Challenge Your Core

19 04 2018

When asked to identify one’s core, most people will point to his or her abs. The core muscles are more than just the rectus abdominal which are the “six-pack” of the stomach. The core muscles can include the gluteus maximus and minimum, hip complex (iliacus, psoas, pectinus), abdominals (rectus, transverse, and obliques), erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, multifidus, latissimus dorsi, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Although there is no specific definition for the “core”, we have to get away from thinking of the core as just your abdominal region.

The purpose of the core muscles are to provide balance and stability to your body(1). No matter if for sport performance or daily function, the core muscles help support the bones and increase ease of movement. The core also aids in keeping our posture in alignment. Picture the folks who are bent over from the waist and always looking down because their muscles in their backs aren’t strong enough to hold their spine in alignment. Also, if you’re an athlete or a weekend warrior, that core needs to be strong to get you through the sport or you’ll end up with some back, hip, shoulder, or foot pain. Yes, a weak core can also cause pain at the other end of your body!

If I ask you to think of some core exercises, you’ll probably come up with a bunch for your abs, specifically for your rectus abdominis, a.k.a “six-pack,” but can you come up with some exercises other exercises to challenge your core? Don’t forget that your body moves in three dimensions so exercises should also involve the three planes of movement; frontal (side to side), sagittal (front to back), and transverse (rotational).

Give your core a challenge with the following exercises. Disclaimer: If you have any health restrictions, please check with your physician before attempting any of these exercises. Also, check with a certified Personal Trainer if you are unsure of your technique. 

Rotational Side Plank with Hip Drop
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Start with your elbow or palm under your shoulder while lying on your side. Lift your hips up off the floor so as much of your side is not in contact. Taking the opposite arm, rotate and reach down and through the space created by the floor and your side. Return back to start and then lower your hip toward the ground. Before it touches, pause and lift the hip back up. Repeat for 8-12 reps, then switch sides.

Quadripeds
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Start in a pushup position with your feet shoulder width apart (you can adjust width to make it easier or harder; wider = easier, narrow = harder). Lift your left arm up in front of your body by your head while at the same lifting your right leg up. Pause for a second and then lower back down. Switch arm and leg lift and repeat for 12-20 reps.

Bicycles
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Lying on your back, extend your legs out with your heels just off the floor and hands behind your head. Begin to bring your right knee up toward your chest as you take your left shoulder (not elbow) and bring it up towards your right knee. Make the timing of this so that the knee and shoulder comes up at the same time. Return the leg and shoulder back down toward the floor at the same time. Then repeat the movement with the other side. Perform 12-20 reps.

Deadlift
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Yes folks, believe it, because this exercise is a total core exercise! I put this last because in order to get the benefits and not injure yourself, technique is paramount. Please use a certified Personal Trainer or Strength and Conditioning Coach if you are performing this for the first time.
Start with legs shoulder width apart. Grip a barbell with hands just outside of your legs (use an over-under grip if needed). Keeping your back straight and shoulders over your arches, push down with your heels to lift yourself and the bar up until you are standing straight up. As you lift the bar, keep the bar close to your legs and keep your back following your path upward so that the back doesn’t hinge forward from the waist. Pause a second at the top and lower yourself back down in the reverse order.

References:
1. “Core exercises: Why you should strengthen your core muscles“ Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/core-exercises/art-20044751





Battle the Ropes

10 04 2018

Once in a while I need to get in a quick ten to twenty-minute workout between clients. With the limited time, I don’t want to waste it on moving from one machine or bench to another, nor do I want to fight over the free weights. Coming up with a workout that involves some added resistance, but doesn’t include a lot of equipment takes some creativity. I could go with a personal favorite, the TRX suspension trainer, and add a weight vest, but it doesn’t help if you don’t have a weight vest. In times like these I turn to…(fade in angelic music and point spotlight on) battle ropes.

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I’ve come to respect the simplicity and effectiveness of battle ropes. This bundle of threaded, nylon joy has what it takes to get my heart pumping and my muscles burning. With only one piece of equipment, I’ve turned a twenty square foot area into my battle arena. It’s me versus the rope and I’m determined to sweat it out till the end. Believe me, all you need is twenty minutes to feel accomplished. Keep reading and I’ll explain how you can equip yourself for a great match with the battle ropes.

Arm Yourself
If this is your first time swinging battle ropes be prepared for your arms (as well as the rest of your body) to be sore. The thickness of the ropes cause your forearms to work harder as they grip tightly to swing the ropes at various speeds. This constant grip will tax the forearm’s muscular endurance, so it’s a good idea to give yourself more rest time between sets. In addition, you’re constantly moving your arms which will expend more energy in your shoulders, biceps, and triceps. You’re done when your arms are done, so warm them up really well. If you don’t, good luck trying to swing the rope with you teeth.

Concentrate to the Core
Your abs and back should stay engaged throughout the entire movement phase. One common error is to round the back because the rope is pulling you forward as you swing the rope. This can cause back pain and possible injury. Another reason you have to start slow and get the rhythm down before speeding up the cadence of the swings. If you lean forward, remember to hinge from the hip and not from the waist. Perform planks and deadlifts to create a solid core that will hold your body upright and withstand the blows of the rope.

Get a Leg Up
Even though battle ropes look like an entirely upper body workout; don’t be fooled. Similar to any explosive movement, the lower body generates the power that you see when someone is making waves or slamming the rope in all directions. Aquring a good strength base in your legs will help make it easier to control the rope’s movement. Don’t focus on using machines to get the strength though. Exercises like lunges, squats, lateral lunges or sumo squats will get your legs conditioned to go the extra rounds.

It’s All About Rhythm
So now that you have the strength and endurance to pick up the rope and swing it, the final part is making the movement smooth like a fine tuned machine. Focus on the midsection so that the hips can move freely, while engaging the abs and back. Let the shoulders relax so each wave that comes out of the rope is fluid. Tightening up the arms and shoulders too much will result in a choppy and irregular waveform. Think of counting in your head, “1,2,1,2,1,2.” You can also use a power song or a song with a heavy down beat to keep your rhythm. Whatever you do, don’t force the muscles to move sporadically.

Now that you’re ready to go a round with the nylon beast, keep in mind that it does take time. Don’t get discouraged if you lose the control of the rope. Just remember to stay relaxed and hang on tight. You might find that you’ll be a champ at this like you are with your fitness goals.

For a great total body blast, try the following workout.





W.T.F. (What To Fear)

19 10 2014

When I decided to apply for a spot on American Ninja Warrior (click if you don’t know), I had watched the participants swing through the air, tiptoe across unstable objects, and scale high obstacles and felt comfortable knowing that I could do all of those stunts. Little did I know, when I started training for the show a month ago, memories of a traumatic event I had back in 2008 would resurface creating such an intense fear that it would  prevent me from completing one of the more critical obstacles on the show: the Warped Wall.

Warped Wall

Back in 2008 while living in the Adirondacks, my buddies and I set off to climb a side of a mountain that one of them had mentioned he’d climbed before. Since we trusted his knowledge of the area we were about to scale, we had no fear of scrambling up the rock face. For anyone unfamiliar with the term “scrambling,” it’s where one climbs a mountain side without any equipment.

We made it to the point where it was time to start climbing up the face of the mountain. About one hundred feet up, our friend who had said he knew where we were going mentioned to us that this wasn’t the face of the mountain he had climbed. We couldn’t climb down the way we climbed up, so we decided that the only way out was to get to the top; only an extra fifty to sixty feet up. While climbing, I grabbed a small ledge and my feet slipped. I hung on with only one hand while my feet did everything they could to stick to the rock face. An image of me plunging to my death on the rocks below came into my head and I yelled for help. One of the guys ran to my rescue like the rock face had magically provided him foot holds. He crouched down and extended his hand. My adrenaline rushed throughout my body and I literally climbed up his body and onto a small stable ledge. However he got to me, there was no way of retracing his path. All possible routes kept going up. He and I ended up on a ledge with no possible way of climbing any further. The others were able to find a way down while the two of us stayed up on the mountain. Sitting on the small ledge, accompanied by a shrub growing on the side of the mountain and a hawk circling above us, we waited for our friends to come to the rescue with equipment. During this time, vertigo started to kick in and my fear of heights increased to new levels.

