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 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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
A solid core minimizes your chances of injury, corrects muscle imbalances and provides you with a pain-free better posture.
The plank is the most fundamental core exercise. It is the basis of many progressions to challenge and develop your core to its full potential. Not only does it strengthen the abdominal muscles but also works all the core muscles — the back, hips, etc.. Beginners can start by holding the position for 10-15 seconds, gradually increasing the time to one minute.
Start: Lie flat on your stomach. Place your elbows and forearms on
the floor. Your elbows should be aligned right below your shoulders.
Begin the motion: Lift your hips up so your body is parallel with the floor. Your forearms to fists and the balls of your feet should be the only body parts touching the ground.
It is very important to not arch your back during the plank. Always make sure you feel the muscles in your abdominal area doing the work.
You should have your core drawn in tight and your glutes tightly contracted. If your form breaks down, stop, rest, and repeat.
Progressions are listed below. Make sure you can perform the most basic core exercises before you progress. This means you should be able to hold the static positions comfortably for a minute before progressing.
Beware of Cheating!
Remember to not let your hips and back sag. This exercise is only effective if you work to maintain a flat line from your shoulders to your feet.
Start: Lie on the floor on your side. Position your elbow directly under
Begin the motion: Raise your body until it forms a straight line, with a straight spine. Hold this position while you maintain a drawn in core and contracted glutes. The side plank should be performed on both sides.
Beware of Cheating!
Try these variations to increase the difficulty and further improve stabilization of Core muscles
Single Leg Plank
Hold the plank position. Lift one leg off the floor. Make sure your foot is not externally rotated and your toe is pointed straight down toward the floor.
Single Leg Abduction Plank
Same as above. Abduct (bring away from body) the leg which is off the ground. Again, make sure your foot is not externally rotated and your toe remains pointed straight down towards the floor. This is difficult!
Dynamic Side Plank
Hold the side plank position. Slowly drop your hips until they touch the ground then bring back to original position, repeat.
Weighted Side Plank
Same as above. You can hold a dumbbell or weight plate on hip to increase the difficulty.