Archive for January, 2009

New study compares back pain to junk mail (sort of)

January 29, 2009

When it comes to fitness (or lack there of), pain in your back is a bit like receiving junk mail. We don’t really care where it came from, but you want to get rid of it as quickly as possible.

In order to do so however, the only real solution is to take specific steps to achieve a targeted outcome. In this case, one question I am asked all the time is the best (and quickest way) to fight low back pain.

While considerable debate exists over how best to address this issue, a recent study on the occurrence of back pain in female gymnasts pointed to endurance (or lack thereof) in the muscles of the low back as a key indication of whether or not your back will hurt.

Because our sitting muscles (hips, back extensors, hip flexors) are compressed and shortened for hours on end in most day jobs, these muscles are conditioned to fatigue quickly, leading to spasms and damage to the areas of the low back which surround these muscles.

With this in mind, the study found that static holds in three key exercises significantly improved the reports of low back pain in the subjects.

Curl up

  • Perform two sets of 6 reps
  • Hold at the top of each rep for as long as possible.

Side bridge

  • Perform two sets of ten reps
  • Hold each rep for six seconds

Birddog

  • Perform two sets of 6
  • Hold each rep for 10 seconds
  • I threw this one in to train the back extensors

This program above (which took around fifteen minutes and was performed twice per week for a period of ten weeks in study) illustrates that a few simple exercises can make a big difference to your back. So whether you are a high performance athlete or simply getting back in to shape, throw this sequence in to your routine and watch your pain disappear.

“Core” exercises for endurance versus power

January 19, 2009

When it comes to running performance, a new study has confirmed the long held belief that “core” training is an ideal way to improve performance and protect the body from harm.

But ask two trainers or fitness coaches how to train core muscles (or where the core is even located) and you will likely receive completely different replies. In my experience, I have heard the core described as everything from the abs only, to every muscle from the calves to the upper back.

While this remains something of a point of debate, my definition of the core is any muscle which directly influences the position of the pelvis. This includes the muscles of the hips and lower back as well as the abdominals.

As the initiators of all movement, your core muscles dictate how fast and powerfully you will run, jump and sprint. With this in mind, core training for runners would seem especially crucial to success in race performance. As opposed to sprinters—who require quick bursts of force in the hamstrings and glutes—an individual running several miles requires endurance to withstand fatigue.

With this in mind, “core” training for distance runners takes a much different form to that of power athletes who utilize movements such as leg lifts, back extensions and weight situps to build a strong and powerful torso.

For distance runners (especially those who sit excessively), stability exercises and postural holds which engage stabilizer muscles are an ideal means of building endurance in these muscles.

Because improper running places a great deal of strain on the spine, the goal of any core program should be impose as little stress as possible while maximizing tension on targeted areas.

At Peak Fitness, this begins with the “big three” exercises which target the specific movements of the core:

Hip flexionCurlup 2 sets of 6 (5 sec hold)

Lateral flexion- Side bridge 2 sets of 1 ( 25 sec hold)

Hip extensionBirddog back extension 2 sets of 15 (10 sec holds)

Shown to impose the highest tension on the muscles versus the spine, the exercises listed above are a great addition to any torso program for improved running performance along with posture and pain relief.

But whether an performance athlete or simply getting back in to shape, this same strategy of endurance based training might just change the way you strength train for pain prevention. Interestingly, research has shown that low back patients exhibit a higher distribution of fast twitch (power) muscle fibers in the muscles of the hips and low back.

So what does this have to do with back pain? While fast twitch fibers produce greater power output, they are also first to fatigue when placed in prolonged seated or standing postures. This is a bad thing when it comes to protecting your back.

Unfortunately, most gym routines are based upon body building rep schemes (6-8 reps) geared toward muscle strength and growth. But when it comes to the muscles of your back, a focus on higher reps and activities which support the development of endurance means a greater resistance to fatigue in static positions.

Check back on Thursday, for more information on back pain relief through corrective strength training.

Workout of the week- Clarifying “core” training

January 14, 2009

With all the hype surrounding “core” training, many coaches (myself included) have been guilty of prescribing a myriad of exercises which extend, flex and rotate the trunk rotation) a without fully understanding the full extent of their purpose.

