How To Train Your Core: More Than Just Crunches!

When basic crunches aren’t enough for your workout routine let’s look at some alternatives that will optimize your core strength and increase your balance and ability to generate power.

By now you probably know that your core is more than just your abs. It’s the trunk of your body that both stabilizes you and also allows you to rotate around with control. And applied correctly your core also braces your spine to protect it from any unsafe movements that could harm your central nervous system. Another thing I think is important to understand about your core is that it is the foundation that all of your extremities attach to. So while your legs allow you to run, and your arms are swinging a golf club around, these extremities attach to the trunk of your body and need its support in order to move effectively. These extremities are attempting to generate power when they do certain things, whether it’s kicking a ball, swinging a bat, or throwing a Frisbee; and the strength of your core will determine how much power they can generate and then transfer to your movement.

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A staple of core strength is going to be a plank. Whether it’s performed with your hands on the ground or your elbows on the ground, a plank is a straightforward way to assess core strength. But once you’ve gotten control of your plank it’s important to start implementing the variations that will keep you getting stronger and also from getting bored. Side planks, performed on one arm or hand and with the hips facing out instead of down, are a great way to kick up the challenge level and add balance into the equation. From here you can then try tapping your hip to the ground to see if you can maintain your balance and control while moving. Try tapping your hip to the ground twice and then holding in side plank for two seconds, with a goal of being able to do this ten times on each side.

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Dead Bug is a great flip on the traditional plank for people who are beginners and can’t maintain a plank, but also for people who struggle with stabilizing their back and keeping it from arching or rounding. Appropriately named for the way dead bugs tend to look, you lay on your back with hips and knees bent to 90 degree angles. With your arms pointing up to the sky, hold an object against the front of your knees; a stability ball, a big pillow, whatever you can get your hands on and hold against your knees. Maintaining your back flat against the ground, extend an opposite arm and leg out away from the ball as far as you can control them before bringing them back up to the ball and switching sides. A good goal here is to be able to do this 20 times on each side.

 

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If you have access to a cable machine then you can work on generating power as we mentioned earlier in more specific movements. In the same way you would swing a golf club or baseball bat, doing cable rotations will help you increase core strength and generate power in your movement. You will want to start off standing perpendicular to the cable machine, both hands gripping the handle and holding it at arms length in front of your chest. Keeping the handle out in front of your chest will help ensure that the emphasis is on your core and isn’t being taken over by your arms and shoulders. It helps to imagine that you’re in a glass tube, so you can’t rock forward or lean backward, you can only rotate around. Your goal here is to rotate your torso around pulling the cable with it and then controlling it back to the start position. Pick a weight that will allow you to do 20 to 25 reps on each side, each one mimicking the way you would swing an object, focusing on your ability to generate strength and power in that rotation.

There are probably hundreds of ways to train and strengthen your core, with crunches being just one of them. Just remember, core strength is about control and stabilizing, so you can protect your spine but also generate force. If you want to do crunches, think about your back staying straight and sitting up onto your tailbone. Rounding your back, the way most crunches are performed, is the opposite of how you want to train your body. Like always, know what you’re trying to do, focus on the muscle groups you’re trying to use, and don’t sacrifice your form and ability to keep yourself stable just to get in a few more reps. Quality over quantity will win out every time.

 

Written by Jamie Maguire

 

Stretching and Mobility: Pre or Post Workout?

For Merrill, may her hip impingement rest in peace

So much stretching, so little time.

I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Some days I get to the gym a little later than I planned because that meeting or that phone call lasted a little longer than it was supposed to, or traffic was particularly brutal that day, or maybe I’m just one of those people who take forever to get myself ready. Either way, something is now going to pay the price, but will it be my warm up, my workout, or my cool down? And I’ll be honest, some days my warm up/stretching/mobilization takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. I know some of you right now are thinking, well that’s just crazy, I only have an hour to get the whole thing done, not just stretch. Believe me, on the list of things I fully understand this is at the top, which is why I try to do most of my stretching and mobilizing in my down time. ‘Try’ being the operative word. The best advice is to do your best to stay on top of your stretching and mobilizing as frequently as possible so that you can just do a quick stretch and warm-up, and then start your routine. But as we all know this isn’t always the way it happens, so let’s go over some general information so you have a good place to start.

Let’s break down a few key terms so there’s no confusion. Particularly mobilization, or mobs, as some people will call them. In general mobilizing basically means to gather together all the forces at your disposal in order to accomplish a task. A general would mobilize his army in order to go to battle successfully. While the concept of mobilizing your joints and muscles in order to do an exercise is somewhat different than going into battle, the ultimate goal is going to be the same; for the task to be accomplished successfully. The more adept you are at mobilizing effectively, with thought and purpose, the more likely you are to have a successful campaign.

