Perfecting Your Normal

Many anatomical differences mean each person will need to move in a customized way that suits their body, and unless you’re ambidextrous you shouldn’t expect to move the same way with each side of your body.

Pretty much everyone who has worked out at a gym has had the experience of getting advice (frequently unsolicited) about how to do an exercise properly. frequently, this advice comes with the intent of helping you avoid injury, maximize your efficiency, or to hit on you. However, I am about to blow your mind with a revelation. People come in all shapes and sizes. Brilliant as this view of human nature may be, it is something that is forgotten far too often in the gym. People are not machines. We are not all built the same way, move uniformly, or require the same fuel. Many anatomical differences mean each person will need to move in a customized way that suits their body, and unless you’re ambidextrous you shouldn’t expect to move the same way with each side of your body. So all that advice you’re getting on how to squat normally may be a load of crap, but I am here to explain how you can do the best with what you got to perfect your body’s normal. 
 
🚩Red Flags🚩
Don’t go running off to the gym and start using the equipment all willy nilly thinking that there is no wrong way to move. Because there is. It’s a large part of my job to make sure you don’t jack yourself up by doing something you saw on Instagram. When it comes to movement, I worry about the red flags, not the minutia. A red flag that can be revealed by a squat test might include knee valgus, or knock knees. We know this can lead to knee pain and ACL tears in athletes (1). There you have it, folks! If you’re an athlete and you have knock knees then you should work on that. Do you have back pain? Well if you hurt you back by falling down, doing a dead lift, or in a car accident, then those are red flags. But there is no magic stretch, strengthening program, or posture that are red flags or fixes for that matter. I’ve written about it before, but I’ll say it again “Neck pain is not greatly associated with neck posture (2). Sagittal (front to back) spinal curve does not relate to spinal health or back pain (3). It is highly likely that we all have disc degeneration, a bulging disk, and/or protruding disk in our back right now, and that’s normal (4). It’s not an unequal leg length that’s causing your back pain (5). Even the best athletes in the world have asymmetrical muscle size and movement patterns, and they don’t have issues caused by them (6,7).
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Why We Must Move Differently
I’ll keep this brief. We must all move differently because of our bone structure, muscle/tendon location, and injury history requires us to. We are all so different that it’s impossible to define perfect posture let alone perfect movement. As our bones grow and change, they don’t do so uniformly. Most people know that women have wider hips than men because of the birthing process. Well, there are similar genetic differences amongst everyone that can lead to the bones of the hip to stop you from moving in an “optimal” way (8). It’s also why the phrase “squat like a baby” is total crapThe image bellow gives a good visual on how the hip can be different from person to person. This is why no amount of foam rolling, stretching, or muscle activation will help with “tight hips” in some individuals. 
 
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Making It Work For You
So here’s where we get down to business. If you, or someone you know, have specific questions about pain, performance, or application of any of the following suggestions, be sure to set up a one on one session with me by replying to this email so we can get into specifics for you. 
It’s no secret that exercising can come with aches and pains. Commonly, the shoulder, back, and knee joints. What you need to know is that pain does not always mean there is tissue damage. It may simply mean you are overstressing a particular structure. Which is why switching from back squat to front squat can alleviate knee pain even though you are still putting pressure on the joint. If your knees move towards the outside of your feet too much try taking off your shoes (9). If squatting makes your back hurt, decrease the amount of weight that you use, squat deeper, and allow your knees to go in front of your toes as seen in the picture below (10). You can also adjust the depth of the squat, foot stance, and barbell location to target specific muscles which I wrote about extensively in this post.
 
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If you want to build a bigger chest, use less weight on your bench press because of the heavier the weight the more you use your shoulders and triceps (11). In fact, getting more reps in is the name of the game. Stretching before you exercise will decrease the strength and muscle gain you can achieve, and may not even be achieving anything worthwhile, to begin with (hip flexors in particular) (12). A little cheating isn’t always a bad thing if a bit of a swinging/momentum gets you to squeeze out an extra few reps (13). At the end of the day, perfecting your normal means you are experimenting with technique so you don’t feel pain/do feel the targeted muscles work, you are getting as many weighted reps in a possible, and you gradually increase your body’s ability to do more work. This may require a trained eye, but it will never require a universally true way to do things.
Resources
1. Quatman, C. E., Kiapour, A. M., Demetropoulos, C. K., Kiapour, A., Wordeman, S. C., Levine, J. W., … & Hewett, T. E. (2014). Preferential loading of the ACL compared with the MCL during landing: a novel in sim approach yields the multiplanar mechanism of dynamic valgus during ACL injuries. The American journal of sports medicine, 42(1), 177-186.
2. Grob, D., Frauenfelder, H., & Mannion, A. F. (2007). The association between cervical spine curvature and neck pain. European Spine Journal, 16(5), 669-678. doi:10.1007/s00586-006-0254-1
3. Christensen, S. T., & Hartvigsen, J. (2008). Spinal curves and health: A systematic critical review of the epidemiological literature dealing with associations between sagittal spinal curves and health. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 31(9), 690-714. doi:10.1016/j.jmpt.2008.10.004
4. Brinjikji, W., Luetmer, P. H., Comstock, B., Bresnahan, B. W., Chen, L. E., Deyo, R. A., . . . Jarvik, J. G. (2015). Systematic literature review of imaging features of spinal degeneration in asymptomatic populations. AJNR. American Journal of Neuroradiology, 36(4), 811-816. doi:10.3174/ajnr.A4173
5. Grundy, P. F., & Roberts, C. J. (1984). Does unequal leg length cause back pain? A case-control study. Lancet (London, England), 2(8397), 256.
6. Hides, J., Fan, T., Stanton, W., Stanton, P., McMahon, K., & Wilson, S. (2010). Psoas and quadratus lumborum muscle asymmetry among elite australian football league players. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(8), 563-567. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2008.048751
7. Hespanhol Junior LC, De Carvalho AC, Costa LO, Lopes AD. Lower limb alignment characteristics are not associated with running injuries in runners: Prospective cohort study. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016 Jun:1–8. PubMed #27312709.
8. Pollard, T. C. B., Villar, R. N., Norton, M. R., Fern, E. D., Williams, M. R., Murray, D. W., & Carr, A. J. (2010). Genetic influences in the aetiology of femoroacetabular impingement. Bone & Joint Journal, 92(2), 209-216.
9. Southwell, D. J., Petersen, S. A., Beach, T. A., & Graham, R. B. (2016). The effects of squatting footwear on three-dimensional lower limb and spine kinetics. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 31, 111-118.
10. Hartmann, H., Wirth, K., Mickel, C., Keiner, M., Sander, A., & Yaghobi, D. (2016). Stress for Vertebral Bodies and Intervertebral Discs with Respect to Squatting Depth. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, 1(2), 254-268.
11. Król, H., & Golas, A. (2017). Effect of Barbell Weight on the Structure of the Flat Bench Press. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 31(5), 1321-1337.
12. Junior, R. M., Berton, R., de Souza, T. M. F., Chacon-Mikahil, M. P. T., & Cavaglieri, C. R. (2017). Effect of the flexibility training performed immediately before resistance training on muscle hypertrophy, maximum strength and flexibility. European journal of applied physiology, 1-8.
13. Arandjelović, O. (2013). Does cheating pay: the role of externally supplied momentum on muscular force in resistance exercise. European journal of applied physiology, 113(1), 135-145.

