neither go forward or to the rear

And the general sat and the lines on the map
moved from side to side.

The other day I wrote about the shoulders and mentioned the process of setting the shoulder girdle. This post is going to talk about the other girdle we need to set, the pelvic girdle. Just like how we set the shoulder girdle to properly execute exercises of the upper body the same applies to the pelvic girdle. Having a properly set pelvic girdle will increase your power while working the lower body, the core and will also aid in preventing injury.

Something new

It’s not uncommon that you probably haven’t heard of the term ‘pelvic girdle’. I’ve never heard of it outside of my personal trainer course. So what is it? The pelvic girdle handles the transfer of the weight of the upper body to the legs. It’s also responsible for protecting our internal organs. That’s basically all you need to know. I don’t see any sense in listing the bones since I think it makes more sense to list the muscles connecting to the pelvic girdle since the state of these muscles can impact how we perform and ultimately most of what we do day to day.

Ok, get ready for it. The following are some of the muscles that connect to the pelvic girdle: Abdominals, adductors, tensor fasciae latae (TFL), glutes, hamstrings, and the rectus femoris which is one of our 4 quad muscles.

That’s quite a few isn’t it? What I want to focus on are the muscles that have a direct impact to how our pelvic girdle sits; whether it’s anteriorly or posteriorly rotated. Since the adductor muscles are used to pull our legs back to the midline of our body, I’m going to discard them.

Basically these muscles impact how our pelvic gridle sits; neutral, posteriorly (rear) rotated or anteriorly (front) rotated. And as we know from some of the other articles I have written if we have an imbalance with any of these muscles it can cause us trouble. I don’t want to go into the details of what muscle does what but the basics of it is if we have these imbalances it can manifest itself in back, knee, and hip pain. My goal in this post is to go over how to get our pelvic girdle in the neutral position so that when we are exercising we are maximizing our effort and reducing injury. More than likely I will end up writing in more detail about each muscle, but that’s later.

I think now is probably a good time to describe what I mean by posterior and anterior rotation. I almost forgot, but I caught myself. I want you to think of your pelvic area as a full bowl of water, right up to the rim. When it is in a neutral position, the water remains in the bowl. When you have a posterior rotation, the water will spill out the back where your butt is. And obviously if you have a anterior rotation, the water will spill out down your front. Does that make sense?

Here it is

It’s pretty simple to set the pelvic girdle. Here is what I want you to do. Take your left hand and put your thumb on your belly button. Now put the pinky finger on the pelvic bone just inside from the left hip. Now cough! Did you feel your abdomen move in and your pelvis move? If not try again and cough a little harder. That’s your pelvis moving because of the muscles contracting. Next thing I want you to do. Standing, I want you to move your belly button towards your spine having your hand in the same spot as before. You felt it again, right? Try it again and try to feel your pelvic area moving anteriorly and posteriorly. Practice it a few times until you feel you have it.

Application

When do you do this? When doing squats, lunges mainly but you can also do this when standing doing other exercises. It’s the same as with our shoulder girdle that due to tight and loose muscles both the shoulder and pelvic girdle are probably not in the ideal position.

Balances

Because of how we have evolved into what is our existence these last 100 years or so, our bodies are no longer in balance or more out of balance. Most of us spend way too much time sitting. I’m not sure most of us exercise either. And unfortunately even when we do exercise I think it might be fair to say that we probably are strengthening already strong muscles and not spending time on the weaker muscles.

That can change. You can make that happen.

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

 

 

We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.

The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.

It can be somewhat boring or even discouraging when there may be only one or two exercises you can do to work a certain muscle group. And what happens when we get bored or discouraged is we tend to lose motivation and worse case is we no longer work out.

It can happen. One of the things I try to do is come up with different ways of changing up the routine I use when training my fellow karate ka at the dojo. I can tell when I have used the same routine for too long. The energy just isn’t there.

Applying it

This post is going to focus on how we can change up the plank and make it more challenging and somewhat more engaging. I think engagement is something the plank lacks. A standard plank doesn’t require any movement and I think because of this it can become somewhat disengaging, or worse yet, boring. And the plank is a very important exercise to strengthen the core. If you have read my article regarding exercises for the abdominal muscles you will then know what my view on traditional exercises such as sit-ups, etc. Because we are no longer doing these exercises it leaves us with less choices. But, I am here to add options to how you can do planks.

More than one way

As I said earlier the traditional plank is pretty static. Forearms on the ground supporting our body, our midsection locked in, and on our toes. That’s it. Stay that way for about a minute if you can. Think about what you are going to make for dinner, or plan out your next day. No don’t you do this! It’s easy to let the mind wander but you really should be focusing on engaging those core muscles, feeling them contracting and working. It does make a difference when you are actively focused on the muscles you are training.

So how can we change this basic exercise to make it more engaging and challenging? Read below and be amazed!

