If Frankenstein Had Glutes, He Could Have Run Away
Get Fit With Monster Walks
Most of the exercises performed in the gym emphasize the sagittal (front/back) plane of motion. Squat, lunge, elliptical, and treadmill are all sagittal plane activities. In athletics and life, we must be able to move efficiently in all planes of motion. Our gluteal muscles are the primary producers of lateral and rotational movement in the lower extremities. Strong and responsive gluteals keep your knees and lower back safe from injury during athletic activities. A simple exercise to improve gluteal function and move better in the often-neglected frontal plane is a band monster walk.
You will need a mini resistance band or a lateral resistor. Place a mini band loop around your ankles. Assume an athletic stance with the feet straight ahead, knees bent, and hips flexed. The band should be held taught throughout the exercise. Try to keep the hips and shoulders level throughout the exercise. Your torso and pelvis should not wobble side to side. Move the right foot 12 to 18 inches to the right, and after planting the right foot, follow with the left. Remember to keep some tension on the band. When you have completed the prescribed number of repetitions, rest and then lateral step back to the left.
As you get better at this exercise, try performing the drill moving forward and backward. The backward monster walk is an excellent gluteal activation exercise for runners. Try performing one or two sets of eight to ten repetitions.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
Getting Fat In The Gym
Training With Thick Grips
Strongmen have been using thick grip barbells and dumbbells for decades. It makes their hands stronger and keeps their joints healthy. The problem for the average gym member is that modified thick bars and dumbbells are expensive, and for many people, too heavy. Over the last five years, several types of rubber thick grip handles have been developed for use on traditional 1.25 inch barbells and dumbbells. Thick grip handle training is a beneficial addition for recreational lifters, fitness enthusiasts, and athletes.
Real World Grip Strength
Most of the objects you must push, pull, or carry during daily activities are not attached to a user-friendly handle—your opponent on the field of play, that heavy bag of dog food, and the garden wheelbarrow all have large irregular areas you must grip. Training with thick grip handles in the gym builds the strength that more readily carries over to real life.
Healthier and Happier Arms
Industrial ergonomic experts know that larger diameter handles on machinery and hand tools can reduce stress on the joints of the elbow, wrist, and fingers. Big, strong athletes with larger hands and above average strength (more weight = more joint stress) can benefit from taking some time away from traditional diameter handles. Many of the recreational lifters I have consulted with in physical therapy report decreased elbow pain, wrist pain, and median nerve (carpal tunnel) numbness / tingling with the inclusion of thick grip training in their exercise programs.
A Little Thick Grip At a Time
Introduce thick grip training slowly. Reduce the weight you would normally use for a lift by 30% and evaluate how your body feels the next day. Be careful with the volume of horizontal and vertical pulling exercises, as using a thick grip with these exercises can be problematic for some elbows and shoulders.
Don’t Be a Thickhead
Do not perform ballistic lifts such as cleans and snatches with thick grips, as a failure in your grip could result in a barbell or dumbbell flying across the weight room. Be careful on your first set of chin ups or pull ups with thick grips, as a grip failure can create a sudden unwanted interaction with gravity. All of the thick grips on the market are designed to be used with barbells and dumbbells and not on a kettlebell or cable handle.
Makes and Models
Thick grips can be purchased online from Fat Gripz, Iron Bull, and Tyler Grips. They are available in two, two and one-half, and three inch diameters. They all attach fairly easily to most barbell or dumbbell handles. The Tyler Grips are a cone shape, and I have found that they work well with physical therapy patients and industrial rehab clients who are retraining pulling strength. At Fenton Fitness, we have been using the cylindrical shaped Fat Gripz and Iron Bull Grips for the last six months and the reviews have been good.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T. OCS, CSCS
No, No Row Your Boat
Why I Don’t Row And Neither Should You
Equipment manufacturers have produced an endless selection of cardiovascular conditioning machines. We have access to treadmills with shock absorbing decks, elliptical units with stationary and moving arms, escalator stairways, and every imaginable variety of bike. The simple rowing machine has recently become more popular in fitness classes and training gyms. I purchased a state of the art rowing ergometer in 1986. While the training sessions always left me gasping for air, I developed several problems when my rowing sessions became more intense. Four years later, I abandoned the rower as an exercise modality. Over my thirty years as a physical therapist, I have treated numerous patients with rowing machine related injuries. I have come to believe that some individuals can use a rowing machine and achieve excellent results, but the vast majority of us should stay away from a rower.