While most agree that the muscles of the hips, low back and abs are designed to produce motion, a lesser known (but equally crucial function) is their ability to resist momentum. This means that each muscle should be able to produce and resist force in equal measure to maintain “stability” of the core. 

With this in mind, perhaps most crucial to a strong and stable core is the ability conciously contract these muscles in actions such as squatting to pick up objects, walking while carrying heavy loads and rotating the torso during sport– along with all abdominal strengthening exercises.

When this is done correctly, this technique– known as “bracing”– tightens the abdominal wall like a weightbelt to protect the spine during activity.

  • In the beginning, this can be done by placing one hand on the lower back and one hand on the stomach.
  • After this is done, apply preassure to each area while conciously tightening the abs to resist. You should feel a tightening of the muscles along both the stomach and lower back. This is an abdominal brace.

Initiated during activity, this “bracing” technique is a great way to both define and develop the abs to resist movement. Here are a few exercises which can be utilized to train both movement (rotation, flexion, extension) and resistance of movement of the torso:

Landmines (rotation/anti-rotation)- The landmine is performed by placing the end of an olympic style barbell on the floor whileing holding the other end in the hands. Standing upright, start by rotating the barbell with the torso twisting to each side. Then perform another set while rotating just the arms and maintaining a straight torso. In each situation, focus on maintaining a braced torso.

Stick fighting (anti-flexion)- This exercise is performed with two partners holding a stick or stability ball straight in a standing position. The first partner wil attempt to hold the ball in place while maintaining a braced torso while the other partner attempts to push or pull the ball out of place. The exercise is performed for thirty seconds with the objective of maintaining stiffness of the torso to resist movement produced by the other partner.

Workout of the week- No pain and gain workout

January 7, 2009


One function of getting older (I just turned 27 wohoo!) is that I am no longer content to hobble myself for hypertrophy. By this, I simply mean that while I still feel that standing, multi-joint exercises get the best “bang for your buck” in the gym, it is important to ensure they do not bang on your back, knees or shoulders instead. In the beginning, this means concentrating on basic movements which are easy to learn while progressing to lifts which require more complex technique.

It is also important to stress that heavy lifting for trainees (such as myself) who have experienced back or shoulder pain, is often much more effective when sticking to form in basic exercises which are proven to work without pain.

In either case, goals such as power, strength and muscle gain can all be achieved as well (or better) through proper form in lifts which are less likely to cause pain. With this in mind, listed below are several exercises which can cause pain and proven substitutions that work just as well (or even better)

1. Barbell row

Common injuries:

  • Low/middle back pain

Common form errors:

  • Rounding the back due to heavy weight
  • Not rowing from the floor

Substitute lift: One armed row

Why it works: The one armed row is much easier to learn and teach due to the support of one hand on the bench.

Form keys:

  • Keep the knees bent and pushed thru the heels during this lift as if squatting to the floor. This will allow the glutes to absorb force (rather than the lower back)
  • Push the back down while performing this movement while tucking the elbow in.

2. Military press

Common injuries:

  • Lower back pain
  • Shoulder pain

Common form errors:

  • Arching the back due to heavy weight
  • Using the upper traps to lift the weight

Substitute lift: Corner barbell press

Why it works:

  • The corner barbell press allows the client to press at an angle slightly below overhead and allows for more deltoid involvement with less strain on the neck and traps.
  • Because this lift occurs at an angle, it also eliminates the need to arch the back to press overhead.

Form keys:

  • Sit back on the heels and push thru the hips to assist in lifting the load.
  • Focus on holding the shoulder blades down and back while pressing the weight up.

In the news: You are a product of your surroundings

January 6, 2009

I have always been a big believer in the power of social support for both negative and positive health outcomes. And fresh on the heels of our New Years Resolutions comes two new studies which confirm of the obvious: you are largely a product of your environment.

The first study on weightloss, published late last year, found that a person’s chances of becoming obese increase by 57% if they have a friend who becomes obese, 40% if they have a sibling who becomes obese, and 37% if a spouse becomes obese.

Interestingly, the study found that A person’s chances of becoming obese were influenced by his or her family and friends, even if they were hundreds of miles away. So how do social connections make you fat? Researchers point to social norms which influence the way we view our body image. For instance, someone might see their faraway brother or friend once a year at Thanksgiving and notice their weight gain. You might say, ‘It’s OK to be heavier,’ and then go back home” and perhaps emulate that heavier weight.

The moral to this story is that who you surround yourself with is crucial to the way you see and treat yourself. This is confirmed by a second study which found happiness to be equally contagious. When it comes to fitness, this means surrounding yourself with people that share your goal or values.

Some ideal sources of supportive relationships include team and group activities which involve sports and activities which get you moving. At our Fatloss Fast bootcamp, I am inspired by the groups of motivated women who support one another through our high intensity training.

While this exerting approach may be difficult alone, being pushed by six to eight workout buddies immediately forms bonds which extend far beyond the gym. For more information or to schedule a free trial session, check out http://www.peakfitnesslakeland.com and contact us at (863)682-8281 for more information.

Functional training revealed

January 3, 2009

Functional training is undoubtedly one of the most overused phrases in today’s fitness vocabulary. But despite these words dotting the pages of blogs and fitness magazines abound, no one can seem to put a finger on what this really means.

In popular media, this concept has been rather ridiculously portrayed as everything from calf raises to standing on a stability ball. Sure, some of these exercises may look exotic, but ask yourself how do they apply to your daily routine?

While this type of training has been branded “functional”, maybe a better name would be activity specific training– meaning exercises which have the most carryover to daily life.

For example, while learning to balance on a bosu ball is a great way to prepare a city dweller for the stops and starts of the subway, it has far less carryover to the resident of Lincoln, Nebraska (sorry Lincolnites, you don’t have a subway)

This means an exercise which may be “functional” for me as a fitness trainer, may not work nearly as well for an desk bound accountant. But because many of my clients share the same lifestyle habits, what “functional” training can do is fortify the body against common injuries.

With this in mind, this type of training usually boils down to is a series of exercises to prevent injury and improve weak links as described above though.

Before you do so however, it is important to under where functional training is most needed. For example, a client with a history of lower back problems would require a different approach than neck or should pain.

With this in mind, we implement a simple movement test, the overhead squat, in order to determine which muscles may be tight or weak.

Here are some cues to look for:

  • Are you leaning forward on your toes or sitting back on the heels?
  • Are the feet or knees turned outward or collapsing in?
  • Are the hips pushed out to one side?
  • Do the arms remain completely overhead as you descend in to a squatting position?

It helps to observe yourself in a full length mirror from both the front and side position. If something looks out of alignment, chances are muscle imbalances exist either above or below the area in question.

At Peak Fitness, this is merely one exercise we use to assess and fortify our clients against potential injury. For more information on the overhead squat and corrective exercise solutions, visit http://www.exrx.net/Testing/FlexFunction/OverheadDeepSquat.html

2009 Tip for success- declaring your resolutions early

January 1, 2009

First of all, I am writing to wish everyone a happy New Year! Like many of you, I doubt I will spend much of the first day of the New Year devoted to exercise, but one way to begin 2009 in the past possible way is to set aside time today to review your list of resolutions.

By getting things in order early, you will have a blueprint for success come Monday. And whether this means a fitness, personal or professional goal, by simply posting or declaring your intentions to someone else you are around 50% more likely to stick to your plan. With this in mind, here are my 2009 resolutions:

Fitness:

  • Attend 1-2 live continuing education events
  • Devote 1-2 hours per day at least three days per week to studying
  • Create a staff manual for personal training staff
  • Devote 1-2 hours per week to work individually with new trainers

Business

  • Set aside structured time each day to focus on specific projects (marketing, studying, etc)
  • Limit facebook/email checking to three times per day
  • Earn a salary this year
  • Join Kiwanis or rotary club (networking organizations)
  • Become a better leader and delegator of responsibility
  • Develop systems of organization for all areas of business (bills, logistics, etc)

Work/life balance:

  • Build 1-2 substantial relationships- In which I communicate with the person each week and devote time to activities such as dinner,
  • Join an activity or sports league
  • Devote 2-3 nights per week to dinner with mom and dad and friends
  • Be completely honest about major details
  • Spend 15 minutes per day networking in some way (sending cards, commenting on photos, etc)