Sitting on the ledge (top right) as the others come with rope.

Sitting on the ledge (top right) as the others worked on getting rope to us.

Fear is a emotional response triggered by the amygdala in the brain (Menting, 2014). Within a tenth of a second, the amygdala can heighten the senses of the body, leading to the fight, flight, or freeze response. Even though we don’t like to have fear in our lives, and we sometimes associate fear with being weak, fear is an important part of being human. We need fear to know where our boundaries are.  The effects of fear can be very different for each person and situation. It can allow a mother to lift extraordinary weight off her trapped child or make an individual cower to the floor. Fear can stop a runner from reaching his fastest time; an Olympic lifter from obtaining her maximum weight; or an overweight individual from losing those few extra pounds. For some, fear limits a person from doing something normal like going into an elevator or being in the mix of a large crowd. It’s time to take action and refocus our efforts when fear becomes debilitating and prevents us from trying to get close to our limits. Due to my traumatic event, I was bound to the ground.

That brings me back to the Warped Wall. At first, every time I would run up the wall, a flashback of the event on the rock face would prevent me from jumping up to grab the ledge. Having my legs hang and my fingers grip only a small lip at the top of the wall was too close to home for me. That fear of falling from such a height, even if it was only fourteen feet and not a hundred, terrified me. Fear hinders all forward progress and with it, we are never able to reach our goal. Working those fears out in small increments and with a support system can make all the difference in the world. After a few weeks of having my fellow teammates encourage me and working on reassuring myself that falling from the wall would not kill me, I was able to break that fear and move forward.

Conquering fear is not an easy task, but with some work it can be done. Dependent upon the situation and magnitude of fear affecting the person, the individual may find a way to reduce the fear to a level where it is manageable. Reaching this level allows the person to participate in the activity without any negative reaction. Some psychologists help their patients create a new response to a stimuli that is safe rather than the fearful response that was associated with the stimuli  (Menting, 2014). Over time, the patient was able to engage in the activity without fear. In my case, by experiencing a safe return to the ground each time I went up the wall, the fear that caused me to freeze was reduced, and eventually I was able to conquer the wall. This accomplishment allowed me to build up my confidence and in turn set my goals to new heights.

 

Reference:

Menting, A.M. (2014) The Chill of Fear. Harvard Medical School. Retrieved on October 15, 2014 from http://hms.harvard.edu/news/harvard-medicine/chill-fear





Pushing Through Your Workouts: Overloading vs. Overtraining

21 09 2014

A couple weeks ago, I woke up with a bad headache, felt lousy, and my energy was very low. My wife wasn’t able to sleep all night so I was up a lot trying to help her fall back to sleep. I got through my day at work and the time came for my workout. I wasn’t looking forward to it since my energy level was still sluggish at that point. However, I felt that if I didn’t do something, I would start off my week down a day. So I warmed up the best I could and went to the weight stack to tackle my first set of squats. My muscles felt like they were fighting  against each other rather than working together on the first set. My body didn’t communicate with each muscle group making 20 pounds feel like 100 pounds. I struggled though the first set and re-racked the weights and sat down. I started to think what my game plan should be for the rest of the workout. “Suck it up, get pumped, and push through the fatigue,” I thought “or take the day off and reset so I can come back to it fresh tomorrow?” This choice doesn’t seem to be a hard decision to make, however, some gym goers and athletes feel that if they push harder, they will break though that fatigue.

