Shari Duncan

Tag: Injury Prevention

Weightlifting and Joint Pain?
Shari

by on Feb.04, 2012, under Fitness, Natural Bodybuilding, Strength and Agility Training, Supplementation

Working out with weights will not cause joint pain.

Improper technique, insufficient rest, or poor nutrition might be contributing to your grief.

Joint pain is one of the most common problems among strength athletes.  It’s something younger lifters rarely think about when lifting and too many seasoned lifters wish they had when they are forced to stop lifting due to years of stress on joints.  Joints require mobility, stability, and motor control.  Proper weight training has been found to  improve joint health, return functionality and decrease pain. Regular exercise of the joints replenishes joint lubricants and builds cartilage.  Stronger muscles from weightlifting exercises offer more support to the joints.

Joint pain can be a slow progression over a long period of time. Repeated injuries can lead to chronic joint pain.  If you are experiencing pain from your weight lifting routine, you are probably doing something wrong.  Chances are one or more of these factors can be attributed for your pain:

  • ü  Insufficient warm-up prior to lifting.

    What's the cause of your joint pain?

  • ü  Over training. They train too long and/or too often
  • ü  Using overly heavy weights/low reps more often than they should
  • ü  Insufficient rest/recovery time to allow joints, tendons, muscles to recuperate from intense work.
  • ü  Poor form and less than perfect technique during heavy lifts
  • ü  Inadequate vitamins and  nutrients.
  • ü  All of the Above.

So let’s say that you are not guilty of the above 7 mistakes but still experience joint pain.  It could be bursitis, tendinitis, arthritis or the like causing aching joints.

Briefly:

ARTHRITIS: Osteoarthritis, by far the most common to bodybuilders and athletes is caused by wear and tera on the joints.  It is characterized by a deterioration of the cartilage at the ends of the bones. The once smooth cartilage becomes rough and causes more and more friction and pain.

BURSITIS: Joints contain small fluid filled sacks called bursae. The bursae assist in muscle and joint movement by cushioning  the joints/bones against friction. Inflammation from various causes (See above 7 mistakes!) results in a chronic pain called bursitis.

TENDINITIS: Tendonitis occurs when tendons around a joint become severely inflamed from overuse, micro-injury, etc.  It is probably the most common cause of pain to bodybuilders and other athletes and also the easiest to treat.  But if left untreated, as when people just try to “work through the pain”, it can lead to much more serious problems.

Many medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, or treatments like cortical steroidal injections, address only symptoms and not the cause of the problem.  In fact, research has shown just the opposite; by merely masking symptoms, they may do more harm than good in the long run .

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/01/phys-ed-does-ibuprofen-help-or-hurt-during-exercise/

And the ever popular “stay off of it “ advice just does not fly with highly active  people.  The good news is that natural compounds and other dietary supplements may be helpful in supporting joints before, during and after lifting sessions.  If you are a lifter, joints require optimal nutrition to help you perform and recover.

Supplements to Consider:

GELATIN: A growing number of studies  now show that just 10 rams of hydrolyzed gelatin a day is effective in greatly reducing pain, improving mobility and overall bone/cartilage health.  Knox (the Jello people) have a product out called  NutraJoint.  It contains hydrolyze gelatin, calcium and vitamin C.

  • Diets rich in Vitamin C, D, and Calcium are important for optimizing joint health.

FLAX OIL: (Omega 3 Fats.) One of flax oils many, many benefits are those to improve overall joint health.  Flax oil is high in essential Omega 3 fatty acids.   Omega-3 fatty acids, from fish, flax, etc., have been shown in scientific/medical literature to reduce chronic  inflammation of any kind.  The recommended dose is 1-3 tablespoons/day.  Boost your intake with fatty fish (tuna,salmon,etc. ) walnuts, and flax.  If you can’t get it through food, supplement with 1-3 g of EPA/DHA per day from fish oil.

WATER: Drink more water.  Water helps to lubricate the joints.  Aim for ½ – 1 oz per pound of body weight per day. Or at least aim to drink 5-6 20 oz bottles of water per day.

FIBER: Focus on high fiber foods, and whole grains with at least 3g of fiber per serving.  Fiber controls blood glucose and therefore helps to control inflammation.

GLUCOSAMINE/CHONDROITIN SULFATE: Researchers  have found both effective for promoting joint health . Found in the body naturally, glucosamine is a form of amino sugar believed to play a role in cartilage formation and repair. Chondroitin sulfate, on the other hand, is a large protein molecule or proteoglycan that gives cartilage elasticity. Numerous studies have shown that regular use of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate offers pain relief similar to that offered by anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, but minus the gastrointestinal upset that may accompany long-term use of these medications. A daily dose of 1,200 mg has been shown to reduce joint pain.

It is never too early to take good care of your joints so that you are able to work out longer and more importantly remain pain free. Always begin your workout with range-of-motion exercises or an aerobic warm-up .  Lift with perfect form.  Ice your joints following exercise to reduce pain and swelling.

Joint pain should not go untreated. Don’t try to self diagnose.  Be sure to get an opinion from a trusted sports doctor first to determine exactly what your problem is.

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Pool Running –Be kind to your joints AND burn more calories!
Shari

by on Jun.04, 2011, under Fitness, Strength and Agility Training

Get your feet wet and get in great shape.

It may look a little weird but pool running is one of the best cross training activities that’s not just for runners.  And it’s FUN!

Do you know someone who HATES to work out because they can’t stand to get sweaty and overheated?  Pool training might be the ticket that can whip them (and you) into shape!   Water resistance offers a no-impact, relaxing workout that still taxes the body, increases heart rate and results in an ideal cardiovascular exercise. Water running tests your endurance and fitness, increasing oxygen consumption and heart rate without putting weight and strain on your joints. We all know that running on pavement is a notoriously high impact activity. But water acts as a giant cushion for the body and is much kinder to joints and tendons than tarmac and other surfaces.  And the deeper you wade into a pool, the lighter your body becomes.
“The magic of the water,” says Jane Katz, Ph.D, a former Olympic swimmer, coach and author “extends the life of your

Burn calories and give your joints a break!

running by providing comfort, safety and a greater range of motion.”  Because the water pressure in a pool is significantly greater than air pressure, exercising in a pool provides two extremes at once–the resistance to stress the body and the liquid density to protect it.  So even when you travel, you can get a good workout from walking laps in waist –deep water in the hotel pool.

Added weight of ankle weights in a pool may be just what is needed to mix up your cardio routine and keep it challenging and interesting! The benefits of using ankle weights under water include enhanced resistance for not only your legs as you run or swim, but provide added resistance for your body in general.  Ankle weights tend to not cause joint damage or stress when used underwater.   If you are overcoming an injury, don’t stop working out… work out smarter!  Under water activities carry a lesser chance of joint strain and low impact and/or pool exercises can still give great results without compromising your routine or setting you back from your health goals.

Water Running:

As with any new workout program, start and progress gradually. Water running may not feel as grueling as running on pavement but it does require a good bit of energy. Studies by Dr Robert Wilder, a physiologist and the director of sports rehabilitation at the University of Virginia, have shown that the added resistance of water – it is 800 times denser than air and provides up to 12 times the resistance you get on land – means that you work harder and expend more energy pool-running than you do on land.   On average a person can burn 11.5 calories per minute running in water.  One study done at New York’s Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine found that walking at 3 miles per hour in mid-thigh water depth burned twice the calories of walking at the same speed on land

The exact number of calories burned are influenced by several different factors:

– your age

For buoyancy during deep water running/jogging

– weight
– fitness level
– water temperature
– range of motion used
– intensity
– time of day
– technique

At first you may find that you fatigue early and fail to sustain an entire workout. Give it time. In water, when you double your speed, your legs encounter a four-fold increase in resistance. While running, your body should be perpendicular to the pool. Your legs, however, should not flow as in typical running. To attain the greatest amount of resistance and smoothness, “sweep” your legs forward, from toes to hips, with minimal knee lift. This form, similar to the movement done on a cross-country ski machine, uses the entire leg to drive against the water.

Training Tips: Any type of training, from tempo runs to speed work, can be replicated in the water. For example, you can alternate faster leg action for 2 minutes with 2 minutes of easy striding (with high knees).  Or you can go hard

for 10 minutes, easy for 5, then repeat. Studies show you get virtually the same benefit as running “on-land” but with less wear-and-tear on the body.

