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Spine Unwind

An Exercise That Prevents Lumbar Rotation

Your brain is a master of physical manipulation.  It has the capacity to move your body by any means necessary.  If your hips and thoracic spine are stiff, weak, and unable to rotate, it will demand rotation from your lumbar spine.  Frequent and excessive rotation at the lumbar spine is never good.  The five lumbar vertebrae are only able to handle 10-13 degrees of total rotation before bad things start happening.  In our treatment of patients with chronic lower back pain, our physical therapists work to restore thoracic spine / hip mobility and reduce rotational movement in the lumbar spine.  Lower back pain can be trained away with better control of excessive lumbar rotation.  One of our favorite anti-rotation core stability exercises is the Pallof Press.  This exercise deserves a greater presence in the programs of the general fitness population.

Why You Should Do It
Nearly everyone can perform a Pallof Press.  If you can stand up without assist, you can perform the Pallof Press.  Physical therapy patients start with light loads and usually progress quickly.
It is one of the few exercises that will strengthen the abdominal / back muscles that resist rotation of the lumbar spine and improve hip stability at the same time.
The Pallof Press develops the proprioceptive awareness you need for better posture.  It is a great exercise for those suffering from the epidemic of SNSS -soggy noodle spine syndrome.
It can also be used to teach better breathing patterns.

You need a cable machine or resistance tubing set at mid torso level.   Position your body at a 90 degree angle in relation to the pull of the cable.  Assume an athletic posture with the feet at least shoulder width apart and the spine neutral.  Push the hips back a little and keep a slight bend in the ankles and knees.  You should look like a tennis player preparing to return an opponent’s serve.  Use a strong overlap grip on the handle and set the hands in the middle of the chest.  Brace the midsection and hips and move the handle out in front of the body and then back to the chest.  Select a resistance level that permits execution of all repetitions without losing the set up posture.  If one side is more difficult, start the exercise on that side.  Perform fifteen repetitions on each side.

Many of us have terrible respiratory patterns.  We are unable to fully inhale and exhale when under any physical stress.  The Pallof Press can be used to improve respiratory control.  Use the same set up and press the cable out.  Hold the cable with the arm fully extended while inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six seconds.  Bring the arms back in and then repeat.  Perform four of five inhale / exhale respiration repetitions on each side.
You can make the exercise more difficult by adding more resistance, but I like to use a change in the base of support as the initial progression.   Assume a split stance and perform the Pallof Press with one leg forward and one leg back.  The half kneeling Pallof Press is an excellent injury prevention exercise.  During this exercise you want a firm anchor to the ground so avoid the Bosu, Physioball, and other circus versions of this exercise.

Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Rolling Over

Creating Strength With The Lifeline Power Wheel

True core stability involves holding your pelvis, spine, and rib cage in a solid, stationary position while you move the arms and the legs.  When you run, jump, lift, or carry, the muscles in the middle must efficiently transfer force from the lower extremities through your pelvis and spine to the arms.  Any weakness in the “core stabilizers” creates a power leak that reduces performance and makes you more susceptible to injury.  The Lifeline PowerWheel is one of my favorite core stability training tools for plugging those leaks.

Your core stabilizer muscles act to prevent or limit joint movement.  They function as anti-extensors, anti-flexors, and anti-rotator muscles.  Exercising with the Lifeline Power Wheel trains all aspects of core stability.

PowerWheel Roll Outs
Kneel on a mat to keep the pressure off your knees.  Your femur (thigh bone) is positioned straight up and down from the floor and the hips are hinged at 45 degrees.  Place the hands on the padded handles of the Power Wheel and the elbows directly under the chin.  Brace the abdominal muscles and roll out until you feel a challenge through your midsection.  Hold the challenging position for three counts and then return to the starting position.  Perform five to ten repetitions.

PowerWheel Resisted Roll Outs
Progress the roll out by adding a sandbag across your back or wearing a weight vest.  Challenge yourself even more by attaching resistance tubing to the PowerWheel.  The forward pull of the tubing will make it more difficult to pull back up to the starting position.

Wheelbarrow Walking
Velcro strap the Power Wheel onto your feet and assume the push up plank position.   Tighten up the gluteals and shoulder girdle muscles and walk down the turf.  Do not let your middle sag and try to keep a steady pace.  Twenty yards is a good goal for a beginner.

Alligator Push Ups
Set up just like the wheelbarrow walk, but instead of just traveling down the turf, perform a push up with every step you take with the arms.  Alligator Push Ups are tough–if you can travel twenty yards you have my compliments.

PowerWheel Jackknifes
Assume push up plank position with the wheel on your feet.  Draw the knees up toward your elbows and try to keep the hips from rising more than six inches.  Hold for one count and then return to the starting position.  Try to work up to ten solid repetitions.

Power Wheel Leg Curls
Lay on your back with the Power Wheel Velcro strapped to your feet.  Place the arms to the side and use the gluteals and hamstrings to bend the knees and extend the hips as you curl the wheel up toward your butt.  Return to the start position and repeat for five to ten repetitions.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Slam Ball Conditioning

Slam balls are compact, non-bounce,  medicine balls that weigh between 10 and 25 pounds.  They enable performance of high velocity throws into the ground without the worry of the ball bouncing back up into your face.  Slam ball training reinforces the triple flexion/triple extension movement patterns necessary for success on the playing field and daily activities.  The faster speeds created with slam ball drills makes them an excellent tool for training power production.  Conditioning drills with a slam ball will ramp up your metabolism and improve how you move.

Power Production
Most of the exercise activity you see in commercial gyms is of the slow and controlled variety.  It is deemed a safer and non-intimidating method of training.  Unfortunately, it is ineffective.  Most deconditioned individuals are already masters of slow and controlled movement.   What they need to learn is how to move at faster speeds if they wish to function better and remain injury free.   No one ever slowly twisted an ankle or slowly fell and fractured a hip.

Metabolism Boosting
Slam ball training produces a training stimulus similar to sprinting.  This creates and preserves more of the fast twitch muscle fibers that make us strong and lean.  Unlike traditional cardio, you never accommodate to slam ball training–a heavier ball or harder drill is always waiting for you.  Ramping up your metabolism with slam ball training is an excellent method of reaching body composition goals.

Triple Extension to Triple Flexion Transfer
The smooth and efficient transfer from a multi-joints flexed position to a multi-joints extended position is the essence of athletic training.  You need to be good at these patterns to jump, hop, skip, or get out of a chair.  The weight of the slam ball acts on your neural pathways and reinforces the link between the hips and shoulders as you deliver the ball to the ground.

Slams Are Scalable To Any Fitness Level
Pick the weight and slam ball drill that is appropriate for your level of fitness.  In the video link below, you can start with a basic overhead slam and work up to more aggressive jumps and sprawls.  Start out with performing three or four sets of five repetitions and, as you get better at the drills, progress to timed intervals.

At FFAC, we integrate slam ball throws in our conditioning training sessions.   In our team training classes, we perform a steady pattern of slams for thirty seconds followed by a short rest and then move to a rope drill or a suspension trainer activity for another thirty seconds.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

We Are Climbing…

Jacob’s Ladder Takes You Up The Fitness Mountain

A pair of Jacob’s Ladder climbing machines have recently arrived at Fenton Fitness.  The Jacob’s Ladder is a 40 degree inclined total body conditioning activity.  The ladder is self-propelled and your position on the ladder sets the pace of the climb.   Training on the Jacob’s Ladder unloads the spine, challenges your core, improves coordination, and activates the beneficial crawling pattern.

All Crawl
At one time, we could all crawl, and we did it very well.  The crawling performed by an infant develops the strength and coordination necessary to stand upright and walk.  Many people are unable to even get into the crawl position.  Crawl activities help restore joint stability, coordination, and balance.  All of us have established neural pathways for crawling.  They are just cluttered up and inhibited by prior injuries, poor posture, bad training habits, and a sedentary lifestyle.  Performing some Jacob’s Ladder climbs will help bring those pathways back to life.

Shoulder-Spine-Pelvis Connection
The core consists of everything that links the shoulder, spine, and pelvis together.  The muscles are arranged in an interconnected, spiral, and diagonal fashion.  They are wired to connect your left hip with the right shoulder and the right hip with the left shoulder.
The Jacob’s Ladder creates the anti-rotation and anti-extension forces that these muscles are expected to control.

Unloading the Spine
Sitting increases the load on your lumbar disc by 80-120%.  Running creates an impact of 2 to 4 times your body weight with every stride.  Rowing loads the lower lumbar segments, and as your legs get stronger, the compressive loads on the spine increase.  Lower back pain is one of the biggest reasons patients visit the ER, attend physical therapy, and see the chiropractor.  The statistics tell us that lower back pain is the number one injury for the average gym member.  If you have reason to be concerned about your lower back, try using the Jacob’s Ladder as your primary conditioning tool.  The forward lean and all-fours position unloads the spine and improves strength in the lumbar stabilization muscles.

How To Use the Jacob’s Ladder
Wrap the belt around your waist with the emblem set over the side of your right hip.  Adjust the white section of the strap so that it matches your height.  Step onto the ladder and start climbing.  Initially, place the hands on the side rails and get use to climbing with just the legs.  Once you get comfortable with the stride pattern, progress to using the hands on the rails.  When you are ready to stop, simply ride the ladder to the bottom and the ladder will stop.

Proper Form
Work on improving your coordination and form during the initial Jacob’s Ladder sessions.  Keep your back flat, hips low, and the shoulder blades down your back.  Maintain a neutral neck position–do not look up.  Contact the rung with the front of your foot and not the mid arch region.  Reach up so that you grip the ladder rung while it is slightly above your head.  Next week, I will have some training suggestions for the Jacob’s Ladder.

Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS


Snapshot 1 (4-30-2014 10-51 AM)Choose A Climbing Challenge

Jacob’s Ladder Routines

The Jacob’s Ladder is the latest addition to the training toolbox at Fenton Fitness.  Last week, we went over the why and how of the Jacobs Ladder.  Today, I have some suggestions on training routines you can implement with the Ladder.  Give these a try and let me know how you do.

Just Getting Acquainted Intervals
Most of us will need to work on the coordination component of the Jacob’s Ladder.  It is a bit like learning how to ride a bike—once you master the movement it becomes easy.  Start with three intervals of 200 feet.  Jump on and when you reach 200 feet step off.  Rest, and when you feel ready, go another 200 feet.  Rest again, and repeat one more interval.  The rest between intervals will make it easier to develop the coordination skills needed to use the Jacob’s Ladder.

1000 Feet Challenge
After you are comfortable with using the Jacob’s Ladder, try this test.  I think it is an excellent measure of athletic strength/endurance.  This test is simple–see how long it takes you to climb 1000 feet.  Start the stopwatch and climb.  You can rest as needed.  Record the total time it took to climb 1000 feet, and every two or three weeks, check your fitness level with another 1000 feet challenge.

Ladder and Swings
The Jacob’s Ladder is a great device for cardio-strength training.  Pairing up a resistance exercise with the Ladder produces an intense metabolic jolt.  This is my favorite pairing to date.  Strap into the Jacob’s Ladder and start your stopwatch.  Climb 200 feet on the Ladder and then perform 20 kettlebell swings.  Repeat this pairing three times and record how long it takes you to get done.  On your first attempt at this routine, use a lighter kettlebell as it is a demanding session.

Ladder Ladders  
This routine will help you develop better endurance.  Climb 100 feet and rest 60 seconds.  Climb 200 feet and rest 60 seconds.  Climb 300 feet and rest 60 seconds.  Climb 400 feet and rest 60 seconds.  Climb 500 feet and rest 60 seconds.  If you feel strong enough, climb back down 400-300-200-100 feet.

Save My Baby Sprints
You are the fireman.  The building is on fire and the lady with the baby is at the window.  Hold onto the side rails and sprint up to that baby located 200 feet up.  Rest 30 seconds and then go get another baby.  Try saving four babies.

Tenzing Says Its Easy
Bring out your inner Sherpa with the Mount Everest Challenge.  See how long it takes you to climb 29,035 feet.  On the Jacob’s Ladder web site someone did it in six days!  That divides out to 4,839 feet a day.

Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

the_outskirts_of_a_family_of_three_highdefinition_picturePhysical Literacy Part 2

The Expert’s Advice On Improving Physical Literacy In Children

the_outskirts_of_a_family_of_three_highdefinition_pictureThese are the most frequently voiced suggestions I have taken from the Canadian Physical Literacy program and from many of the physical therapists, coaches, and physical education experts who work with youth programs.  Most of the advice is simple and straight forward.  I did not say it would be easy.  

Family Affair
Make family decisions that improve and develop physical literacy.  Children learn from the examples set by their parents.  Families that make physical activity part of their life develop children with greater physical literacy.  

Start Slow
When a child learns to read, he does not start with a novel.  Physical activity is no different.  Start slow and work at your child’s speed and not yours.  You will build more confidence and positive feelings with frequent successful activity sessions.  

Start Early
The research shows that as children develop, they have windows of neurodevelopmental capacity that open and then close.  Similar to how it is easier to learn a second language at an early age, learning how to move is easier during these formative phases.  The neural connectivity that is necessary for balance, coordination, and power is more plastic and amenable to training at early ages.  

Learn a New Skill Together
Find a golf instructor who will teach you and your child together.  Take tennis lessons together as a family.  Buy some skis and learn how to downhill ski as a family project.  Get involved in archery, mountain bike riding, hiking, paddle boarding, kayaking.  Find an activity that you enjoy and learn a new skill together.    

Play All Sports
The tendency today is to have children specialize in one sport from an early age.  Coaches sell training programs to parents that promise a college scholarship with 10,000 hours of proper practice.  You develop a more competent and injury free athlete with the time tested system of multiple sport participation.  Ask Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Russel Wilson, Tony Gonzalez, Tom Glavine, John Elway, Bob Hayes…

Praise Participation More Than Performance
Children need to hear positive and consistent praise when they participate in physical activity.  Give them a pat on the back for having the discipline to get up early for a cold day of soccer practice, a “high five” for going to karate class on a night they would rather stay home.  Reinforce the positive behaviors that lead to a lifetime of physical activity.  

Get Some Help  
Enroll your children in martial arts training, dance classes, gymnastics sessions, or sports performance programs.  If they express an interest in volleyball, basketball, or tennis, there are programs for every skill level. You just need to look.  Find something they like and get them to a trainer or coach who will instill in them a love for that particular physical activity.   

Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Exercise Of The Week–Kneeling, One Arm Landmine Press

Improve vertical pressing strength. Increase core and shoulder stability.

Strengthen the shoulders, triceps, abdominals, and obliques. Increase neurological control of shoulder girdle and core musculature.

Kneel down (one knee with one foot planted) at the end of the barbell (positioned in landmine). Pick up the end of the barbell with the hand on the same side as the knee that is down. Your hand should almost be touching your shoulder at the start.

Firmly grasp the end of the barbell, brace your core (by inhaling and expanding your abdomen) and extend your arm pressing the bar away. Repeat on the other side.

Starting with your hand/end of the barbell too far away from your shoulder. Not extending your arm all the way. Not bracing the core. Allowing flexion or extension of the hip joint.

Jeff Tirrell, B.S., CSCS

Physical Literacy Part One

“In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity.  Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together.  With these two means man can attain perfection.”


Ask any physical therapist that has been working for more than ten years and they will tell you that they are seeing more “old person” pain problems in younger and younger patients.  We see teenagers with backaches, neck pain, and sore knees.  Twenty year olds come to the clinic with chronic neck and upper back pain.  An interview and evaluation with these patients reveal a sedentary life and a body that is unable to move in an appropriate manner.

boy_girl_childrenAmerican children are not moving enough.  The number from the USA government’s CDC is that only 12% of grade school age children get the level of physical activity they need.  Obesity rates in American children are expanding at a rate that is going to swamp our medical system with diabetes and heart disease in the years to come.  The Canadian government has begun a drive to improve “physical literacy” in their younger population.   I think it is good approach to our staggering inactivity problem and should be adopted in the USA.                                           

Schools are not going to improve physical literacy in our children.  Government mandates are focused on improving literacy in a narrow band of activities.  In the present academic world, science and math skills are the most sought after talents followed by reading and much farther down the list, writing skills.  One out of every five school systems has no physical education requirements.  There is no MEAP test for physical literacy.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (January 31, 2014) reported on the big drop in youth team sports participation over the last five years. 

The present education systems’ mind over body focus is unfortunate as we know that children who move well and move often do much better in academic pursuits.  Dr. John J. Ratey wrote the book, Spark, The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Published in 2008, this book details the benefits of exercise on the academic performance of school children.  Over the last six years, even more research has validated the interconnected relationship between physical literacy and brain function.  All school administrators, school board members, and teachers should be required to read this book. 

Part two of this article has some suggestions from the experts on developing physical literacy in children.   

Michael S O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Exercise Of The Week–TRX Row

Activity Goal: Improve horizontal pulling strength, improve stability of the shoulders, improve posture.

Objective: Strengthen lats, rhomboids, traps, biceps, glutes, spinal erectors, and anterior tibialis muscles.  Better posture by strengthening the upper back and hip extension muscles.

Starting Position: Start by grabbing the handles of the suspension trainer.  Bend your arms and walk backward until there is no slack in the suspension trainer.  Extend your arms and lean backward.  Do not allow your hips to fall at the bottom.  Your toes should be in the air, balancing on your heels.

Procedure: Once your arms are extended, pull your hands back to your ribs, squeezing your shoulder in the process.  The closer your feet are to the anchor, the harder the movement will be.

Common Mistakes: Allowing the hips to sag at the bottom of the movement, pulling the hands up above the armpits, not retracting the shoulder blades.

Jeff Tirrell, B.S., CSCS


Spring Cleaning

Although it does not look like it or feel like it, spring is officially here as of the 20th of March. I, like many of you, am sick of the bitter cold and gloominess of this past winter. It might be a stretch, but I’d say a lot of us are even looking forward to spring-cleaning since this winter has been within inches and a few degrees of being the record worst. A ‘fresh start” is not simply cleaning though. It’s about creating an environment that makes you feel your best. We all aim to do this within our homes, cars, and workspace, but what about our diet? So, I encourage you to take a rest from the dusting and sweeping and really analyze the food in your household and decide if it’s time to ditch it or try something new.


Things to Ditch: Try Instead:
1. Dips and Spreads (Queso, French Onion, Nacho, etc.) 1. Guacamole, Salsa, Hummus
2. Fatty, Creamy Dressings and Condiments 2. Olive Oil and Vinegar, Vinaigrettes, Mustards
3. Sugary yogurts with fruit on the bottom 3. Plain, sugar-free variety and add fresh fruit
4. All pop (regular and diet) 4. Water, water, and more water—if you need more flavor, add some fruit into a big pitcher such as lemons, limes, or cucumbers.

***As always, have plenty of fruits and vegetables in stock as side options for meals and easy snacks.


Things to Ditch: Try Instead:
1. Kid’s cereals 2. Rolled oats (not the instant packet type), high fiber cereals such as Raisin Bran or Kashi.
2. Processed snacks and sweets 2. Nuts, microwave popcorn (without butter), no sugar added dried fruit
3. White, processed grains 3. Whole grain breads and pastas, quinoa, farro, buckwheat (all contain more fiber making you feel more full than white grains)

Remember, this is not intended to have you completely overhaul your kitchen. That is incredibly difficult to do, especially when you have a family and each member has differing tastes. It’s just another reminder that making a few of these simple switches can help you start this season off on the right foot.

Sarah Hall, B.S.