a class – Many folks aren't be as effective exercising on their own during the busy holiday season, so joining a class for accountability is a perfect solution. Find something you will enjoy and gets your heart rate up.

Get a serious exercise buddy – I’m not talking giant, Conan the Barbarian type, but someone who is disciplined about their routine. Some friends can be an awesome help but if they lack the discipline they’ll end up pulling you down. So, if you've decided to find an exercise buddy, it’s important to answer the following questions:

  • Do they share your fitness goals?
  • Are they fairly encouraging?
  • Do they give up easily? 
  • Are they at your fitness level?

Part Two: Your Diet Plan.

It’s no secret, the holidays offer ample opportunities to indulge, so it is imperative that you hammer down some guidelines before hitting that buffet line. I'm not to go all Grinch and say you should go completely cold turkey from any seasonal treats, I do want you to use the ‘M’ word - moderation.

Don't use the holidays as an excuse to pork out – even Santa doesn’t want that bloated feeling!

As for the pot-luck get-together? Go small… Giant platters and deserts can make stunning presentations, but so can mini individualized foods. Plus, if you limit what you bring you’ll also be limiting (or preferably avoid) your take-home share of leftovers. Less leftovers means less weight stored on the belly. In fact, do everyone a favor this year by not gifting fattening treats.

When faced with a buffet line, I always recommend loading your plate first with greens, vegetables and lean meats before breads and heavier foods. Also keep alcoholic beverages to a 2-drink maximum.

Speaking of alcoholic beverages, beware of holiday drinks! Most of these festive concoctions are stuffed with extra calories. Yup, hot holiday drinks from coffee shops, cocktails at parties and creamy eggnog are all very enjoyable and all filled with empty calories – but, then again, you already knew that didn't cha? ;-)

Everywhere you go during the holiday season brings you face-to-face with a plates and trays of temptation, but you don't have to gain weight this holiday season. The key is your mindset.

If you approach the holidays with the mindset of, 'I deserve to indulge and I shouldn't have to exercise' then you'll enter 2015 a few pounds heavier, a little less healthy, and with lower energy than ever before.

I believe that you can do better. You deserve better! I believe that you can enter 2015 in better shape than you are today, healthier than you've been in a long time, and with more energy than you thought possible.

I'm here to help - If you would like to have more support I encourage you to schedule a complimentary "Let's Talk" Strategy consultation with me.

Starting out doesn't have to be intimidating. Achieving success begins with a thought out plan that's tailored to your individual needs - and that’s where I can help. Schedule yours now.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Avoid These Pain Causing Exercises

Some of my best clients for massage are weekend warriors who give their all in the gym or on the playing field... Hey - no pain, no gain – right?

Well, in most cases, the saying is true. But that's not always the case with exercise. In fact, some exercise-induced pain simply can't be treated with massage, but CAN put you on the injured list for a very long time. So before you go to the gym all “Beast Mode” with a no-holds-bar attitude, remember which exercises to avoid. These are six common ones that can leave you hurting for an uncommonly long time.

#1: Behind-the-Head Military Press
It looks good when done properly, but rarely is. By doing this exercise with incorrect posture and technique, you run the risk of painful pinching and inflammation of the shoulder tendons. In rare cases, you may even suffer a tear in the rotator cuff. The same danger is present in other behind-the-head exercises, so be cautious any time you hold weights in a position that places them behind your head.

2: Deep Bend Leg Presses
If done properly, there is nothing wrong with leg presses. The problem comes when you over-zealously or ignorantly bend your legs too much. In order to get a good workout without causing damage to your back and knees, avoid bending your legs at the knee more than 90 degrees. If you have a hard time keeping your knees from slamming against your chest, reduce the weight you’re pushing until you have better control.

3: On Your Back
There are a number of exercises that require you to lie on your back with your feet in the air. Whether pretending to ride a bicycle in the air with your back on the ground, or some other inverted exercise, be cautious before getting started. These exercises cause unnecessary strain on the neck's nerves, ligaments and spine, and can result in long-term, irreversible damage.

