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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!

Getting “Back” to Flexibiity

Photo by Leslie Hassler

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If only I knew more about human movement science back in my 20s (and probably even in my teens), I’m pretty sure I could have avoided a whole lot of hurt in my 30s. This is why I will never shy away from writing about the importance of stretching muscles so that you can strengthen others correctly. Since my high school friend, Jennifer, took the time to write in and express her shared interest in learning more about how the various muscle groups work together, I thought I’d take this opportunity to address some other common postural distortions that can wreak havoc on your body if you don’t take the time to address them.

In my previous post about flexibility training, I discussed how sitting at my desk for long periods of time causes the tightening of my hip flexors. Unfortunately, that’s not the only part of the body that suffers because of my day job. I admit my posture can get pretty bad after typing at the keyboard for awhile. Instead of sitting up straight, I slouch or round my shoulders and stretch my neck out much more than I should.  Needless to say this creates lots of tension in my neck and shoulders. (Just ask my chiropractor.)

This tension is a common problem for many office workers, and it comes from the tightening of the upper trapezius, scalenes and levator scapulae.  If you bring that tension to your workout without stretching the muscles,  it’s likely that when you try to perform an exercise that requires a push or a pull (e.g. a seated row or using a chest press machine) the shoulders will elevate and the head will protrude forward. This also indicates the mid/lower traps, rhomboids and rotator cuff need strengthening.

Again, while I can’t assess how you move through this blog post, I can tell you about what has worked for me in addressing this specific postural dysfunction as discovered by one of my own personal trainers in the past.  This link illustrates a static stretch that helped my overactive upper traps and scalenes.   I would perform one to three sets on each side, holding each stretch between 20 and 30 seconds. To strengthen my weaker muscles, my trainer had me perform the ball cobra. When it comes to strength training exercises for anyone just getting started on a fitness program, the recommendation would most likely be to one to three sets of 12-20 reps.

On any given day, our bodies are put under so many different stresses. The more we know about how flexibility and strength training work together in taking care of the muscles that move us, the better our chances of being able to stay on the right track to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The Importance of Flexibility Training

Photo by: Leslie Hassler

We made it to another Friday! If you’re like most people, you’ve clocked countless hours this week sitting at a desk crouched over a keyboard. Or maybe you’ve logged hours in your car commuting or taking the kids to and from school and activities. Regardless of your daily activities, chances are you suffer from an all-too common problem for modern day Americans: bad posture. This matched with an ever-increasing sedentary lifestyle for people everywhere make a recipe for disaster where your body is concerned. This is why incorporating flexibility training (a.k.a. stretching) is more important than ever. It is one of the best ways to decrease muscle imbalances, joint dysfunction and overuse injuries.

While I can’t assess how your body moves via this post, I can tell you about one of my biggest “problem areas.” When I’m not out in the field producing shoots, I spend way too much time sitting in front of my computer. Since I’m almost always on deadline, I tend to lose track of just how long I sit there. These extended periods of sitting unfortunately cause tightening of my hip flexors, which are made up of five muscles including the psoas.

What happens if I I don’t take the time to stretch my hip flexors and just get right into the “heart” of a workout?  There are plenty of terms in exercise science to describe the problematic results, including altered reciprocal inhibition, synergistic dominance and arthrokinetic dysfunction.  Here’s what those problems look like when it comes to performing one of the most popular exercises known to man: the squat. If I repeatedly perform squats with a tight psoas, the “wrong” muscles end up doing the work. The gluteus maximus should be the prime mover, but tight hips flexors inhibit the gluteus maximus from doing its job and getting strong. Instead, the workload gets picked up by the “B team:” the hamstrings and erector spinae. Not only does this make the butt-kicking exercise pretty much ineffective for actually toning my butt, but I’m also putting myself at risk for low back pain and potential injury.

Here’s a link featuring some good static stretches for the hip flexors. If you’re just getting started on an exercise program, your focus will most likely be on corrective flexibility in order to improve any muscle imbalances and altered joint motion.  To that end, static stretches and self-myofascial release should be the key components in your flexibility training program.  (Stay tuned for more on my own love-hate relationship with SMR in future posts!)

Another problem area for many people is the biceps femoris, which most of us know as the hamstrings. As you progress in your fitness journey, you can look forward to moving from corrective flexibility to active flexibility. In the video below, I help Brent Brookbush illustrate an effective active biceps femoris stretch. Before you check out the video, I leave you with this final thought: if I could go back in time and change one thing about my life-long love affair with fitness, I would incorporate much more flexibility training into my routine. It is truly one of the best things we can do for ourselves in order to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

Don’t Skimp When it Comes to Stretching!

An old friend, Shannon Palermo, posted the following comment on my LauraLovesFitness Facebook page:

So, what is the recommendation when it comes to cardio and stretching? I walk/run on a treadmill at home. Do I warm up then stretch or stretch first or stretch after? Also any suggested stretches? I recently pulled a muscle in my hip causing me to be sidelined with major hip and knee pain. I believe this is due to my lack of stretching and my need for new sneakers.

These questions raise several important issues, but first and foremost is the subject of pain.  Whether you’re a fitness novice or trained athlete, if you really listen to your body, you can tell the difference between muscle soreness from an intense workout and pain that indicates something is wrong. If you experience “major” pain in any area, you could be suffering from an acute or cumulative injury.  I’ve been the victim of many cumulative injuries because of one simple reason: I’ve ignored the warning signs and simply pushed through the pain.

If you experience pain that causes significant discomfort and doesn’t subside with ice and/or over-the-counter pain killers for more than a day or two, you should see your doctor.  When you let an injury linger, other parts of your body will compensate for the injury, throwing off your body’s proper mechanics and causing postural distortions. In the end, an injury to your foot will lead to compensations that create stress on other parts of your body’s kinetic chain – and you can easily end up with pain in your knees, hips or back. For my friend Shannon, if you’re simply guessing that you pulled a muscle and haven’t seen a doctor, please make an appointment soon.

As for stretching: the jury may still be out on when to stretch, but there is no debate about the fact that everyone needs to include flexibility training in their workout routine. As I learned through my NASM training, countless studies show a link between decreased flexibility and injury.  For example, decreased flexibility in the hamstrings and quadriceps significantly contributes to tendonitis in the knee.

NASM’s training model includes stretching as part of a warm up and again during the cool down period of your workout. The stretching-before-cardio-or-strength-training idea is stretch the muscles that may be tight so that you perform an exercise as optimally as possible and reduce the risk for improper movement and injury.  For a runner like Shannon, it’s optimal to stretch certain muscles like the hamstrings and hip flexors before a hitting the treadmill or the road. Here are two links I found helpful about stretching:

http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_1/126.shtml

http://www.stretchingworld.com/staticstretching.html

We’ve only scratched the surface and I look forward to writing more about injury prevention and flexibility training , but I hope the information in this post is a good  start to proving why stretching is a crucial part of our quest to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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