Brown & Coconut would like to welcome fitness professional Matthew Ibrahim, who’s chock full of fitness knowledge that EVERYONE needs to know! Read on for his fabulous fitness tips & tricks. You’ll be glad you did…
Hi, my name is Matthew Ibrahim. My passion is helping you move better, and I specialize in bridging the gap between rehabilitation and performance.
I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise and Health Sciences from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Currently, I work as a rehabilitation aide at the Bay State Physical Therapy clinic in Arlington, where I have spent the last three years gaining a deeper appreciation for the human body and how it was meant to move and function. In addition to my therapeutic background, I also have a passion for the field of performance, and I’ve been able to tie the two together by working as a strength and conditioning performance coach at the Vantedge Performance center in Woburn. During the upcoming fall I will be applying to Doctor of Physical Therapy programs in order to eventually become licensed to treat and heal patients, athletes and the average weekend warrior.
I’m a huge advocate of continued learning and helping others optimize their true level of performance by meeting and exceeding each of their goals. Please feel free to reach me by email at email@example.com and check out my free Mobility 101 blog to learn more.
Today, I’d like to touch on some topics related to men and what they aren’t doing enough of, in terms of their overall health and wellness. Yes, you heard that right, fellas. There are things you’re missing that could improve your overall health.
Here’s your chance to step it up a notch!
6 Things That Could Improve Your Overall Health
I often see a ton of guys in the gym primarily focusing on benching their way to the ‘promised land’ of increased chest size and definition. Don’t get me wrong – bench pressing is a great tool to add into any workout program. However, by adding a variation of push-ups into your workout routine, in concert with your benching, you’ll have the ability to target all of the different muscle fibers and muscle groups in the chest and shoulder areas that benching alone can’t hit. For starters, try these three push-up variations:
Push-Up with One-Arm Raise
Yoga Pike Push-Up
Push-Up with Feet on Wall
I could go on a long journey with this one, but suffice to say that I don’t see enough men devoting adequate time to the recovery aspect of training: mobility drills, movement preparation prior to lifting, static stretching post-lift, and soft tissue work in the form of foam rolling and lacrosse ball rolling.
These recovery drills and mobility fillers are a monumental ingredient to the overall recipe that is health and wellness. If you’re trying to increase the weight in any of your lifts and if you’re trying to increase range of motion in any of your joints, than you’ll undoubtedly need to start incorporating recovery drills, mobility fillers and stretching.
Recovery is one of the most important aspects of training that often goes overlooked. To put it in better terms, if you just purchased a brand new Ferrari, wouldn’t you constantly take care of it in order to keep it clean and also free from scratches and dents? Well, why don’t you treat your body the same way? You only get one body, so treat it right.
Here are a few recovery and mobility techniques that I use on a daily basis to ensure consistent quality movements for later on when I’m lifting weights and also during any function of my life:
- Feet — At the beginning and end of every day, try rolling out the bottom of your feet and heel with either a tennis or lacrosse ball. The goal here is to roll out for 45 seconds per foot. You’ll notice a markedly improved awareness between your body and the ground, along with helping to loosen up some of the tissues of your feet that go through a pounding each day.
- Hips — You can add the 1/2 Kneeling Quad/Hip Flexor Couch Stretch as a mobility filler during your workout in between strength movements, at the end of your workout as a form of recovery, and even at the end of a long day at work, especially if you sit in a chair for the majority of the day. This stretch does a wonderful job of increasing your range of motion and opening up the anterior aspect of your hips and lower abdominal region. If you’re in the crowd that sits at work all day, than this stretch is even more important for your long-term lower back health. Tight hips eventually lead to lower back problems. Address the problem early though, and your spine will thank you later. The goal here will be to perform the stretch for 2 rounds of 30 second holds per side. When the right leg is in front with the right foot down, you’re stretching the left hip. At this point, you’ll want to actively engage the left glute muscle in order to get deeper into the stretch for the anterior aspect of the left hip. You’ll want to repeat this for the right side as well.
- Mid-Upper Back (Thoracic Spine) — Pick up a foam roller from Perform Better and start using it to roll out and extend your mid-upper back (thoracic spine) region, especially if you’re someone who sits in a poor “stooped-over” posture throughout the day. This will help to open up the tiny little segments in your spine, which will ultimately lead to a better posture and a better feeling back. You can also add this one in pre-workout, during your workout, and even after your workout. The goal here is to roll on the foam roller from your mid-back to your upper-back, and then back to your mid-back. This equals 1 repetition. You’ll want to perform 8 total repetitions. Once those are complete, find an area in between your mid- and upper-back that is especially tight. Pin it down and raise your elbows up in front of your face with your hands next to your ears, but do not grab your head or neck. The point here is to clear some space on your spine to give the foam roller more room to work with. Once everything is set in place, slowly extend back while keeping a gentle chin-tuck (neutral cervical spine), followed by slowly coming back to the starting position. Keep performing this extension pattern for 5 total repetitions. As a side note, a chin-tuck (neutral cervical spine) means that you’ll want to keep your neck straight in line with the rest of your spine, all the way to your hips. Imagine when you are nodding ‘yes’ to someone. Let’s take 10% of that range of motion that you used from top to bottom of the nod. Now, use that 10% to gently nod down and go into a nice neutral cervical spine (i.e., chin-tuck). This position should not be aggressive or strenuous. It should be very subtle.
- Here is a video demonstrating all three recovery drills:
3) Vitamin D and Fish Oil Supplements
Unless you’re living in an area that provides a hefty amount of sun each day throughout the year, you’ll want to start adding some Vitamin D supplements into your diet. Research has proven that men in particular simply don’t get enough sunlight and that they are showing a large deficiency in Vitamin D. That’s pretty important, especially since low levels of Vitamin D are connected to heart disease and cancer. I recommend taking a look at brands such as Nature Made and Athletic Greens that carry this product.
If your diet includes fish and seafood with high contents of omega-3 fatty acids throughout the week on at least 3-4 days, then you’re in a good position. However, if that’s not the case, than I suggest you look into adding some fish oil supplements on a daily basis. Even if you’re someone who eats fish regularly, I still recommend adding in the fish oil supplements in order to ensure a proper amount in your diet. Not only is fish oil imperative to increasing overall brain functioning and efficiency, but it can also help in decreasing body fat, improving skin quality and also in increasing the rate of recovery after exercise. Take a look at brands such as Athletic Greens and Nordic Naturals for high quality fish oil supplements.
Are you ever in a group conversation and find yourself guessing at some of the words being used? Yup, I’ve been there too. Not only does reading help to facilitate a greater toolbox of verbiage, it also enhances your intellectuality, broadens your social awareness and improves your cognitive skills.
Reading can go a long way in increasing the health of your brain functioning by constantly providing the thought-provoking stimulus that nurtures learning. Select a topic that interests you most and start plugging away. Here are a few books that I recommend taking a look at:
- Learning Style Perspectives: Impact in the Classroom (2nd edition) by Lynne Celli Sarasin
- Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
- The As If Principle: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life by Richard Wiseman
5) Trying New Things
Most people, and men in particular, seem to ‘know it all’ and are set in their ways. I get it — you like the way you do things and are comfortable with your routine. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but it doesn’t hurt to extend your branches and to try new things. Who knows, you might even learn something along the way.
Here are a few new things I’ve started trying over the past couple years that have helped me become a better overall person:
- Cooking — Every human should learn the basic skill of cooking and preparing food. Work with what you have. You don’t need to be a chef to cook. You just need to love food and to have the options available to you. Be creative and have fun with it. Here are some examples of the aftermath of when I storm into the kitchen:
- Yoga — I don’t need to win you over with this one. Yoga is one of the oldest forms of physical practice that has stood the test of time. Along with being restorative and soothing, yoga is also beneficial in the following areas: mobility, flexibility, balance, proprioception and awareness.
- New Foods — Your palate changes over time, so the food you didn’t enjoy at a young age is probably much tastier now. I didn’t even know what broccoli was when I was 4 years old. Now, I try to eat broccoli every day. (As a side note, I refer to broccoli as ‘little green trees’. Yes, that’s how much I love broccoli).
6) Fun Cardio
When was the last time you heard someone brag about how intense their cardio session was yesterday at the gym? Crickets. Everyone I talk to always mentions a distance or volume of time in relation to what they performed for cardio. No one ever discusses at which intensity they trained at. I suggest looking into purchasing a Polar watch that displays and records your heart rate so that you can gauge it during your conditioning. Once you get used to it, you can start playing around with different intensities (i.e., heart rates) and create your own zones of training. Keep a record of your heart rates, so that the next time around you can crush your previous score on that same conditioning circuit.
No more boring treadmill running for hours on-end. You can now mix it up with a variety of other ‘cardio’ options. I prefer using the term ‘Energy Systems Development (ESD)’ over plain cardio. Why? In addition to improving our cardiovascular endurance and strength, ESD also taxes all areas of our energy tank when we’re pushing the limits and adding in different tempos, ratios and intensity level percentages. However, the term ‘cardio’ alone only stands for the former on most occasions, and not the latter. In essence, we are developing our energy systems on all levels when we perform our conditioning this way, which bodes well for our long-term aerobic and anaerobic capacities. I’m a huge fan of selecting 2-3 options and bulking them together for my ESD conditioning circuits. I tend to use a handful of options, such as the following: Concept 2 Erg Rower, Schwinn Airdyne, upright bike, agility and plyometric drills on the turf, sprinting drills on the track, Kettlebell exercises (i.e., swings), Battling Ropes, medicine-ball exercises (i.e., overhead slams), swimming, uphill sprints, and even bodyweight movements (i.e., push-ups and reverse lunges).
Here are a few routines you should try out:
Routine 1 —
- A1: Erg Rower — Row for 100 meters.
- A2: Airdyne — Work at 70-85% for 20 seconds, followed by 30-45% for 20 seconds, and immediately followed by 70-85% for another 20 seconds (total time = 1 minute).
- Rotate between A1 and A2 for 5-6 total rounds (total time = roughly 8-12 minutes).
- Try to limit rest periods as best as possible.
Routine 2 —
- A1: Kettlebell Swings — Select a bell that you would consider to be a moderate weight and swing it for 20 seconds.
- A2: Push-Ups — Perform for 20 seconds.
- A3: Reverse Lunges — Perform by alternating sides for 20 seconds.
- A4: Medicine-Ball Overhead Slams — Perform for 20 seconds.
- Cycle through A1-A4 with very little to no rest periods. At the end of round 1, take a 30 second breather. Continue this sequence for a total of 3-4 rounds (total time = roughly 6-8 minutes).
Routine 3 —
- Find a hill that you would consider to be pretty steep with a high incline. The goal is to work at a high intensity here for very short bouts.
- Run up the hill 2-3 times in order to warm-up to the hill and to get used to the feel of the incline.
- Once you’re ready to work, perform 8-10 uphill sprints working at 80-85%. After each sprint, walk down the hill slowly to recover and to catch your breath.
- Spend no longer than 30 seconds of rest in between uphill sprints.
I hope you start incorporating some of these elements into your life moving forward. I suggest to try adding one new element each week rather than going full-speed with all at once. Best of luck!