  • Side planks – The side plank is great to strengthen your oblique muscles, the muscles that run along the side of your torso. Lay on your side, elbow under your shoulder, and one foot on top of the other. Now raise your hips until they are along the same plain as the rest of your body. Don’t let the dip, and don’t raise them too high. Hold for up to a minute if you can. If you start to get exhausted, drop the hips and rest instead of letting the hips drop a bit and losing the form.
  • Spider planks – I love this one. In the standard plank position, bring the knee of one leg to the elbow on the same side and hold for a count of 3. This is a challenging way of doing planks but it adds movement and if done properly it really targets the core muscles. Alternate from side to side for about 30 seconds. Again, once you are tired and start losing form, go to the standard plank formation until you need to rest. Again, this is an advanced movement and you should be focused on keeping good form. If you can’t do it yet, don’t worry, you will one day if you stick to doing regular planks. Everything is a progression so don’t feel you need to rush it.
  • Plank to push up – This change up to planks can be done even if you are new to planking. Start in the standard plank position and transition to your palms as if you are in the upper part of doing a push up. You then transition back down to the plank position. There is no push up in this one, it’s the movement to the top of the push up position. Keep alternating until tired and form is starting to go. Keep your core tight the whole time.
  • Plank with rotation – Starting in the standard plank position, rotate the shoulders, torso so one forearm is now off of the ground and your torso is now vertical, or perpendicular to the ground. Rotate back down and put that forearm back on the ground then do the same with the other side. Keep alternating from one side to the other. Be sure to focus on keeping your core locked in while rotating.
  • Plank with leg raise – If you have been doing the basic plank for a while and are ready to step it up a bit, but not ready for an advanced plank try this one. While in the standard plank position, lift one foot off of the ground about 4 to 6 inches. If you are up to it and can keep your form you can raise your foot higher to just a little higher than parallel. Hold that pose for about 5 – 10 seconds then switch legs. Keep the leg straight trying not to bend at the knee.
  • Plank with leg and arm raise – This is taking the leg raise and adding the arm into it making it more challenging. Lift one leg and the opposite arm holding the arm straight out in front. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds than do the same using the other leg and arm. If you cannot keep good form while doing this plank exercise then it’s best to move to one that is less challenging. I cannot stress how important proper form is. Better to do the exercise that allows you to keep proper form than moving to a more challenging exercise and have your form compromised.

More?

That’s six variations to the plank. What do you think? Are you going to try these? Yes you are otherwise you will plateau and we don’t want that. Are there more variations to the plank? There are more! I can’t list them all otherwise there won’t be another post called ‘advanced plank variations’. Can’t blame me.

Key things

Key things to remember when you are planking are to keep the abdominal, glutes, back, quads and hamstrings contracted when doing planks. Does that sound strange that you should keep your quads and hamstrings tight when planking? Right. Most of us when we talk about the ‘core’ think of abs and back but the core is from the neck down to above the knees. That’s one of those things no one tells you.

Keep planking. Change it up. Build a strong core and it will always be there to support you.

Yours in health,

Darryl

…it’s deception that’s the hard work

Profit is sweet even if it comes from deception

Please bear with me reading this post because I am probably not in the best mood to be writing this. As I usually do on a Saturday I head out to the grocery store and do my shopping. Pretty uneventful, really. My grocery shopping usually is a pretty quick process as practicing a plant based eating choice I avoid a lot of areas that others would go to.

But today I spent more time reading labels and looking at the marketing ploys food companies are using to get people to buy their products. Or maybe I should say manipulating people into buying their products. Yeah, I’m holding back.

Smoke and mirrors

Let me get something straight right away. I do believe we all have a responsibility to know as much as we can about the food we eat. I do believe that ultimately we are responsible for what we choose to eat and the consequences that come along with those choices. But, the reality is that not everyone will educate themselves enough to make smart choices (sh*t, wasn’t that a term used by a food company on a label when the low fat craze started?). See what I mean? Its buzz words like these that give people the feeling that they are making a ‘smart’ choice. But we know they aren’t.

So what has me fired up right now? Again, labeling. I’m going through the grocery store and I’m walking by the big bin where the store has snack cracker’s marked down. The friggin bin is almost overflowing with boxes of crackers. I think this is another method to get people to buy this. Hey, I get it. Everyone wants to make money. I pick up a box of the snack crackers and look at the front. The word ‘popped’ with an exclamation point is quite large. Popped must be good because that means it’s not fried, I guess. We all know that fat is bad for you (not really) so we use the word popped to make sure you can keep your conscious clear that you aren’t eating a fried snack. Next I notice the word ‘SUPERGRAINS’ (not me, it is in upper case on the box). What the f*ck does that mean, supergrains? It must be good, right? It’s got grains, and their super! Who wouldn’t want to snack on those supergrains? I really don’t know what supergrains means, but it’s on the box. And they also put a really nice icon on the bottom left of the box, it is nice I really like it. It’s emphasizing whole grains. They even have vertical text that says ‘the whole grains council’. WTF!?

whole grain

Then I flip the box to the side to read the nutritional information. Woah, look at all those nice icons with checkmarks inside of them. That’s got to be a good thing, because there are checkmarks.

check marks

I know when I went to school and got a checkmark it meant that I did well, so same here, right? We got the low in saturated fat, the no cholesterol, trans fat free (trans fats were created by the food industry), no artificial colours and flavours. That’s five check marks! Throw in the supergrains and man, am I ever being healthy eating this snack! Why wouldn’t you think that? Really! Most people will honestly or maybe sheepishly think they are doing great by choosing this as a snack. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against having a snack that isn’t healthy. Nothing wrong with that. That’s not my point. What I’m highlighting here is not just with snack food but with all processed food. Labeling has gotten so out of hand.

So what do I do? I look at the nutrition information and read the value for serving size and carbs. Serving size is 17 crackers, or 20 grams. In one serving you are consuming 15g of sugar. 15g of sugar. 15 grams of sugar. What does that mean? It means that it’ 1 gram shy of 4 teaspoons of sugar. Yeah. 4 teaspoons. Do you stop at 17 crackers? Probably not. Let’s say you eat half the box, that’s 50 grams, or 10 teaspoons of sugar. A 12 oz. can of pop has just over 9 teaspoons of sugar. So half the box of these supergrains, oh wait, sorry, SUPERGRAINS crackers have more sugar than a can of pop!

Bullsh*t. It’s bullsh*t. Are the cans of pop labeled low fat, transfat free? No. So why label these snack crackers and other foods with these labels when they have more sugar than a pop. You know the answer don’t you. It can all be quantified to maximizing profits and getting people to buy more. That’s it. It’s that simple. Don’t for a moment think these companies are concerned about your well being.

Should you be concerned that you are eating 4 teaspoons of sugar in one serving, or maybe up to 9 teaspoons or more based on how much you eat? You probably should. On it’s own it may not be that bad but if you are someone who eats more and more processed food be aware that you are eating large amounts of sugar. And that’s bad because of the effect sugar has on our body. The saying calories in < calories out is not accurate and is misleading. Calories are not the same. A calorie from sugar is not the same as a calorie from fat or protein. Sugar impacts our hormones negatively and if too much sugar is consumed it drastically impacts our insulin levels. Studies have shown that consuming too much sugar can lead to heart disease. We usually associate that with fat.

So is this a healthy snack? With that much sugar it’s not.

Voting

Companies will do what they need to do to sell more. That’s just the way it is and I won’t go into the reasons why. It’s irrelevant with respect to this post. So what can we do? Lots. Every time you buy something you are voting. It’s kind of like why is there so much trash TV. Because people watch it and when people watch it advertisers pay big dollars to advertise during those shows. If people stop buying all this processed sh*t and start buying the healthier alternatives things will change. But if you are already buying the healthy alternatives than keep buying them! Support the smaller companies that are providing people with the foods they want.

Either way it’s up to you. At the risk of being redundant, educate yourself and be smart.

Yeah

A couple of things to finish this post off. Fat is good. We need fat just like we need protein and complex carbohydrates. On the other side of the scale we don’t really need sugar. I believe sugar will be the cigarettes of our time.

I’m glad I wrote this post and if you look at a label more closely in the future and avoid snacks portraying themselves as being healthy than that is great. Remember, garbage in, garbage out.

Yours in health,

Darryl

connecting the pieces unveiling what lies beneath

I pull on this leaver and things are put into motion

To this day I am still amazed at how the body works and how complex it can be. To be a little more clearer I guess what amazes me is the number of muscles we have and how they are layered on top of each other in a sense. Most of us understand the major muscles we have in our body but it really amazes me all the other muscles that usually remain unknown.

This day I am amazed by the psoas muscle. You probably haven’t heard of it. Probably because the muscle is tucked away between your abdominal muscles and your back muscles. It kind of reminds me of another muscle, the coracobrachialis. Tucked away on the inside of your scapula, running down your humerus and ending just above the elbow. Overworked this muscle can cause the arm to rest in unusual positions. Would you ever figure out that the cause of this positioning was due to a tight coracobrachialis? No way! You’d be lucky if you could even pronounce the name properly.

This brings me to my point. The psoas muscle is one of those muscles that we don’t really know anything about but if tight it can cause us a lot of pain, injury and time away from doing the things we like doing.

Now that I have your interest let me tell you more. This is where I get to get all geeked out on muscles, so bear with me. Keeping it simple the psoas muscle starts at your spine and travels down to the femur (upper leg bone). Specifically it starts at the 12th thoracic vertebrae connecting to all the vertebral bodies, discs and transverse processes of all the lumbar vertebrae, down across the pelvis to attach on the inside of the top of the leg to the lesser trochanter. It’s a fairly large muscle too, about the size of an average wrist. Lastly, you have two of them. One on either side of your spine attaching to its respective leg.

The movement

Let me know explain what the psoas muscle does. If we look at where the muscle attaches, the spine and the upper leg, think of what movement would happen if that muscle contracts. I’m going to give you a couple of minutes. Ok, went and got myself a coffee while you were thinking about this. I’m sure you figured it out. When the psoas muscle contracts it brings the torso and the legs closer together. Think of doing leg raises (most of us think leg raises work the abs, but they don’t in the sense of being primary movers) bringing the legs closer to the torso. It only makes sense that the psoas muscles are part of the hip flexor muscle group.

The damage

Now that we understand more about the psoas muscle let’s look at how having a tight psoas muscle or muscles can injury us or cause discomfort. I want you to picture yourself standing. Knowing that the psoas muscle attaches at the 12th vertebrae and down (which is your lumbar area) and then down to your upper leg, what do you think would happen when this muscle is tight? Something has to give and it does. It’s not your leg as your leg is anchored with all the weight on it. So if it’s not your leg then it can only be your spine. The same thing when sitting. Your lower body is in a position that it would take a huge amount of force to move the femur bone. Just isn’t going to happen, So again the spine is the part of the body that gets pulled by a tight psoas muscle, or muscles. It’s science, really. Just like water rolling down the hill, zigzagging as it does, it takes the path of least resistance. The path of least resistance here is your spine.

I’m hoping right now some light bulbs are going off! I know it did for me. Imagine if most of back pain issues are due to tight psoas muscles or imbalanced psoas muscles (get to that in a moment). If all we had to do was stretch these muscles to alleviate our back pain we could do away with prescription drugs, pain killers, discomfort and start living our lives again. It’s possible.

Now, by no means am I’m trying to freak you out but I want to include other issues that imbalanced or tight psoas muscles can cause. Just like I had you picturing yourself standing I also want you to picture yourself sitting, the way you normally do. By this I mean how do you sit while you are working. I think most of our sitting time is when we are at work. Focus on where your legs are, how your torso is positioned. Is your torso rotated? Knowing that we have two psoas muscles, one on either side of our spine, there is the opportunity for one to become stronger, or tighter, than the other. If and when this happens it will usually manifest itself in rotation of the spine. If the spine rotates it doesn’t just stop there. Just like the song, everything is connected. With a spine rotation you are more than likely to see this manifest in a rotation of the pelvis.

