Category Archives: strength

Strength Training and Jedi Mind Tricks In the Gym

 mind muscle connection

The 17th-century French philosopher Descartes believed in a dualistic bifurcation of the mind and body. For him, the mind and body were two separate and independent entities. I always had a problem with this dualistic view and the contemporary field of neuroscience has rightfully invalidated it. The interconnectedness between the mind and body becomes self-evident in the arena of sport and athleticism.  Too often athletes and fitness enthusiasts neglect the psychological component of training; an oversight which unfortunately impedes progress and success. We know the brain controls all movement. What was only apparent until recently, is that the body directly affects and informs the function your mind and the creation of your very consciousness.  Your body has the ability to transcend physical limitations, so long as your mind will allow it. Think about the grandma who lifts a car to save her grandson. Or the injured vet who, after being told he will never walk again, defies all odds by running a marathon. The expectations and beliefs our minds generate are the single biggest barriers to achievement.  Once you learn how to control your perception, you can harness and unleash your inner Jedi. These mind tricks will help you move past plateaus and improve training outcomes.
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Strength Does Not = Size

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There may be a correlation between strength and size but no direct causation.  Many lilliputian sized Olympic lifters continue to gain strength year after year despite the fact their body mass remains the same.  On the other hand there are hulking bodybuilders who are not as strong as they look.  This is why in “Strongman Contests” you rarely ever see a bodybuilder win.  The strength of a muscle is certainly proportional to its size, however there are many other factors from which absolute strength is determined:

  1. The number of muscle fibers actually contracting
  2. The speed at which these muscle fibers are contracting
  3. The amount of inhibitory motor neurons active
  4. The duration of time a muscle fiber can sustain the contraction
  5. The order of muscle contraction
  6. Recruitment of stabilizing and co-contracting muscles
  7. The volitional (motivation) effort put forth
  8. The amount of human growth hormone and testosterone present in the blood stream -women usually produce small amounts of these hormones which prevent her muscles from becoming ‘too big’.

Different training modalities are used for increasing strength or hypertrophy (size). Neuromuscular efficiency is paramount  in producing strength which is strongly influenced by regular explosive exercise.   Strength training is characterized by maximal or close to maximal lifts, low time under tension 5-20 seconds (the time it takes to perform a set) and high in between rest periods. Whereas hypertrophy training is dependent upon longer bouts of time under tension, about 35-70 seconds, low rest periods and weights not typically exceeding 80% of one’s max.  By changing the variables and closely monitoring one’s routine and progress it is possible to develop a training routine targeting strength, size or a hybrid combination of the two.

When compared with strength training, bodybuilding has fewer real world applications.  Strength training depends on lots of muscles engaged using momentum, leverage and speed whereas building muscle size focuses on controlled slow movements with with a clear emphasis on individual muscles.  Functional movement patterns are not the domain of bodybuilders.  Olympic lifts and low reps are usually fast and have global body demands.  Many people workout to look better but neglect the more primal aspect of exercise, strength.  Depending on your goals and limitations it might be wise to incorporate a hybrid training regimen that covers all bases.

The Pocket Hercules, Naim Suleymanoglu, from Greece is 4’10” tall and weighs less than 135lbs yet he was strong enough to clean and jerk over 415lbs! He is a great example of someone who is quite small who posses hulking strength.

Doug Joachim – NYC Personal trainer
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Got Foot Strength?

screaming feet

“I hardly use my toes, why should I strengthen them?” stated the dimwitted big-biceped gym rat.  It may seem insignificant but the inability to control the stability of the foot and toes has paramount implications on the entire body.  As you step down your foot is the first part of your anatomy that has to overcome all ground forces.  Depending on how your foot falls it will negatively or positively affect the integrity of your knee joints, lumbopelvic hip stability and the rest of the translated forces up the kinetic chain.  Most of us wear shoes all day long and barely spend anytime barefoot. I fear to say that many people spend no time barefoot except for when they are sleeping.  Just to be clear, when I say “barefoot” I mean just that: naked feet sans shoes, slippers, and socks.  Shoes are ruining our feet and additionally causing lots of unmitigated knee, hip and lower back pain.  Most footwear quietly over time wreaks havoc on our anatomy.  The foot coffins we don, although maybe sexy, have been shown to cause:

  1. Bunions, corns, and blisters
  2. Fallen arches
  3. Hammer toes
  4. Ingrown toenails
  5. Increased chances of ankle sprains
  6. Foot disfigurement
  7. Athlete’s Foot (bacterial and fungal infections)
  8. Hallux valgus (inward turning of big toe)
  9. Shortens and weakens the Achilles tendon and calf musculature
  10. Plantar fasciitis

Shoes provide us with a form of self-imposed neurological and muscular blindness.  They prevent us from feeling the ground and using the muscles in our feet correctly.  A shoe works in a similar way to a cast.  It protects us from the environment and holds the architecture of the foot rigid yet our feet crave freedom.  Shod individuals have blindfolded and bound their own feet in order to protect against the elements.  If the foot was a person, it would scream “torture” (AKA: enhanced stressed positions).  Research shows going barefoot improves alignment, strengthens the foot, increases flexibility and promotes better balance and proprioception.

Did you ever see Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot”?  His character lost the ability to use most of his body except, you guessed it, his left foot.  Anyway, with only one limb working, he became very adept at using his foot to paint, eat, write etc.  Many babies and toddlers have this same ability.  The main reason we lose our natural lower limb dexterity because we stop using our feet and toes and begin wearing shoes.  In congenitally barefoot societies the breadth of foot strength and dexterity is simply amazing by our standards.

Let’s see how much control you have over your toes and feet. Try these 4 things to improve your foot’s dexterity, strength, and balance.

1. Stand up and push your big toe down into the ground (but don’t bend/flex it) and lift your other toes up while keeping your heel on the ground (make sure not to roll the ankle in or out).

2. How about lifting your big toe up and pressing your other four toes down (but don’t bend them) while keeping your heels grounded?

3. Try standing on one foot, not shifting all your weight to that side, and balance on 3 points: big toe, heel, and Ball under the small toe.  Hold for 30 seconds.

4. Janda’s Short foot – a great micro-movement that strengthens your 1st MTP and arch:


The 1st MTP (big toe) supports the weight of your body while walking and running.  It also serves as the push off point during locomotion.  However, most running sneakers have a narrow toe box that is flexed upwards (industry standard is 15 degrees…high heels are much more), putting all your toes in extension and preventing the 1st MTP from properly flexing down and propelling you off into the next step.   During the landing phase of walking/running, the big toe helps raise the arch (medial longitudinal arch) and thus locks the bones of the foot causing temporary stiffness which allows for propulsion.  In shoes the 1st MTP is immobilized like a fish in a tin can preventing the arch mechanics from properly working.  Most congenitally shod individuals have weakened toes and potentially inhibited foot muscles from all that shoe wearing.  We develop compensations from these weak links and our knees, hips and back suffer for it.  As often as you can kick off your shoes and walk around (uneven surfaces are great) and practice the above exercises to regain some of your innate foot dexterity and balance.


1. Influence of Footwear on Flat foot
2. Rossi, William A. “Why Shoes Make” Normal” Gait Impossible.” Part 1 (1999): 50-61.
3. Janda Foot Exercise
4. Walking Barefoot Decreases Knee Pain
5. Lumbo-Pelvic Hip Stabilization and Foot Strength From Dr. Emily Splichal
6. Shoe Design Manipulates Human Movement

Doug Joachim – NYC
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