Shari Duncan

Tag: Back Pain

Fly Like Superman… and Strengthen a Weakened Low Back
Shari

by on Jun.05, 2010, under Fitness, Stretching / Flexibility

One of the best back exercises to strengthen low back muscles is the Superman.

Whether you suffer from chronic low back pain or want to strengthen a weakened low back, the “superman” pose is an exercise that should be included in your workout.  Although, it primarily focuses on the low back, the movement will also help in developing a strong core and glutes. This pose can be part of your warm-up, integrated into your core/back workout

Keeping arms outstretched and feet flex, aim to hold the pose for as long as possible.

Keeping arms outstretched and feet flex, aim to hold the pose for as long as possible.

routine, or included as part of your stretch at the end of your training session.

To perform the Superman, lay on your stomach on an exercise mat. Place arms overhead, fully extended. Keeping your head in a neutral position, flex your feet. (Toes toward shins – Don’t point them)  This foot position keeps the focus on the glutes and lower back and not the hamstrings.  Simultaneously, raise your arms, legs and chest holding the contraction for 2 seconds. Lower and repeat 10-15 times. Complete 3 -4 sets.

Your goal should be to work up to holding the “flying” position as long as possible.

ALTERNATE SUPERMAN VARIATION:

If you find it difficult to perform the movement as described above, try the crisscross variation. In the same start position, first raise just the right arm and left leg, again holding the contraction for at least 2 seconds.  Repeat with left arm / right leg –  again aiming for 10-15 repetitions on each side.

As you gain strength, increase the length of time you hold the position and the number of repetitions. As your conditioning improves, you should also find that you will be able to rise higher and most importantly your low back pain level will decrease.Alternate Superman

The Straight Superman is another variation where you extend your arms straight down along your side. Slowly raise your legs and trunk as far as you can, making a “Bow” with your body. Try to hold this pose for a 10 count.  Slowly release and repeat for desired number of repetitions.

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Shoulders in a Slump? Perk up your Posture !
Shari

by on May.16, 2010, under Fitness, General HEALTH, Stretching / Flexibility

Physical therapists call it upper-cross syndrome. I call it a pain in the neck, literally.

The older I get, the more rounded my shoulders appear. Poor posture is neither attractive or healthy.   So today I decided was the day to start doing something about it.  And naturally, I am sharing some tips and exercises that can reverse the effects of  slumping shoulders and improve posture.

Rounded shoulders can be caused by sitting at a desk or leaning forward for long periods of time. Anyone who sits extensively with their arms out in front of them, are prone to hunched shoulders.  (think hours on the computer, at your desk, or driving) If you have a forward head and rounded shoulders, you also probably have tight chest muscles and loose upper back muscles.  When the shoulders begin to slump, the muscles of the chest begin to shorten, the small muscles between the shoulder blades begin to weaken and the muscles of the back begin to lengthen, increasing the tendency to slump. Slumping collapses the chest and can also restrict breathing capacity.

Have your picture taken side view to determine postural concerns

Have your picture taken side view to determine postural concerns

Go ahead and give yourself a good once over in the mirror to check your alignment or have someone take your picture from the side.  Check to see if the middle of your ear is in line with the middle of your shoulder, hip, and ankle. If you can’t draw a straight line through these points, then you’ve just been diagnosed .  Proper posture involves aligning the body so that the pull of gravity is evenly distributed. What an eye opener this turned out to be for me. After studying my photographs, I recognized that I was in need of ALOT of corrective work.

Good posture includes:

  • A straight line from your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles
  • Head is centered
  • Shoulders, hips and knees are of equal height

Another self test to see if you are crossed up:

Place two fingers at the top of your right shoulder and feel for a bony notch that protrudes from it. That’s your acromion. Now grab a ruler and lie on your back on the floor, your right arm resting alongside your body. With your left hand, measure the distance from your right acromion to the floor, being careful not to raise or lower your right shoulder as you do so. If the distance is more than 1 in ch, you have upper-cross syndrome.

Improve your posture by strengthening the weak upper back muscles, while stretching tight muscles in the chest, shoulders, lats and hips. As the upper back becomes stronger and the chest becomes more flexible, the shoulders naturally pull back—a sign of improved posture

These  stretches are sometimes used in rehab programs.

  1. While standing with feet shoulder width and knees moderately bent, bend the arms and raise the elbows as if they were wings. I use light hand weights to reinforce the workout, but do what works for you. Make fists and touch the thumb side of the fists to the chest. Next, while keeping the elbows level and at shoulder level, push the elbows horizontally back as far as possible. Do not jerk the elbows; just push them back smoothly and evenly. Hold them back as far as possible for a count of five, and then slowly bring the elbows back to the starting position.
  2. Standing with feet shoulder width and knees moderately bent, straighten the arms, horizontally and level with the floor, out to the sides and level with the shoulders. Turn the arms so that the palms are faced to the rear and push the arms back as far as possible and hold for a count of five. To increase the difficulty, find a wall and, standing as above, lean back against the wall and then push yourself forward. You can also use hand weights and bend and straighten the legs to increase the difficulty. Start with five or so repetitions and work up slowly.

