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The Dangers Of Too Much Sitting And What You Can Do to Avoid Them

The Dangers Of Too Much Sitting And What You Can Do to Avoid Them


The global coronavirus pandemic has created a “working-from-home economy,” and some estimates place as much as 42% of the U.S. labor force as working from home full-time. Working from home has been a critical strategy in the fight against COVID-19 – and any other future pandemics. And there is the possibility that more people will remain working from home permanently as a result. My staff and I have been part of this shift. Gyms closed in March of 2020 here in New York City and we since took our personal training services 100 percent online. Thankfully, we have been so successful with online training, that when gyms re-opened, we were able to remain exclusively online and continue to provide our clients with the high standards of service that we provided in person, (and most importantly, outstanding results). It’s quite a switch after 30 years of training clients face to face, and one of the most notable physical differences for me is how much more time I spend sitting in front of a screen. Before the pandemic, a full day of personal training saw me clocking over 10,000 steps a day. These days, I barely go over 3,000 steps on an active day. Making matters worse, I spend far more time sitting in a chair than I ever have in my life. I realized early on that I was going to be doing this for the long haul and made adjustments to how I worked in order to avoid any adverse effects from hours of sitting in a chair. In this article, we will go over some of the problems that protracted periods of sitting can cause, and some of the strategies I employed and recommend to stay fit and flexible in these sedentary times. Thanks for reading and do be sure to share this article with anyone who you think might find it to be of interest.


dangers of prolonged sitting from an evolutionary point of view

The Dangers of Prolonged Sitting From An Evolutionary Standpoint


The human body is a bit of a mosaic, a product of the environment that we and our ancestors adapted to over the course of our development, which began some two million years ago. Thus, to understand the challenges that modern life presents, we have to look through an evolutionary lens to see if our current practices align with what our bodies were designed to do. There is a novelty to sitting in a chair. You might not think of it as such, as sitting is a natural act that many land-based mammals often do, but chairs are a different story. From an evolutionary perspective, our hunter gatherer ancestors didn’t have the luxury of supermarkets or ordering in, and so they procured their food often only after expending considerable energy. As such, conservation of energy was critical, as they and our subsequent subsistence farmer ancestors had to work to obtain almost every calorie they consumed and the super energy dense foods we take for granted today don’t exist in nature. As such, they all had the tendency to sit or lie down whenever possible to conserve energy. An inclination that remains with us all today. However, we know from observation of traditional hunter gatherer societies that our Neolithic forefathers didn’t have chairs. They would squat or sit on the floor in a cross-legged position, or with their feet extended and the closest to a chair would be a stool or fallen log. But nothing remotely resembling the office chairs, sofas and recliners we spend hours in today.



A large-scale survey found that both adults and children in the United States spend a little more than half (55%) of their waking hours sitting down. [1] It sounds like a lot, but traveling in a car, sitting in a train or bus, working at your desk, sitting down to eat, watching television, watching a performance, using a computer or playing a video game all involve sitting. Usually in comfortable positions that make it possible to do so for extended periods of time, and the amount of time we spend adds up. Keep in mind that these figures represent activity levels of Americans BEFORE the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it would be rational to conject that the percentage of time spent sitting would have increased with the lockdowns and changes to work and recreation habits that have come as a result of the virus. We know from so many other examples that when we deviate from ancestral norms and behaviors that it introduces evolutionary discord. A discrepancy between what our bodies were designed to do and what modern life encourages us to do, which often manifests itself in the form of negative health outcomes.

It is not that modern life is designed to be destructive, but in our path of least resistance trying to control our environment and in so doing creates an environment that is alien to the ones we are readily adapted to, it inevitably creates complications. The consequence of the evolutionary discord created by bodies designed for movement spending prolonged periods sitting is a direct association with higher incidences of cardiovascular disease, muscular degeneration, reduced bone density, elevated levels of tissue inflammation and increased overall risk of mortality.[1,2] Not that long ago, bed rest was the clinical recommendation for just about every physical ailment but not so today, as we now know that prolonged bed rest leads to musculoskeletal complications such as include loss of muscle strength and endurance, contractures and soft tissue changes, disuse osteoporosis, and degenerative joint disease. Too much time lying down can also bring about cardiovascular complications such as increased heart rate, decreased cardiac reserve, orthostatic hypotension, and venous thromboembolism.