Get A Sexy Back & Healthy Shoulders By Doing This

For nearly all of us, there is one muscle group that’s often ignore which can keep our backs looking good and shoulders strong.

With pool, beach, and wedding season right around the corner, most of us are thinking about the implications of showing some skin. For others, our thoughts may rest completely on the thought of keeping our body healthy and pain-free. For nearly all of us, there is one muscle group that’s often ignore which can keep our backs looking good and shoulders strong. And that muscle is….
 
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The Serratus Anterior
The serratus anterior (SA), AKA boxer’s muscle does a lot. When it’s strong, the SA holds scapula (shoulder blade) against the thoracic wall (the rib cage) and rotation of the scapula. But when the SA is weak, it can lead to a forward head posture, winging scapula, subacromial impingement, rotator cuff tears, glenohumeral inferior instability, sternoclavicular joint pain, acromioclavicular joint pain, glenohumeral osteoarthritis, frozen shoulder syndrome, scoliosis, lateral epicondylalgia, kyphosis, thoracic outlet syndrome, headaches, neck pain, and upper crossed syndrome (1,2). Aesthetically, scapular winging can lead some to avoid open back dresses or leaving the shirt on at the pool.
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The Fix
For most people, I recommend some basic thoracic spine mobility drills. If you’re in a rush, some simple thoracic spine foam rolling for about 30 seconds will do in a pinch. As for exercises, the easiest thing you can do is incorporate pushups into your workout routine! Pushups are great for building SA strength when done correctly (3). And while I could write a book on the mistakes that can be made while doing pushups, let’s focus in on how to do them correctly. Keep your hands directly under your shoulders, brace the abdomen, keep your head and neck in neutral alignment with your spine (don’t look at your toes), and emphasize the last little bit of pushing at the end of each repetition. If you are already a proficient pushup pro, there are always fun ways to spice it up a bit like using a stability ball under your feet, BOSU ball under your hands, and performing pushups on an uneven surface.  
 
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Another great exercise is the dynamic hug. In this exercise, you use a resistance band wrapped around your back to increase the resistance of moving your arms forward for a hug. When done correctly, it should look the same as when my wife hugs me after I workout and stink like an old gym sock. Of course, there are dozens of exercises that work wonders for strengthening the SA, but these two exercises are safe, easily modified, and are very effective.
Bottom Line
At the end of the day, most of us exercise for our health and/or to look good in our birthday suits. Hitting the serratus anterior on a regular basis is a great way to accomplish both at the same time. So the next time you’re in the gym if you hear a trainer say “drop down and give me 20” you know it’s for a good reason. 
Resources
1. 4Fayad, F., Roby-Brami, A., Yazbeck, C., Hanneton, S., Lefevre-Colau, M., Gautheron, V.. . Revel, M. (2008). Three-dimensional scapular kinematics and scapulohumeral rhythm in patients with glenohumeral osteoarthritis or frozen shoulder. Journal of Biomechanics, 41(2), 326-332. doi:10.1016/j.jbiomech.2007.09.004
2. Nagai, K., Tateuchi, H., Takashima, S., Miyasaka, J., Hasegawa, S., Arai, R.. . Ichihashi, N. (2013). Effects of trunk rotation on scapular kinematics and muscle activity during humeral elevation. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology : Official Journal of the International Society of Electrophysiological Kinesiology, 23(3), 679-687. doi:10.1016/j.jelekin.2013.01.012
3. Decker, M. J., Hintermeister, R. A., Faber, K. J., & Hawkins, R. J. (1999). Serratus anterior muscle activity during selected rehabilitation exercises. The American journal of sports medicine, 27(6), 784-791.

You Don’t Know Squat?!

Training the prime movers of the squat is essential for maintaining fitness, a fine physique, and independence into old age. So we ALL need to practice/enhance this skill through exercise.

