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Real Core Training Part Two

Anti-Lateral Flexion

Like everything in the fitness world, core training has evolved.  When I bought my first bodybuilding magazine in the late 90s, the word “core” wasn’t even used.  Instead, you would find ab workouts, oblique workouts, and sometime, low back workouts.  Like pretty much everything in the 90s, muscles were trained in isolation with little concern for how the musculoskeletal system was designed to function as a unit.  We have come a long way in our understanding of physiology, biomechanics, and injury prevention/reduction.

The core used to be trained and often still is through movement: flexion (anterior), lateral flexion, extension, and rotation.  Sit ups, crunches, side bends, and Russian twists aim to strengthen the muscles concentrically and eccentrically.  These build mass and thickness to the core musculature.  The second way we train the core is to recognize it as a stabilizer of the low back and hips.  This involves training this musculature to resist movement.  When it comes to increasing strength, power, speed, and reducing injury, this training is more important than dynamically training the core.  This style of training is referred to as “anti-core training” because we are resisting flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation.  The other benefit of anti-core training is that it involves isometric contractions which are much less likely to create muscle hypertrophy, which individuals typically don’t want in their waist.  I typically recommend that 70-90% of your core training consist of anti-core work depending on your health/injury history and goals.

The key to good core training is understanding what you are trying to accomplish, as well as how to progress or regress the movement.  Here are the some of our favorites that we use at Fenton Fitness for each of the four anti-core categories.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Anti-Lateral Flexion

Bent Knee Side Plank

Lay on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder and line your knees up below your hips.  Lift your hips off the ground and hold.  Work up to 45 seconds.

Side Plank

Lay on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder and straighten your legs out.  Stack your legs on top of each other and lift your hips off the ground.  Hold for up to 60 seconds.

Side Plank with Top Leg Elevated

Position yourself in the same set up as the side plank.  Once your hips are lifted off the ground, you will move your top leg away from the bottom leg.  Make sure that you don’t flex either hip when raising the top leg.  Work up to 30 seconds.

Side Plank with Top Leg on Bench

Lay on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder.  Place your top leg on top of a bench.  Lift your hips off the ground.  The bottom leg can squeeze the bottom of the bench or dangle in the air.

Suitcase Hold

Grab a KB/DB in one hand, stand tall, and maintain a neutral lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine position. Make sure your shoulder blades stay down and back.  If possible, watch yourself in the mirror to ensure you aren’t leaning.  Hold for up to 60 seconds.

Suitcase Carry

Assume the same set up as the suitcase hold.  Start walking with a normal gait.  Make sure to not lean excessively.  Start with 20 yards per side and work up to 100 yards.

For video demonstration of these exercises, click here

Real Core Training Part One

Anti-Flexion

Like everything in the fitness world, core training has evolved.  When I bought my first bodybuilding magazine in the late 90s, the word “core” wasn’t even used.  Instead, you would find ab workouts, oblique workouts, and sometime, low back workouts.  Like pretty much everything in the 90s, muscles were trained in isolation with little concern for how the musculoskeletal system was designed to function as a unit.  We have come a long way in our understanding of physiology, biomechanics, and injury prevention/reduction.

The core used to be trained and often still is through movement: flexion (anterior), lateral flexion, extension, and rotation.  Sit ups, crunches, side bends, and Russian twists aim to strengthen the muscles concentrically and eccentrically.  These build mass and thickness to the core musculature.  The second way we train the core is to recognize it as a stabilizer of the low back and hips.  This involves training this musculature to resist movement.  When it comes to increasing strength, power, speed, and reducing injury, this training is more important than dynamically training the core.  This style of training is referred to as “anti-core training” because we are resisting flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation.  The other benefit of anti-core training is that it involves isometric contractions which are much less likely to create muscle hypertrophy, which individuals typically don’t want in their waist.  I typically recommend that 70-90% of your core training consist of anti-core work depending on your health/injury history and goals.

The key to good core training is understanding what you are trying to accomplish, as well as how to progress or regress the movement.  Here are the some of our favorites that we use at Fenton Fitness for each of the four anti-core categories.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Anti-Flexion

Kettlebell/Dumbbell (KB/DB) Throat Holds

Grab a KB/DB and hold it in the goblet position directly under your chin.  Stand tall and maintain a neutral lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine position.  Don’t allow the weight to rest on your chest.  Hold this position for up to 60 seconds.

KB/DB Throat Carry

Once you’ve mastered Throat Holds, you are ready to walk.  Position yourself in the same set up, but now you are going to walk while maintaining the same upper body posture and a normal gait.  Start with 20 yards and work your way up to 100.

Hyperextension Bench ISO Lumbar Extensions

Set yourself up on the hyperextension bench with the thigh pad below your hips and above your knees.  Assume a neutral lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine position. Hold this position for up to 45 seconds before adding weight.

Glute Ham Bench ISO Lumbar Extensions

Position yourself in the same setup as with the hyperextension bench but use the glute ham developer bench. Work up to 30 second holds before adding weight.

For video demonstration of these exercises, click here

Three Steps To Reaching Your Goals

Roughly 20% of the U.S. population has a gym membership.  Based on my 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, I would estimate that of that 20%, only one half to three quarters actually regularly and consistently use that membership. I find that the majority of people who struggle with consistency do so because they either lack focus and goals or because they fail to reach those goals.  At Fenton Fitness & Athletic Center, we have found there to be three key components to reaching any goal in the fitness and nutrition realm.

Setting the Goal

First and foremost, we must name our goal.  I suggest writing this goal down and possibly sharing this goal with somebody you trust and who supports you.  When choosing your goal, you want it to be specific, something that can be measured, something realistic/attainable, and you want to give yourself a time frame to accomplish the goal.  Think about why you want to reach that goal.  It can be helpful to place the written goal somewhere visible that you will see on a regular basis.  If we can’t make a given goal happen, we can alter our actions to bring us closer to that goal.

Behaviors/Skills

Once our goal is set, we want to write out the behaviors and skills needed to reach that goal.  For example, if your goal is to drop 20lbs, two key behaviors would be eating less calories and being more active.  In the case of somebody who wants to be able to Bench Press their body weight, their skills might be bench pressing progressively heavier weights 2-3 times each week and eating sufficient protein.

Habits/Practices

After setting our behaviors that are needed to achieve our goal, we must then set up our daily habits or practices that will lead to successful execution of our behaviors, which in turn will lead to achieving our goals.  Our habits for our sample goals might look like this:

            20 pounds weight loss (less calories, more activity)

            -Pack gym bag before going to bed and put in car, including a protein shake in bag

-Go to bed 7-8 hours before alarm is going to go off

-Wake up 15 minutes earlier to eat breakfast at home instead of fast food

-Workout at lunch hour instead of going out to eat with coworkers, drink shake instead of eating lunch.

            Bench Press Body weight (2-3 progressively heavier bench press workouts and more protein)

            -Go to bed 7-8 hours before alarm is going to go off

-Set alarm 1 hour early Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for early morning workout

-Prepare/plan breakfast the before going to bed and pack lunch for next day targeting 0.15-0.25g of protein/pound of body weight.

-Buy quality protein shake, protein bars, and/or Jerky to help supplement protein needs at snacks.  Keep them at home, in the car, and at work.

 

From start to finish it can be helpful to set up a chart that looks something like this.

It should be noted that it is best to only introduce one major goal at a time into your life.  I recommend picking just one goal and working on that for 3-12 months before adding or changing goals.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

 

Non Traditional Tweaks to Old Time Favorites–Bonus

In the fitness world, there are several exercises which have stood the test of time.  These movements have remained because they work, require little equipment, and give you a lot of bang for your buck. The movement patterns these exercises use are very important and you should continue to train using them throughout the duration of your life for optimal function. However, as we age, our joints lose space between them.  This makes spinal compression and shear forces more problematic in many individuals.  This decreased space in the joint also makes impingements in the hip and shoulder more likely, as well as discomfort in the knee and elbow.  When this begins to happen, many individuals just shy away from the movements all together leading to loss of strength, stability, and mobility throughout the body.  One solution we have found to this problem here at Fenton Fitness is reducing overall system load by altering range of motion, balance/stability, or load placement.  In some cases, these lower load alternatives completely replace the standards and in others, they are rotated in based on client history, goals, and adaptation.  For the next few weeks, I will be giving some alternatives to some traditional exercises.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Bonus:

The last four exercises I want cover are not traditional resistance training exercises, but they can have a dramatic impact on your movement, decrease discomfort, and just help make you a more awesome and higher functioning individual.

Lateral Squat– Most standard exercises are done bilaterally (2 hands or feet moving together) and in the sagittal plane of movement.  We want to make sure to also incorporate the frontal and transverse planes when training.  The Lateral Squat gets us into the frontal plane and strengthens the often neglected adductor muscles (groin/inner thigh muscles), as well as hitting the glutes in a direction they normally don’t get worked.

Crawling– Crawling is fundamental to human development.  We learn to do it before we walk or run.  We also start to lose this ability as we age.  By continuing to crawl, we can keep important neurological pathways working, as well as strengthen our core, upper body, and legs in a relatively low stress way.

Get Ups– The best-known form of this exercise is the Turkish Get Up.  However, it doesn’t need to be that complicated or technical.  Simply lying on the floor and getting up a variety of different ways can go a long way in maintaining core strength, and whole-body mobility.

Farmers or Suitcase Carry– The Farmers and Suitcase Carry are great tools for building a stronger gait, improving grip strength, core strength, and stability.  The Suitcase Carry, because of its asymmetrical loading, adds a great anti-lateral flexion component that really challenges the obliques to lock down and hold the ribs in place.

View video of these exercises: View Video

Non Traditional Tweaks to Old Time Favorites–Part 6

In the fitness world, there are several exercises which have stood the test of time.  These movements have remained because they work, require little equipment, and give you a lot of bang for your buck. The movement patterns these exercises use are very important and you should continue to train using them throughout the duration of your life for optimal function. However, as we age, our joints lose space between them.  This makes spinal compression and shear forces more problematic in many individuals.  This decreased space in the joint also makes impingements in the hip and shoulder more likely, as well as discomfort in the knee and elbow.  When this begins to happen, many individuals just shy away from the movements all together leading to loss of strength, stability, and mobility throughout the body.  One solution we have found to this problem here at Fenton Fitness is reducing overall system load by altering range of motion, balance/stability, or load placement.  In some cases, these lower load alternatives completely replace the standards and in others, they are rotated in based on client history, goals, and adaptation.  For the next few weeks, I will be giving some alternatives to some traditional exercises.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Hinge:

Traditional- Barbell Deadlift

Alternatives- One Leg Deadlift or Kettlebell Swing

Both the One Leg Deadlift and KB Swing reduce the load being used.  Both have less shear forces going through the low back.  The One Leg Deadlift introduces a great balance component, as well as anti-rotational component to the hips.  The KB Swing introduces high velocity and power production which can’t be matched by a Barbell.

View video of these exercises: View Video

Non Traditional Tweaks to Old Time Favorites–Part 5

In the fitness world, there are several exercises which have stood the test of time.  These movements have remained because they work, require little equipment, and give you a lot of bang for your buck. The movement patterns these exercises use are very important and you should continue to train using them throughout the duration of your life for optimal function. However, as we age, our joints lose space between them.  This makes spinal compression and shear forces more problematic in many individuals.  This decreased space in the joint also makes impingements in the hip and shoulder more likely, as well as discomfort in the knee and elbow.  When this begins to happen, many individuals just shy away from the movements all together leading to loss of strength, stability, and mobility throughout the body.  One solution we have found to this problem here at Fenton Fitness is reducing overall system load by altering range of motion, balance/stability, or load placement.  In some cases, these lower load alternatives completely replace the standards and in others, they are rotated in based on client history, goals, and adaptation.  For the next few weeks, I will be giving some alternatives to some traditional exercises.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Horizontal Pull:

Traditional–Bent over Barbell Row

Alternatives–Suspension Trainer Row or Horse Stance DB Row

The Suspension Trainer Row requires only your body weight and places no external load on your lower back.  It also better activates the lats.  The Horse Stance DB Row introduces a component to the movement in a position known to reduce back pain and strengthen the core musculature.

View video of these exercises: View Video

Non Traditional Tweaks to Old Time Favorites–Part 4

In the fitness world, there are several exercises which have stood the test of time.  These movements have remained because they work, require little equipment, and give you a lot of bang for your buck. The movement patterns these exercises use are very important and you should continue to train using them throughout the duration of your life for optimal function. However, as we age, our joints lose space between them.  This makes spinal compression and shear forces more problematic in many individuals.  This decreased space in the joint also makes impingements in the hip and shoulder more likely, as well as discomfort in the knee and elbow.  When this begins to happen, many individuals just shy away from the movements all together leading to loss of strength, stability, and mobility throughout the body.  One solution we have found to this problem here at Fenton Fitness is reducing overall system load by altering range of motion, balance/stability, or load placement.  In some cases, these lower load alternatives completely replace the standards and in others, they are rotated in based on client history, goals, and adaptation.  For the next few weeks, I will be giving some alternatives to some traditional exercises.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Squats:

Traditional- Barbell Back Squat

Alternatives- ½ Racked KB Squat or Rear Foot Elevated Goblet Split Squat

Both the ½ Racked Squat and RFE Split Squat reduce load, easing the stress to the low back, hips, and knees.  The ½ Racked KB Squat introduces rotational & lateral flexion forces to the equation causing the core to work very hard to resist these forces.  The Rear Foot Elevated Goblet Split Squat leads to a more upright posture reducing shear and compressive forces on the lumbar spine.  This exercise also tends to better target the glutes and put the quad under a more stretch and larger range of motion.

View video of these exercises: View Video

Central Park Fitness Test

This is a picture of my 85 year old Mother and I on a recent family vacation to New York City.

My Mom has kept herself fit and active.  She has traveled with us on many vacations.  I have taken her to the top of mountains in Banf and across rock formations in Moab.  She is an elderly person who is enjoying a long and big life.  On this New York City vacation, we walked from the south end of Central Park, up into Harlem for a well-deserved lunch of beer and Italian cuisine.  She traversed six floors in the Empire State Building stairwell.  Every day required multiple trips up and down subway stairs.

I hope and pray I have inherited every single amino acid of the genes that code for this vitality.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Sarcopenia And The Media

Older individuals have the most to gain from strength training. Six weeks of dedicated strength training will normalize balance, rejuvenate posture, revive the metabolism, and eliminate long-standing pain.  I often tell physical therapy patients that strength training is the “fountain of youth”.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to convince older individuals that they need to become dedicated to a routine of consistent resistance training.  I recently got some help from Jane Brody in the New York Times, *Preventing Muscle Loss Among the Elderly.

Drs. Evans and Rosenburg are Tufts University researchers interested in the physical attributes that keep humans healthy and vigorous over an entire life span.  They have determined that the top four biomarkers are:

  1. Muscle Mass.  What percentage of your body is made of muscle?
  2. Strength.  Can you use that muscle to push, pull, lift and carry?
  3. Basal Metabolic Rate.  The number of calories your body expends at rest.
  4. Bodyfat Percentage.  What percentage of your body is composed of fat?

They named these top four biomarkers, the decisive tetrad.  They are the prerequisites to maintaining healthy numbers in all of the other essential biomarkers.

  1. Aerobic Capacity
  2. Blood Sugar Tolerance
  3. Cholesterol / HDL ratio
  4. Blood Pressure
  5. Bone Density
  6. Internal Body Temperature Regulation

Drs. Evans and Rosenburg coined the term age related sarcopenia in their 1991 book Biomarkers.  It refers to the gradual loss of muscle mass that occurs as we age.  The keys to aging well; staying durable- no injuries, and maintaining control of all health parameters is maintaining or improving muscle mass / strength and eating properly.  An ongoing program of strength training and nutritional discipline are the foremost components of fitness and health.

I was happy to see that Jane recommended her elderly compatriots consume more protein.  Not enormous amounts of protein- just some protein.  Many fitness clients fail to make optimal gains because they have the protein intake of a bunny rabbit.  Adequate training recovery requires the building blocks of muscle in order to produce results.  A bagel for breakfast, a kale sandwich at lunch, a yogurt snack and a diner of soup, bread and ice cream does not supply the nutrients necessary for recovery.

So, take the time to read the amazing Jane Brody and then get those dumbbells out of the basement.

*Brody, Jane. Preventing Muscle Loss Among the Elderly, September 1, 2018, New York Times.   View article

Michael O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Non Traditional Tweaks to Old Time Favorites–Part 3

In the fitness world, there are several exercises which have stood the test of time.  These movements have remained because they work, require little equipment, and give you a lot of bang for your buck. The movement patterns these exercises use are very important and you should continue to train using them throughout the duration of your life for optimal function. However, as we age, our joints lose space between them.  This makes spinal compression and shear forces more problematic in many individuals.  This decreased space in the joint also makes impingements in the hip and shoulder more likely, as well as discomfort in the knee and elbow.  When this begins to happen, many individuals just shy away from the movements all together leading to loss of strength, stability, and mobility throughout the body.  One solution we have found to this problem here at Fenton Fitness is reducing overall system load by altering range of motion, balance/stability, or load placement.  In some cases, these lower load alternatives completely replace the standards and in others, they are rotated in based on client history, goals, and adaptation.  For the next few weeks, I will be giving some alternatives to some traditional exercises.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Lat Pullovers:

Traditional- Flat Bench DB Pullover

Alternatives- Decline Bench KB Pullover OR Alternating DB Pullover on Table or Foam Roller

The Decline KB Pullover actually increases the range of motion of this exercise and causes the Lats and Pecs to work longer and harder.  This makes this a superior exercise and reduces load so it’s a win-win.  This version also causes your anterior core to work very hard as an anti-extension component.  The Alternating DB Pullover on Table of Foam Roller increases shoulder stability, and if using the Foam Roller, also increases stability demands of the whole body.  Both of these versions will reduce strain on the shoulder, and increase core activation.

View video of these exercises: View Video

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