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Learn more about Rehab, Sports Medicine & Performance


PDFTreadmills are found in virtually every gym.  Read the six treadmill facts you need to know.  Meet a Fenton Fitness member who learned how to manage her back pain, and read about the seven best TRX exercises.  Do you have limited time to exercise?  Be more efficient with HIIT.

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PDFThe June newsletter brings information on side planks and bird dog exercises for core stability.  Watch the video for demonstration of the exercises given.  Mike O’Hara gives some practical advice on preventing falls in his article, Fall Recall. Read one person’s story about his transition from physical therapy patient to gym member, and be sure to check out sled rowing.

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One of the best training tools is a set of all purpose bands ($25.00 from performbetter.com). These bands are a sturdy, dipped latex product made by Lifeline. They have two handles on one endLunge_Row and a loop system that makes them easy to anchor in either a closed door or around something stable and upright. The bands come in progressive resistance levels and can be integrated into many beneficial exercises. One of my favorite resistance band exercises is the posterior lunge and row.

I like exercise activities that produce a lot of benefit for the time invested in training. These are the big benefits of the posterior lunge and row:

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PDFThis 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.

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RDL_and_RowThe hip hinge is the most powerful movement the human body can perform. It is the pattern that allows you to lift your body off the ground in a hop, skip, or a jump. Many people, through injury or inactivity, are unable to perform a proper hip hinge pattern. Your core stabilizers, gluteals, and hamstrings all work together to create a hip hinge so you must train them as a team. The Romanian Deadlift and Row is simple exercise you can use to retrain the hip hinge pattern.

I have no idea why it is called a Romanian Deadlift and Row but many exercises have these foreign names- Turkish Get Ups, Bulgarian Squats, Czechoslovakian Chin Ups… I do know that this drill is a great method of retraining the all important hip hinge pattern while limiting loading on the lumbar spine.

Set up resistance tubing (or a cable unit) at chest level. Stand facing the tubing / cable unit with the feet shoulder width apart. Pull the hands in so the thumbs are at the armpits and the shoulder blades pulled back. Reach forward with the hands and push the hips back. The knees should bend a little and hips should bend a lot. Keep the lower back neutral and your weight over the heels. Pull back up to the starting position and hold the hamstrings, abdominals, and gluteals tight for three counts. Repeat for eight to ten repetitions.

-Michael 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


Semper Pullus

Strength Is A Skill–You Just Need To Practice

The Marine Corp just decided to delay implementation of the 3 pull up proficiency mandate for female recruits as only 45% of the female soldiers could achieve this level of proficiency.  They plan on revising their training protocol and assessing the results later in the year.

Bad news sells.  The stories that broke in the newspapers and on TV all mentioned that 55% of the female recruits could not achieve three pull ups, but what they did not tell you was that the duration of the training was only sixteen weeks and that the initial level of fitness for many of the female recruits was poor.  Ask any strength coach that has trained female clients and they will tell you that the Marine Corp pass rate of 45% on the 3 pull up test is above average.

The October 28, 2013 issue of the New York Times ran an article detailing all of the reasons women are unable to perform pull ups.  Research done at the University of Dayton on a pull up training program was the basis of the New York Times article.  The program consisted of only seventeen participants, so the training protocol was far from optimal.  The fact that they were able to progress four of the seventeen participants to one pull up with this flawed three month regimen shows that nearly every female can achieve pull up prowess.

For the military, the three pull up test demonstrates that the soldier can manipulate her body weight over an obstacle.  If you can perform three pull ups, you will be able to get out of a ditch, climb a fence, and haul your body out of the water and onto a raft.  For fitness clients, the ability to perform pull ups improves posture, bulletproofs the shoulders and makes you less likely to develop head, neck, and upper back pain problems.  Pull up proficiency makes you stronger at other skills, such as push-ups, sprinting, and throwing.  I have some suggestions on how female trainees can get better at pull ups.

Do Not Train With Other Machines
Strength is a skill and just like any other skill it is neurologically very specific.  You will not get better at hitting golf balls by hitting a tennis ball–it is too different.  Lat pull down machines, incline total gym trainers, and all other devices are too different from a fixed bar pull up.  If your goal is to get better at pull ups, you have to stay away from these devices.

Perform Inverted Rows
Watch the video and add this exercise to your training program.  Inverted rows require proper positioning of the spine and shoulders.  Inverted rows will make you better at initiating the movement with the back muscles and not the arms.  The horizontal pull strength you develop with an inverted row compliments the vertical pulling skill you need to perform a bar pull up.

Do Not Train To Failure
Pull up prowess requires you to make a connection between multiple muscles in a manner that will be very new to most fitness clients.  You need to keep the neural lines of communication fresh and free from fatigue.  You will start your training with one solid repetition followed by an extended recovery.

Do Not Train Your Biceps
You need to learn to pull with your back muscles and not your arms.  Stay away from any kind of direct biceps training while you are working on your pull up program.  Your biceps will get stronger from the pull up training.  Gymnasts are the “pull up kings” of the athletic world and they perform no direct biceps exercise activity.  This was a big mistake in the University of Dayton research program.

Do Not Do A Lot Of Cardio
The University of Dayton program had their female clients do cardio activity in an effort to lower their body fat levels so they would have less to lift during a pull up.   Lots of cardio blunts your acquisition of greater strength.  It is difficult to get stronger if you are sapping your recovery capacity with lots of miles on the treadmill or bike.  Use intervals of intense work with short rest periods as a substitute.  Increasing the strength and control of your muscles keeps you lean, pain free, and healthy for a lifetime.

Improve Your Thoracic Spine Mobility
Many fitness clients have a thoracic spine- mid and upper back- that is stuck in flexion.  Hours in the car, computer work, iphone, and some poor training practices have locked them in a bent over position.  You need to be able to extend the thoracic spine in order to set the pulling muscles of the back in a proper position for a successful pull up.  A simple foam roll can help improve extension in the thoracic spine.

Train With A Band Assist
The pull up novice needs to use the assist of an elastic band.  The band gives you assist at the bottom of the pull up, and then has you working harder as you get closer to the bar.  Make sure you keep your knee down so the band does not snap off the leg.

Do Not Kip a Pull Up
“Kipping” a pull up is when you use motion of the lower body and torso to help propel your body up toward the bar.  As a physical therapist who treats people with shoulder pain problems, I love the kipping pull—especially for high repetitions.  As a strength coach interested in improving function and not injuring clients, kipping a pull up places far too much stress on the shoulders of clients who are new to overhead training.  When you have trained on improving your pull up performance for six months and can execute six solid smooth pull ups, you may be ready for some kipping pull ups.

Train Pull Ups More Often
The beginner golfer who practices five days a week is going to have an advantage over the golfer who practices twice a week.  Pull ups are a skill and newbies need to practice more often.  Get a bar set up in a doorway at home–one you must walk under frequently.  Get your kids to practice pull ups and work on this skill as a team.

Improve Rib Cage Stability
The pulling muscles of the upper back attach to your rib cage.  You need to be able to hold the front of your rib cage down with your abdominal muscles to become proficient at pull ups.  Get better at planks, ball roll outs, and the power wheel, and you will get better at pull ups.

Be Patient And Stay Consistent
It is going to take longer than three or four months to become proficient at pull ups.  You need to give this training nine months.  If you have long arms it is going to take more time to get better at pull ups.  Female Olympic level gymnasts are four feet, nine inches tall, so they make it look easy.

The Formula
Three days a week in the gym you do this:  Set up a bar with a band if you need an assist.  Perform one smooth repetition and then stop.  Go do something else as long as it is not biceps exercises or long slow duration cardio, and then come back to the bar in seven to ten minutes and do another single repetition.  Repeat this process three or four times every time you go to the gym.  As you get stronger, use a lighter assist band or perform two repetitions as long as each repetition is smooth and struggle free.  On two of your off days, perform three or four single pull ups.  Space them out throughout the day.  One pull up in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night.  The emphasis should be on performing every repetition in a smooth and struggle free fashion and keeping your neural system free of fatigue.  Perform inverted rows for three sets at least twice a week.  Work on your thoracic spine mobility with a foam roll, and improve the strength of the rib cage stabilizers with some planks and roll outs.

Test Progress
Every six weeks, test your maximal pull up capacity.  How many pull ups can you perform in a row with no assist.  Do not get discouraged if after six weeks you cannot perform a single.  Only 20% of the female trainees will get a single with just six weeks of training, but after twelve weeks, 40% of them will get one pull up.  Most will require five months of training to get a single pull up.  The good news is that once you achieve a level of success with pull ups, your body holds on to the neural connections that make them easy to perform.  As your skill level increases, it takes less effort to get even better at pull ups.

Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS