Less Is More
Understanding The Requirements Of Rest
The weight room at my high school was small and had only basic equipment. It consisted of two Olympic weight sets, some mismatched dumbbells, a squat rack, and a chin up bar. In the gym, we had a pegboard and a rope for climbing. No bench press, curl bar, or pulldown machine. It was the ultimate blessing in disguise. We did not have the temptation of exercise variety for variety’s sake. What we did have was solid instruction on basic lifts. We performed the same exercises repeatedly and became more proficient at squats, hang cleans, overhead presses, and pull ups. Four simple activities performed consistently with an effort to add weight to the bar on a regular basis. The results were magic.
The television fitness gurus have brought forth the latest craze of “muscle confusion”. You change your exercise activity often in an attempt to stimulate a greater adaptation response. The problem is that you never get the chance to practice the exercise long enough or with enough resistance to get stronger. Getting stronger is the performance parameter that preserves muscle mass, speeds up your metabolism, and makes you more durable–less likely to get hurt.
I never want any of my muscles, nerves, joints, or any other part of my body to be “confused” when training. I want the bodies of the athletes I train to perform better at every session. My suggestion is that you pick five or six exercises and set a goal of getting better at each of them over the next six months. The exercises you chose do not have to be a barbell or dumbbell exercise. Bodyweight exercises will work just as well and are a better choice for most fitness clients. Keep a record of your performance and work on improving the number of inverted rows, pull ups, or push ups you can perform. Single leg strength training is a good choice for nearly everyone and works wonders for athletes. Athletes should choose exercises that not only improve strength, but also mobility—front squats. Long term dedication to the mastery of an exercise will reward you with better body composition, enhanced mobility, less pain, and the strength you need to perform in athletics and daily activities.
This training approach requires mental toughness and a willingness to at times be bored. Toughen up and get after the challenge. Read this recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “We Need To Relax Like Roger Federer”. Better yet, go out and buy the book Starting Strength.
Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
Hamstring injuries are on the rise. In this month’s newsletter, Mike O’Hara, PT provides information on preventing hamstring injuries and includes videos of the recommended exercises. Learn what it is to be “farm boy strong” and what you can do to become a “functional farmer”.
The New York Times recently reprinted an article by Jane Brody entitled “Posture Affects Standing, and Not Just the Physical Kind.” In the article, Ms. Brody talks about how poor posture creates problems across multiple areas of physical function. The respiratory, digestive, emotional, and neurological systems are all impacted by postural restrictions. You are even more likely to be a victim of crime if you have a slumped over posture. So how do you develop better posture?
Get Up Out of the Chair
Ergonomic chairs, elevated monitors, slanting keyboards, and lumbar supports are fine, but nothing works as well as standing up and walking around every fifteen minutes. Office modifications, while well-intentioned and generally a good idea, cannot compete with endless hours of desk sitting. In order to fight against the postural stress that creates pain, we need to get up and move. Everyone wants an exact number, so I suggest that after fifteen minutes of sitting, you stand up and walk/stretch for three minutes. The best advice is to get a standing desk and completely eliminate working in a seated position.
Perform Posture Correction Exercises Every Day
If you want to abolish the neural and connective tissue restrictions created by postural flaws, you need to work on it every day of the week. Two or three visits to the gym will not be enough. You need lots of repetitions over a long period of time to reverse the changes created by hours slumped over the desk or strapped in a seatbelt. Specific exercises that wake up your nervous system, strengthen your postural muscles, and reverse tissue shortening are required. It should take you no more than 90 seconds to complete one or two of the exercises listed below. Set a timer, enlist the help of your coworkers, and work at these exercises every day. See the exercise suggestions and video presented at the end of this article.
“This Feels Weird”
For most Postural Stress Disorder (PSD) patients, standing upright and sitting tall will feel abnormal. Their body positioning neural feedback mechanisms have been damaged by years of improper loading. Feeling better with a more upright and stable posture will take between six weeks and six months to achieve. Very often, “other sensations” go away fairly quickly– Migraine and sinus headache episodes are less frequent. That torn rotator cuff no longer creates shoulder pain. The arthritis in your hip is less problematic. The plantar fasciitis pain in your foot resolves. The pain symptoms caused by poor posture are far more widespread than most people realize.
You May Have To Avoid Certain Activities
Your gym program and recreational activities can make your posture worse. When you exercise, avoid movements or activities that pull your head and spine further into a forward bent position. The rowing machine and the exercise bike are often poor choices. If you have postural problems, do not perform sit ups, crunches, or any other repeated or sustained spinal flexion. Avoid exercises that shorten the muscles in the front of the shoulders such as bench pressing and flys. Most PSD sufferers sit too much, so refrain from any fitness activity performed in a seated position. The most important thing a good fitness coach can do for clients is put them on the path to postural integrity.
How Long Will it Take to See Changes?
Most physical therapy patients report that the exercises get easier and they feel better after three weeks. Postural correction is a long-term project and clients continue to see results twelve months after starting on a consistent program of postural retraining.
So What Do I Do?
The forward head posture of the average computer operator creates all kinds of adaptive tissue changes in front and in back of the neck. Some daily chin tucks can mitigate the damage. Stand at attention, pull your shoulder blades back, and push your chest forward. For many of you, this is going to be challenging. Place you finger tips on your chin and gently push your head straight back. Visualize your head being pulled upward by an imaginary string attached to the crown of your head. Hold for two counts and then release. Perform ten repetitions.
Office workers perform so many tasks with the arms forward and head down that they develop restrictions in the muscles in the front part of the shoulders and chest. Use a doorway stretch to reverse this adaptive shortening. Stand up with the elbows placed at shoulder level against the doorjamb. Step one foot forward through a doorway. Hold a gentle stretch for ten seconds and then lower the arms and rest. Perform two or three ten second stretches.
Overhead Back Bend
The sustained forward bent sitting posture tightens the front of the shoulders, inhibits thoracic spine extension, and can mess up your respiration. You can reverse all of these with some overhead back bends. Stand with the feet shoulder width apart. Reach the arms over your head and bend backward. Allow your hips to come forward and lean back into your heels. Breathe in through your nose and let your stomach rise. Breathe out through your mouth and let the abdomen fall. Perform three or four deep abdominal breaths while holding the arms overhead.
Standing Tubing Rows
Prolonged sitting weakens the upper back and shoulder retractor muscles. Standing tubing rows strengthens these muscles. Purchase an all-purpose band ($25.00) from performbetter.com and set it up in a door at work. Grasp the handles and stand tall with the arms extended and tension on the bands. Contract the muscles between the shoulder blades and pull the handles toward your body in a rowing motion. Hold the elbows back for two counts and then return to the starting position. Keep your neck relaxed during the exercise. Perform eight to fifteen repetitions.
View video of these exercises: https://youtu.be/KktwMew5Wks
Read the NY Times article here: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/28/posture-affects-standing-and-not-just-the-physical-kind/
-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
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.
At one time, we all had a very stable and pain-free squat pattern. As infants, we could transfer up off the floor through a deep and complete squat. Deconditioning, prolonged sitting, and injuries all take their toll until we lose so much movement that many of us are unable to properly descend into a chair. Regaining a functional squat pattern will reduce the incidence of injury, enhance functional mobility, and maintain lifelong independence. One of the most effective squat restoration drills is the Overhead Stability Squat.
The Overhead Stability Squat is like riding a bike with training wheels. The resistance provided by the tubing held overhead gives the spinal stabilizers something to push against. As you move through the squat, the resistance feedback from the tubing allows you to stay in a more upright position. Practice the squat pattern and the neural connections laid out early in your life will reconnect and your function will improve.
Anchor the resistance tubing at chest level. Face the anchor point and hold the handles overhead. The palms face inward and the shoulder blades are pulled down the back-similar to the football official signaling a touchdown. Position the heels at least shoulder width apart with the feet slightly outwardly rotated. The toes should point out no more than thirty degrees. Push the hips back and lower into the squat. Keep the chest proud and the spine tall as you descend. Use a box (14-16 inches) as a gauge to measure the depth of your descent into the squat. Drive through the hips and rise back up to the starting position. A mirror that provides a side profile can be helpful for visual feedback on your performance. Perform two sets of ten repetitions.
Progress this exercise by using a lighter level of resistance tubing. Increase the depth of the squat by lowering the height of the box to twelve inches. Isometrically hold the bottom and middle portion of the squat for five seconds.
Some common mistakes are allowing the knees to collapse inward, permitting the heels to come up off the ground, allowing the trunk to collapse forward and losing the upright thoracic spine position, and developing a posterior tilting of the pelvis, or a “butt wink”, at the bottom of the squat.
To view video demonstration of the Overhead Stability Squat, click on the link below:
-Michael O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS
Program Director, Jeff Tirrell, demonstrates the right and wrong of the overhead press.
Click on the link below to view: