SITTING IN: interview with Paul Sandburg
Paul Sandburg Interest Hong Kong 18 September 2018
Having been a guest on his show, the BOOST Health podcast last week, we had plenty more we wanted to ask Paul Sandburg about, so we invited him to join us for SITTING IN.
Unfound: Paul, thank you for joining us. Just as a brief introduction for those who may have missed the podcast, you are the Founder of BOOST Health with nearly 20 years of experience in the wellness and fitness industry and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the NSCA. We love the podcast Paul, and if you haven’t listened yet, click here.
For most people on the Unfound Platform, we suspect that they spend the majority of time cycling, 10- 20 hours a week. I’m sure many are conscious of conditioning, and others may do their fair share of gym work and stretching, but one subject that caught our attention on your podcast was ‘Mobility’. What exactly is mobility Paul, why is it important and is it a relatively new thing?
Paul: Let’s start with what mobility is not. Mobility, despite what your initial inclinations may be, is not flexibility. Mobility is moving your body, under control, through an end range of motion of a joint. This involves strength, coordination, body awareness, and flexibility. Flexibility, by itself, is really just the temporary elongating of your connective tissue, such as your tendons. For example, the old school sit and reach test, or seated toe touch, only requires flexibility. You simply hold your legs straight and reach your hands forward toward your toes, and see how far you can reach in a quick burst. On the other hand, a squat hold, requires true mobility. For example, you may have very good body awareness and flexibility, but if you don’t have enough strength and coordination in your hips and glute muscles, then you may not be able to properly perform a proper squat hold.
The mobility “movement” is relatively new in the timeline of the wellness industry. It started when thought leaders like Kelly Starrett, Gray Cook, and Paul Chek, among others, started getting us to think about our bodies as one big kinetic chain that all works together. A breakdown in our kinetic chain can cause issues down the chain. For example, you may have pain in your back but it might be caused by an issue upstream like lack of mobility in your ankles. The thought that pain is just a signal, not the problem itself, started to take hold. Another way to think of mobility training is functional movements. For example, a seated bicep curl isn’t exactly going to help you with day to day function or allow you to be stronger on your bike. Alternatively, a squat hold will absolutely translate to better function in your daily life. We all have to squat to get up and down from the toilet.
Mobility itself is not new, of course. It is something we have had, or not had, since humans began roaming the earth. It is clear that we are becoming less mobile as we sit for hours on chairs and couches and hunch over our computers and phones. We are ruining our bodies because we are not made to do this. We are made to move, bend, squat, twist, lift, push, and jump. These things should not hurt. We should be able to get down into a squat and hold it comfortably. Have you ever seen some cultures sit in a squat position to rest? We should all be able to do this. The interesting thing is that cultures that sleep, eat, and toilet on the ground don’t have the same issues that other cultures do with back pain and disc degeneration. Check out the video at the bottom of this article from Kelly Starrett of MobilityWod where he effortlessly holds a squat with perfect mobility and recommends we all try to do this ten minutes per day.
Unfound: As a cyclist, we know that the sport may well lead to reduced mobility, certainly if it is combined with a day job at a desk. Is this something you have noticed with clients, that cyclists have poor mobility, particularly in the lower back and hip flexors?
Paul: Poor mobility is really something I see with everyone that doesn’t practice mobility exercises regularly. We were all born with great mobility, but we lose it over time if we don’t train it. My children, eight and five years old, can do beautiful squat holds, but they haven’t been ruined by sitting at a desk for 20 years like many of us. The old saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it” certainly applies here. The good news is we can retrain mobility back into our bodies! Humans are very adaptive creatures and respond quite nicely to a new stimulus. Mobility work will reward most people very quickly and you will likely unlock strength, range of motion, and body control that you haven’t had in years. I am embarrassed to admit that I personally didn’t start practicing mobility until very recently. I had danced around it with different methods like foam rolling, yoga, dynamic warm up, stretching, etc. but never did a focused mobility effort. In just a few short weeks I have added resistance to several exercises, like squats, where I had been stuck at a plateau for quite some time. Mobility is now one of the pillars that I use for my own programming as well as for my clients. A cyclist can benefit greatly by making sure he or she has good mobility in their ankles, knees, hips, back, and shoulders.
Unfound: When juggling work, maximising time on the bike, family and personal commitments; as a cyclist, anything else to squeeze in to the schedule almost seems impossible and risks upsetting the already delicate balance. We’re guessing you would disagree with this. What would you suggest in terms of weekly routine, time commitment, when do to it and what should we be doing; mobility, conditioning?
Paul: Mobility improvements can be found fairly quickly and without spending hours and hours in training each week. The key is consistency. Make it part of your routine. Hopefully you do a dynamic warmup before you ride or do any type of exercise or sport. If you are doing nothing or doing static stretches before exercise I would recommend changing that right away! See my article and video on dynamic warmup and the science behind it. You can add mobility work to your dynamic warmup and your post workout cool down. For example, you can add a squat hold, at the end of your dynamic warm up and then do a 90 90 stretch as part of your cool down to mix mobility in to your existing routine. You can also add mobility to your existing strength training.
Unfound:What are the three essential things for cyclists to be doing off the bike?
- Dynamic Warmup with Mobility before every workout or sport and Cool Down with Mobility after every workout or sport. Five minutes each and time very well spent.
- Full body strength training three times per week on non-consecutive days. I try not to be too dogmatic about wellness and fitness philosophies since different things work for different people but full body strength training is pretty tough to argue against. As human athletes in the sport of life we want to train our bodies the way we were designed to function. Think of the benefit and sport application of a deadlift versus a leg curl machine, a pull up versus a seated bicep curl, or a plank versus a crunch. I have also known a few endurance athletes that just do core, or core and upper body, but never work their lower body. In this article I share how strength training can improve performance of endurance athletes including several studies that verify this. I know some athletes worry about being too sore in their lower body and having that hinder performance. This is why I suggest three times per week as you will only need to do one or two sets per exercise to get neurological and muscular adaptations. You will be hitting the muscle groups again in 48 hours so no need to go through an insane two-hour workout. I created a full body workout you can do at home with just your body weight and a set of dumbbells in 20 minutes. You can check it out here. Doing full body strength training consistently, but not to failure, yields fantastic results without too much soreness or degradation of your other athletic endeavours.
- Monitor Heart Rate Variability (HRV) every morning. Absorbing workouts and improving fitness is really what we are trying to do. Lots of us do a dance, tip toeing the line between optimal training and overtraining. One of the best tools to monitor how recovered you are is HRV. According to a study in the Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine journal, HRV is one of the best tools for tracking whether or not an athlete is adapting properly to a program, if the training load is optimal, and discernment of how much stress an individual is experiencing during a training block. I wrote an article on HRV and how I use it in conjunction with sleep data and the Training Peaks TSS score to monitor recovery.
For the weekly routine there are some variables that would have to be worked through with the athlete and their coach. One of the most important variables is periodisation of the program with respect to where the athlete is in their season. One methodology is to have athletes do heavier and more intense strength training in their off season and do more maintenance work during the season. I would never prescribe, however, an athlete to remove strength training all together midseason like I have seen with other programs. It should be a part of every athlete’s program year-round. I would encourage even the most dedicated long distance endurance athlete to make sure they include strength training and shorter HIIT cardio sessions to their program. An excellent article on the University of New Mexico website by Dr. Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico and Dr. Micah Zuhl of Central Michigan University delves into the research on HIIT and continuous endurance and found that HIIT produces results that are the same, or better in some cases, for various physiological markers. My point of all this is that there is room for strength training, mobility, warm up, cool down, and sport training in a properly designed program.
Unfound: We actually believe that cycling, and particularly bike racing, is very different to triathlon however, a lot of nutritional and conditioning advice these days seems to be aimed at both. With bike racing being a lot more explosive, what are your views on plyometrics; do you like it, how often should we do them? All year around?
Paul: Plyometrics are fantastic. So are Olympic lifts and explosive priming movements. Most of these are taxing compound movements where form and total volume should be paid close attention to. That said, these can be utilized year-round as part of the full body strength program where they are hit fairly often without overdoing the intensity. Strength training often but with less intensity (ie. not to failure) has also been called “Greasing the Groove”. Greasing the groove is a term coined by Pavel Tsatsouline, who trained Russian special forces, that taps into how the nervous system develops and becomes more proficient at getting your body, nerves, and muscles to work in sync to perform movements more efficiently. Think of this with a basic push-up. Maybe you can rep out 50 in a row but have absolutely fried yourself to get those last five reps. Alternatively, you could do 15 pushups every hour for ten hours and end up with 150 push-ups completed. There is lots of adaptation happening in the latter style, but without the same breakdown. Long story short, you can definitely do explosive plyometrics year-round. Just do fewer reps, more often.
Unfound: Are we all different, do we all have different imbalances? To a certain extent, do we just need to accept this and work on being as good as we can? It’s dangerous to Google, what would your advice be around individual challenges, imbalances and managing injuries? After all, we just want to get out on the bike.
Paul: Yes we are indeed all different with our own unique challenges, injuries, mental barriers, time limitations, genetics, etc. I agree it can be dangerous on Google and also to compare yourself to others. The best recommendation I can give in this area is to have fun trying to find Your balance. Make it a game to figure out what works best for You. I always talk about how different wellness strategies work for different people. Be open-minded to new tactics and give them a go. Take the bits that work for you and move on to the next. I have been in this industry a long time. I can say with absolute certainty that I train my clients very differently than I did 20 years ago, and even two months ago. I am always a student of wellness and fitness and realise that the more you learn the more you realise you don’t know. Stay positive and open minded and keep trying new tactics.
Unfound: And finally, we ask this question to everyone but we’ve tweaked it for you. Firstly, we know you love to cycle too; what is the funniest thing you have seen or experienced on the bike?
Paul: I do love cycling. It is a beautiful sport. Even on the most grueling ride it is still a ton of fun for me. I think the funniest thing I have witnessed on the bike was when a riding buddy here in Hong Kong crashed after hitting an already dead wild boar in the road. No one really got hurt so it is ok to laugh. He was way ahead of me so I didn’t actually see the crash, but when I saw his skinned elbow at the top of the mountain I heard the tale. It was extra funny because he rolled over it on the way up the mountain and fairly low speed. Poor boar couldn’t even rest in peace.
Unfound: And secondly, we’ve seen all the hilarious YouTube clips, what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen in a gym?
Paul: Oh wow, after 20 years in the business I have seen some very interesting things in the gym. That actually could be an episode all by itself. I suppose my favourite is a guy that used to work out at our university gym. We called him “The Undertaker” after an American WWE wrestler (Google it) because he would wear a big black trench coat while he did his workouts. Even in the middle of summer! Not sure if it was a fashion statement, or trying to cut weight, or both.
Unfound: Paul, thank so much for joining us, it’s been super interesting to hear your thoughts and insights. You can check out Paul’s podcast and you can also join Paul’s BOOST Health group on the hub below. He welcomes any questions you may have, just drop him a message.
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