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My Overhead Squat Needs Some Help!

My Overhead Squat Needs Some Help!

Even a personal trainer needs help with her fitness program.

This past weekend, I took a Corrective Exercise Training workshop offered by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). The eight-hour workshop provided a lot more than some of the needed Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) for my personal trainer re-certification. It also forced me to take note of some of the issues with my body that could quite frankly be setting me up for injury.

The purpose of corrective exercise is to create a training program that can help someone maximize his or her movement efficiency. This happens by identifying dysfunctions and correcting muscle imbalances with a plan of action.

Thanks to Karl Sterling for snapping some pics

Thanks to Karl Sterling for snapping some pics

In my case, that concept boils down to this: my calves, hip flexors and hamstrings are overactive and need to be stretched while my glutes and tibialis anterior (the muscle closely located to the shin) are underactive and need to be strengthened. The catch is the muscles that need the corrective work are only on the right side of my body.

How did I figure this out? Brent Brookbush, our NASM instructor, used me as a case study for the rest of the workshop participants to observe.  Without getting too deep into functional anatomy, the group focused their attention on my feet, knees, lumbo-pelvic-hip complex and upper body as I banged out multiple overhead squats. After giving them an anterior, lateral and posterior view, they assessed my right foot turned out and I have an excessive forward lean.

Of course, both actions are indicators of less-than-optimal movement. In order to increase my muscle efficiency, they then put together a four-part training strategy that would first inhibit and lengthen the overactive muscles through self-myofascial release and static stretching. The last two steps target the underactive muscles with activation through isolated stretching and integration using a full-body exercise.

Breaking it down again, my program involves foam rolling my right lateral Gastrocnemius (calf), TFL (hip) and biceps femoris (hamstring); static stretches of those same muscles; then activation of my glutes with clams or bridges; and the grande finale is an integrated exercise, like a squat to row. This whole program should take me about 20 minutes, which means there’s no reason for me to not make it a part of my workout routine. I would still have time to get on the elliptical and/or hit the weight circuit. The key is once I do move on to the core part of my workout, I’ve worked to correct the imbalances in my body. My form will be better, the muscles that are supposed to “fire” as prime movers will do just that and other muscles won’t be compensating for the action. Those compensations can lead to injury over time.

One final plug for corrective exercise: After we all practiced the techniques and exercises outlined in my program, I performed another series of overhead squats for the class to observe. I can’t say I was perfect, but my form looked tremendously better compared to when I first got up in front of the group. My foot was no longer turning out and my lean was nowhere near as significant.

Considering how much better I felt after one afternoon of corrective exercise, I can’t wait to see how I feel after making this program part of my normal routine. In my book, anything we can do to make our muscles move better is a surefire way to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Confused About Muscle Confusion?

Photo by Leslie Hassler

I kick off this new work week addressing a great question from Ally.  She asked about “muscle confusion,” a key concept in the workouts you see all over TV that promise to get you “ripped” in 90 days without going to the gym.

First, I have to admit due to space limitations in all the apartments I’ve lived in since getting out of college, I’ve always worked out at the gym. So, I’ve never bought or used any of these 90-day surpreme workout programs. However, I do know many people who use them and love them.

Second, from an exercise science perspective, muscles can’t technically get “confused.” What they can do is grow stronger through a process called volume overload. Another phrase you often hear when people describe their fitness goals is a desire to “tone up.” Again, this is technically an incorrect statement as sticking with an exercise program won’t “tone” muscle, but it can help you improve your overall muscle definition. Basically, whether you’re working out at the gym or in front of the TV, if you increase the workload placed on your body, you burn more calories than you store, which leads to a loss in body fat and an improvement in muscular definiton.

Ally also asked me how often I change my resistance training routine. What I learned through the National Academy of Sports Medicine is that whatever phase of training you’re in, you should stick with a current routine for a minimum of four weeks before moving on to the next level. This gives your body time to adapt to the stimuli you’re placing on it.  That doesn’t just mean changing the exercises you’re doing, but adding to the workload you’re demanding your body to perform. When it comes to resistance training, that workload increase comes in the form of reps x sets x weight.

Remember, change doesn’t have to be drastic. It can simply involve cutting back on the amount of rest between exercises to push caloric burn to the max.  Change can also involve filling your schedule with group boxing class on Monday, group body conditioning  on Wednesday and a solo weight machine circuit on Friday. Want another reason to mix up your routine?  It’s simple: too much of a good thing is never good.  Doing the same exercises every day is a surefire way to increase your risk of overuse injuries.  Which brings me to another important reminder: your body needs adequate rest to make adequate gains. So, be sure not to work the same muscle groups on consecutive days.

I want to wrap up with what could be most important: in a world filled with instant everything, you need to be patient when it comes to reaching your diet and exercise goals. Anything done in an extreme fashion may produce fast results, but these results are often unsustainable. Drastically restricting your calorie intake and working out for 90 minutes, seven days a week may get you into that dress for the reunion. Chances are once you go back to your normal lifestyle, the weight will come back and any gains you made will be lost.

In the end, the choice is yours.  Whether you try a 90-day DVD exercise program, join a gym or start taking tennis lessons with a friend, the key is to find what works for you so that you stick with it and don’t stray from the path to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Cardio for Beginners

Whether you love it or hate it, cardiorespiratory exercise is crucial when it comes to reaching your goals of losing weight, reducing body fat or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Research shows there are many benefits to cardio activity including its ability to decrease:

  • Daily fatigue
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Hypertension
  • Non-insulin dependent diabetes and
  • Obesity

At the same time, cardio helps boost your:

  • Sense of well-being
  • Immune system
  • Blood lipid profile and
  • Overall physical performance at work and at play

While there are several levels to cardio training, for the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on some guidelines for beginners and anyone who may be getting back into a fitness routine after a hiatus.  (As usual, I base these guidelines using the essential information I studied through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.) Your cardio activity should focus on maintaining a zone one heart rate which is approximately 65% to 75% of your maximum heart rate. Here’s what that means for you:

  1. To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from the number 220.
  2. Multiply your max heart rate by .65.
  3. Multiply your max heart rate by .75.

To use myself as an example:

  1. 220-37 = 183
  2. 183 X 0.65 = 119
  3. 183 X 0.75 = 137
  4. Laura’s Zone One Heart Rate = 119 – 137

If you’re working within the parameters of zone one for cardio, it’s likely you are also in stage one of your overall exercise program. (NASM refers to this as the stabilization level.) If you’ve never worked out before, you may want to try to reach your zone one heart rate for a maximum five to ten minutes and then spend another 20 minutes simply walking at a good pace, climbing the stairs in your home or getting really dirty in the yard by cleaning up the garden.  Your goal should be to eventually maintain your zone one heart rate for at least 30 minutes.  This can take some time.  A “newbie” may need two months or longer to meet this demand, but remember: there’s no finish line here. You’ve made a commitment to exercise and start taking better care of yourself, so while you don’t want to just dial it in, make the journey work for you.

A final note about measuring heart rate. You’ve made the decision to make fitness a part of your life, so along with a good pair of sneakers and breathable workout wear,  invest in a heart rate monitor.  Countless studies show it is the device that provides the most accurate heart rate readings. So, whether you’re using a treadmill in the gym or running or walking along the open road, you’ll be able to see if you’re really “in the zone.”

I hope this brief session of cardio 101 will help get your heart pumping safely and effectively so you can have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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