What does all of this mean? Well, it mean knee pain, hip pain, and of course low back pain. Yeah, all that from having tight psoas muscles, or imbalance psoas muscles.

You got it

But I don’t want you to get all freaked out! It’s not a big deal, it really isn’t. Why? Because you are now ahead of the game. You are reading this post and now know more about the psoas muscle then you did 10 minutes ago. Also, by no means am I saying this is your issue. It may not be. It’s more information about how your body works that you can use to understand what is going on with your body.

Relax, breathe, and be glad that you are someone who is searching out information about how we work and are willing to do things to get yourself to another level of awesomeness! You are miles ahead of someone who chooses to sit by (literally) and not give a sh*t about their health.

Help is here

I am always very hesitant about describing an exercise or a stretch so I tend to not do that. I would really be upset with myself if I tried to do this and because of interpretation, or/and not doing a good job, someone became injured. I have been thinking about taking videos of these things but haven’t got around to it, yet. Having said that if you are looking to stretch your psoas muscles you can search hip flexor stretches, or psoas stretches.

Also, be sure to evaluate your posture when sitting or standing. Remember that you don’t have to actively work a muscle to get it to being tight. Keeping muscles in a certain position over time, over and over will result in tight muscles.

It’s done

Was that useful? Yeah? Good. It’s up to you now. My part is done. Think about it. Does any of this make sense? Do you see yourself described above? If you do then you have some things to do. If not keep your good friend the psoas in the back of your mind. Because like most of us, we all suffer back pain sometime or sometimes during our life. When that happens, reach into the back of your mind and pull that knowledge out. It may end up getting you back into the game quicker. Isn’t that what we all want?

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

the weight of the world

I have seen the world. I have stood on the shoulders of giants.

So it’s Friday night and I’m getting organized. Planning out what I’m going to read, research this weekend. That’s one of the things I love about being a personal trainer, is it allows me to learn more about the body. The mechanics of the body, the muscular system. So many muscles to learn about.  I like to pick about 4 or 5 muscles that usually make up a muscle group and try to learn more about them. How to work and stretch them optimally and common issues with them. So this has lead me to think that I should probably write a post about our shoulders, but more specifically our shoulder girdle. Here goes.

What is it

Definition: The shoulder girdle is an articulation between the scapula (shoulder blade) and the clavical (collar bone). Further to this it is considered a group of floating bones as the bones are secured only by muscles. What this means is the shoulder girdle is very unstable. But, this also allows for a large range of motion.

Considerations

Because of the nature of the shoulder girdle in that it is a group of floating bones, we need to take certain considerations when training. When training, to generate maximum force and maximum contraction of our upper body muscles the shoulder girdle has to be stable. Sounds strange doesn’t it. Isn’t it already stable? It’s not like my shoulders are moving around, bouncing side to side as I move. That’s correct, but they are probably not in the optimum position they need to be in. We need to stabilize the shoulder girdle in the proper position. This is referred to as ‘setting the shoulder girdle’ (where you expecting some technical term?).

I’m guessing that no one has heard of that term before. I never heard of it until I learned about it through my personal trainer training. Kind of highlights what I have been saying about the benefits of having a personal trainer if only for a few sessions. It can be what we don’t know that hurts us.

Ok, back to setting the shoulder girdle. How do we do this. It’s really very simple. Are you ready? I’m not. There’s one thing I want you to do before we do this. Read the following then do it. If you don’t do this part and decide to skip ahead you will be doing yourself a big disservice. And, I will have to banish you from my blog. Ok, I can’t really banish you from my blog but you really should do this.

IMPORTANT PART:

Standing naturally and relaxed, arms at your side, look down at where your hands are resting in relation to your legs. Are your hands in front of your legs or do your hands naturally rest beside your legs? Another way to ask this is if your were to draw a line down the middle from hip to ankle on the outside of your leg, are your hands in front of that line, or centered on that line. That’s it. Remember where your hands sit and thanks for doing this part! Now you can go ahead and read about setting the shoulder girdle.

END OF IMPORTANT PART

 

Setting the shoulder girdle:

Step 1: Lift your shoulder blades

Step 2: Pull the elevated shoulder blades back

Step 3: Now pull the shoulder blades down.

That’s it! Simple isn’t it. Try it a couple of times. Does it feel weird where your hands and arms end up? Probably. It should feel weird because due to muscle imbalances our hands do not normally rest in this position. Having said that, I want you to now look at where your hands are while having your shoulder girdle set. I’m betting your hands are closer to the centre line of your leg instead of ahead of it. For some of you it may be a significant difference. If it is a modest difference than your muscle imbalance in your upper body is not that bad. If you are someone who’s hands rest almost ahead of the legs than I would recommend that you look into finding more out about the muscle imbalances that are causing this and seek out advice from a personal trainer on what can be done to balance things out.

Now that we know how to set our shoulder girdle and we know to do this whenever we train our upper body let’s move onto some exercises to avoid so we do not injure the muscles that keep these bones floating.

More elements

As mentioned above we have muscles that are attached to the bones that make up the shoulder girdle. We also have muscles that support the ball and socket joint in that shoulder girdle, the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is an articulation between the humerus bone (the upper arm) and the scapula and clavical (the bones in our shoulder girdle). These muscles make up the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is essential in providing stability and joint integrity to the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff muscles also allow for the rotation of the humerus in the scapula.