Lower Back Pain History
The rowing motion produces a compressive load on the lower lumbar joints and discs while subjecting the spine to many cycles of end range flexion. This is the ideal formula for a posterior disc derangement. If you have a history of debilitating lower back pain (80% of the American population) or a lumbar disc related problem, you should find another mode of exercise.
You Sit All Day
For many of us, work and daily commute time combine to account for six to ten hours of sitting a day. In your fitness program, the last thing you want to do is chose an exercise activity performed in a seated position. The deleterious effects of prolonged sitting must be trained away and not enhanced by your exercise activities.
A History of Anterior Hip Pain
With every repetition of a row, you fold the front of the hips into full end range flexion. This can create all kinds of impingement/tissue distress problems on the front of the hip joint. I have treated several patients with labral tears of the hip and “sports hernia” pain problems developed after a series of rowing sessions.
You Are a Postural Mess
If your mother always told you to “sit up straight” and you never managed to listen, the rower is probably a less than ideal training tool for you. Age, wear and tear, and the passage of time tend to pull our skull, shoulders, and thoracic spine forward. If you already have a head start on the slumped forward rounded over upper body, I would nix the rower.
If your abdomen protrudes to the point it inhibits the motion of your hips and the draw of the erg’s handle, you will not be able to row with a mechanically efficient stroke. The knees out, 20 inch pull you so often see performed on the row ergometer is at best ineffective and often injurious.
Clueless on Technique
For many people, the rhythm of a proper rowing motion is difficult to learn and even more difficult to maintain in a fatigued state. When your row technique falls apart, the stress on your peripheral joints and spine increases dramatically.
Cumulative Compressive Load
If your training week consists of deadlifts on Monday, box jumps on Tuesday, Olympic lifting on Wednesday, squats on Thursday, and then rowing ergometer on Friday, you will have performed five consecutive days of high spinal compression activities. The older you are, the stronger you are, and the more intense you train, the more you need to be considerate of the cumulative compressive load placed on your spine over the course of a training week. The rower is probably not the ideal training modality in this training scheme.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
Multi Directional Power Training
We have recently added a new training tool to our physical therapy clinics. The Surge 180 is a simple and incredibly effective training device for rehab patients. The patient stands on the platform, grasps the handle, and works against resistance provided by three pistons. The physical therapist can use the Surge 180 to improve many different areas of performance.
Safe and Effective Power Training
Most physical therapy patients are severely underpowered. Not only do they need to get stronger, they must also get better at creating force quickly. The patient can accelerate against the handle of the Surge 180, and because the overall mass is so small, there is no damaging inertia to overcome. The mass of a weight stack, barbell, or dumbbell creates so much inertia that when you attempt to move the load quickly it creates damaging joint stress.
In life and athletics, our bodies move in all directions. The Surge 180 handle moves forward–backward, right–left, diagonally, and into rotational movement patterns. The handle excursion is big enough to accommodate patients of all heights.
It Demands You Stand
Rehabilitation is all about getting better at functioning in standing positions. Patients need to learn how to efficiently transfer forces from the ground up through their body. On the Surge 180 platform, the patient can be positioned in-line, split, straddle, or single leg stance. Connecting the shoulder to the opposite side hip, through an active core is the essence of rehabilitation training.
The coordinated performance of the team of muscles that control the hips, pelvis, and spine is more important than simple strength. Standing, walking, climbing stairs, and carrying all require the synchronous transfer of forces from right to left and back again. The resistance provided by the Surge 180 creates the neural feedback to fire those reciprocal motor patterns.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
Soft tissue mobilization with foam rolls has become popular in physical therapy, sports training, and fitness. Foam rolling helps decrease pain, improves mobility, and can enhance recovery from exercise. For an old gym rat like myself, it helps me bounce back from a tough training session, a long golf weekend, or too much computer time. More varieties of rollers have come on the market, and whenever we are faced with a lot of choices, it becomes more difficult to make a decision. In this short presentation, I have some suggestions on the proper roller for the job.
Rollers are available in three foot and one foot lengths. I find the longer versions easier to use, but I own a short pipe style roller that I take with me when I travel. Bigger guys generally do not do well with a short roller.
The best roller for you will depend on your tissue tolerance and how sensitive are you to the compressive forces of the roller. If you are new to foam rolling, a low density white Styrofoam roller is softer and will create less discomfort. As you develop better tolerance to rolling, you can progress to a firmer black foam roll. It has been my experience that the white rolls break down faster than the firmer black rolls, so be prepared to replace a white roll fairly often.
Hollow pipe style rollers are newer to the market and I have had good results with two products. The Grid Trigger Point roller is a cushioned hollow pipe with a grid pattern across the surface or the roller. Many smaller clients and patients report they like the short version of the Grid roller. Another hollow pipe version is the Rumble Roller. This product has a series of projections that extend from the roller surface. Self-soft tissue mobilization with a Rumble Roller is more uncomfortable than any other roller I have used. It is a more aggressive treatment but I have found it works well for individuals with thicker and denser muscles.
Not So Good
The hollow rollers that are covered with Styrofoam tend to break down fairly quickly. The rollers with fabric covers often create slippage problems with several types of clothing. The fabric interactions tend to make rolling less than efficient and are more difficult to control. The fabric covers tend to lose their fit after a few washings. The air inflated style rollers are a balance training device and are ineffective as a soft tissue mobilization tool.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
GET IN YOUR CAGE
Stretch Station Mobility Restoration
Invented by Gary Gray, a physical therapist from Adrian Michigan, the Stretch Station has been a primary piece of equipment at all of our facilities. It enables the physical therapy patient or fitness client the ability to perform three dimensional mobilization of the major peripheral joints and spine. I have not found another piece of exercise equipment that is as beneficial for improving movement as the Stretch Station.
It Has To Happen In Standing
The Stretch Station allows you to mobilize joints and move in the anti-gravity, standing upright position that it functions in every day. Gravity eliminated, floor stretching programs often fail to produce better movement when gravity comes back into play. Any new movement you develop with mobility training is only beneficial if it can occur in a standing position.
A Little Lift Goes a Long Way
Traction force (pulling apart) of a joint is a key component of all manual medicine. It helps relieve pain and makes greater joint mobility easier to achieve. The overhead bars of the Stretch Station enable you to lift up and partially decompress the spine, hips, knees, and even ankles during mobility training. This low level traction force assists in the development of better mobility. Deconditioned and overweight patients can perform hip and knee mobility training and remain pain free with the assist of the Stretch Station.
One Good Turn…
Most floor mobility training does little to develop better rotation at the joints that are supposed to produce
rotation–thoracic spine, hips, and ankles. The Stretch Station has an angled floor and multiple handle sites that enable users of all sizes to work on improving rotation. Thoracic spine and hip mobility work is particularly beneficial for athletes that must swing a club or throw a ball.
Identification of Asymmetries
Using the Stretch Station, patients and fitness clients can immediately identify when one side of the spine, one hip, or one shoulder is more restricted than the other. Training away asymmetries at a single joint or movement pattern is important for injury prevention and optimal performance.
A Bridge to Better Performance
I have fitness clients perform thirty seconds of mobility training on the Stretch Station followed by a complimentary strengthening exercise. The idea is to neurologically reinforce the new motion achieved with the Stretch Station using an appropriate strengthening activity. This pairing of the Stretch Station work with a strengthening drill has been very effective in restoring movement and decreasing pain.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
MY STANDING DESK EXPERIENCE
Six months ago, I started using a standing desk for almost all the work I do at home. After years of reading about all of the bad things that happen to the human body with prolonged sitting, I decided to give the standing desk a try. The results have been surprisingly good and I wish I started using the desk years ago.
My Lower Back and Neck Feel Better
I was having lower back stiffness when I sat at the desk in the morning and any prolonged (>30 minutes) of computer work was bothering my neck. None of these problems are present with the standing desk. I can work for hours at the standing desk and remain pain free.
My Focus Is Better
Working at the desk has improved my productivity. I focus much better on my work and feel better at the end of my computer time. I find that I fatigue and get distracted more easily when I work in a sitting position. Standing keeps me more awake and aware. I also find that my limited word processing skills are better when I am standing.
At the end of a long day on the job, the standing desk can create some foot fatigue. It is not pain, just some soreness that goes away quickly with some tennis ball rolling on the bottom of each foot. I have noticed these symptoms are worse on the days I have performed some high intensity conditioning activities such as jump rope or sprints.
Prolonged Sitting Is Physically Destructive
More and more we are de-evolving into a nation of sitters. Between television, driving, and computer work, it is not uncommon for many of my physical therapy patients and fitness clients to sit for ten hours a day. Unfortunately, you cannot train away the bad effects of prolonged sitting with a 45 minute session of exercise. Check out juststand.org for information on the deleterious effects of prolonged sitting and what you can do to fight back.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
YOU, A BOSU, and WHEW!