If you engage in deep water running, you will need a special flotation belt known as an aqua jogger to keep you upright and afloat and enables you to run instead of merely treading water.  If you are running where your feet make contact with the pool floor, you should consider some aqua shoes (with rubberized soles) to protect the feet and prevent sliding.

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Rest… And Grow Stronger.
Shari

by on Apr.10, 2011, under Fitness, General HEALTH, Motivation

Active Rest: Because you just can’t train ALL out, ALL the time.

Resting is an essential element of training… as long as it is active.

Active rest is light exercise performed on non-training days at an easy pace with little stress.  The low-intensity assists blood circulation which in turns removes lactic acid, reduces blood lactate and speeds muscle recovery for your next high-intensity session. Active rest is NOT the assigned times in between sets of exercises during strength-training and it is NOT the recovery during interval training during a cardio session.

In the recent past, athletes were encouraged to rest completely after a competition or on a day off.  But newer research shows that engaging in low-intensity exercise during “rest” is better for maintaining fitness levels.  Low-intensity exercise flushes out lactic acid and delivers healing oxygen to the muscles.  Active rest activities are easy recreational movements… so keep intensity at levels lower than regular training.

The guideline for this is to exercise at 65% of your maximum heart rate. To determine that, calculate 220 minus your

Get your Glow on... Active REST makes you FITTER!

age, then times that number by .65. Otherwise, increase your breathing and heart rate to slightly above normal level. Be mindful to work hard enough so your body can exercise effectively, but not hard enough that you produce more lactic acid.  Getting your blood pumping will help flush away waste products like lactic acid that can build up in muscles post exercise.  You won’t be blinded by sweat, but you’ll get a good glow on.

Examples of active rest activities for strength athletes would be yoga, hiking, biking or walking.  If you are an avid spinner, you may try a round of tennis. Swimming, gardening, or tossing a Frisbee with the dog; you get the picture. Leave the stopwatch and heavy weights for training days.  Workouts should be at least 20 minutes in duration.

If you don’t actively rest, you risk burn out: a condition when stressors become too great in relation to your body’s ability to adapt. As a result, your training can be derailed for weeks or months to regain energy due to over-training. That’s why variation within your training week is important. The light days make the heavy days possible. They should enhance your more intense workouts and they should be equally enjoyable. If done right, scheduled active rest days will prevent over-training, injuries and mental fatigue.

Don’t confuse a day of ACTIVE REST with DOING NOTHING or having A LIGHT WORKOUT DAY.

ACTIVE REST days allow you to get your heart rate elevated and blood circulating. Also, remember an ACTIVE REST day is not a day off from good nutrition!

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Stretch your Way to Better Mobility
Shari

by on Mar.06, 2011, under General HEALTH, Strength and Agility Training, Stretching / Flexibility

Spare your low back from stress by improving mobility.  Poor hip mobility leads to poor posture, poor sports performance and chronic pain.

Joints and limbs need to be mobile and have full range of motion to be useful.  Our hip joints especially take a beating all day long and tight hip flexors (the muscles at the front of your hips) are a big problem for lots of us. But, we all need the use of our joints and limbs for everyday activities like picking up groceries or walking up stairs.  And, if you are an athlete, improved mobility equates to improved performance and reduced chance of injury.

The way to improve mobility is through proper stretching.

The benefits of a good warm up before exercise include improved strength, flexibility, muscular endurance,coordination and the correction of major and minor muscle imbalances.  It also increases blood and oxygen flow to soft tissues and increases range of motion, thus reducing chance of injury during exercise.  It is vital to include dynamic stretching exercises your daily exercise routine as it will not only help your major muscles short term but also very importantly long term when our muscles start aging.

Dynamic stretching works by gently propelling their muscles towards their maximum range of motion. It is very important to not use jerky, forced movements to try to increase the range of motion beyond what is comfortable as it can easily cause injury.  A 2008 study in the “The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” determined dynamic stretching a better choice for warm-ups for exercise over static stretches which were found to hurt muscular power output.

Lack of mobility in the hip joints is a very common complaint. This can be the result of a sedentary lifestyle and/or lack of stretching which shortens hip flexors & hamstrings and restricts hip movement. But the hips are designed for a wide range of motion and mobility. We should freely rotate thighs in & out, move them up & down, and pull them to & away from the body. Or at least we should be able to. Persistent pains in knees and/or lower back can be caused by lack of hip mobility.  Incorporating dynamic stretching can help the hip muscles regain their original length and alleviate pain in the lower back and hips.  If your muscles are tight, it is important to stretch every day.  Your hip mobility will improve by doing the exercises correctly and often.

Take it Slowly. Increase speed & range of motion as your muscles loosen. Don’t get injured by forcing the movement from the start.

Lunges are among the many recommended exercises to help stretch out the hip flexors.

Lunges and Leg Swings will help stretch and strengthen hip flexors

Lunges will also improve functional range of motion while also improving strength in the quadriceps, glutes and core.  There are many variations to the lunge that should be incorporated into your program.  (Stationary, front, reverse, lateral, walking, overhead, etc.)

Basic Kneeling Lunge (or split squat)

Kneel with your left knee on the ground and your right leg in front of you with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your upper body straight and lunge forward as far as is comfortable and then move back to the starting position. Repeat 10 times and then switch legs.

Lateral Lunge (Squats). A great dynamic stretch for your adductors. Assume a wide stance, the wider the easier. Squat side to side with both hands behind your head or across your chest. Point Your Feet Straight ahead. Rotating your feet outwards is trying to compensate lack of hip mobility. Plant your feet into the floor.  Push Your Knees out. This better involves your adductors. Push from the heels and push your knees out.  Stay Tall. Look forward, keep your chest up and shoulder-blades back & down. Don’t round your back.

Leg Swings (Front to Back and Side to Side)

Stand up straight and hold onto something. Move from the hips; flex and extend your thighs, keep your pelvis still and do not allow your torso to rotate. Look forward.  Keep the movement at a steady slow pace, maintaining good posture throughout. 15 repetitions of each for each leg.

Restoring hip mobility will help in several areas. If you don’t already include these exercises in your current training, performing them will make a big difference in your body mechanics. It should reduce or eliminate lower back and/or knee pain stemming from overcompensation. It should improve performance output by allowing you to fully engage in training exercises like squats and dead lifts while making them safer.

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Opposites Attract: Train opposing muscles to achieve muscular balance.
Shari

by on Feb.06, 2011, under Fitness, Natural Bodybuilding, Strength and Agility Training

… and build more muscle in less time with supersets.

Strength training is an important component of fitness, but when done improperly it can result in muscle imbalance and result in injury.  The effectiveness of a workout also depends on what you want to achieve in regards to your fitness.  There are many ways to combine muscle groups to get the most out of your workouts. One popular technique is to train opposing (antagonistic) muscle groups together especially if the goal is to improve muscularity (muscle tone) and endurance.

Opposing muscle groups are your chest and back or your biceps and triceps, for example. (Think front/back or inner/outer).  But because the triceps support the muscles of the chest, you could also consider the triceps to be a secondary opposing muscle group of the back muscles and train them together.  Other examples would include training quadriceps with hamstrings, or abdominals and erector spinae. (lower back) in the same session.

work lower back, when training abdominals to prevent muscle imbalance

PRIMARY ANTAGONIST MUSCLE GROUPS

1) Pecs/Lats
2) Biceps/Triceps
3) Quadriceps/Hamstrings
4) Abdominals/Lower Back

Opposing muscle workouts are most effective by doing supersets.

A superset is performing two exercises in a row without stopping (or with very minimal rest) for a prescribed amount of sets. An example of this type of superset would be doing one set of bench press (for your chest) followed immediately by a set of pull ups (for your back). When you first start doing these, you may find that endurance is a problem but stamina will improve with time.

Let’s say you choose to train your chest and biceps during one workout.   Because the biceps are involved minimally in exercises for the chest, you will not be pre-exhausting your biceps. The result is that you will be able to train both your chest and your biceps with the maximum amount of concentration, effort and weight and because each muscle group gets the maximum amount of rest in between sets, you may ultimately be able to lift more, and thus over time, increase strength.