With exercise, mobilization basically means to get your muscles all working together in a state where they are activated and able to shorten and lengthen without compensation in their intended range. This translates to your joints being able to move comfortably and without impingement through their intended range of motion so that, for example, you can successfully execute a squat. In a squat you want your hips, hamstrings, quads, calves, and glutes all activated and moving properly in order to avoid the joints connected to those muscles being pulled out of position. Side note: if you’re barbell back squatting you also need your shoulders and back mobile in order to get your arms to the bar behind your head otherwise you’ll end up arching your back to get there and not know why.

Another side note to stretching and mobilizing; try thinking of it like this: the muscle’s natural response to being challenged is to tighten up, and as you challenge it more and more through your workout all that tension is eventually going to cause it to fatigue. That’s the end of your workout. Now if you start your workout with tight muscles that’s like starting at a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. You now have from 5 to 10 to get in whatever work you can, get stronger, burn calories, etc. But if you stretch beforehand and get yourself down to a 2 or 1, then you can get much more work done and calories burned because you have all the way from 1 to 10 before you hit fatigue.

Now, there are all kinds of ways and means to stretch and mobilize, and almost all of them will depend on what’s personally going on with each of us individually. It would take a lot of time to go over all of the stretching and mobilizing techniques that exist. What we can do instead is come up with a good way to self diagnose the problem areas in order to then figure out what stretching and mobilizations you should focus on.

One of the simplest methods is to focus on the specific exercise you’re going to be working on that day. Almost all of the exercises we do will break down into two distinct positions, your start position and your finish position. Without worrying about the movement between the two or any weight involved just put yourself into both of those positions. Can you stabilize yourself in both places? If you can’t then forget about the movement between the two and focus on the problems you have in those positions. Let’s look at squat. The start position for your squat is standing up in your braced position, neutral hips, foot to hip socket engaged with the floor (if you don’t know what your bracing position is please research or contact us for a free consultation). Your finish position for squat is loaded up glutes and hamstrings, straight back, weight over your mid foot, with your hips just below the knee joint. Typically the finish position tends to be the more problematic. So get down in that position and assess what’s going on. This is where exercise becomes more than just working up a sweat and being out of breath. Do your hips feel tight? Are they pinching in the front? Do your calves feel tight and you want to rock back on your heels? Are your quads on fire and desperately begging you to stand the hell up? This is where it becomes your job to learn and listen to your body and recognize where the weaknesses, compensations, and overactive muscles are, and with that information then fix the problems.

Your next moves are pretty straight forward. Any muscles that are tight or overactive (burning right from the start) need to be addressed with either stretching or foam rolling until the tension subsides to at least a moderate level. The more you practice these techniques the faster your muscles will lose their tension and to a higher degree, but like with anything it takes practice. Once you’ve done that to any tight or restricted muscles you should try your positions again, with the result hopefully being that you now can stabilize and control yourself in these positions. I’ve found that it’s also extremely beneficial to identify the primary muscles you’ll be using in the exercise and do an activation exercise that isolates the desired muscle or muscle group. For example doing a floor bridge is a great way to isolate and activate your glutes for deadlift or even squats.

The breakdown is this: almost all moves have a very straight forward start and finish position. Before you begin make sure that you can effectively put yourself in both of those positions, and use any feedback you receive from your body to come up with a stretching and mobilizing plan to fix any problems before you begin. Wrap it all up at the end with a solid 5 to 10 minutes of stretching or foam rolling to help flush out any built up lactic acid in order to aid your muscles in a pain free recovery. Please contact us if you have any questions or find yourself struggling to assess and correct your joint and muscle tension.

 

Written by Jamie Maguire

 

 

 

How Training Like an Athlete Can Lead to Greater Results in The Gym

How Training Like an Athlete Can Lead to Greater Results in The Gym: Your Body is Made to MOVE!

 

Being new to the Innovative Health and Fitness team I thought it might be a good idea to introduce myself for this blog post, and discuss a topic that might help you get to know me a little better and the approach I take to training. And hopefully mix in a little information at the same time.

I’d like to discuss the topic of treating everyone like an athlete.

When you think of an athlete what generally comes to mind is someone who plays a sport. And someone who doesn’t might automatically think, well I don’t play any sports so I’m not an athlete. Maybe your requirements are a little tougher and you think a real athlete needs to get paid to play their sport, or make the team at a Division I school. Either way you have to stop and consider why this person is being compensated for being good at playing a game. You can definitely make a case for biology or genetics and say that some people are just naturally gifted. But even the best players have to train at their highest levels if they want to compete with other talented athletes willing to work twice as hard to make up for any natural talent they think they’re missing.

I worked for a while with a retired professional strength and conditioning coach and we would talk a lot about the work athletes had to put into their training and how at that level it required tremendous energy and focus just to see the smallest increases in strength or speed or agility. These guys were already so close to the top of their game that any gains took countless hours and training. But here’s the thing, the foundation for all of this is the same for everyone. He used to say, there are countless ways to apply the principles, but at the end of the day the basic principles are always the same. How you get there might be different for everyone, but where you’re going will always be the same.

Every athlete you see today had to start off learning basic body mechanics; how to move properly, effectively, and efficiently. If you can’t properly execute a squat or a deadlift or don’t understand the essential principles that the movement requires, then it doesn’t matter if you’re a lineman coming up from the set position to protect your quarterback or simply picking a box up off the ground, sooner or later your movement pattern is going to break down and lead to joint and muscle pain and possibly injury.

The principles are always the same. We teach people how to squat because it is the basic movement of getting up and down out of a chair, something we do countless times throughout the day. We teach deadlift because it is the movement of safely and efficiently picking something up off the ground. Overhead press teaches you to stabilize your shoulder and shoulder blades while holding something above you, meaning you’re less likely to injure or strain your shoulder the next time you have to pull something off a top shelf or from the cabinet.

It’s possible you’ve seen these exercises performed before in the gym or at a weightlifting competition or even at the Olympics. You might have been impressed by how much weight some of these people were lifting, or maybe you thought it was ridiculous that people were trying to lift that much. Either way the lesson from this is simple; whether you’re trying to deadlift 800 pounds off the floor or simply pull a stubborn root out of the ground, it’s important to understand that all of these movements are based on the same principles; learning to stabilize yourself in order to safely and efficiently move yourself and probably an object from point A to point B.

 

Written by Jamie Maguire 

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

 

Have questions? Drop us a line below and we will get back to you within 24-48 hours!

 

Reduce Pain and Increase Strength: Hip and Shoulder Stabilization

Hip and Shoulder Stabilization

The general function of exercise, or weight training specifically, is learning to stabilize yourself in order to move weight from point A to point B safely and effectively.

Main reasons for having a goal of stabilization:

  • Safety – by learning to stabilize yourself and properly engage muscle groups responsible for moving heavy loads you will be protecting the more vulnerable parts of your body that cannot handle heavy lifting and are prone to strain and injury, such as your knees and lower back.
  • Strength – by engaging these larger, more capable muscle groups you are ensuring that they do the brunt of the work and therefore become stronger. This leads to a progressive cycle whereby these muscles are able to move heavier and heavier loads and become even better at protecting vulnerable joints and muscle groups.
  • Functional Movement – in the fitness world this term generally means two things: prioritizing spinal stabilization and then initiating movement from the hips and shoulders; and secondly, movements that translate to everyday life. In the simplest terms, learning to properly squat teaches you how to effortlessly get in and out of a chair, and deadlift teaches you how to safely and effectively pick something up.

As you move throughout your day, understanding and prioritizing stabilization will help you keep you pain and injury free. This also includes sitting and standing still.

Purpose behind hip and shoulder stabilization:

Both the hip and shoulder joints are what are referred to as “ball in socket” joints. This joint system allows for tremendous range of motion and an almost unlimited ability to move freely. But with that freedom of movement, also comes with the opportunity for an injury, especially when the joint is loaded or under tension.

Stabilizing the Hip and Shoulder Joints

These ball in socket joints have the capacity for both internal and external rotation within the socket. A result of this impressive range of motion is that it leaves a great deal of slack in the socket in order to allow these movements. In order to prevent injury while these joints are loaded or under tension it becomes necessary to “take the slack” out of the joint; stabilizing and securing it prior to movement.

Cues for stabilizing the hip socket:

  • Screw your feet to the floor; right food goes clockwise, left foot goes counter-clockwise
  • Imagine there is a crack between your feet and you’re trying to spread it apart.
  • Imagine your feet are on plates and you’re trying to spin them out away from you.

It is important to understand the meaning behind these cues:

  • Your feet are not actually moving.
  • When you say “screw your feet into the floor”, what you are really trying to create is tension in the hip socket through external rotational force of the femur into the pelvis (hip socket) using the floor as resistance.
  • Not only does this tension with the floor create a stable hip joint, but the muscle group responsible for externally rotating your leg is your Glutes, the primary divers of your squat, so by initiating this force of external rotation of your hip you activate your Glute muscles and help organize your squat mechanics.

Cues for stabilizing the shoulder socket:

  • Break the bar in half
  • Screw your hands into the floor
  • Draw your shoulder blades down and together

Defining the cues for shoulder stabilziation:

  • Your hands are no actually moving and you are not physically trying to break a bar in half.
  • The goal is to generate tension in the shoulder socket by attempting to externally rotate the humerus bone into the shoulder socket, using the floor or an object as resistance.
  • Your humerus bone connects to your shoulder blade, therefore tension that is created also stabilizes the shoulder blade and activates the Latissimus Dorsi (Lats), a major muscle that attaches to your shoulder blade and is responsible for movement and stabilization within the shoulder system.

Written by: Jamie Maguire 

 

If you would like to learn more about how stabilizing your Hips and Shoulders can improve your strength and reduce injury; feel free to drop us a line down below! We will get back to you within 24-48 hours!