To offset this muscle imbalance, it is necessary to work to strengthen the muscles of the back with pulling exercises like lateral rowing, shoulder rotation exercises, and lat pull downs.

Some other corrective exercises that work to stretch the chest area and also tighten the upper back muscles are the reverse fly and the back extension. There are many acceptable variations for each of these exercises.  They can easily be performed at home or worked into your training sessions at the gym on circuit machines, resistance bands or with light free weights.

Stand or Sit; with or without weight, this stretch will help correct rounded shoulders

Stand or Sit; with or without weight, this stretch will help correct rounded shoulders

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Rotator cuff exercise:


Will reduce the appearance of rounded shoulders and help pull them back and up. Stand tall with your arms bent at 45 degrees in front of you and elbows tucked slightly in to the waist. You can use light dumbbells for this exercise if you wish, but they aren’t necessary.

EXECUTION: Rotate the arms outward until they are each facing toward opposite walls, away from your body. Keeping the arms bent, press your hands toward the rear, as if you’re trying to touch something just behind you. This is a small move–a couple of inches at most. Perform this backward move between 10 and 15 times, keeping the shoulder blades pressed downward. You should feel the back muscles and the muscles between the shoulder blades compressing together. This exercise is also a great tension reliever!

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Strong CORE = Stronger YOU.
Shari

by on Mar.13, 2010, under Fitness, Stretching / Flexibility

Core strength refers to the muscles of your abdominals and back and their ability to support your spine and keep your body stable and balanced.

The “core” consists of many different muscles that stabilize the spine, pelvis and hip flexors and run the entire length of the torso. These muscles provide a solid foundation for movement in the extremities.  Think of your core where your center of gravity is located. It is the bridge between the upper torso, and the legs. It is the source of stability during daily activities and during exercise. It protects the internal organs in addition to stabilizing the spine.
A weak core can make you susceptible to poor posture, lower back pain and muscle injuries. Strong core muscles provide the brace of support needed to help prevent such pain and injury.

Core exercises work back and abdominal muscles in unison

Core exercises work back and abdominal muscles in unison

Abdominal muscles only make up one part of the core.

In addition to the abdominals, the core consists of muscles in your back, pelvic floor and hips. Many of the core muscles can’t be seen because they’re buried underneath other muscles.  This is precisely why many times they are overlooked when we exercise. One of the many “hidden” core muscles is the transverse abdominals, which are located behind the rectus abdominals (six pack, if you have one).  The transverse abdominis works deep inside keeping your posture upright and protects many of your internal organs.  The erector spinae, is another vital but hidden core muscle. –  – – It’s behind you, supporting your back. Strong core muscles keep your back healthy. They hold your body upright, improve your balance and enable you to have power, control and balance in your arm and leg movements. If the core muscles are weak, your body doesn’t work as effectively, and other muscles have to pick up the slack.

A weak Core = Recipe for back pain and/or injury

A weak Core = Recipe for back pain and/or injury

The most common site of injury related to lack of core strength is the lower back .

Strengthening the core will aide in reducing back pain. Weak core muscles result in a loss of the appropriate lumbar curve and a swayback posture. Stronger, balanced core muscles help maintain appropriate posture and reduce strain on the spine.  If you have weak muscles, poor posture and/or excess weight, your back will be one of the first places you feel the strain.

Learn how to strengthen your core, reduce back pain and get strong abs.

Any exercise that requires contraction of the muscles of the mid-section will work to strengthen the core. Most core exercises can be done anywhere and with minimal or no equipment other than your own body. Core strength training differs from many traditional weight training routines by working both the lower back and abdominals in unison.

Stability Balls for Core Workouts.  Versatile, Inexpensive and Portable.

Stability Balls for Core Workouts. Versatile, Inexpensive and Portable.

I recommend everyone invest in a stability ball for his or her home.  A  stability ball is inexpensive and portable and very easy to use for core exercises.  Try to focus on your breathe during each exercise, inhaling & exhaling deeply. Concentrate on tightening your deepest abdominal muscle — (the transversus abdominis) — during each exercise. This is the muscle you feel contracting when you cough.

Strengthening the core will reap tremendous benefits to anyone regardless of training experience. Workouts do not take long, and most importantly the  rewards are realized very quickly. Keep in mind that strengthening workouts — even core conditioning — are just one part of a complete fitness program. Include aerobic exercise and flexibility training to compliment your routine.

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