Opposing muscle supersets are a very effective training technique for many other reasons too:

  • Saves Time
  • Offers a greater challenge than traditional workouts
  • Creates variety and encourages new muscle growth
  • Eliminates the natural tendency to rest too long between set

So when you find yourself crunched for time, instead of skipping exercises, or reducing the number of sets or even ditching your workout completely… opt for super-setting for a new challenge.  With super setting, you can complete the same 60 minute workout in 40 minutes… and with increased intensity!  You will recruit more muscle fibers, over different muscle groups, in a shorter period of time.  WOW!

Training opposing muscles may also prevent injuries.

This is because the muscles that work together are in balance with one another rather than one over powering another. Working opposing muscles combined with stretching the muscles that have been worked prevents one muscle from becoming significantly tighter than it’s opposer and thus injury is less likely. When a muscle is worked it becomes tighter and the tendons connecting those muscles to the bone also become thicker and stronger.  When muscle imbalance occurs it is important to strengthen the opposing muscle and also to stretch the tight muscles.  So if you want to prevent injury and keep muscles in balance, train opposing muscles and always stretch after exercise.

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CORE LIFTS: The BIG 3
Shari

by on Oct.03, 2010, under Fitness, Natural Bodybuilding, Strength and Agility Training

Before incorporating “The Big 3” into your workout routine, first be assessed and monitored by a trained professional to ensure proper technique for safety and proficiency. Improper technique can cause an injury and will affect performance.

In regards to strength training, there are two basic ways to train. One is training with compound movements and the other is training with isolation exercises. Isolation exercises work single muscle groups as when using machines. Compound movements are bench pressing, dead lifting, squatting and using free weights where several muscles are involved and working together. If you want to improve your athletic condition, you need to perform compound movements by working more than one joint at a time during training.

The Bench

With a firm grip.. SQUEEZE the bar as if you are going to break it in two

With a firm grip.. SQUEEZE the bar as if you are going to break it in two

The primary muscles used in the bench press are the pectorals (major and minor), triceps, and deltoids. It will build upper body strength like no other, but if done with improper technique, can also result in injuries – especially shoulder injuries. For safety, be sure to have a spotter at all times.
Bench Press Setup. You need a strong base to press the weight from. Tighten your upper-back. Grip the bar hard: try to break it apart like breaking spaghetti. Squeeze your shoulder-blades before getting on the bench. Keep your shoulder-blades back & down at all times . This gives your body a solid base to press the bar from.  Keep chest up at all times; do not allow shoulders to roll forward.  Use a wide foot stance to increase stability on the bench. Feet flat on the floor, weight on the heels, lower leg perpendicular to the floor. This prevents extreme arching of your lower back.

EXECUTION: Keep the tight position during the Bench Press from start to finish. Squeeze the bar, keep your upper-back tight & your chest up. Unrack the weight with straight arms. Bench.

The Squat

Considered by many to be the most important athletic core lift, every muscle works when you Squat: your legs move the weight, your abs & lower back stabilize it, your arms squeeze the bar, etc. The Squat is NOT just a leg exercise, it’s a full body exercise. It is also a great tool for increasing lower body power which translates to increased speed and a higher vertical leap.

To avoid injury always Squat in a power rack. Set the safety pins so they can catch the bar would anything go wrong. The rest is technique – start light, add weight gradually, and remember form always comes before weight.

  1. Set the bar in a power rack at about mid-chest level.

    Always Squat with a Power Rack and  a spotter for safety

    Always Squat with a Power Rack and a spotter for safety

  2. Position your feet directly under the bar.
  3. Squat under the bar and put it on your back.
  4. Tighten everything and Squat up to unrack the bar.
  5. One step back with one leg, one step back with the other leg.

EXECUTION: Keep a low bar position, a tight upper-back, elbows back & wrists straight. Heels about shoulder width, point your toes out at about 30 degrees. Your toes must always follow your knees or you’ll get knee injuries. Practice and focus on technique.  The key to the Squatting correctly are your hips: you must have tension in your hamstrings at the bottom. Push your knees out as you squat down. Hit Parallel. Your hip joint must come lower than your knee joint. Ask someone to judge your depth or tape yourself. No Partial Squats

How to Squat Up. Your hip muscles will be stretched when in the bottom  position if you Squat correctly. Use that stretch to bounce out of the hole. If you Squat this way, you’ll be lift a lot more weight while keeping your knees safe.