To make improvements in your body, you must work your muscles just beyond the normal demands of your body. The stress of the work must be challenging for the body resulting in adaptation to the difficult task and thereby allowing the body to endure and eventually overcome the same stress the next time it is encountered.  This concept is referred to as the principle of overload. A couple reasons many gym goers don’t see results after two to three months of beginning a new exercise routine, which ultimately leads to quitting, is because they don’t want to push their bodies to this state of exertion, or are afraid because they don’t know how hard to push themselves.

Those afraid of pushing themselves too hard are smart and should not proceed without proper guidance from a certified personal trainer. There is always an outcomes spectrum of benefits and consequences with everything we do related to health and fitness. Too little done and the benefits diminish but too much of the stimulus can also lead to diminished results.Results

When the spectrum is applied to our workouts, as mentioned before, too little stress on our muscles results in our bodies staying stagnant and improvement stops. Too much stress on the body will also lead to diminished results which could have fatal consequences such as injury. This principle is known as overtraining. If our bodies are subjected to constant stress and breakdown of our muscles, more time is needed to repair that muscle. If the time needed for repair is not present and the exerciser continues to add more stress to the damaged site, the stress becomes too great and injury may occur. Consistent balance between workload stress and repair time must be provided to generate safe and timely improvements.

So coming back to my workout a couple weeks ago. I knew that my body needed more time to rest and even if I pushed through my workout, the demands imposed on my body might have been too great which would have left me with an injury and caused me to miss more than just that one day. I could have gone easy on the weighs but the improvements would have been minimal in my state. Knowing all this information gave me the answer I needed. I cleaned off the bench and went home.





Tone Up By Making Waves

11 09 2014

Once in a while it’s nice to get off the fitness floor and jump into a new workout environment; literally. Even though the beach season is coming to a close, do this workout to give you another reason to be by the water and show off your results.

Warm-up:
5 minutes of easy swimming any stroke.

Workout: Perform each exercise for 45 seconds quickly but controlled. Move directly to the next exercise until you complete all exercises. Rest  1 minute  and repeat 3 more rounds. (click pictures to enlarge)

1. High Knees – Start with one knee up and the other one on the floor. Switch knees by driving the knee on the floor up to your chest as you thrust the raised knee back down to the bottom.
High Knee End High Knee Start

 

 

 

 

2. Punches – Get into a depth where your shoulders can be submerged when you stand with your legs wider than shoulder width and the knees are bent. Perform open palm punches by pushing your hand through the water and pulling the other hand back to the side of your chest. Rotate your hips slightly as you punch so you’re also incorporating your oblique abdominals.
Punches StartPunches End

 

 

 

 

3. Squat Jumps – Start with your feet shoulder width apart and squat down till your shoulders become submerged in the water. Explode upwards by thrusting your arms upwards and jumping out of the water as high as you can. Land with your knees bent.
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4. Reverse Abdominal Crunches – Hold yourself in place on a step so your body floats to the top of the water. Contract your abdominals as you pull your knees in towards your chest. Hold for a second and then extend your legs back out.
Crunch StartCrunch End

 

 

 

 

Cool Down:
5 minutes of easy swimming any stroke





I’ve Got DOMS and I’m Feeling Good

23 08 2014

 

I love waking up in the morning and feeling the rewards of my labor. In this case, I’m feeling soreness in my legs from a run I did in the pouring rain two days ago. I felt the soreness in my legs while walking down the stairs to retrieve my newspaper; I felt it squatting down to pick up the newspaper; and I felt it walking back up the stairs with my newspaper.  And although it sounds like I’m whining, I’m actually loving every moment of it. I know that I have overloaded my muscles (topic for next blog) and thus my legs will become stronger and I have DOMS to thank for it.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a condition where soreness in the muscles is felt twenty-four to forty-eight hours post exercise and can last up to seven days. This is a neurological response to notify the body that the muscles have been stressed to their limit and any further stress could lead to serious injury. The American College of Sports Medicine refers to DOMS as the first sign of muscle damage “where the individual has done too much too soon” (Bushman, p.366). However, soreness and muscle fatigue are common and are precursors for the muscle adaptation response, therefore, casting a grey area when referring to DOMS as an indicator of the muscles getting just enough or too much workload.

Many of my clients are very timid when it comes to feeling sore after a workout. Many do not like feeling pain after exercising and I can’t blame them. The once popular mentality for building muscle, “no pain, no gain” has long been abandoned. Therefore, as a trainer, I need to progress individuals at a safe rate and allow their muscles to adapt at the right pace. For those who are trying to gain muscular advantages, whether it be strength, power, or endurance, I must heed the warning signs of overtraining. Delayed onset muscle soreness can be a good way to track your workout intensities. Rate your post soreness on a zero to six Likert-type scale, where 1 = minor soreness, 3 = moderate soreness, 5 = extreme soreness. You should try to stay below a rating of three. This will allow you to elicit the adaptation response and promote physiological gains without overly damaging your muscles, leading to injury and setback.

Even with minor soreness from DOMS, the body has encountered micro-trauma within the muscle. It’s important to allow those muscles to repair and rebuild before tackling another intense bout of exercise using those same muscles. Ample rest time is recommended and hydration with proper nutrition is beneficial in healing the damaged tissue. Static stretching does not aid in the repair or reduction of DOMS, but should be done after exercise to return the muscle to it’s lengthened state. Deep tissue massage is controversial for relieving DOMS, as they may cause more pain within the musculature and extend the length of time needed to heal. Be aware of your intensity and remember, if you can’t walk the next day, you’ve probably gone to far.

References:
Bushman, B. (2014) ACSM’S Resource for the Personal Trainer (4th Ed.) Philadelphia , PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

McGrath, R., Whitehead, J., & Caine, D. (2014) The Effects of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching on Post-Exercise Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness in Young Adults. International Journal of Exercise Science. Retrieved on August 23, 2014 from http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/ijes/vol7/iss1/3/

Herbert, RD., de Noronha, M., Kamper, SJ. (2011) Stretching before or after exercise does not reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Retreieve on August 23, 2014 from http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/45/15/1249.short

Jernigan, K. (2013) Problems of Deep Tissue Massage. Retrieved on August 23, 2014 from http://www.livestrong.com/article/92924-problems-deep-tissue-massage/





Aracknophobia

16 08 2014

You may know people with this fear. If you’ve been to a gym where you can’t find the matching pair of dumbbells or you don’t know if someone’s still using the bench, that person probably is aracknophobic. Not to be confused with arachnophobia (spelled with a “k” and not an “h”),  which is the fear of spiders or other arachnids. Aracknophobia* (a.k.a, Iracknophobia) is the fear of re-racking your weights after you use them.

I heard this word used by my coworker, Phil, and immediately thought, “by George, he’s got it!” These people aren’t too weak to put away their weights, since they were able to use them. And when I think about laziness, these people are able to get up off their butts and motivate themselves to exercise so intensely that this couldn’t be the cause. But what if these people can lift the weight but just are too scared to put them back? They might fear that the weight might slip out of their hands because their last set was so intense that they have no more energy to lift that weight.

Luckily there is a cure for this phobia and it’s a technique that psychologist and psychiatrists use with their patients when a real phobia is present. They actually have the person expose themselves to the phobia in a controlled setting. So an arachnophobic person may hold a spider in their hand to witness that it will not hurt them, thereby creating a peaceful image in their minds when thinking about spiders in the future. The same should be done for those suffering from aracknophobia. The next time you see someone with this condition, walk up to them sympathetically (gently patting them on the shoulder as if to console a crying child if needed) and let them know that you will help them out. Hand them the weights that they were using and walk them to the proper rack to replace the weights. Then encourage them that no harm has come to them and that they can start re-racking the weights themselves. Together, let’s make our workout areas a safe and stress-free environment, so that our workout time can be spent exercising and not wasted on finding dumbbells.

*Disclaimer: In case some of you are thinking that there really is a phobia of re-racking weights, please note that there is not.