In the April 2018 issue, Mike O’Hara discusses the benefits of the farmer’s walk exercise. Jeff Tirrell tells you how to reduce injury to your ligaments and tendons, and tips are given for getting back out into the garden.
Preventing Gardener’s Trauma
After a long, snowy Michigan winter, the first warm and sunny day, we charge outside and clean up the yard. The months snow bound in the house have made the gardeners eager to start the spring clean up and prepare for the summer to come. Most of us will spend the winter in a fairly sedentary physical state and with no physical preparation to launch into hours of challenging outdoor work activity. Every year at our clinics, we treat patients with gardening and yard work induced injuries that could have been prevented with some modifications of activity and preventative exercise. These are my four hints to help safeguard my gardener friends from an unintended trip to the doctor’s office.
#1: Set a Time Limit.
Most of the patients we see with gardener trauma report that they worked “all afternoon” in the yard. It is not uncommon to hear patients report they were bending, pushing, or pulling for five or six hours. Use some caution and limit the duration of your weeding, raking, and shoveling. Set a time limit of two hours and then stop–the garden will be their tomorrow and you will be less likely to have to undergo a springtime MRI.
#2: Use Proper Ergonomics.
Many gardening tasks place your body in challenging positions. Ergonomic experts go to great lengths to eliminate forward trunk flexion and sustained knee flexion from industrial work settings. Pulling weeds and cleaning out flowerbeds combines both of these positions and can create mechanical back and knee pain. Avoid being in the “hands and knees” position for extended periods of time by changing positions frequently. Use knee pads to reduce compressive forces on the knee joints and purchase gardening tools with extended handles so that you need not bend as far or as often.
#3: Avoid Lifting Heavy Objects.
After a sedentary winter spent indoors watching television and knitting, the last thing you should attempt is to hoist the 40 lb. bag of fertilizer into the back of the wheelbarrow. Lifting injuries increase dramatically with loads greater than 25 pounds. Lifting any object from the floor to standing is risky, and carrying unstable loads that can shift around increases stress on the body. Divide heavy loads into smaller portions and avoid lifting directly off the floor. Get a bigger, stronger, and fitter neighbor or family member to help with heavy lifting tasks.
#4: Prepare For Battle.
Gardening and yard work are challenging tasks that should be met with a degree of preparation. If you want to work for five hours in the garden and remain pain free, you must train your body for that level of activity. I have selected three simple exercises you can do to get yourself ready for action in the yard. Simple modification of ergonomics, limitations on work duration, and preparatory exercise can prevent a summer of pain.
Getting Ready To Toil In The Soil.
These three exercises can help you avoid injury and make your spring gardening safer and more productive. Ideally you will perform these drills three times a week for two or three weeks before getting outside and working.
Hip Flexor Stretches
This stretch elongates the large muscle that runs across the front of the hip and attaches to the spine. This region tends to tighten with prolonged sitting and can restrict hip and spinal motion. Place one knee up on a cushioned chair and the other foot slightly forward on the floor. Keep the spine tall and bend the front knee to stretch the hip flexor muscles. Hold for five to ten seconds and repeat five times. Perform the stretch on the other side.
Four Point Fold Ups
If you are going to spend time on all fours, it is a good idea to train your body for this task. Assume a four-point position, knees under the hips and hands under the shoulders. Keep the hands stationary and drop the hips back toward the heels. Go back to the point you feel a stretch and hold–do not stretch into pain. You may feel this in your hips, shoulders, lower back, or upper back. Hold for five to ten seconds and repeat five times.
Gardening and yard work involves a lot of squatting. Being able to safely squat allows you to lift with better body mechanics. Simple bodyweight squats will strengthen the legs and trunk in preparation for these tasks. Place your feet at least shoulder width apart. Check the foot width with a full length mirror– most people squat with the feet too close together. Keep the heels flat on the floor and squat down by pushing the hips back. Work on maintaining balance and control during the motion. Practicing this movement pattern will also improve your flexibility. Perform a series of ten repetitions and then rest and perform another set of ten.
Michael O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
In the February issue of our newsletter, Mike O’Hara discusses ways to improve hip mobility and strength. Read Jeff Tirrell’s article on why dairy products may actually be good for you. Having back pain doesn’t mean you can’t have a fitness program.
In the January 2018 issue, Mike O’Hara focuses on strengthening your hamstrings. Exercises to make your hamstrings stronger, not longer are given along with video demonstration. Jeff Tirrell tells us how to make incremental changes in our diets to see positive changes, and the spotlight is on Fenton Fitness member, Robin Forstat–a nationally ranked power lifter.
Do We Really Need Them?
I had my first introduction to Weightlifting (often referred to as Olympic lifting) in my high school football days using the Bigger Faster Stronger program. Power Cleans were a staple of this program and the Power Snatch was also introduced to us during a clinic our football coach put together. Over the last several years, weightlifting movements have made a comeback into many gyms. These movements include the Snatch (bringing the bar from the floor to overhead in one fluid movement), the Clean & Jerk (bringing the bar from the floor to overhead in two distinct movements), and their derivatives. Though there are several reasons to include these movements in programs, there are far more reasons, in my professional opinion, not to.
The primary reason one would or should be using Olympic lifting movements is to improve/maximize power output, or Rate of Force Development (RFD). RFD is a primary determinant of success in many sports. This is what allows you to accelerate quickly, jump higher/farther, and change direction quickly. There are volumes of research on the Clean & Jerk, Snatch, and their variations which demonstrate that these movements work very well at improving power and RFD; however, these lifts are not the only means of accomplishing this. Moreover, there are multiple reasons not to incorporate them:
Weightlifting movements are incredibly technical and take massive amounts of time to learn and perform correctly. Most successful weightlifters at the international level have spent decades learning and perfecting their craft. It is not uncommon to see weightlifters performing upwards of 10-12 training sessions per week. The only other sport I can think of that takes this level of technical prowess is gymnastics. While this is admirable for those choosing to compete in these sports, the level of time commitment is not practical for the average fitness enthusiast.
Due to the speed and dynamic nature of the Olympic lifts, there is a much higher probability of something going wrong. Additionally, the vast majority of the fitness population lacks the requisite mobility and stability to safely get into the required positions to perform these exercises. In some fitness circles, you will see these movements programmed in for very high repetitions. When this happens, you are ramping up fatigue which makes proper technique/form nearly impossible and minimizes power/RFD adaptation which is the whole point of these exercises. These lifts should be programmed at 1-5 rep sets with 2-5 minute rest intervals between.
For most people, time is a constant barrier to improved fitness. For competitive athletes, they must balance the demands of sport practice, strength training, conditioning, skill practice, and recovery. For this reason, the primary goal of a quality program should be to maximize efficiency of training. Due to the mobility demands and speed of the movements, the warm ups required can take 15-20 minutes. Combine that with the longer rest periods required and you barely have time to get in enough quality work to see optimal adaptations. It is not uncommon for a weightlifter to take 90-120 minutes to complete a workout.
You may be asking yourself how to maximize power if you can’t perform the Olympic lifts. Many people feel these movements are imperative for optimal fitness and performance. In February of 2017, I traveled to Ohio State University where I heard the head Strength and Conditioning coaches for the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and Arizona Cardinals speak. None of them use Olympic lifts with their athletes. If arguably the top athletes in the world don’t need these movements, then I think the rest of the population can get away without using them as well.
Over the next several weeks, I will introduce fourteen exercises that you can use instead to maximize speed, power, and RFD with less risk of injury, less technical skill required, and more efficiency. Stay tuned for exercise descriptions and video demonstration.
-Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1
Nothing slows down your progress toward greater fitness and better performance than an injury. Bad combinations of exercises during a training session can set you up for a big crash. Poor exercise programming produces the joint overload or connective tissue stress that produces pain. Lumbar flexion activities combined with an exercise that compresses the lumbar spine is one of the more common killer combinations.
Here are some examples of lumbar flexion activities combined with exercise that increase lumbar intervertebral pressure. I am seeing these killer combos more frequently during my visits to the gym.
-Ten GHD sit ups followed by fifteen American Swings.
-Twenty medicine ball rotational crunches followed by a sixty yard farmers carry.
-Rowing machine for 500 meters followed by barbell on back walking lunges.
-Five toes to bar and then five barbell cleans.
-Five minutes of super slumped power texting followed by three heavy deadlifts.
This month’s issue has information on the lumbopelvic hip complex including written/video exercises. Mike O’Hara also gives information on unstable pressing exercises to improve posture and improve motor control and symmetry. Also read about the Becoming Unstoppable clinic for athletes 13 years and older that will be help April 30th at Fenton Fitness.