Side note: I don’t know if this is the right decision or not but I’m not going to name these muscles. I hope it’s the right decision and doesn’t impact the importance and context of this article. I try very hard to keep my posts relevant and informative and I also try not to be too technical and thus becoming boring. To me, I think it’s more important that the heart of the post comes across properly and if that means leaving muscle names out or not getting too detailed on how our body makes energy as examples than that’s what I do. I hope you feel the same. Besides with the internet and our fingertips if you are interested in the names of these muscles you just need to search for them.

Having said that I will say that the rotator cuff is made up of 4 muscles, 4 very important muscles. When any one of these 4 muscles get injured, your shoulder will become almost useless. It makes sense, right? These muscles provide the stability of the joint to produce power and also are there so you can rotate the joint. Yeah, can’t think of much else we use the shoulder joint for other than rotation and power/strength.

Cautionary part

What can we do to protect the rotator cuff from injury? Simple things really and here they are in a nice bullet formation:

  • Always warm up – When resistance training it is essential to warm up the body, preferably for 5 minutes. This allows the muscles to move more freely and reduces the risk of injury.
  • Add dynamic stretching – unlike static stretching which needs to be done at the end of our workout, dynamic stretching can be done at the beginning. Move your arms around in a circle both clock and counter clock wise. Be sure to do this at a reasonable speed. Too quick and the force to those muscles we are trying to help will be too great and could lead to injury
  • Avoid doing the ‘tricep bench dip’. This is the one with the arms/hands behind the back. When doing this exercise your shoulders are put into an internal rotation position and then bearing load. Not a great idea. The result of this is it can lead to abrasion of the deltoid and rotator cuff muscles. Instead do tricep pushdowns, or close grip bench press.
  • Avoid the upright row exercise – Again, your shoulders are bearing load while internally rotated. Also while at the top of the movement for this exercise due to the position of the joint you are at greater risk of injuring your muscle tendons. Yikes! Instead do dumbbell presses.
  • Shoulder press behind the neck – Unlike the above exercises this one will put your shoulder into a maximum externally rotated position. This forces your rotator cuff muscles into a vulnerable position as they are not in the optimal position to stabilize the shoulder, and therefore greatly increases risk of injury. Instead do dumbbell presses.
  • Lat pulldown behind neck – same as above. Shoulders are externally rotated putting the rotator cuff muscles into a very vulnerable position increasing risk of injury. Instead do front pulldowns, or pull ups.

It can be progressive

Remember, not all exercises are valuable exercises. Too bad that’s not the case but it isn’t. I see shoulder injuries all the time and they can be a b*tch to get better. It can take a long time. Keep these key things in mind: warm up, dynamic stretch, use correct weight and technique and avoid exercises that can injure you.

Not that hard is it. You don’t need to bear the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Yours in health,

Darryl

To know one’s body is to grow in potential

Throwing sticks of knowledge onto the fire of potential

How many exercises are there for shoulders? How many exercises to build your legs into massive tree trunks? How many exercises to widen the back into that V shape people are trying to achieve? The short answer, lots! Are all of them equally as effective making you stronger, adding muscle mass to your body? No. If fact, some of these exercises will do the opposite by taking you out of the game through injury.

Not more of the same

Don’t worry, this post is not about exercises not to do. I do realize I have already written about that topic. What I want to cover here are things we can do to help ourselves avoid injury. Things that are more detailed oriented, and things that will explain the ‘why’ we may not want to do something.

Maybe it will be a bit redundant. Maybe there will be overlap from this post and some of the others. I think that’s good because sometimes it takes us having to hear the same message a few times for it to become a memory we can easily go to. In my mind this topic, how we can prevent injury, is worth having repeated. No one wants to get injured, that’s obvious. So people will avoid doing things that can cause injury. But you can only avoid the things you know about.

The Cause

A fair amount of injuries happen due to people not being aware of that what they are doing in a sense is the cause of the injury. Poor technique, too much weight, overtraining. These are all things that can cause us injury.

Here are some things we can do or not do to prevent injury:

  • Locking out our joints – File this under things we don’t want to do. Bench pressing, squats, deadlifts require a range of motion that takes us to the point of being able to fully extend our limb to the point of the joint locking. When you lock out the joint all the weight you are lifting is now being supported by your joint instead of the muscles you are trying to get stronger. In a sense it’s also counterproductive because you have now given your muscles a break by transferring the load to the joints and decreasing the potential benefit of the exercise. Transferring the weight to the joint is a huge burden to the joint. This can cause immediate discomfort, but usually manifests into an injury down the road. You might want to think of it this way: Would you jump from a height of 12 feet and land without bending your knees, or even bending your knees and then go into a roll? Exactly. Locking out your joints can have the same impact to your health.
  • Range of motion – When working with weights it’s important that we don’t force ourselves to go past our normal range of motion. Again, this is something that is common because people just don’t know. I could go into the biomechanical explanation as to why we don’t want to do this, but you may not get to the end of this post until after you wake up a few hours later. I’m going to use the barbell bench press as my example. I’m sure you may have seen this. The bar is loaded with a fair amount of weight and the bar comes down, lower and lower, all the way to the chest. Then comes the exertion to raise the bar back up. Did you see it? Probably not. When the bar comes all the way to the chest, the upper arms are no longer parallel to the floor. The elbow is no longer in line with the shoulder, but in fact is below the shoulder. If you have ever seen someone do the same exercise with dumbbells it’s usually worse. I have seen the elbows end up about 3” to 4” below the shoulder. The belief is the lower you can get the weight, the harder you are working the muscles and therefore the stronger you will get. The reality is the lower your arms travel below parallel to the floor the more weight, or load, you are transferring to your connective tissue. Not really something we want to do! Yes, your connective tissue does strengthen through resistance training but it is not meant to carry this much load. Again, this can cause an immediate injury, but most times will result in an injury from the cumulative effect of doing this over and over.
  • Range of motion part B – Kettlebells, weight straps for ankles and wrists. If you have seen someone working out with kettlebells you may have noticed that there is a lot of swinging of the kettlebell going on. Swinging motions with weights if done incorrectly can be a disaster. You are moving your body through a range of motion that it normally does with the muscles, connective tissue, joints being used to the natural weight of the limbs. Now you have thrown on 10, 15, 20lbs of weight and are vigorously swinging the weight. If not done properly you can easily take the joint to a hyper extended state. This definitely would result in an immediate injury and if not, most definitely will lead to time off. The same can be said for weighted wraps for ankles and wrists. When using these be very careful not to do anything that will cause you to go past your normal range of motion. It’s just too much stress on the joints.
  • Body feedback – I have mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating. You need to listen to your body, which includes your mind. I know that probably sounds weird or funny but us as adults easily dismiss what our mind is telling us. I find this true especially in a group environment. Call it ego or shyness, people are hesitant to put their hand up when the instructor asks if anyone is injured. I get it. It can be somewhat intimidating. Instead of waiting for the instructor to ask, take time before the class to approach the instructor and tell her or him what your injury is. This will also give the instructor time to come up with alternative exercises for you to do that will not aggravate your injury. As I mentioned earlier, just because an exercise exists does not mean it should be done. If you find an exercise is not working for you, and you know you are executing proper technique, then maybe you should abandon it. All of us are different when it comes to the architecture of our bodies. Long limbs, short limbs, different socket joints, etc. We need to get out of the mindset that one size fits all. And….
  • Our bodies – I want to finish up with this last point focusing again on our bodies and how they are different from person to person. I’m going to use a specific exercise for this: squats. Have you ever wondered why during the Olympics it’s always the eastern European’s winning the gold medals for the clean and jerk event? Of course not! Who would know that? But it’s true though. If you know what a clean and jerk is, then you’ll understand what I’m going to explain. If not watch this video. The motion of the clean and jerk where the bar comes up and onto the shoulders is then followed by a really deep squat, and I mean deep. This is definitely ass to ankles. Can all of us do this range of motion correctly? Nope. Studies have shown that eastern European’s are better at this event because genetically their hip socket joint is different. It is comprised in such a way that when going into the deep squat, the femur does not make contact with the outer edge of the socket joint wall. This enables them to do this movement without transferring load to the lower lumbar region of the back. It’s science! So just like how the eastern European’s can do this move properly, we need to understand that there are things we cannot do. Would you ever know this without reading the study or reading my post? No. So how is the relevant? By doing the movements of an exercise properly focusing on technique. Not sure if you caught it but the important part in my question above is ‘range of motion correctly’. We could probably all do this movement with varying amounts of weight but it would be done incorrectly if the length of the end of the femur and the depth of the socket joint was not optimum. Overtime we would probably end up with back pain due to this. Do we need to go that low in a squat to gain the benefits? Only if you are training to compete in the clean and jerk event. Understand that we have limits that no matter how much training we do, they will still be there. Not a big deal though because you should still be able to train properly and reap the benefits of resistance training.

The more we know

Some of this may have been repetitive but it should help in driving the message home. You are the boss of yourself and as the boss you have the responsibility to yourself to do the things that work, and to throw away the things that don’t.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Fine tuning the machine that I am

More ways to feel that good pain.

Not too long ago I wrote a post about exercises to avoid. So to give fair time to the other side I’m going to write this post on what exercises I think everyone should be doing. I think for the sake of readability I’m going to stick with 5 exercises. To me, these five are a good starting point if you are looking for exercises to include in your workout.

Of course if you aren’t able to do these exercises due to injury, not knowing how to do them or for whatever reason, then avoid them. And I’m going to use this opportunity for my obligatory shout out to personal trainers in that if you don’t have one, and are unsure on how to do these exercises, then look at engaging one even if it’s only for a few sessions until you are comfortable with the exercises and technique.

Let’s go

Not in any particular order are my 5 exercises:

  • Squats – Everyone hates them, and for good reason. They are exhausting, and when done right you end up having to find creative ways to avoid using stairs. They are great for building your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Did you know that research has been showing that a common cause of back issues are due to weak glutes? Another advantage is your body tends to release more human growth hormone after doing squats. This benefits you in that HGH has been shown to slow down the effects of aging, and also aids in building strength when working other muscles than your legs. Squats can be done using a barbell, using dumbbells, or no weight at all. If you are new to squats, I recommend not using any weight. Focus on form. If you are using proper form you should find it challenging enough without having to add weight.
  • Chin Ups – You don’t need any equipment other than a horizontally mounted bar. A playground can be a great place to do chin ups as most play grounds will have a horizontal bar you can use. A great back and shoulder exercise that targets your lats (the outer part of your back that gives you’re the ‘V’ shape) and also your rear deltoid muscles. These rear deltoid muscles tend to get neglected due to how we carry out most of our daily activities, our hands out in front, and due to focus on other popular exercises such as pushups, or bench press.
  • Plank – A great exercise to build strength in your abdominal muscles and your back. Unlike traditional ab exercises, when planks are done properly your spine remains neutral without any bend. This is important in that more and more studies are showing that there is a huge amount of force put onto our spine when doing any type of exercise that curls the spine into what is called flexion. Think of doing a sit up and how the spine curls. When doing a plank, be sure to focus on keeping your hips at the proper level and be aware of your abs and glutes being sure to contract and engage them during the exercise.
  • Mountain climbers – Great for cardio, and also the core if done correctly. Mountain climbers is a great exercise to incorporate into Tabata or any high intensity interval training regime. When doing mountain climbers be sure to engage your core; abs, pecs, glutes, and shoulders. Also try your best to focus on full range of motion. This is a great exercise to engage your range of motion to the fullest.
  • Bent over dumbbell rows, or seated cable rows – I like this one because it’s an exercise that is targeting an area of our body that doesn’t get much attention. For whatever reason, personally I think it has to do with simplicity, a lot of exercises we do target muscles that are already dominant. Either one of these two exercises will target your mid inner back area, an area that is generally neglected. Think of this area as the pecs on your back. Does it make sense that we are constantly working the front of our bodies, chest, and front of our deltoids? No it doesn’t. Base on your body, this might help with muscle imbalances that you may have.

Is there more?

Is this the 5 best exercises to do, the 5 exercises you must do or else? No. In my opinion, there are so many exercises that work similar muscles that I don’t think there is only one list of the 5 best exercises that you need to do. All of us are different, and all of us have parts of our body that are strong and parts that are weak in comparison. But, if we are to average out the weaknesses and strengths we all have, I think this list targets those areas.

Try these exercises out and see what you think, see how you feel. Maybe you’ll feel better because of it. If so, I have accomplished what I have set out to do.

Yours in health,

Darryl

face up in a ditch, I choose to look up at the stars and dream

In spite of everything, I shall rise again. I will take up my pencil.

It’s tuff. It can be really tuff.

We have put in our training diligently, giving everything we have every time. Breathing hard, sweat dripping off our brow, lungs begging us to stop, the screaming of the pain. But we don’t stop. Not us. It’s just not in our nature. It feels so good, it feels great actually knowing that you have put in a hard workout, giving it everything you have. Dragging your body off of the playing field. That’s what it’s about. Leaving the workout with the feeling that you can go out there and conquer the world!

I think that’s why most of us, the ones who know already going into the workout that it’s going to be tough and demanding to do this to ourselves. It’s the feeling of accomplishment that you are now better physically because of it. And you are better mentally too. Many studies show the benefit of exercise to the overall mental state be it alertness, overall mood elevation, or just feeling more relaxed because you were able to release that tension.

Sh*t gets in the way

But something happened. Something beyond your control and you haven’t been able to get in your workouts. Ahhh!!! How frustrating! I know! I have been there myself and for me, day 3 of not being able to work out kills me. I really start to feel it. I get moody, I get grumpy. I start to feel somewhat sluggish.

But that’s not the worst of it. Finally whatever it was that impacted your life is over and now you are back at it, killing it. Or killing yourself? That’s what it feels like. Holy crap! What happened! I can hardly do what I was able to do before, and I’m dying. Yeah, cardio fitness is one of those things that when you aren’t training cardio regularly, it doesn’t take much time that your level of fitness starts to diminish.

Why

When we stop training, we start to decondition and lose our aerobic fitness. The good news is if you have been regularly working out for 6 months or more, the rate at which you lose your aerobic fitness is lower than someone who is less conditioned.

The good news is studies have shown that you can maintain your fitness level even if you need to change or cut back on you exercise for several months. In order to do so, you need to exercise at about 70 percent of your V02 max at least once per week. Can you do this? I think you can. Actually, I know you can. Yeah, you know already. Here it comes. Tabata! If you have read my post on high intensity interval training you know that you don’t need much time to work your cardio. And, you don’t need much space, or have to go to a gym or facility. You can do this just by using body weight exercises such as Burpees, mountain climbers, high knees, etc.

Be adaptable

Options. I think it comes down to options. It’s easy to become consumed and overwhelmed by interruptions and sh*t that happens in our life. And it’s hard to step back and look at options because sh*ts going down! But, if you can, take a moment and see what options you have. If you know you are going to be out of commission for a week, try to plan 2 workouts and if you are short on time for those workouts, make them a Tabata workout.

And if you can’t get in a workout get ready for some pain when you get back at it. Either way you are ahead of the game, because you are in the game, not on the sidelines watching. Don’t you forget that!

Yours in health,

Darryl

 

all that you touch, all that you see

I  would of taken option A if I knew there was an option A.

Tips are awesome! They can make a big difference in helping you get to where you want to go, and usually quicker. Depending on the tip, it can also be the difference between doing something right, and doing it wrong.

When I used to work in construction, the days I finished the job assigned to me early I would watch what the other trades were doing, the person laying the ceramic tile, the countertop installers, the fireplace surround guys. Whatever trade was working, I would watch and ask questions as to why they were doing something a certain way. These people had all the tips on how to achieve the desired goal, quicker and easier. I would then use those tips whenever I had tile work, or whatever to do. It made a big difference. The same can be applied to our workouts.

This is no different

Just to be clear, when I talk about tips, I don’t mean short cuts. What I am referring to are various things that will help you get your results utilizing proper technique and hopefully without injury. I guess you could call them shortcuts, a shorter path to get to the goal, but I’m not a fan of the word in this context as people may interpret the term as a way to get what you want without as much work. Well, that would be totally against what I believe fitness is about. Hopefully we all know that you have to put in the work, the hard work. If you aren’t working hard, you aren’t getting the results you should be.