A New Twist On An Old and Much Hated Exercise
I had a basketball coach who was a Burpee fanatic. You lost–Burpees, turn the ball over—Burpees, late for practice—Burpee Eternity. I hated doing Burpees, but I was never, ever tired in a practice or a game. I believe Burpee conditioning drills gave me the physical stamina and mental toughness to stay strong an entire game.
Fitness engineering has developed a new training tool and now we have the Bosu Burpee. A Bosu is an inflated half dome with a hard, flat bottom. It has handles on either side that you use when performing the Bosu Burpee.
The Bosu Burpee gets you moving from the ground up, at a quick pace with a strong core stabilization demand. Too many gym activities are seated, slow, and neurologically numbing. Neurologically and metabolically, we need to practice moving the entire body at faster speeds to stay fit. The Bosu Burpee is a total body conditioner that brings us up to speed.
Start with your hands on an inverted Bosu—bottom side up, in a push up position. Perform a push up with your chest touching the Bosu. Jump both feet up under the hips. Try to get your feet planted flat on the floor. Rise up from the floor and lift the Bosu overhead. Return the Bosu to the floor and repeat the movement from push up to overhead lift. Learn to do this movement slowly, and then once you have the motion “neurologically grooved”, pick up the pace. Bosu Burpees are a conditioning drill that should be performed at a fast pace. They work best if performed for set periods of time. Try starting with twenty second intervals and build up to 60 seconds.
Bosu Burpee Modifications
If you cannot do a push up or your arms give out way before the rest of the body, try performing the push up from the knees or keep the elbows fully extended and eliminate the push up portion of the exercise. As you practice this exercise, your arm strength will improve. If your middle sags and/or the Bosu wobbles, you need to dedicate more time to core stability training. Add some physioball roll outs, TRX fall outs, and front hovers to your exercise program.
Scoring the Bosu Burpee
Set a timer for sixty seconds and count how many Bosu Burpees you can perform. Remember you must start from the bottom and only full repetitions are counted. The best I have ever done is 18 repetitions. My middle gives out before my arms or legs—I need more core training. I believe this scoring system is a fair representation of Bosu Burpee performance.
Levels Men Women
Beginner 10 4
Intermediate 16 9
Advanced 22 14
Michael O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
CORE-TEX TRAINING PLATFORM
The New Tool In Our Training And Rehabilitation Toolbox
The latest addition to our rehabilitation and training toolbox is the Core-Tex. This thirty inch round platform floats on three roller bearings that permit it to tilt, translate, and rotate. The tri planar motion of the Core-Tex creates an ideal environment for us to work on retraining our patients’ balance, coordination, and proprioception. It can also be used to create challenging core and shoulder girdle stability activities.
One Stop Shopping For Better Proprioception, Balance, and Coordination
You can improve all three of these critical components of function with one or two Core-Tex activities. Beginners can use the handrail to create a more supportive environment, and as they improve, progress to reducing the assist from the arms. Integrating head movement, arm reaches, and weight shifts into the drills enables the clinician to design activities specific to the patient’s needs.
Keeping The Loads Level
The Core-Tex reveals any deficits in weight distribution. If the patient is unconsciously avoiding loading one side the body, the movement of the Core-Tex platform quickly reveals the flaw. The therapist can then prescribe training to increase tolerance of loading on the affected side and return for re-evaluation on the Core-Tex.
Tuning Up Your Righting Reflexes
Many of the sensors that keep our body in an upright position are located above the neck. I don’t care how strong or flexible you are, if these neural feedback systems do not work properly, you will not move well. Evaluating and improving the function of righting reflexes centers in the inner ear and the neck is a frequently neglected area of rehabilitation and fitness. Incorporating activities that involve moving the head and neck while standing on the unstable Core-Tex platform has proven to be very beneficial in patients with slow reflex response times.
Rotation In The Right Places
Being able to rotate through the thoracic spine and hips is an important aspect of optimal function and pain free existence. Many physical therapy patients have neck and shoulder pain driven by a lack of thoracic spine range of motion in rotation. Deficits in hip rotation produce undue wear and tear and eventually pain in the knees and lower back. The Core-Tex turns 360 degrees and allows us to teach transverse plane motions at the hips and thoracic spine in a fully functional upright, weight bearing position.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS