In 1993, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences introduced the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), a set of four reference values for nutritional intakes:
Estimated Average Requirements (EAR) – "A nutrient intake value that is estimated to meet the requirement of half the healthy individuals in a group. It is used to assess nutritional adequacy of intakes of population groups. In addition, EARs are used to calculate RDAs."
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA)– "This value is a goal for individuals, and is based upon the EAR. It is the daily dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirement of 97-98% of all healthy individuals in a group. If an EAR cannot be set, no RDA value can be proposed."
Adequate Intakes (AI)– "This is used when a RDA cannot be determined. A recommended daily intake level based on an observed or experimentally determined approximation of nutrient intake for a group (or groups) of healthy people."
Tolerable Upper Intakes (UL) – "The highest level of daily nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risks of adverse heath effects to almost all individuals in the general population. As intake increases above the UL, the risk of adverse effects increases." *
Sure, we all know that these don't tell us a whole lot about what it takes nutritionally to be ridiculously "swole" athletes. However, they do serve a valuable purpose for the general population: they quantify minimums. In a society that lives on coffee, donuts, and Diet Coke (which magically sucks the trans-fats out of the donuts), these reference values made people at least reasonably accountable to a bare minimum.
Recently, in light of the countless emails I've received from injured lifters, I began to realize that the world of hardcore training wasn't altogether unlike the regular population in one regard: both groups have an insatiable desire to do the bare minimum of something that doesn't necessarily excite them. Honestly, tracking your selenium intake and static stretching aren't very different in their ability to spark your enthusiasm, are they?
Just as importantly, when it comes to fixing up their shortcomings, both populations respond well to being told exactly how much to do.
Where's He Going With This?
It's taken several years of observing all the athletes and clients with whom I've worked, but I've come up with what I feel is the "joint health" parallel to the DRIs. That is, I seem to have discovered the "dose-response" relationship to three important factors for musculoskeletal health and improving training longevity. These factors include:
1. Dynamic Flexibility/Mobility/Activation Work – This class of drills is included in our Magnificent Mobility DVD. With these drills, you're working on the nervous system and the soft-tissues so that the range of motion you build is "functional." You're teaching muscles to turn on or relax at the right time and ensuring that you get range of motion in the right places (e.g. hips, thoracic spine) and not the spots that warrant stability (e.g. lumbar spine).
Excessive passive flexibility without mobility (stability within that range of motion) will actually increase the risk of injury! You simply have to get the nervous system involved!
If you need any further proof, just take a female friend who can tie herself into a human pretzel, and then see what happens when she does a lunge, squat, or deadlift.
Yeah, but her squat sucks!
Chances are that she'll have every compensation pattern in the book – not to mention sore hips, bad knees, and some microfractures in her lumbar spine that'll bite her in the butt down the road. Think gymnasts, ballerinas, yoga instructors, and that circus performer who shoots arrows with her feet. (Okay, I'll admit that the arrow trick is cool, but let's move on.)
Just remember: achieving joint ranges of motion is one thing; having a neuromuscular system that's prepared to keep you healthy and strong in those ranges of motion is a whole other story.
2. Static Flexibility– Classic passive stretching still has its place, although there are certain times when it's contraindicated.
We see it as tremendously valuable in situations where you want to:
A) Relax a muscle to facilitate antagonist activation (e.g. stretch the hip flexors to improve glute recruitment).
B) Break down scar tissue following an injury and/or surgery (when the new connective tissue may require "realignment").
C) Loosen someone up when you can't be supervising them (very simply, there's less likelihood of technique breakdown with static stretching because it isn't a dynamic challenge).
Mike Robertson outlined several great stretches in Hardcore Stretching: Part II.