Why Prolonged Sitting In Comfortable Chairs Creates The Same Problems As Too Much Bed Rest


Patients recovering from almost all ailments recover faster when they spend less time lying in bed and it bears noting that from a physiological standpoint, sitting in a comfortable chair isn’t that different than lying in bed. Consider the mechanics of sitting in a comfortable chair and compare it to lying down in a bed and the similarities become readily apparent. Your leg muscles aren’t supporting your weight and if you are in a chair with back and arm rests, you are very close to the state you would be lying down on a bed. Which is why recliners and office chairs feel so comfortable, as we have almost no muscular activity requirements while sitting in them and it’s also the reason why we tend to slouch forward on computers or slouch backwards in an attempt to have our muscles do as little work as possible. Keep in mind the path of least resistance that our bodies will always try to take, as the less work our muscles do, the more comfortable we feel. But this comfort comes at a price.


comfortable office chairs are not best for prolonged sitting

How Muscles Are Adversely Affected By Too Much Sitting In Comfortable Chairs

All muscles work on the use it or lose it principle. They get weaker and atrophy (shrink) in response to inactivity and get stronger and grow in response to activity. (See my article, What Happens When You Stop Lifting Weights) We have two main types of skeletal muscle fibers, Type I, called slow twitch and Type II which is referred to as fast twitch. Type II fast twitch muscle fibers are the ones most of us envision when you mention the word “muscles.” Some jokingly refer to them as “Hollywood muscles” and they tend to be more developed than Type I fiber groups. These are the muscle fibers you would predominantly find in your arms, shoulders, pectorals and upper leg areas. Muscle fibers optimized for short bursts of activity. On the other hand, Type I muscle fibers are smaller, denser and optimized for endurance and ongoing activity. These are the primary muscle fibers found in your lower back and abdominals, which are constant contract to keep you upright if you are doing any form of activity or standing upright. (Note that there are some, but not as much fast twitch muscle fibers in these muscle groups and in the same way, some slow twitch muscle fibers in muscle groups like the arms and legs.)


The problem with Type II muscle fibers though, is that they weaken and deteriorate rapidly in response to inactivity. Prolonged periods sitting in a comfortable chair means you aren’t continually contracting the muscles in your legs, back and abdominals to support your weight, or as you naturally move and shift. And so these muscles rapidly deteriorate as it’s not a way of sitting that our bodies are adapted to. Take away modern amenities and chairs, and it’s clear to see that our natural state of rest would be squatting, sitting on the ground, or maybe on a stool. However, if you have spent years sitting in comfortable chairs and haven’t worked on keeping those muscles in good shape, squatting or sitting on the floor would be uncomfortable as your body needs well developed slow twitch fibers in your midsection, legs and shoulders to be able to sit in those positions. Which is why natural sitting postures maintain back, leg and abdominal strength, whereas sitting in a chair diminishes it.


The bigger Type II “Hollywood” muscle fibers also suffer from inactivity brought on by long periods of sitting in chairs. Muscles conform and shape in response to our movement, or in this case, lack of movement. If you observe at the position of your legs in a comfortable chair, you will see that your hip and knee joints are immobilized at a ninety-degree angle. Which, in a natural sitting environment would be unlikely, and so as time goes by the muscles in your hip flexors atrophy, and in some cases permanently shorten. So, when you stand up, these shortened muscles at the top of your legs will be pulled and tilt your pelvis forward. Which sets in motion an unfortunate series of events: the pelvic tilt creates an overly increased curvature of the spine, and the hamstring muscles at the back of your legs contract to counter this exaggerated curvature. Which then leads to a “flat back posture” that hunches your shoulders and forces you to angle your neck and head forwards, which if not corrected can cause neck and upper back pain and strains. All of which has certainly increased in incidence as more people work from home and spend more time sitting in front of a screen or sitting down in general.


the link between prolonged sitting and lower back pain

The Connection Between Lower Back Pain and Prolonged Sitting


Our muscles work in teams, and when one unit can’t pull its fair share of the weight, it causes an imbalance in the entire structure. The imbalances caused by sitting in chairs for long periods have been implicated as a major cause of nonspecific back pain. Which is back pain that seems to come out of nowhere and has no connection to any trauma or structural injuries. Chronic lower back pain prevalence increases from your thirties up to your sixties, more so in those who do not exercise regularly, and it is more prevalent in women than in men. Modern medicine can’t pinpoint a specific cause, but given the fact that it’s far more prevalent in developed countries where people spend so much time sitting, and universally in vocations where sitting is more common, (taxi drivers and sewing machine operators for example) there is a strong link to the evolutionary discordance being to blame. Our hunter gatherer ancestors and a their way of living as observed in modern tribes does not impose anywhere near as much stress on the lower back, nor does it result in muscular imbalances as commonly seen in both agricultural populations and sedentary Western lifestyles.


The Importance of Balance for Healthy Core Muscles


Our ancestors, as we mentioned previously, don’t sit in chairs or sleep on soft mattresses but they also don’t subject their back to the aptly termed “back breaking” labor associated with traditional farming. Instead they engage in activities that constantly engage their abdominal, leg and lower back muscles, but not excessively repetitive movements, or ongoing activities with significant amounts of weight on their backs. They also don’t remain in any fixed position for extended periods of time, thus avoiding potential muscle shortening, deterioration or muscle inflexibility. Too much strain on lower backs from excessive and continued activities (as in the case of a mover) can cause damage to bones, ligaments, disks and nerves, whereas too little activity (as in the case of someone who sits in front of a computer all day) creates weakened and inflexible back muscles that tire easily and have a lower percentage of important Type I muscle fibers. Which leads to reduced core strength and increased likelihood of muscle strains, torn ligaments, stressed joints, and disk damage when they engage in activities that require any significant back muscle involvement. Which is often what happens when a sedentary individual engages in any activity that places unaccustomed stress on the lower back muscles, like shoveling snow or moving furniture without enough time for lower back muscles to adapt to the new stress.


What we can take away from this is the importance of balance. Namely adequate amounts of stress on the lower back muscles, but not too much. We lift very little in regular modern life, and even less so in a world where more people work from home, as labor saving devices make the carrying any type of load a rarity outside of a gym or exercise setting. In this environment, combined with excessive time spent in comfortable chairs, lower back muscles slowly deteriorate, but most will carry on relatively oblivious to any increased muscle weakness or inflexibilities until that one day where you make a move and find yourself in agonizing pain. To treat that sudden an unexpected lower back pain, pain killers and muscle relaxants are prescribed and the instinctive, but terribly flawed, response is to avoid any activity that uses your lower back muscles. Which over time increases any underlying weaknesses and inflexibility, thus creating a cycle that leaves you more prone to injury in the future.

weight training as a remedy for prolonged sitting
Naturally Intense Personal Trainer, Tiffany Menges knows the importance of weight training!
The Importance Of A Balance Resistance Training Program

It sounds counterintuitive but the best remedy for avoiding lower back pain is using your back muscles more. It’s what we are designed for and since we don’t have natural environments where we would regularly carry moderate loads, it’s important that resistance training be incorporated, especially if you spend a significant amount of time sitting down. Which is why resistance training, aerobic exercise and even other forms of exercise like yoga are highly effective in lessening and alleviating back pain long term. But keep in mind that for long term muscle strengthening, aerobics and yoga can’t compete with the muscle building effects of strength training with weights, as neither of those activities can create the conditions of progressive overload needed to significantly increase muscle size and strength.

weight training to offest prolonged sitting
Author and natural bodybuilding champion, Kevin Richardson only trains three times a week, and has been doing so now for 30 years.

A properly executed weight training program will also work and stimulate every muscle in your body, and help increase muscle size and flexibility in both the lower and upper body. And over time imbalances will begin to even themselves out and the muscular deterioration that prolonged sitting can create can be completely reversed. To that end everyone should be engaging in some form of weight bearing training at least two to three times a week. Bearing in mind again, that too much load bearing exercise can also have a negative long-term affect on joint health and the key is to go with the grain of our biology instead of against it. Weight training almost every day may sound like a good idea. Especially if you spend a lot of time sitting in a chair, but muscles only grow when they rest, and so you need some time in between workouts to get the most out of it. Remember also the aforementioned examples where regular and continued load on the back muscles among farmers and movers didn’t create super strong lower back muscles, it only created more problems. So, balance is key! It should be noted as well that I weight train three times a week myself, and have followed that exact routine now for the past thirty years. Just three days a week of training has allowed me to successfully compete as a natural bodybuilder with impressive maximum lifts, while avoiding the back and joint pain most of my peers who train five times a week or more often have to deal with. Consistency and adequate rest is key, not frequency.

A stool is a simple and natural way to keep your core muscles activated while sitting
Stools: A Simple And Natural Alternative To Comfortable Chairs

There are other steps that you can take if your life requires you to spend a good amount of time in front of a screen. While it might sound like good advice to tell someone to get up from your comfortable chair to stretch and move around from time to time, my experience is that this only works short term. In time the natural inclination towards the path of least resistance inevitably wins out with most people and they revert to old patterns of prolonged sitting. It’s also hard to remember to stand up if you are really engaged in your work. Hours can feel like minutes when you are seriously focused, so unless you use an alarm, it can be difficult to gauge is what the optimal amount of sitting and standing time should be. An alarm going off at half hour or even 15 minute intervals is a great way to stay active and keep mobile while having to sit at your desk or in front of a screen, as is one other simple and low-cost way to alleviate the long term muscle and joint deterioration that sitting in a chair can create. Simply swap out your comfortable chair for a stool. A stool is the only sitting device universally found among traditional cultures, and it’s what I started using when I realized I would be training clients full time online for hours at a time.


I use a drum stool and alternate between standing up and sitting on the stool. I have a rather comfortable office chair, but I use it ONLY for writing articles (like right now) or editing photographs, otherwise the stool is my default sitting device. You can use any stool, but the one I use is  particularly comfortable, as it is designed for drummers who spend hours sitting while playing. Interestingly enough, even though it’s very well padded and extremely comfortable to sit on for SHORT periods of time, when I spend hours on the stool training clients, it reminds me just how much back and abdominal muscles are engaged when you sit upright. When I was sitting in the comfortable office chair, I would often find myself relaxed and staying on the computer, but after a few hours on the stool, the last thing I want to do is to remain seated, and so I spend less time in front of the screen. Even during my sessions, I stand up far more often than I ever did when I sat in the office chair, as you naturally feel like standing and stretching out when using a stool. Best of all, if it’s adjusted to the point where your feet are on the ground with knees almost extended, you avoid the 90 degree angle issues and keep your leg muscles activated and in a structurally sound position at all times. Standing desks are another way to help reduce the amount of time spent sitting, and can be fantastic if used in conjunction with a stool. But keep in mid that there is ample evidence that prolonged periods of time standing up can also be harmful to lower back muscles. But alternating between standing and a stool is a great middle ground.


There are other concerns with prolonged sitting such as how it may be a contributing factor to overall weight gain. Inactivity isn’t as much a cause of weight gain as poor dietary choices and or overeating (See our seminar on Weight Loss During Times Of Reduced Activity). But at the end of the day we can’t lose sight of the fact that we are creatures made to move, and that exercise acts as somewhat of a reset button that clears the mind from the background noise of our thoughts. We also have to bear in mind that our lives might be different from those of our ancestors, but we are still and always will be evolving animals. And as such novel activities like sitting in comfortable chairs for long periods should always be looked upon as something we should strive to avoid as much as possible. No one can say for certain if a COVID-19 vaccine would mean a return to life as it was before the pandemic in terms of people working from and going to school remotely. We have had other near-miss pandemics in the past like SARS, Ebola, MERS and avian-flu and serious ones like the 1918 flu. As such there might be a reluctance for many to return to dense office spaces and filled classrooms, but either way, we need to ensure that we are mindful of how much time we spend sitting down, regardless of whether we are at home or not.

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Not Bad For Training Only Three Days A Week!

Because it's three days a week with soul crunching intensity non stop for the past 33 years.

There's no gimmick to it and it means being uncompromisingly all in for your workouts and with your nutrition.

I don't think there's that much that special about me.

There's nothing enhanced, nothing boosted by testosterone and there weren't any special "supplements" along the way.

Just three days of blistering hard work each week and meticulous attention to what I eat.

Being 90% on point each week means you are 100% off after 10 weeks and I can't emphasize enough how much of a difference unshakeable consistency makes to your overall results.

Most of the natural athletes didn't get where they are by any genetic advantage, they just did what is so very rare- which is stick to their process 100%.

It's not easy as it's not always easy and certainly not always popular, but you owe it to yourself to see just how far you can go if you go all in!

Looking forward to seeing your results and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#naturalbodybuilding #naturalbodybuilder #fitover40 #homegym #drugfreebodybuilding #gymselfie #hometraining #naturalbodybuildingmotivation

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What I Eat To Stay Lean and Keep Building Muscle All Year Round.

If there every was a "secret" to how I consistently stay in shape (and almost 20 years since my last competition) the answer would be my diet.

Diet is the deciding factor in what your body looks like and your overall performance and I want to stress that while this is a layout of the foods I eat on a daily basis, it's not a blueprint for your YOU should be eating.

What it can be is an example of what it takes to maintain a certain degree of size and muscularity at all times as a natural athlete, and also the underlying principle to how I select my foods.

Which is that I don't eat junk foods or highly processed foods and I only drink water.

(No protein shakes, ever!)

If you can start with that, there's no doubt that you will be on the right track in terms of your nutrition.

So stay away from processed foods, know that I believe in you and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #naturalbodybuildingtips #naturalbodybuildingdiet #diet #whatieatinaday #mydiet #naturalbodybuildingvideos #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #drugfreebodybuilding #healthyeating #noproteinshakes #excelsior #bodybuilding #bodybuildingdiet

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Post workout physique check in.

The contest gets closer and closer as the sun meanders across the sky, as my contest is and always will be, did I do everything I possibly could that day to improve?

Did I train hard enough?

Did I push it enough?

The dietary part isn't an issue.

It hasn't been for many years as I always make sure that my nutrition is on point, and there's no leeway on that front.

I don't feel good when I'm not eating optimally, and I respect myself enough to not settle into a place where not feeling my best is the norm.

And to be honest, it feels really good to put my head down at the end of the day knowing that I gave it my all.

Not that I was the best or was even necessarily successful at everything that I set out to accomplish, but knowing that I gave everything nonetheless.

It's a feeling I want everyone to have.

To sleep soundly knowing that you gave it your all.

That you didn't miss an opportunity to improve on what you are passionate about, because in so doing, you experience an eagerness to do the same the next day.

It's the ultimate contest and I invite everyone to submit their application forms, as it's one of the few competitions where everyone who does the work and shows up, is in the winner's circle.

Keep striving, keep pushing and as always, Excelsior! #naturallyintense

(Thanks @indi.anna.r or taking the shot, as I know your arm was probably shaking after that workout!)

#naturalbodybuilding #naturalbodybuilder #fitover40 #homegym #drugfreebodybuilding #gymselfie #hometraining #naturalbodybuildingmotivation

159 13

Motivation vs Discipline. What You Really Need To Be Successful!

I am often asked what was my motivation to keep going starting off as a skinny 125lb kid who no one believed could ever be a successful bodybuilder.

The answer is that motivation didn't have that much to do with it.

Motivation may have played a part in getting me started, but it was discipline that got me to where I wanted to be.

Motivation is fleeting and ephemeral, it's not always going to be there and on the days when you don't feel like eating right or training hard, you need a disciplined practice to see you through.

A disciplined practiced based on doing what you need to do to be successful regardless of the circumstances.

That's how I made it through all those tough times when I felt I wasn't getting anywhere, and it's what will help you as well.

So forget motivation, focus on building a disciplined practice, know that I believe in you and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#naturalbodybuilding #nosteroids #fitnessgoals #naturalbodybuildingtips #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuildingvideos #excelsior #fitover40 #naturalbodybuildingtips #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #disciplineovermotivation #disciplineequalsfreedom #discipline #motivation#fitness #mindset #selfdiscipline #fitnessmotivation #disciplinequotes #workout #disciplineiskey

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Kevin's Ultimate Secret Six Pack Abs Tip!

If you ever wondered how I maintain a six pack all year round and have kept that six pack for decades on end, here's the secret.

This is one tip that will honestly get you on the path to a six pack.

There's no magic to it.

But if you follow this simple piece of advice, you will be able to do a lot more than get yourself a six pack, as it's a proven formula for success.

Give it a try and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#sixpack #sixpackabs #6pack #6packabs #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #naturalbodybuildingtips #naturalbodybuildingvideo #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #sixpacktips #drugfreebodybuilding #abs

165 18

Happy Archery Day, everyone!!!

Yeah, it's a thing and can't say how much it's my thing!

To be honest, I am a barebow shooter and almost never shoot my compound bow (the monster in my hands) but it's all really good fun!

If you haven't tried archery or are thinking about doing it again, go give it a shot (no pun intended!!!)

And as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#archery #archeryday #bowtech #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuilding #fitover40 #blackandwhite #bowtech

135 19

Do You Have Good Genetics for Natural Bodybuilding?

I don't believe it's the question that needs to be asked.

Far too many, myself included, who went on to be successful natural bodybuilders would never have been the men and women you would expect to have the genetics for bodybuilding.

But we put in the work, the years, the dedication and the consistency, and so what matters isn't the question of genetics, but rather do you have the passion, the drive and the discipline to train hard and focus on your diet nonstop for years on end to realize your potential?

That's the real question, and yes, there are men and women who have great genetics for natural bodybuilding, but there are even more who would be amazing onstage but don't know it because they didn't believe enough in themselves to put in the time to see how far they could go.

So I am here to say that I believe you have it in you to do amazing things, so if it's your goal, or even if you just want to improve the way you look, stick with it and don't quit!

Know that I believe in you and as always, Excelsior!!! #naturallyintense

#naturalbodybuilding #nosteroids #fitnessgoals #bodytransformation #nodrugs #naturalbodybuildingtips #naturalbodybuilder #naturalbodybuildingvideos #excelsior #fitover40 #personaltrainer #naturalbodybuildingtips #naturalbodybuildingmotivation #beleiveinyourself

157 17

Nope it's not a contest cut- it's just another day on the Path.

There are two ways to get cut, the fast way that requires going to extremes and which is inevitably temporary.

Or the Path-based way. Whereby your lifestyle and sustainable healthy practices get you there and keeps you there.

It takes time. It takes patience but it's an extremely honest endeavor.

If you put in the work and stay consistent with your training and following a processed food free and healthy diet, excellence is just a matter of time.

It takes time but as long as you draw breath, you have the time and you can do this.

So take the Path-based way and as always, Excelsior!!!

And my thanks to my son @reid_443 for snapping the shot, and the approval rating! 😂

#naturalbodybuilding #naturalbodybuilder #fitover40 #homegym #drugfreebodybuilding #gymselfie #hometraining

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Please note that all material is copyrighted and DMCA Protected and can be reprinted only with the expressed authorization of the author.


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Kevin Richardson
Kevin Richardsonhttps://www.naturallyintense.net
Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, celebrity Personal Trainer NYC and with over 2.6 million readers of his blog, Kevin Richardson is the creator of Naturally Intense High Intensity Training, one of the top lifetime drug free bodybuilders of his time, the first International Fitness & Nutrition Consultant for UNICEF, 2020 and 8 Time Winner of the Best of Manhattan Awards for Personal Training and a world recognized authority on high intensity training. Kevin has helped thousands, from celebrities to CEO's over the past 30 years achieve their fitness goals with his 10 minute high-intensity workouts done just three times a week in conjunction with his holistic nutrition approach. You can learn more about about his diet and training services at www.naturallyintense.net


  1. ”Consistency and adequate rest is key, not frequency.” Well said. Kevin you are a genius. This article, as written, breaks it down in steps, like never before that makes perfect sense. I can relate to the drum throne as I play drums also and you are correct about the posture. I admire your persistence. You were always like that anyways. Well done, My Old Pal.

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