  • Hips Up. Drive out of the hole by leading with your hips, not your chest. Don’t let your knees travel forward at the bottom or you’ll lose power.
  • Squeeze Your Glutes. Power comes from the glutes. Squeeze them hard as you lockout the weight. It will also keep your lower back safe.
  • Grab The Floor. Grab the floor with your feet; it will help activate your glutes. Do NOT let your heels come off the floor.
  • Knees Out. Same as for the way down: don’t let your knees buckle in. Push your knees out as you Squat up.

*Always use free weights for Squats. Machines are not only less effective for muscle and strength gains because they balance the weight for you, they also force you into fixed/unnatural movement patterns

The Deadlift

To Build a Better Back: Push from the heels... SQUEEZE the Glutes

To Build a Better Back: Push from the heels... SQUEEZE the Glutes

The dead lift is a full body lift that focuses on improving strength for the back and lower extremity (quadriceps, hamstrings, gluts etc.), as well as forearm and grip strength.  Keeping

your back straight is critical to avoid injuries when lifting heavy objects from the floor. Deadlift by pushing from the heels, and bringing your hips forward. Not by pulling with your lower back.

Deadlifts start with the bar at mid shin level. Walk to the bar and position your feet under the bar with shoulder width stance, toes slightly pointed out. Chest up, shoulders back, look forward – Keep this position and your back will not be able to round. Keep arms straight, tighten triceps.

EXECUTION: If you Deadlift correctly, you’ll feel most stress in your upper-back, glutes & hams. Shoulder blades over bar, bar against shins.  Bring hips forward and PUSH FROM THE HEELS, squeezing the glutes hard. Keep the bar close to you, rolling over shins and thighs.  The movement is complete when knees and hips are locked.

To bring weight down, unlock hips first, then the knees. Chest remains up, shoulders forward and head up as you bring the weight down.

*There is no need to arch or shrug at the top of the movement.  Rolling the shoulders or hyper extending the back are dangerous and inefficient.  Extend your knees and hips and stop.

Source: Stronglifts.com

This video was taken  at the Battle of Honor in Pelion S.C.  250lb DL / 111lb Bodyweight.

This was my first meet.

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Vibram FiveFingers – Discover the Alternative.
Shari

by on Jun.13, 2010, under Fitness, General HEALTH, Natural Bodybuilding, Strength and Agility Training

It has 5 fingers.  It may just be the perfect workout glove; for your feet.

So many of us struggle with posture, balance and proper body mechanics not just in everyday activities but also when we train.  Although we work hard to maintain correct form and execution, it becomes challenging if alignment is off center. Risk of injury increases and strength, speed and agility may suffer.  Many of the exercises we perform in and out of the gym rely on flexible yet stable support from our feet and legs. Most traditional athletic shoes unfortunately, do not provide a sense of control. Of course, traditional footwear is necessary for

In (and out) of the gym: Increase Balance, Improve Posture while strengthening muscles in feet and lower legs.

In (and out) of the gym: Increase Balance, Improve Posture while strengthening muscles in feet and lower legs.

protection, safety and security but experts believe these same shoes that we wear day in and out also serve as a “cast” for the foot. And over time, they in fact weaken our foot and leg muscles, leaving them underdeveloped and more prone to injury.   It is important that the foot be stimulated and exercised in its natural state as often as possible.

So in my personal quest to improve my own center and develop a stronger base, I have discovered the Vibram Five Finger Shoes.  These funny looking shoes have been around for a couple of years. I was actually introduced to them over a year ago by a fellow bodybuilding friend and immediately dismissed them as ridiculous. Said to him, “no way would I ever”!  But as I looked into ways to improve my situation, the more these “five finger shoes” began to make sense.  They are unlike any other conventional footwear in that their design mirrors flex points and silhouettes the foot to propel the body forward and promote a more natural gait.

Here’s what the official website has to say about 5 finger footwear for use during fitness training:

FiveFingers footwear not only provides a sure-footed grip to enhance torque during power moves, it’s untrathin sole enhances feedback and lowers your center of gravity to improve balance and agility. FiveFingers will allow your foot to move naturally, flexing easily with every move you make. Its five individual toe slots lets your toes to separate gently, allowing you to use them as your natural stabilizers and providing unrivaled balance and increased muscle stimulation to your feet, ankles, and lower legs.

6 Key Reasons to Wear or Train in Vibram FiveFingers:

1. Strengthens Muscles in the Feet and Lower Legs – wearing FiveFingers will stimulate and strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs, improving general foot health and reducing the risk of injury.

2. Improves Range of Motion in Ankles, Feet and Toes – no longer ‘cast’ in a shoe, the foot and toes move more naturally.

3. Stimulates Neural Function Important to Balance and Agility –when wearing Vibram FiveFingers, thousands of neurological receptors in the feet send valuable information

My new shoes... Black, of course

My new shoes... Black, of course

to the brain, improving balance and agility.

4. Improves Proprioception and Body Awareness – those same neurological receptors heighten body awareness, sending messages about body mechanics, form, and movement.

5. Eliminates Heel Lift to Align the Spine and Improve Posture –By lowering the heel, our bodyweight becomes evenly distributed across the footbed, promoting proper posture and spine alignment.

6. Allows the Foot and Body to Move Naturally, Which Just FEELS GOOD.

http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/indexNA.cfm

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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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The PERFECT Squat: How low should you go?
Shari

by on May.10, 2010, under Fitness, Natural Bodybuilding

Squatting below parallel is not bad for your knees….should I say again?

Okay…. squatting below parallel is not bad for your knees. This is a myth you probably have heard a lot. Some will advise you to do Partial Squats, staying above parallel, to avoid knee injury. This is wrong information. Wrong. If your knees hurt when you squat, it is more likely due to poor form… read on.

Among various sports (Power lifting, bodybuilding etc) and among online forums and across gyms, there are vast differences of opinion over this question.  Those with the loudest voices are often those at opposite ends of the spectrum: from the” ass-to-grass activist” to the squatting-below-parallel-is-bad-for-your-knees believer. In reality, most people will be able to reach a squat depth somewhere between the two extremes.

The simplest lesson to bear in mind is that you should squat as low as you can with good form. This means your back is flat or slightly arched, heels are on the floor, knees are above toes and not collapsing inwards, chest is up and not tipping too far forwards.

Again… Squatting below parallel is NOT bad for your knees. Squatting with improper form is.

A proper squat is to go as low as you can... while maintaining GOOD form throughout the movement

Aim to go as low as you can... while maintaining GOOD form throughout the movement

Your knee joint is strongest in a fully flexed or full extended position, not the positions in-between. Partial Squats (above parallel) only strengthen your knees & quads, not your glutes & hamstrings. This causes muscle imbalances & consequently injuries. The deeper movement balances and engages muscles on either side of the knee and as a result, the forward/backward forces acting on the knee.

Deep squatting is not only difficult and demanding; it is also humbling because much less weight can be moved than in partial squats. A great deal of force (and mental focus and  physical stamina) is required to push up from “the hole” (the bottom of the squat).

So even if you are not there yet, the goal should be to squat below parallel. Keep practicing form, form, form.  Over time, balance, flexibility and technique will improve.  If you find that you have balance issues with a tendency to fall forward, there are many other exercises and training tools that you should consider incorporating into your leg training sessions. One of the best is a variation of the squat known as the GOBLET SQUAT.

GOBLET SQUAT:

This exercise trains your body to remain more upright as you squat down, allowing you to avoid tipping forwards.  goblet squats were invented by Dan John a couple of years ago to teach his student athletes how to squat well and to teach them to squat between the legs, rather than with the upper body stiff at the hip.

Use a moderately heavy dumbbell or kettlebell and hold it in front of you like a goblet. This will force you to keep your chest raised as you squat down.  Lower your body between your legs, with a relatively wide stance. In order to increase your range of motion you will need a weight that is heavy but not too heavy – say, a weight that you can squat 6-10 times without technical failure. If the weight is too light it won’t push your body that little bit further into the stretch. Keep the goblet object close to your chest.  Your elbows should be between your knees at the bottom, not on top or to the side of your knees.

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