3. Soft-Tissue Work– This is a broad class of modalities, ranging from Active Release Techniques, to the Graston Technique, to massage, "The Stick," and foam rolling. Given that we need soft tissue work frequently, but can't all afford professional assistance on a regular basis, it's imperative that we have something on hand that can "get the job done" inexpensively and conveniently. I've found that the foam roller is the single-best implement on the market for this purpose. For more information on this approach, check out Feel Better for $10.
Foam rolling the IT band
Static stretching and mobility work address the length of the tissues, and the soft-tissue work addresses the quality. I'm going to steal an analogy from Mike Boyle on this one:
Imagine a rubber band with a knot in it. It's not going to stretch the same as it would if there wasn't a knot, right? Now, get the knot out and watch how it lengthens easily. Your muscle-tendon units aren't much different; if there are balls of adhesions/scar tissue, they'll never lengthen the way they should.
How Much Is Right For You?
I've found that different people have different needs. Those who are more active have different requirements than those who have desk jobs, for instance. Athletes seem to need less static stretching and more soft tissue work. And, the older you get, the more you need to pay attention to all three factors.
As such, we can tailor our recommendations based on different factors and how dedicated someone is:
1) Minimum: Mildly reduce the risk of pain/discomfort, but no guarantees (my version of the Adequate Intake).
2) Acceptable: Get by/stay reasonably healthy (my version of the Estimated Average Requirement).
3) Optimum: Feel great (my version of the "RDA and then some").
What Constitutes A Session?
For the sake of the checklists that'll follow:
1) One dynamic flexibility/mobility session equals five minutes of non-stop drills from our Magnificent Mobility DVD. Those who need more mobility training can do two sessions back-to-back to reach their target without going to a crazy frequency. Mobility work should always be done pre-training, and can also be utilized on off-days to expedite progress and enhance active recovery.
If you need help selecting exercises in light of any issues you may have, please feel free to post a question for Mike and I in our Magnificent Mobility Support Thread. We're more than happy to help.
2) One static stretching session consists of nine static stretches of 15 seconds each, emphasizing the:
Upper Traps/Levator Scapulae
Hip Flexors (lunge stretch)
IT Band/Tensor Fascia Latae
This entire session should take you less than three minutes. Again, you can find all your stretches in >Hardcore Stretching: Part II. Perform these sessions post-exercise or at the end of the day.
3) One soft tissue work session can be an individual session with a masseuse, ART or Graston practitioner, rolfer, or working with the foam roller on your own. Select eight "areas" from Feel Better for $10 and roll with them (okay, bad pun). Perform these sessions prior to training (immediately before dynamic flexibility/mobility) and throughout the week as desired.
How Are We Grouped?
For the sake of this discussion, I'm going to divide you into two broad categories: athletes and desk jockeys. Then, I'm going to divide each of these categories into two age groups: 32 and under, and 32+.
Why 32? Very simply, because 33 would be too many, and 31 wouldn't be enough! Seriously though, I don't hear nearly as many 30 year-olds complaining about joint problems as I do 35 year-olds, so I picked a spot in the middle that was on the safe side. It's better to do too much than not enough.
Be honest with yourself, and pick your group. Feel free to get T-shirts made up, and by all means, come up with a secret handshake to share with your counterparts.
Get To It Already!
With all these guidelines cleared up, you'll find your personalized checklist below. Print it out, put it on your refrigerator or the wall next to your computer – anywhere you'll see it a few times per day – and check the bolded boxes off as you go through the week.
Under-32 Athlete, Minimum
Under-32 Athlete, Acceptable
Under-32 Athlete, Optimum
Over-32 Athlete, Minimum
Over-32 Athlete, Acceptable
Over-32 Athlete, Optimum
Under-32 Desk Jockey, Minimum
Under-32 Desk Jockey, Acceptable
Under-32 Desk Jockey, Optimum
Over-32 Desk Jockey, Minimum
Over-32 Desk Jockey, Acceptable
Over-32 Desk Jockey, Optimum
Put a check in each of the bolded boxes by the end of the week and you've reached your goal! That's accountability at its finest.