Squatting is an exercise that we must do everyday. I’m not talking about putting loads of weight on your back and squatting up and down in front of a mirror. I’m talking about the motion itself! We squat when we get in and out of the car, sit down and stand up from dinner or the couch, use the toilet, and in many other daily situations. We squat while doing tasks like picking something off of the ground, getting out of bed, dancing, picking up groceries, and almost any type of athletic movement. Training the prime movers of the squat is essential for maintaining fitness, a fine physique, and independence into old age. So we ALL need to practice/enhance this skill through exercise.
There are dozens of ways that you can squat, and there are hundreds of people who claim to know the “best way” to squat. But for all intents and purposes the squat can be broken down into two basic forms. These two forms are the front and back squat, that can be further distinguished by three basic heights: partial, parallel, and full. Proper form for squatting requires keeping your back flat, heels on the floor, and knees aligned over the feet. And when we talk about the safety of squat variations you don’t just have to consider how far back you sit, how far your trunk leans, or how far your knees travel over the toes; you also have to consider how far you shift forward or backward with the bar relative to the feet, as this influences joint torques considerably. So everything considered, squatting can be very complex. If you want to ensure proper form, it may be worthwhile to seek professional advice.
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Pros And Cons
There are many benefits from squatting in any fashion, but there can also be negative outcomes. The Back Squat is good for increasing tendon, ligament, and bone strength as well as developing speed, power, and strength in the lower back, hips, and knees. The bad news is that it can cause joint degeneration, osteoarthritis and osteochondritis, muscle strains, damage to the ACL, and knee instability.
The Front Squat may be a good alternative for those with knee pain because it is just as effective regarding overall muscle recruitment with significantly less compressive forces on the knees. However, there appears to be no difference between front squat and back squat regarding shear stress on the knee, which is actually fairly low -– a lot lower than, say, knee extensions. Squat depth has been shown to have a significant effect on muscular development at the hip and knee joints. To optimize development of the gluteus maximus (the butt muscles), squats should be carried out through their full range of motion. To target the quadriceps (the thigh muscles), a squat depth of 90 degrees appears to be optimal. Hamstring activation / development are generally unaffected by squat depth. The drawback seems to be that although deep squats seem to be safe in healthy folks, those with PCL disorders should refrain from squatting below 50 to 60 degrees, and those suffering from chondromalacia, osteoarthritis, and osteochondritis may also need to avoid deep squats. Where you place the bar can also be a factor. So after a hip injury, high-bar squats should be used at the beginning to minimize the risk of hip overload. After a knee injury, a squatting technique more similar to the low-bar technique should be preferred. Finally, research shows that box squats and powerlifting squats could be “safer” for the low back compared to traditional squats.
From Noob To Pro In No Time
In this section I will go over how to learn to squat correctly for beginners, progressively squat more for novice squatters, and how to kick it up a notch for the squat masters.
Noobies
Before you go out and throw a barbell on your back, consider learning these basic moves first if you’re a beginner.
1. The hip hinge requires flexibility of the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine and stability in the feet, knees, and lumbar spine. Therefore, hitting the foam roller, or using some preparation exercises might be required pre-hip hinge. To perform this motion, start by shifting your body backwards, place your weight through the heels, and keep a neutral spine position. Practice first with hands on the hips, then add the simultaneous movement of both arms straight forward and above shoulder height.
2. Body weight squats are next. Begin by looking at a mirror to ensure your head is in a neutral position with your gaze forward or slightly up, thoracic spine (mid back) slightly straight and mobile, lumbar spine (low back) neutral and stable, hip joints mobile and bending backward behind heels, and knees stable and in alignment with your hips and feet. Additionally, your feet should be at shoulder width, in a neutral position, with your heels are firmly on the floor. Start the squat motion by beginning with a bend in the hip joints, followed by bending knees to the desired depth while ensuring that your trunk angle (from the floor) is stable in each movement phase.
3. Functional squatting exercises are important for us all. So once mobility, stability, and strength have been developed, we can get creative! See the next section for more on this.
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The novice squatter is someone with established form and proper mobility, stability, and strength. If you’re a novice squatter, you should:
1. Begin at the top by training loaded partial squats to the desired sets and repetitions. Gradually increase your range of motion while keeping in mind that the deeper you squat, the lighter the load should be.
2. Start adding more volume by increasing the frequency you squat per week. To keep it simple, squatting 3 times per week with 3 working sets per session for a total of 9 weekly sets will be plenty for the average gym goer.
3. Gradually increasing weight will be inevitable. The general rule of thumb here is to increase your load by no more than 10% each week.
The advanced squat star (squar?) will want to change things up a bit and get jiggy with it. Shake things up by going for exercises such as single leg squatsplyometric squatssquats with a band around your kneessquat burpiespistol squatsgoblet squats, and unstable squats.

25% Of Us Have Knee Pain Due To…

Just because it’s common doesn’t mean you have to develop it or that it will last forever. So don’t stop moving!

Our knees hate us. Or at least it can seem that way when they aren’t doing what we want them to do. Creaky, achy, and wonky knees are all too common among my friends when I ask them to help me move. And while those may be excuses for them, I bet it’s a reality for most of you. The sad part is that because the knee is so complex, it is often misunderstood. When you have a bum knee, rest is almost never the answer. This is particularly true for the 25% of us who will end up having knee pain due to patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) (1). Also known sometimes as runner’s knee, PFPS is a complex issue without one true solution. Let’s take a look at why the knee cap can make us feel like knee crap!
 
So What’s The Problem Again? 
As the name implies, PFPS is not a single problem but a group of signs and symptoms. Generally, the epicenter of the pain is somewhere under or around the kneecap, and will usually be mainly on the front of the knee. It can be caused by variations in strength, flexibility, patellar tracking, quadriceps angle, and patellofemoral joint (PFJ) morphology and even psychological issues such as depression, fear-avoidance, and anxiety (2). However, I like to think of PFPS as the knee leaving homeostasis. Homeostasis can be described as a zone, or “envelope of function”, where the tissue is capable of tolerating loads (3). So as you get stronger, you increase your envelope of function. And when you over-do it with your training, your knee may no longer tolerate levels of loading even during routine activities, such as descending stairs or previously well-tolerated running distances (4). In other words, when you over-do-it with your training or exercise, you may not be able to do half as much as you used to without pain.
 
How Do I Avoid/Fix The Problem?
While I would love to tell you how to screen yourself for potential red flags, there really aren’t any good predictors of injury (5). What will help you out is strengthening the quadriceps (6). By using a progressive overload scheme (aka gradually doing more over time), you can make those quads stronger and avoid pain and/or injury! Here are some exercises to try out for good quad activation and strengthening (4):
 – Knee extension with a weight attached to the ankle
 – A knee extension machine
 – Single leg squat to at least 65 degrees of knee flexion
 – Squatting between 0 and 45 degrees of knee flexion
 – Leg presses between 0 and 45 degrees of knee flexion
You can also try taping (anywhere on the front of the knee) or bracing the knee to alleviate the pain. You can pretty much tape your knee however you want because it doesn’t change the biomechanics of the knee (7). Strengthening the hip muscles will be helpful for more than just bikini season because strengthening those glutes (and other muscles of the hip) can help reduce pain and improve function (8). Similar to taping and bracing, strengthening the hips won’t improve biomechanics. Hip strengthening will, however, increase the load tolerance of the knee and supportive structures (9).
 
For Runners
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This segment is for runners, so feel free to skip it if you don’t anticipate doing a 5k anytime soon. Runners, in particular, are susceptible to having issues with their movement patterns that can lead to knee issues. Movement re-education through simple techniques can be extremely helpful for reducing knee pain. Reducing hip drop while running is a great way to help reduce knee pain. In addition to using glute strengthening techniques, mirror and verbal feedback can reduce hip drop and hip adduction (knee movement inwards) while running (10). A general increase in step rate by 5-10% can also be very beneficial for reducing knee load and pain (11). A metronome works great for achieving a faster gait pattern.
 
Summary
While knee pain may never be completely eliminated, there are some steps that can be taken to decrease pain and the likelihood of developing pain. Work toward having strong quadriceps, move with good technique and don’t advance your exercise routine too quickly. And while shock absorbing insoles and arch supports may be useless, throwing on a little tape or knee support may give you enough pain relief to build up your leg strength (12). For runners, watch yourself in the mirror and make sure you don’t have hip-drop and increase your running cadence. Just because PFPS is common doesn’t mean you have to develop it or that it will last forever. So don’t stop moving!

References

  1. Nunes, G. S., Stapait, E. L., Kirsten, M. H., de Noronha, M., & Santos, G. M. (2013). Clinical test for diagnosis of patellofemoral pain syndrome: Systematic review with meta-analysis. Physical Therapy in Sport : Official Journal of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sports Medicine, 14(1), 54-59. doi:10.1016/j.ptsp.2012.11.003
  2. Meira, E. P., & Brumitt, J. (2011). Influence of the hip on patients with patellofemoral pain syndrome: A systematic review. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 3(5), 455-465. doi:10.1177/1941738111415006
  3. Gabbett, T. J. (2016). The training-injury prevention paradox: Should athletes be training smarter and harder? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(5), 273. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-095788
  4. Willy, R. W., & Meira, E. P. (2016). CURRENT CONCEPTS IN BIOMECHANICAL INTERVENTIONS FOR PATELLOFEMORAL PAIN. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 11(6), 877.
  5. Whittaker, J. L., Booysen, N., de la Motte, S., Dennett, L., Lewis, C. L., Wilson, D., . . . Stokes, M. (2016). Predicting sport and occupational lower extremity injury risk through movement quality screening: A systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, , bjsports-2016-096760. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096760
  6. Kooiker L Van De Port IG Weir A Moen MH. Effects of physical therapist-guided quadriceps-strengthening exercises for the treatment of patellofemoral pain syndrome: A systematic review. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2014;44(6):391-B391.
  7. Whittingham M Palmer S Macmillan F. Effects of taping on pain and function in patellofemoral pain syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2004;34(9):504-510.
  8. Lack, S., Barton, C., Sohan, O., Crossley, K., & Morrissey, D. (2015). Proximal muscle rehabilitation is effective for patellofemoral pain: A systematic review with meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(21), 1365-1376. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-094723
  9. Willy RW Davis IS. The effect of a hip-strengthening program on mechanics during running and during a single-leg squat. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2011;41(9):625-632.
  10. Willy, R. W., Scholz, J. P., & Davis, I. S. (2012). Mirror gait retraining for the treatment of patellofemoral pain in female runners. Clinical Biomechanics (Bristol, Avon), 27(10), 1045-1051. doi:10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2012.07.011
  11. LENHART, R. L., THELEN, D. G., WILLE, C. M., CHUMANOV, E. S., & HEIDERSCHEIT, B. C. (2014;2013;). Increasing running step rate reduces patellofemoral joint forces. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46(3), 557-564. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a78c3a
  12. Bonanno, D. R., Landorf, K. B., Munteanu, S. E., Murley, G. S., & Menz, H. B. (2016). Effectiveness of foot orthoses and shock-absorbing insoles for the prevention of injury: A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, , bjsports-2016-096671. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096671

The Caboose Should Come First! – Glute Training

These days, people use their keester for little more than sitting. This is a real travesty because it’s useful for so many more things we do throughout the day.

Today I will be talking about the importance of training your glutes, and how best to do it! These days, people use their keester for little more than sitting. This is a real travesty because it’s useful for so many more things we do throughout the day. As a disclaimer, I will be using as many whimsical terms as I can think of to describe the caboose so stop reading now if you don’t like laughing 🙂More Than Just A Money Maker

Your heinie is crucial for so many different movements and activities that it is impossible to cover them all in one sitting (pun intended). It’s used for simple things like walking, sitting, and even standing with proper posture, to very complex movements like squatting, jumping, and sport specific movements. Booty strength is often lacking in those who sit for long periods of time which can lead to lower back pain. And this lack of strength can even lead issues such as ACL tears, shin splints, ankle sprains, and general knee and hip pain. Such issues occur when the tooshie is week because other muscles like hamstrings, hip flexors, IT band, and groin muscles over develop and cause problems in its absences. Finally, when the behind is weak, the abs/core is in a disadvantage and can’t do its job as well either! Longs story short, glute strengthening is necessary for far more than having a rockin rump during bikini season!