4: Upright Rowing
Much like the behind-the-head military press, upright rowing (pulling weights up toward your chin) can cause shoulder impingement and other damage to nerves in the shoulder, too.

5: Sloppy Stair Steppers
After spending 30 minutes on the stair stepper or stationary bike, you may have the urge to lean on the machine's handles. Don't! Doing so may make you feel slightly relieved, but the benefits are only temporary. If you're not careful, you could hurt your elbows, shoulders, and even spine. On top of that, your lack of posture prevents your body from the workout it deserves.

6: Overkill on Anything
Want to get great abs? Do more push-ups. Want to sculpt your triceps? Do some squats. By putting all of your attention on a certain muscle, you run the risk of ignoring your other muscles and suffering future injury to them. There's nothing wrong with targeting a muscle or muscle group for improvement. Just remember the rest of your body needs the same attention, too.

Oh, and one more thing... What’s my take on using a Weight Belt?
There is something you should know about that weight belt: it may be keeping you from getting a full body workout. Yes, it keeps you from messing up your body, but if used in excess, it may also prevent your core muscles from having to work as hard as needed to keep them strong. You don't have to toss your treasured belt in the trash, though. Just don't use it unless you have a medical reason or you're doing some exceptionally heavy lifting.

Avoiding these exercises, using a common sense approach when your body experiences pain, and getting a great sports massage on a regular basis will not only minimize your risk for injury and pain, but will have you feeling great nd playing your "A" game, too!

Listen to your body,

John Aaron Villarreal

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Is your posture causing your pain?

Back pain, neck pain, and headaches are the most common complaints my clients have when they come to me. While some of their pain may result from a chronic underlying medical condition that requires a doctors care, other causes of aches and pain can be easily managed by making a few simple adjustments in your every day life.

For example, one of the most effective ways to lessen the amount of pain you experience daily would be to improve your posture. You see, the human body wasn't designed to be slumped over a computer, texting on the phone, or surfing the net on a tablet. Instead, it was designed to move - to be out in a field chasing after our meals (harvesting if you are a vegetarian) or running away from what was about to make us their main course.

However, seeing as it's the 21st century, I can't imagine that our dependence on technology or modern living is going away anytime soon especially when our livelihood depends on it. And although  we may not easily be able to change our career paths, we can easily change the way we sit and move about in our workplaces.

If you are like the average desk jockey, your tend to work while slumped forward, diligently droning away at your desk. However, this position puts a lot of strain on the lumbar spine which can subsequently add to low back pain. The use of a computer mouse usually causes our dominant arm to rest in a forward position, and since we are carefully looking at our computer screens, we also tend to project our head forward as well. (see the above pic)

So how should we be sitting? Well, there really isn't a "perfect" way to do this, but what we can do is strive to maintain a "neutral spine" position as often as possible. Most importantly, you can set up your workstation to prep you for pain-reducing posture. Below are a few tips to help you do this:

  • Avoid working on a laptop whenever possible.

  • Set up your monitor so that you are not looking straight ahead at the screen, but just about 10° down from straight. Hint: you shouldn't be craning your neck forward or rounding your shoulders just to see the screen.

  • Add a foot rest beneath your desk. This realigns your entire lower body, putting more weight on to the hips and butt muscles, thereby placing less stress on your lower back.


Additionally, you should be limiting your time at the desk. Take frequent breaks to stand and stretch. What you should stretch includes your neck, chest, shoulders and back of your legs. Set the timer on your smart phone to remind you to take a few minutes every hour or so to do this. These short breaks will not only be better for your health and help minimize pain, but will also help you be more productive at your job.

Taking the time to manage your pain with these few preventative steps can add years of pain-free movement to your life. While taking these steps may not cure you of chronic pain, it is the combined efforts of these tips plus exercise, massage therapy, meditation, medication and medical care, that does the trick.

Listen to your body,

John Aaron Villarreal

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Low Back Pain: What You Can Do

As an experienced massage therapist, personal trainer, and health coach, I always tell my clients, “Listen to your body.”

If a certain movement or exercise causes pain, by ALL means - stop and pay attention! It amazes me how few of us take the time to do this simple step.

Instead, we choose to suck it up and work through the pain. This is fine when the pain is mild and intermittent, but paying attention and listening to what your body is telling you can make the difference between something you can work through and something that becomes chronic, excruciating and debilitating.

Once that level is reached; it’s time to discuss your symptoms with your doctor or other health care professional.

Of course, the best treatment against lower back pain is always going to be proactive and preventative. Here are a few reminders about what you can do to protect your back:

Rest, but not too much. The temptation may be to stay in bed, but recent research suggests that excessive bed rest (more than a day or two after an acute injury), could actually do more harm than good. If you stay in bed longer than a couple of days, your muscles start to lose strength and their ability to support your back. Stay as active as you can (while continuing to listen to your body).

Sit and stand safely. Whether you’re at work or home, take note of the positions you're in most of day! Are you doing everything you can to protect your low back with good posture? You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: Good posture is critical. Try to catch yourself when you're slouching.

When you’re in pain, here are a few other things to remember:

  • If your back pain is acute, sit and drive as little as possible and avoid sitting on soft, low couches.
  • Make sure your desk and access to work supplies are set at a comfortable height for you.
  • If you aren't lucky enough to have an office chair with good lumbar support, try using a pillow or rolled-up towel to support your lower back. Position your chair at the right height for your task, and rest your feet on a low stool.
  • When getting up from a sitting position, scoot to the edge of your seat, get your feet directly underneath you, and stand. Avoid bending at the waist.
  • When you DO drive, make sure you've got good lumbar support. Take your pillow or rolled up towel with you and be sure to position your seat so that you maintain a curve in your low back and that your hips are lower than your knees.
  • Getting out of a car can pose a real challenge. Whatever you do, do NOT twist your torso to get out. Instead, support your back and swing both legs out. And if you are on a long road trip, make sure you take regular breaks to walk around even if it’s only for a few minutes.


Lift and move safely.
Change positions often. If you have a desk job, for example, be sure to get up, move around, and stretch every hour. Gently arch your back. Need a reminder to move? Set an alarm on your phone or computer. When doing activities like cleaning, weeding, or vacuuming, remember to keep the curve in your lower back as much as you can.

Eight out of 10 Americans will experience debilitating back pain, according to Time.com, but a massage can help. According to a 2011 study, massage helped people in pain feel and function better compared to people who didn't receive any massage treatment.

It is believed that the benefits of massage are about as strong as those reported for other effective treatments such as; medications, acupuncture, exercise and yoga. Massage has also been linked to decreased stiffness and pain, as well as better range of motion in people with osteoarthritis.

So, don’t forget to include regular massage session in your personal tool chest for fighting lower back pain. You’ll be glad you did!

Listen to your body,

John Aaron Villarreal

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Big. The Little. The Balanced.

Our muscular system is a beautiful thing. Wouldn't you agree? It's what holds the body together and gives it a sexy shape.

The bones are just support structures, but muscles; well - they have to constantly adjust length and tension just to make you stand still. It's a muscular symphony to simply kick a ball while playing soccer. Amazing!

All the muscles do their part as the brain conducts: you run, you kick, and you jump - just like Cristiano Ronaldo, or that kid in your neighborhood. ;-)

But what if just one (or more) of the muscles supporting you are not fully neurologically activated? Well, that's when joint's get worn, nerves get compressed and ligaments & tendons get stretched in ways they shouldn't. In short: PAIN is what results.

Deactivated muscles don't hold up their end of the deal!

We need to resuscitate them in order to prevent re-injury. That's where massage can help. Although most massage therapists focus on treating tense, over-worked (hyper-tonic) muscles, a really good one can also focus on reviving inhibited muscles, too.

A good massage therapist has an understanding of human anatomy and holds a set of time-tested techniques he then applies directly on isolated muscles, reconnecting them to the brain, and you end up with a nice, tight, straight-tracking joint - not to mention better posture, too!

So, if you've been "ignoring" an injury or a chronic ache, sit up and pay attention! It's your body's way of saying it needs some good ole TLC...


“Listen to your Body”

John Aaron Villarreal