So let’s see what we can do to help us get to our goal quicker:

  • Me – Ok, gratuitous self-promotion time. If I didn’t believe in the value a personal trainer can bring to your workouts, I would have never taken the time to become a personal trainer. Personal trainers can bring many things to your workouts. Proper technique, identifying muscle imbalances, basic nutrition, exercise routines and more. I’ve purposely listed this one first as I feel it is the most important. Even if you feel you are in fantastic shape, know a lot about fitness you would be surprised on what a personal trainer can do for you. They will definitely take you to the next level.
  • The mirror – Believe it or not, the mirror is your friend and can help a lot with enforcing proper technique. Once you know how to perform a certain exercise, use a mirror so you can see yourself go through the movement. It’s a really simple thing but I think a lot of us go by how we feel our body doing the movement. You may be surprised when you watch yourself in the mirror as to how you are executing the technique. It’s a great way to reinforce proper technique.
  • You – Yes, you. You are responsible for yourself, your health, your fitness, you staying injury free. A fitness instructor, or a personal trainer cannot always tell what’s going on with your body. Only you really know. If an exercise you are doing is painful, or if you feel uncomfortable performing an exercise, it’s up to you to tell your trainer. A good trainer will listen to you, probably ask some questions to understand what’s going on, and more than likely offer alternatives to the exercise that is causing you problems. If you feel an exercise, or exercises are detrimental to your wellbeing, it’s up to you to have that discussion with your trainer. Don’t feel like you have to ‘suck it up’. If your trainer isn’t willing to listen to you, or dismisses your concerns, it’s probably time to find a new trainer.

Just to be clear, I am referring to muscular or skeletal pain while doing an exercise. Remember, it’s a trainer’s job to get the most out of you they can. Be aware of that when they are pushing you a little further to help you grow.

  • Feedback – Our bodies are pretty good at letting us know what’s going on. But I think sometimes we don’t always listen to our body, or we don’t always actively look for that feedback. When you are exercising a particular muscle or muscle group, try to be engaged and feel the muscles working. If don’t feel those muscles engaged, it may be that you are not executing the exercise properly. Listen to your body the next day. Does it hurt? Are you feeling the DOM (delayed onset muscle soreness)? I hope you are. If not, maybe you have plateaued and it’s time to change your program. If you are feeling muscle soreness in muscles you didn’t even know you were working, then it could be a technique issue. It’s not uncommon for people to set out to train a set of muscles and end up with other muscles getting the workout. This usually points to poor technique. Listen to the feedback from your body, then if this happens to you, you can then make appropriate changes.
  • What’s the hurry – Lastly, we need to slow things down. Most of us when resistance training tend to go much too fast. It makes sense though, when you think about it. If I go fast I can get 12 done instead of going slow and only getting 8 done. Who doesn’t love to feed the ego? It makes us feel great! But, we are not getting the gains, the benefits we could if we go slow. Try it the next time you work out and I know you will feel the difference. And, you will start to notice gains in your strength by slowing it down.

Do it

When it comes down to it, down to what really matters, maybe I’m wrong. Yeah, I am wrong. You are the most important tip. You are what matters ultimately. You have the power, you have the control to do whatever it is you want. You can be whatever it is you want to be. Want to be faster, want to be stronger, want to have endurance, whatever it is you want to have it’s totally up to you. You just need to figure out how you are going to do it. Maybe this will help you get there, and get there quicker.

Yours in health,

Darryl

Luck? I don’t know anything about luck

Pain is ready, pain is waiting. Primed to do it’s educating.

No one likes working their legs, no one. It hurts and sucks the very life energy out of you. Not just during the workout, but afterwards too. Good luck with those stairs.

Typically that’s why you will see a lot of people, ok a lot of guys, at the gym wearing shorts that go all the way to the knees. Let’s face it, we live in a world where vanity rules, and the first thing noticed are the chest, arms and shoulders. Why, well because the legs are out of site as they are hiding in the extra long shorts. And it’s not a good thing to neglect our legs. They do a lot for us and you benefit from having strong legs.

Benefits

So why should we have strong legs? For one thing, they are what gets us about and around. Even if you have strong arms, back, etc.  and are able to carry a fairly heavy load, you  are still relying on your legs to help you move that load. And if you are someone who lives in a cold climate where it snows, you will be glad you diligently trained your legs when you are trying to push your car out of the deep snow.

If you participate in any sporting activity for leisure such as basketball, hockey, or baseball, having strong legs will greatly improve your performance for these activities. And even if your performance doesn’t improve, you should not be as tired during or after the activity because your legs are trained to perform and provide power at a higher level.

If you are working at losing body fat, working your legs will help you in that to work your legs, you have to execute multi-joint compound exercises. Because the muscles in your legs are large muscles, they require more energy to train them. This results in a higher resting metabolism meaning after the workout while you are resting, your body is using more calories (from fat stores) to aid in recovery.

Typically to work your legs you are also executing exercises that engage your core such as squats or lunges. Consider if you are doing weighted squats using anywhere from 50% of your body weight to more than double your body weight. To do these exercises properly requires not just strength in your legs but also core muscles, also known as the stabilizer muscles. Muscles such as your abs, glutes, back. These are becoming stronger and more efficient when doing squats, etc. So if your stabilizer muscles are able to support your body + extra weight, it will by quite capable supporting your body as you go through your activities for the day.

Working your legs also increases your body’s production of human growth hormone, you know, the banned substance athletes are getting busted for. The release of HGH will help your body in creating muscle even when training other parts of your body.  Studies have shown that higher levels of HGH can also slow down the aging process.

Lastly, this is for all the runners out there. If you don’t train your legs with resistance training, you are probably due for an injury, if you haven’t already incurred one. Running and doing nothing but running is a great way of magnifying muscle imbalances in our body that leads to injury. Working your legs through resistance training is a great way to address those imbalances.

Tough it out

Working your legs is not easy. Usually it’s accompanied by a sick feeling in your stomach as the blood leaves and heads to your legs. Tough it out. There are too many benefits that come with leg training. Put in the hard work, that’s what it takes. There isn’t any magic about it. Never has been. Think of these benefits when training, and the pain is getting to be too much. This may help you push through and get you on the path to busting out those awesome quads!

Yours in health,

Darryl