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that we ALL need have strength in our bottoms. So here are a few ways to get it done!

Mindful Movement –  The first thing for everyone to do is be aware of what you’re working. Mentally slowing down and concentrating on contracting your can will encourage greater development during exercise and during daily activities. Squeezing your butt (mentally, not with your hands) while standing is a great way to develop proper posture.

Squat – When done properly, the squat is a tried and true method of firming up the fanny. There are also many ways to squat, so using different tools to get it done right may be necessary for a beginner. Making sure you keep your chest up and drive through you heels are good starting points for a novice squatter.

Single Leg RDL – Simply standing on one leg, while keeping the hips even, is another easy way to round the rear end. Once you have mastered this skill, single-leg romanian deadlifts (RDL) are, by far, my favorite way to blast the buttocks. Make sure you have the balance and stability to do this exercise before you go for it however.

Tricks or Tweaks – There are a variety of simple tricks and exercise tweaks you can use to develop a powerful posterior. Squatting with a band around your knees, increasing the range of motion on hip thrusts (or any exercise for that matter), keeping your knees behind your toes during leg exercises, and overloading the lockout of your glute exercises by fully extending the hips are all ways to advance your exercises.

The Classics – Sticking to the classics of glute strengthening is always a good idea. Supine bridges (double and single leg), clamshells, and step-ups may not be the most glamorous, (read in Yoda voice) butt they work!

Front to Back – As mentioned earlier, the core works in concert with the keester. So be sure to double your effort to contract your derriere while performing core exercises.

As fun as this has been to write, and I hope read, all good things must come to a rear end.

Big Belly, Big Biceps, Big Training Mistakes

We make efforts to get to where we want to be, but often times we do the minimum to get there and never really breach our comfort zone.

Why do you exercise? Are you trying slim down that big belly? Looking to have shirt-busting biceps? Or perhaps just trying not to become a three-toed sloth (even though they are cute)? Well, I can tell you that we all make mistakes in our never-ending quest to be fit as a fiddle. It’s in our nature to be comfortable. We make efforts to get to where we want to be, but often times we do the minimum to get there and never really breach our comfort zone. So if you have ever asked yourself, “Why isn’t this working?”, read on to see some classic mistakes you’re probably still making.
Tummy Training Troubles
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At some point in our lives, we have all wanted our midsection to look at least a little bit different. Whether you’ve wanted to have washboard abs, a flat stomach, smaller pant/dress size, or even to see your toes again, we have all had goals. Training to see these goals come to fruition, however, can often feel like an uphill battle on a treadmill covered with petroleum jelly. No matter how hard or fast you move your feet, you just seem to see no progress. When it comes to seeing progress around your midsection, the difference is truly made in the kitchen and not the gym. This is because no matter how many crunches you do (or adductor machine squeezes you do for legs), you won’t see a bit of difference in fatty tissue laying over those areas (1). In reality, trying to zap away your problem areas is literally an exercise in futility, because spot reduction DOES NOT WORK (2)!!!! Furthermore, burning fat does not mean you’re losing fat (3). If you want to lose the muffin top, you should weight train (no not cardio), eat at least 500 fewer calories than you burn in a day, and face some of these hard truths:
1 – You will fail. Not everything you’re going to try will work. Keep trying new ways of losing weight and stick with what’s working for you. Whether it’s more exercise, eating less, or cutting out booze, find your weight-loss sweet spot to see that belly boil down to nothing.
2 – Your body is your fault. You’ve spent your entire life getting into the habits that have turned you into the person you are. Whether you’re happy with the way you look and feel, or get upset every time you look in the mirror, the sooner you start to take responsibility for your health and body, the sooner you’re going to make a change.
3 – Fat loss sucks. It’s damn hard and there is absolutely nothing “effortless” about it. You WILL have to get out of your comfort zone.
4 – You will never look the way you want. Our imaginations get the better of us by blowing things way out of proportion which results in some hybrid, demi-god version of ourselves. If you have ever thought to yourself, “I just want to look like I did when I was in high school/college”, then I’m sorry to burst your bubble Uncle Riko, you probably didn’t look that good in the first place. Our memories stink, we all think we are above average/better than we really are, and we are all getting older. Which leads me to my last point.
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5 – Men and women lose fat differently, and our bodies don’t work the same as we age. This is especially true for postmenopausal women who have a harder time losing weight due to drastic hormone changes (4).

