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Learn more about Rehab, Sports Medicine & Performance


Olympic Lifts–Do We Really Need Them?

Push Press

Over the last several years, Olympic lifting movements have made a comeback into many gyms.  The primary reason to use Olympic lifts is to improve/maximize power output, or Rate of Force Development (RFD); however, the general fitness population lacks the requisite mobility and stability to safely get into the required positions to perform these exercises.  Over the next several weeks, I will introduce thirteen exercises that you can use instead to maximize speed, power, and RFD with less risk of injury, less technical skill required, and more efficiency.  Today’s exercise is the Push Press.  Watch the video, give it a try, and let us know how you do.  See the video here: https://youtu.be/1pI4eb6lMYQ

The Push Press is a limited, less technical, portion of the Clean and Jerk weightlifting movement.  It’s a great alternative as it has been shown to increase power but is much simpler to teach.  As long as you possess adequate shoulder mobility, there is much less risk with this exercise.  If done properly, both the hips and shoulders produce a large amount of vertical force which has strong carryover to sports that require jumping and overhead activities (throwers, volleyball, etc.).

-Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1


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

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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Goblet Squats and Pull Ups

When designing programs for rehabilitation patients and fitness clients, I often pair up exercises.  This practice is commonly called super-setting and it has multiple benefits:

Train efficiently—You get much more work done during your training time. 

Abolish performance deficits—Most physical therapy and fitness clients need to work on glaring right vs. left movement asymmetries, postural restrictions, and stability limitations. 

Lose weight—Fat loss is a primary goal of most fitness clients.  Pairing exercises ramps up exercise intensity and creates the hormonal response that improves body composition. 

Move better—Training neurologically related movement patterns improves motor control.  

Goblet Squats and Pull Ups

The more inefficient you are when performing an exercise activity the greater the metabolic demand.  Inefficient exercise is the key to fat loss.  Most gym goers become efficient in their selected exercise activities and body composition improvement comes to a standstill.  This pair of exercises creates a systemic response that ramps up the metabolism and drives the hormonal response that creates better body composition numbers.

Goblet Squats
toes_to_fingertipsHold a kettlebell by the horns, with the elbows down and the kettlebell held against the sternum.  Keep the chest proud and relax the neck.  Place the feet at shoulder width and initiate the squat by pushing back the hips.  Keep the torso tall and descend to at least a thigh parallel to the floor position.  Let your pelvis fall between the legs. The elbows should drop down between the knees.  As you get stronger, use two kettlebells held in the double rack position.

Pull Ups
If you are unable to perform a pull up with your own bodyweight, use a band for assist or better yet, one of the machines that assists a pull up.  Use a pronated grip (hands facing away) or a neutral grip (hands facing one another).  I like a set of rings as it affords the shoulders more freedom of movement.  Attempt to get your elbows tight to your side at the top of the pull up.

Perform ten goblet squats, then perform six pull ups, rest sixty seconds, and then cycle back through.  Perform four total trips through this pair of exercises and you will have completed 40 goblet squats and 24 pull ups.  There is something about the pull ups that makes my upper back feel more stable and I move through the goblet squats with greater ease.  As your body composition improves, the pull ups get easier.

View video of these exercises here: https://youtu.be/3L13W9VpqXk

-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

Fitness training for those of us past 40 years of age is more complicated.  Physical performance and recovery capacity are dramatically different.  If you need proof, look for the forty year olds in the NBA or NFL.  The good news is that with proper planning, consistent performance, and the wisdom that comes with age, we can stay fit and active for a lifetime.  I have compiled a collection of tips for the forty plus fitness client.  

Carry, Squat, Lunge, Hinge, Pull, Push– Every Week

005Most strength coaches divide human movement into 5-6 fundamental movement patterns.  These movements are what we are talking about when we call our training “functional.” Personally, I like to go with 6 patterns in the following order of importance: Carry, Squat, Lunge, Hinge, Pull, and Push.  These functional patterns include virtually all aspects of human movement.

The first two, carry and squat, are performed daily in real life while the other movement patterns are used less frequently.  Incorporating these movement patterns into your training program at least once per week will ensure that you develop a well-rounded physique, but more importantly, that your musculoskeletal system functions like the awesome machine it was made to be. Practicing these movement patterns should keep you free from asymmetry and injuries.  You will also become stronger and well balanced giving you the confidence to take on whatever life throws at you.  Just how frequently you train each pattern will depend on your current training status, movement quality, experience, and goals.  Following is a loose guide:
Carry: 3-5x/wk  (this can include traditional carries, crawls, Turkish Get Ups, or sleds)
Squat: 2-3x/wk
Lunge: 2-4x/wk
Hinge: 1-2x/wk, (Deadlifts, KB swings, or Good Mornings all fall into this category)
Pull: 3-5x/wk
Push: 2-4x/wk

-Jeff Tirrell, B.S., CSCS, Pn1

landmine_squatThe squat (equal knee and hip motion) is an essential movement pattern that should be a part of everyone’s fitness program. Improving your squat in the gym produces carry over to better performance during activities of daily living. The ultimate goal of any training program is to move better, stay functional and maintain independence for all your days on this planet. Many people lack the balance, mobility, coordination, and strength to perform a squat with a barbell or kettlebell. They need a modification that helps develop better squat mechanics and at the same time creates a training effect in the muscles. A Landmine Squat is one of the best modifications you can add to your training program. Take a minute to read this article and then give this exercise a place in your training program.

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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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Safety_Squat_barThe latest addition to our training toolbox is the safety squat bar. This cambered bar has a padded yoke that rests across the upper back with two handles that project forward. The bend in the bar produces a unique force during the squat that demands both hip strength and core stability. After using the bar for several weeks, I am a believer. Some of the benefits to safety bar squatting are listed below.
Many people have shoulders that become painful after squatting with a straight bar. Their shoulder range of motion is limited, and they are unable to properly position a straight bar during a front or back squat. The forward handles of the safety squat bar take stress off tight and sensitive shoulders. You can have beat up shoulders and still perform the most beneficial lower extremity exercise with a safety squat bar.
The safety squat bar rests high on the upper back and forces greater stabilization of the thoracic spine. In physical therapy, we are currently fighting an epidemic of thoracic spine weakness produced by the ihunch of seated computer gazing and personal telecommunication devices. Thoracic spine stability is critical during the performance of deadlifts and the more recently popular kettlebell training and Olympic lifts. It is essential to keep your neck and shoulders happy and pain-free.
The bend in the safety squat bar creates a force that pulls you forward during a squat. It challenges all of the muscles involved with stabilizing the torso while simultaneously strengthening the hips. Strong hips, absent equal parts spinal stability, create the environment for injury. Safety bar squatting is efficient. It produces strong hips and core stability at the same time.
It is mechanically more challenging for long legged, taller people to squat. You just do not see many six-feet-four inch power lifters or Olympic lifters—the physics are not their friend. Squatting with the safety squat bar alters the center of mass, activates the spinal extensors, and, in my experience, makes learning the loaded squat pattern easier for the vertically enhanced athlete.
The padding of the safety squat bar wraps around the neck and for individuals with cervical spine compression problems this position may be problematic. If you have a prior history of neck pain, especially if accompanied by pain radiating down the arm, you should exercise caution when using a safety squat bar or any other fitness activity that puts direct downward pressure on both shoulders.
The safety squat bar is more like a front squat than a back squat. You will not be able to handle the same loads you use during a barbell back squat. The safety squat bar weighs 65 pounds and an Olympic Bar is 45 pounds. Make sure you add the extra 20 pounds into your training calculations.
Click on the link below for video demonstration and give the safety squat bar a try:

-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

We all need basic competence in fundamental movement patterns to function at an optimal level. A deep and stable squat keeps us free from injury and competent on the field of play. In physical therapy, we evaluate performance of the squat pattern with nearly every patient. One of the most common and damaging squat faults is an inward deviation of the knee during the squat.

Genu valgus is the term given to the inward deviation of the knee during a squat. Female athletes often land from a jump in a valgus knee position. Lower back pain patients are often unable to transfer out of a chair or ascend a step without significant inward deviation of the knee. This movement fault is not a healthy method of moving and should be trained away as quickly as possible. One of the simplest exercises to remedy genu valgus is the mini band squat.

Prepare to be frustrated when attempting to restore a movement pattern. Training movement demands higher neurological control than muscle isolation type training. Anyone can quickly master the preacher bench curl or seated knee extension, but restoring a squat pattern is hard work. Repetition drives the neural retraining that produces results.


You will need a mini resistance band. You can purchase them from www.performbetter.com ($2-$3 each).   Place the band just above your knees.   Position the feet shoulder width apart. The toes can point out about 20-30 degrees. Grip the floor with the feet—push the toes into the floor. Reach the arms forward and push the hips back. Descend into a squat and at the same time drive your knee outward into the resistance of the mini band. Hold the bottom position for five seconds and then return to the starting position. You should feel the gluteal muscles working while in the bottom part of the squat.

Pick an easy resistance level. Do not start with a heavy blue or black band. Only travel to a squat depth you can move through and remain comfortable and pain-free. You do not have to squat to the floor. As your motor control improves, you will be able to travel into a fuller movement pattern.

Perform five repetitions and then rest. Work up to four sets of five repetitions.

-Mike O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

To view a video demonstration of Mini Band Squats, click on the link below:


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.

Overhead_SquatAnchor 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