Programming Your Exercise For Getting Big

Getting bigger muscles is not easy. It takes dedication, lots of effort, and most importantly, consistency. Spending a few weeks lifting weights in the gym is not how you get bigger or stronger. You need to spend months, and even years, of heavy lifting to look like a muscle-bound gym rat. And even then, you will need to be doing a few key things to see success. To be clear, if you’re a high-level athlete there are a few very specific things that you need to consider, but we are not going to get into those topics here. If you are trying to get into a generally better body, then take a gander at what you need to be doing.
 * Ignore the overrated minutia of training that just about everyone online is talking about. Even smart people and trainers get bogged down in the never-ending pile of garbage that’s out there these days.
 * Progressive overload is the name of the game. More weight, more reps, more volume, more frequency, more quality, more efficiency or more intensity (of effort). These are all different forms of overload and this increased workload from one workout to the next is fundamentally what triggers muscle growth.
 * Beginners can add weight to the bar at almost every workout, and enjoy rapid muscle gains with about 5 sets of exercise a week per muscle group. Experienced lifters will see gains come slower and need about 10 sets of exercise a week per muscle group (5). So don’t get frustrated; keep at it.
 * Think long term. Not only does muscle growth happen slowly, your progress rarely occurs in a continuous, straight upward line.
 * Sacrificing form for weight is unacceptable. I know you want to see more weight on the bar, but if your form goes to crap, then what’s the point? Strict form is always important for results and safety, but a standardized form is also a must when it comes to quantifying your progression from one workout to the next.
 * Keep a training journal. Your memory isn’t so hot either, so write it down. How can you possibly get better if you don’t remember the sets, reps, and weights you did last time?
Bottom Line
When it’s all said and done, you need to take care of you. Everyone experiences weight loss and muscle gain differently. What works for me probably won’t work for you. But if you’re not making an effort to get out of your comfort zone, then nothing will work. If you’re not tracking your process, successes, and pitfalls, then you won’t know which direction to go next. Work hard consistently to get to your destination.
References
1. Vispute, S. S., Smith, J. D., LeCheminant, J. D., & Hurley, K. S. (2011). The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(9), 2559.
2. Idoate, F., Ibanez, J., Gorostiaga, E. M., Garcia-Unciti, M., Martinez-Labari, C., & Izquierdo, M. (2011). Weight-loss diet alone or combined with resistance training induces different regional visceral fat changes in obese women. International Journal of Obesity, 35(5), 700-713. doi:10.1038/ijo.2010.190
3. Stallknecht, B., Dela, F., & Helge, J. W. (2007;2006;). Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans? American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, 292(2), 394-399. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00215.2006
4. Green, J. S., Stanforth, P. R., Rankinen, T., Leon, A. S., Rao, D. C., Skinner, J. S., . . . Wilmore, J. H. (2004). The effects of exercise training on abdominal visceral fat, body composition, and indicators of the metabolic syndrome in postmenopausal women with and without estrogen replacement therapy: The HERITAGE family study. Metabolism, 53(9), 1192-1196. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2004.04.008
5. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Effects of resistance training frequency on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 46(11), 1689-1697. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8

 

Biomechanics Aren’t As Important As You Think

With so many variables to consider, how can anyone claim to really know what’s supposed to happen when any given individual moves?

These days it seems like everyone’s a biomechanics expert. From gym teachers to physical therapists, to personal trainers, and even fringe clinicians like chiropractors and massage therapists think they have the end all be all answer to the way we should move. With so many experts around, I had to ask myself “is anyone right?” Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent years studying movement, so I am in no way saying there isn’t something to proper movement. But, with so many variables to consider, how can anyone claim to really know what’s supposed to happen when any given individual moves? A quick breakdown of variables to consider would include 3 independent planes of motion (never used in isolation), 46 miles of nerves, 206 bones, 100-300 major muscles (out of 700), 360 joints, and seeming endless ways of combining them to move. I would need help from a statistician just to figure out how many ways there are to move, so how can anyone really know how to move perfectly?!?! Well, one thing is for sure, we can only guess and learn from the best.
 
Biomechanical Boogymen
All too often I have people tell me that they can’t do things because their chiropractor found something on their X-ray, their trainer said it was bad for their joints, or their massage therapist said it was giving them trigger points. When I dig a little deeper, I general find that there is nothing to substantiate the claims. Why? Because I know that some practitioners use fancy terminology to sell their services knowing that less educated folks are somewhat more likely to swallow fancy-sounding bull**** (1). And because being asymmetrical and/or abnormal is normal! Neck pain is not greatly associated with neck posture (2). Sagittal (front to back) spinal curve does not relate to spinal health or back pain (3). It is highly likely that we all have disc degeneration, a bulging disk, and/or protruding disk in our back right now, and that’s normal (4). It’s not an unequal leg length that’s causing your back pain (5). Even the best athletes in the world have asymmetrical muscle size and movement patterns, and they don’t have issues caused by them (6,7). To sum it all up, movement systems seem to have reserve capacity to allow for asymmetry and imperfections to exist without failure or symptoms (8). You’re not made out of glass and tissue paper, and pain is complicated!
 
The Catch
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No, you do not have free reign to ignore your exercise technique and/or posture. This is because we know there are ways to avoid hurting yourself! For instance, we know that runners with weak hamstrings are more likely to be injured (9). We know that rounding your back during a deadlift is bad. But, a lot of other technique coaching tips are sort of just semantics for the deadlift. My point is, there are things that we can do to control the likelihood of injury, but seeking perfection is fruitless because it doesn’t exist. Personally, I believe that being in tune with your body is one of the best things you can to do know what’s causing you pain or discomfort. By this, I mean you should have a general sense of what your body is doing. Have proper motor planning by figuring out the actual steps involved in a movement (i.e. map out all the steps from point A to point B). Learn to have motor control by practicing perfect technique in a mirror. Gain proprioception by having a sense of knowing where your body is in space. Enhance this skill by selectively contracting individual muscles, and balancing on one leg with your eyes closed. If you don’t know whether you’re moving well, how can you tell when you’re not? Was it really that deadlift that bothered your back, or was it from sitting in hunched-over position?
What’s most important when considering all of this, is getting strong. You can’t alter biomechanics without getting strong. It takes over 1,000 lbs. of force to deform fascia by even 1% (10). So foam rolling and massage won’t change your biomechanics. Having your back cracked or hips adjusted back into place may feel good, but it’s temporary and normal for things to go back to the way they were. That is unless you get stronger overall. It’s funny how things work out when you keep the body moving. Even if you don’t have textbook technique.
References
1. Weisberg, D. S., Keil, F. C., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E., & Gray, J. R. (2008). The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20(3), 470-477. doi:10.1162/jocn.2008.20040
2. Grob, D., Frauenfelder, H., & Mannion, A. F. (2007). The association between cervical spine curvature and neck pain. European Spine Journal, 16(5), 669-678. doi:10.1007/s00586-006-0254-1
3. Christensen, S. T., & Hartvigsen, J. (2008). Spinal curves and health: A systematic critical review of the epidemiological literature dealing with associations between sagittal spinal curves and health. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 31(9), 690-714. doi:10.1016/j.jmpt.2008.10.004
4. Brinjikji, W., Luetmer, P. H., Comstock, B., Bresnahan, B. W., Chen, L. E., Deyo, R. A., . . . Jarvik, J. G. (2015). Systematic literature review of imaging features of spinal degeneration in asymptomatic populations. AJNR. American Journal of Neuroradiology, 36(4), 811-816. doi:10.3174/ajnr.A4173
5. Grundy, P. F., & Roberts, C. J. (1984). Does unequal leg length cause back pain? A case-control study. Lancet (London, England), 2(8397), 256.
6. Hides, J., Fan, T., Stanton, W., Stanton, P., McMahon, K., & Wilson, S. (2010). Psoas and quadratus lumborum muscle asymmetry among elite australian football league players. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(8), 563-567. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2008.048751
7. Hespanhol Junior LC, De Carvalho AC, Costa LO, Lopes AD. Lower limb alignment characteristics are not associated with running injuries in runners: Prospective cohort study. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016 Jun:1–8. PubMed #27312709.
8. Lederman, E. (2011). The fall of the postural-structural-biomechanical model in manual and physical therapies: Exemplified by lower back pain. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, 15(2), 131-138. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2011.01.011
9. Devan, M. R., Pescatello, L. S., Faghri, P., & Anderson, J. (2004). A prospective study of overuse knee injuries among female athletes with muscle imbalances and structural abnormalities. Journal of Athletic Training, 39(3), 263-267.
10. Chaudhry, H., Schleip, R., Ji, Z., Bukiet, B., Maney, M., & Findley, T. (2008). Three-dimensional mathematical model for deformation of human fasciae in manual therapy. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 108(8), 379.

Do This Super Super Set!!!!

The dynamic duo of fitness dominance, the walking lunge and renegade row!

Today’s topic is exercise! For those of you who don’t know what a super set is, I recommend you read my prior post discussing them in detail, as well as this blog post on the basics of training for beginners. The TL;DR version can be described as exercises targeting unrelated muscles done back to back. And today’s super set is one of my favorites… The walking lunge and renegade row! So let’s dive into the details of this dynamic duo of fitness dominance!

Deconstructing The Walking Lunge

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If you have ever seen me at the gym shuffling around and looking like I’m straight out of an episode of The Walking Dead, it’s probably because I just finished doing some walking lunges. That’s because the walking lunge uses loads of muscles including the gluteus maximus, iliopsoas, quadriceps (vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, rectus femoris), hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, biceps femoris), calf (soleus and gastrocnemius), and all the muscles of the trunk (1).

When done properly, the lunge is an excellent exercise to increase the strength of the leg and reduce the likelihood of injury for runners, field sports athletes, and those who actually do “leg day” from time to time (1,2). But, it needs to be done properly. So let’s go over how to do it right. Then, let’s go over how most people lunge.

The Correct Form

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Begin By – Feet are between hip- and shoulder-width apart and pointing forward. Torso should remain erect. Keep chest out and up. Shoulders are back. Keep head and neck straight with eyes looking straight ahead. Before stepping forward, breathe in and hold it.

The Descent – Take an elongated step straight forward with one leg (lead leg). Keep your arms straight, with the dumbbells held firmly at your side and your torso in an erect position, as the lead foot goes forward and comes in contact with the floor. The rear leg (trail leg) remains constant in the starting position, but as the lead leg moves forward, balance should shift to the ball of the foot of the trail leg as the trail leg begins to flex. Place the lead foot flat on the floor with the foot pointing straight forward. Once balance is established on both feet, flex the lead knee to enable the trail leg to bend towards the floor. The trail leg should flex to a degree slightly less than the lead leg. The lowest finish position of the descent should occur when the knee of the trail leg is 1–2 in. from the floor, the lead leg is flexed to 90°, and the knee is directly above or slightly in front of the ankle. Continue to hold your breath throughout the descent.

Rise Up – While maintaining an erect torso, shift the balance forward to the lead foot and forcefully push off the floor with the lead foot. As the lead foot returns to the starting position, balance should shift to the trail foot, resulting in the trail foot regaining full contact with the floor. The lead foot should be lifted back to its original starting position, with

feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart and pointing forward. Avoid touching the lead foot to the floor until it is returned to the finish position (unless balance is lost).

LD;DR video

While these instructions are very specific and technical, they are important and correct (3). Of course, lunges won’t work for everyone. But, under proper supervision, you can modify the lunge to work for you even if you have pain in your knees or hips. Now let’s take a look at what most of us struggle with!

Common Mistakes

Leaning Back – When you lean back too far, your rib cage flares and your spine hyper-extends. This is so bad for your back that it hurts the guy watching you from across the gym! Work on that core control ASAP!

Side To Side Knee Movement – When your knee caves in or flops out, it is often the telltale sign of weak glutes. And there are lots of fun ways to fix that!

Poor Balance – This ties in with the knee movement because they both can be caused by weak feet. Weak and unstable feet will cause a chain reaction of instability and dysfunction throughout your entire body. Just another reason to have strong feet!

The Renegade Row

The jig is up. The news is out. They finally found me… on the floor doing renegade rows! If you don’t know what song I’m referencing then shame on you! Okay moving on. The Renegade Row is a tremendously effective exercise that develops upper body pulling strength (back and biceps), lumbo-pelvic (abs and hip) strength and control, as well as shoulder stability, a quality that is lacking in most people. In fact, it is one of the best exercises to do for the prevention of shoulder pathologies such as impingement and rotator cuff tears (4). This is because the renegade row has all the benefits of a plank while making you feel like a beast from lifting weights. But once again, if you’re not doing it right, you will pay the price!

Technique

Start – Get into a plank position with feet shoulder-width apart, maintain neutral spinal alignment for the duration of the exercise. Each of your hands should be gripping a dumbbell directly under your shoulders.

The Up – Keeping your hips and body completely neutral by actively tucking your rib cage towards your hips, row one dumbbell up to your ribs by initiating the pull with the muscles in your mid-back, not your arms. Be sure to end your rowing motion when your elbows are around the height of your ribs.

The Get Down – Bring the dumbell back to the start and repeat with the opposite hand without rocking from side to side.

TL;DR Video

Like the lunge, this technique should be simple but is often completely butchered. Here’s what’s going wrong, and how to fix it.

Poor Hip Control – If your butt is way up in the air, down near the ground, or twisting all over the place, you’re doing it wrong. The arms are the only part of the body where the movement should be occurring. Practice being a plank for a while and consider using less weight if you struggle with these issues.

Using Momentum – If your elbow travels well past the ribs during the rowing movement, body twists, or hips collapse and/or pike, you’re swinging for the fences too much. Use less weight, so you can control your body. That’s the name of the game, control.

Poor Shoulder Stability – Shoulder instability might be due to a past injury, an unbalanced training program, or weakness in general. Get your shoulders checked out by an exercise pro if they are causing you problems.

Super Set Super Ending

So, back to my original point. These exercises make for a great freaking super set. When done correctly, they both promote dynamic control of the hips, prevent future injury of almost the entire body, and burn some major calories. They are also fantastic for posture and getting out of the bad movement habits that sitting at a computer all day long creates.

If you want strong and sculpted legs, glutes, abs, arms, and back muscles, be sure to super set walking lunges and renegade rows. Four sets of 10 reps with a low weight for each should do it at first. So get moving!

References
1. Kritz, M., Cronin, J., & Hume, P. (2009). Using the body weight forward lunge to screen an athlete’s lunge pattern. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 31(6), 15.
2. Whatman, C., Hing, W., & Hume, P. (2011). Kinematics during lower extremity functional screening tests–Are they reliable and related to jogging? Physical Therapy in Sport, 12(1), 22-29. doi:10.1016/j.ptsp.2010.10.006
3. Graham, J. F. (2007). Dumbbell forward lunge. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 29(5), 36-37. doi:10.1519/00126548-200710000-00005
4. Arlotta, M., LoVasco, G., & McLean, L. (2011). Selective recruitment of the lower fibers of the trapezius muscle. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 21(3), 403-410. doi:10.1016/j.jelekin.2010.11.006

Core Concepts

The core is the keystone to a strong body, but there is so much more to it than that.

Today we are talking the importance of the core!!! I get a lot of questions about the core and why it’s important. In general I say that it is the keystone to a strong body, but there is so much more to it than that. Today’s article was published by the prestigious National Strength and Conditioning Association and does an excellent job in describing what the core is, why it’s important, and what we can do to make it stronger.
Here are a few highlights:
1.Core stiffness is essential for injury prevention and performance enhancement.
2. Stiffening the core between the hip and shoulder joints, produces higher limb speed and force.
3.Core training to enhance stiffness is the foundation and underpinning of one of the most fundamental laws of human motion.
A great quote from the paper describes what the core actually does “proximal stiffness enhances distal mobility and athleticism.” An example of this importance involves the pelvis when walking. If you can’t sufficiently stiffen the lumbar spine with quadratus lumborum (QL), your whole body will simply bend to the side the stance phase (foot on the ground part) of the walking cycle. This is because the QL is an essential core muscle forming the outside core. “What else can core training do” you ask? Well not much I guess. Except reduce the risk of back injury, enhance performance, reduce the risk of groin injury, sportsman’s hernia, and knee injury, particularly to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Essentially, noone can afford to neglect this building block of function. So work on your core to enhance stiffness by doing things like suitcase carries, farmers walks, and planks.

The 4 Pillars of Fitness

The 4 pillars of fitness that truly cover the basics of the gym.

This week I decided to go back to the basics. So often I find myself nerding out on scientific articles and the latest trends that I forget what fitness is all about. So this week I am talking about the 4 pillars of fitness that truly cover the basics of the gym. The blog post referenced today was sent to me by a friend, and was originally written by The Fitnessista.
So as you can guess the information shared today is not all inclusive by any means, but when done regularly these guidelines will put you far ahead of the curb. So lets get down to it:
1. Strength – Strength training is a must for all populations. Far too often I have women tell me “but I don’t want to get too bulky.” Well here’s the thing… The people you see who look “too bulky” work very VERY hard to get to that point. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to look like a body builder, so pick up some heavy weights. Why? Well there are many reasons. Aside for getting that toned look, and glamour muscles for the guys out there, lifting weights does a lot more. For instance it is imperative for bone health and maintaining bone density as we age. This means less chance to break bones and maintain independence. Read the blog post to learn more about keeping your weight lifting routine fresh!
2. Cardio – We all know what cardio is, and I’m sure we have all been bored to death while doing it at some point. But this component is extremely important for things like heart health, releasing those feel-good endorphins, and like NEAT it’s a great way to burn extra calories. To decrease your time on the treadmill, you can add in some intervals (like our wonderful new Les Mills Grit series Wednesdays at noon) to boost EPOC (our oxygen consumption post-exercise).
3.  Flexibility – This component is ignored too often. The goal of flexibility is to maintain full range of motion in your joints, prevent movement compensations and injury, and to have healthy posture and blood circulation. The key is to find a modality that you love and stick with it. Read the blog post for some fantastic ideas.
4. Rest – By far the most underrated aspect of exercise is rest. My favorite saying is that muscles aren’t built in the gym, they are built in bed (or the kitchen). The reason is that during exercise we are actually stressing and damaging our body so muscles aren’t able to adequately rebuild and repair themselves without proper down time. Not mentioned in the blog is the nutrition side of things, so I will add in that when we exercise we use nutrients. If they are not replaced then most people end up feeling more tired than they need to. Adequate protein and micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) can be obtained through your diet, or via supplements. Not only do I take supplements my self, but I have spent a great deal of time studying the field so please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions.