Monthly Archives: January 2013

Bring on the Beach

I had a good laugh the other day. I was working with one of my regular clients and we were doing a simple upper-body strength-training workout. I made a comment about the fact that we were training the ‘t-shirt muscles’ and he quickly mentioned that ‘beach season’ was coming. Beach season? In January?

My client reminded me that there’s only 6 or 8 weeks until many of us start taking off for tropical vacations in warm sunny climates. These are the kind of vacations where bikinis and board shorts come out of the closet and our bodies see the light of day for the first time in months. I quickly agreed. Beach Season is near enough that we’d better start training for it!

I felt that it might be beneficial to put together a column series featuring exercises that could be done over the next 6-8 weeks to shape up for the sunshine. I believe that 3 good exercises for the lower and for the upper body, and 3 for the core should do the trick. Of course it takes more than a few strength-training exercises if you really want to change your body and feel great when you hit the beach. Eating well and burning enough calories to control your fat stores is another a key component to feeling positive about your fitness.

Following are three effective exercises for improving the shape and function of your lower body, emphasizing the hips and thighs. Always stop if you feel pain, and make sure that you consult your physician before undertaking a new fitness program or making changes to your current routine.

Province Beach Season Bench Step Bench Lunge to Step-Up

This is a great exercise for the entire hip and leg complex. Choose a low, stable bench or step that is below knee height. Start by placing your right foot firmly on the surface, with your left hand and arm in front of your body as if you were running. Bend your left leg and lower your knee down until it’s almost on the floor. Keeping your core engaged, drive upward using your right hip muscles, lifting your left knee up toward your chest as you reach full extension with your right leg. Your arms should switch during the movement, so that your right hand is in front of your body as your left knee reaches the top of its motion. Pause momentarily for control, then bring your left foot back down to it’s starting point, being careful to lower it slowly and touch it lightly on the ground rather than pounding down. Repeat for 12-15 repetitions on each side, completing 2-3 sets in total. The deeper you lower your back knee, the more work your glutes will do.

Province Beach Season 1-Leg RDLSingle-Leg RDL (Romanian Dead Lift)

This is a spectacular exercise for developing athletic glutes and legs. At the same time, you’ll be conditioning the posterior core system that is so important for effective movement and spinal stability. Start in a strong, neutral stance with a light kettlebell or dumbbell in your right hand. Begin to pivot forward on your left hip as you extend your right leg out behind your body, letting the dumbbell draw your right arm toward the floor. Keep both knees slightly bent and work to keep your lower back in a neutral curve with your pelvis square to the floor. Allowing your shoulders to turn slightly will increase the range of motion of the movement, but be careful not to flex the spine forward as you reach the kettlebell toward the floor. Pause momentarily at the bottom, then use your left hip muscles to pull you back up into an upright position. Lightly touch your toes on the floor and repeat the motion. Try 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on each leg, maintaining strong core stability and controlled movement speeds. Because your balance will be challenged during this exercise, it’s a good idea to try it near a wall or chair that you can use for support if necessary.

Province Beach Season Roller SquatRoller Squat

With so many variations of the basic squat and lunge movements, it can be challenging to find enough stimulating options. There’s always a way to keep your muscles guessing. One fun and functional way of doing squats is to stand on a foam roller. I want to stress that this can be very challenging and unstable, so if your balance isn’t great, start with a soft roller that will flatten out a bit, hold onto a wall, or place your roller on a soft surface like an exercise mat. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, a firm roller on a hard surface will really activate your balance receptors and recruit a lot of stabilization muscles in your legs. Performing these squats barefoot is a great way of conditioning the muscles of your feet. Perform 2 -3 sets of 15-20 squats with good core engagement and body control.

-Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for over 20 years and currently owns and operates Williams Health Group, a downtown Vancouver personal training studio and integrated health and human performance clinic. Rob is a sought-after posture and performance coach for celebrities and athletes of all levels, and has recently developed the Sport Posture and Movement Specialist certification program for trainers and coaches. Rob is also an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition. Contact him directly at rob@williamshealthgroup.com.


Shock Your System

This is it. A new year and an excellent opportunity to re-new your determination and re-launch your fitness program. Whether you made it to the holiday season on top of your fitness goals, or determined to pick up the pace in 2013, there’s probably a good argument that can be made for trying something new and changing things up a little bit. You don’t need to do this for the whole year. How about for the month of January?

I’ve found throughout my career that people tend to get comfortable when it comes to their training and exercise plans, sticking to the same program or activities for way too long. The approach that may have worked for the first 6 months probably stopped getting results long ago, and likely they didn’t know how to adapt or evolve for continued success. If you’re thinking that you might benefit from shaking things up a bit with your training plan, I’d like to offer a few suggestions.

Of course there are some constants when it comes to fitness, like the fact that you need to get your heart rate up if you want to burn a lot of calories and improve your cardiovascular capacity, or that you have to overload your muscles if you want to see adaptive changes in size, strength and endurance. Nutrition is also a key component of fitness where there are trusted principles, but you can definitely benefit by trying some new things with your meal planning this year.

I know from experience that change can be a good thing when you’re striving for fitness results, so try something new, mix up your approach, and shock your system a bit. Always remember to consult your doctor before beginning or modifying your training plan, and never skip the warm-up before exercising.

Province Dynamic Ball PushupResistance training

I know some readers will already be training differently, but I’m going to suggest that the majority of exercisers are performing a typical strength-training program, with a list of gym-based exercises that they perform for a specific number of sets and repetitions. This can be a very effective approach to resistance training, but not necessarily if you’ve been taking the same approach for years. Because our bodies are excellent at adapting to any consistent stimulus, it doesn’t take long to start seeing diminishing returns on your exercise investment. As an alternative, why not try a new approach for a month or so, like one or both of the following:

Bodyweight – Train using only bodyweight exercises where you push, pull, press and lift your own body to target different bodyparts non-stop for a total of 20-30 minutes. Use your imagination and change angles, body positions and anything else you can think of. Do each exercise until exhaustion before moving to the next exercise. Keep moving so you’re always working. Perform up to 5 days per week.

Bands – Similar to the bodyweight workout, but using only resistance band exercises to work your muscles in as many angles and directions as possible. Complete 20-30 minutes of constant pushing, pulling and pressing to muscular exhaustion. Perform up to 5 days per week.

Province CardiovascularCardiovascular conditioning

Perhaps even more than strength training I find that many people do the same kind of cardio exercise for years, and sometimes even decades. The problem is, once your body becomes accustomed to an activity it will become very efficient, and get less of a conditioning stimulus from it. This may sound like a good thing, but if your goal is overload your system for calorie burn, or cardiovascular improvement, you don’t always want to take the easiest route! Instead, if you’re a runner, try swimming. If you’re a cyclist, try rowing. If you always use the elliptical machine, try skipping for a change-up.

Province Fuel 2013Fuel consumption

Despite the high volume of nutrition information available to the public I still believe that most people eat poorly. Sometimes this is because they don’t know any better, but usually it’s because they have developed bad habits that they have a hard time changing. Why not shake it up and try a serious change? You might just break some deep-seated habits and gain a whole new level of control over your nutrition. Here are a couple of options:

Go green: Take a month and try a vegetarian, vegan or raw diet. You might just find that you feel better, have more energy, or love the food. Of course, this isn’t for everyone, but a month should give you a good idea if it’s right for you, and there’s a good chance you’ll clean up some of your bad eating habits.

Be sugar-free: Do everything you can to limit your sugar intake for a month. This includes white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, honey, glucose, fructose, dextrose, invert sugar, syrups, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, and more. You’ll be surprised how much sugar is used in the food you eat.

Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for over 20 years and currently owns and operates Williams Health Group, a downtown Vancouver personal training studio and integrated health and human performance clinic. Rob is a sought-after posture and performance coach for celebrities and athletes of all levels, and has recently developed the Sport Posture and Movement Specialist certification program for trainers and coaches. Rob is also an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition. Contact him directly at rob@williamshealthgroup.com.

Ski Fit Strength

If you’re looking for serious improvement in your total physical performance on the ski-hills this winter, taking a well-rounded approach to training is essential. I’ve previously discussed flexibility and core stability, and now it’s time to address full body strength and endurance.

There are thousands of different strength exercises, and many of them would be good for any skier or snowboarder. However, when I was considering which exercises would be good to include in this week’s column, I decided I wanted the activities to meet a few key criteria.

Firstly, because of the physical requirements during snow sports, I’ve selected exercises that have a component of instability, which requires balance and core control. I also wanted to include exercises that integrate the upper and lower body. Sometimes it’s the upper body that is dynamic, while the lower is holding steady, and sometimes it’s the other way around. Lastly, I wanted exercises that are standing, or ground-based, to incorporate the strength and endurance of the leg muscles, as this will clearly carry over to performance on the slopes.

The three exercises discussed this week can be performed with very little weight at first, and progressed depending on your tolerance. They require nothing more than a single dumbbell, or some other weighted item, like a jug of water with a handle!

As always, consult your doctor before beginning or modifying your training plan, and always perform a progressive warm-up before exercising. Controlling your posture and alignment is critical at all times.

Province SkiFit 1-arm DB Squat

1-arm DB Squat

Squats are one of the most functional and foundational exercises you can perform for full-body strength and athleticism. There are numerous variations of the basic squat movement. Performing this 1-arm version requires endurance in your spine, upper back and shoulders, as well as your entire core system and legs. Start by standing in front of a mirror, with your feet approximately shoulder width apart, holding a light dumbbell in your right hand. Raise the dumbbell above your shoulder as if you were going to press it overhead. Once in this position, pay very close attention to the alignment of your entire body, including your hips and legs. Slowly hinge your hips back and lower them down into a squat position, doing your best to avoid shifting any part of your body off to the side. Keep your feet flat on the floor as you reach the bottom of the squat, with your knees bent to approximately 90 degrees. Press yourself back up to the top of the squat, stopping just before your knees reach full extension, then repeat. Perform 10 reps with the dumbbell in each hand, and try for three sets.

Province SkiFit 1-Arm DB Row1-arm DB Row

This challenging upper body exercise will require balance and endurance through your hips and legs as you hold a sustained position on one foot. The rowing movement of the shoulder girdle and arm will improve the strength of the muscles in this area, and help to protect you from injury during falls. Start in a standing position with a dumbbell in your right hand. Pivot forward through the hips and extend your right leg off the floor behind you, with your right arm holding the dumbbell directly below your shoulder. Keeping balance and control by recruiting your core and hip muscles, draw your shoulder blade back and pull your elbow by your side as you row the dumbbell up toward your ribcage. Pause momentarily and then lower the dumbbell to the bottom position before repeating. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on each arm, switching legs each time you switch arms.

Province SkiFit DB Squat Front RaiseDB Squat Front Raise

Anyone who skis or boards knows that the legs can really start burning during long runs at the end of the first day on the hill. This exercise builds leg endurance while strengthening the core and spinal stabilizers, and muscles of the arms, shoulders and back. Start in a standing position, holding a dumbbell in both hands between your legs. Squat down and hold this low position, while slowly raising and lowering the dumbbell in front of your body to approximately the height of your head. Keep your weight balanced between the balls and heels of your feet and maintain a good, deep hip position with strong posture. The deeper you squat the more challenging this exercise will be on your legs. You can vary the demand by shifting your weight to one leg as you raise the dumbbell, alternating legs each time you raise it. Try 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions with controlled movement speed. Avoid generating swing momentum in the dumbbell.

Ski Fit Core Function

Staying injury free and skiing to the best of your ability requires a strong, stable and flexible body.  With a minimal amount of advance preparation, your body can perform at a higher level, and contribute to more enjoyable days on the ski hill.

In this second part of my pre-season ski conditioning series, I want to discuss core function and how important it is to athletic movement. Improving your core strength and control will give you a solid foundation for explosive athletic movements while on your skis, and help to keep you more stable and balanced.

Skiers must assume an athletic body position to be able to ski efficiently, and to react to irregularities on the hill. Once in this position, it’s critical to engage the appropriate musculature, at times contracting and holding a fixed position, sometimes generating dynamic force and power, or perhaps relaxing and allowing smooth adaptation to movement needs without losing balance or control.

Because skiers use their upper body and their poles during turns, there is a need for integration of the upper body and lower body during conditioning activities. This doesn’t have to be the case for all exercises, but it can’t be ignored. By choosing your training activities carefully you can target the right body parts and systems, offering the greatest return on your training investment.

As always, consult your doctor before beginning or modifying your training plan, and always perform a progressive warm-up before exercising.

SkiFit Ball PlankBall Plank

Doing an athletic plank on the ball is a great way to train your core, in a body position that totally relates to skiing and many other sports. Start with your forearms on a ball and your hips, knees and ankles flexed. Your spine should be parallel to the floor with neutral curves. Good core activation will hold you strong in this starting position, which is more than challenging enough for beginning exercisers. To increase the leverage, slowly push the ball 2” forward and back, moving only the arms, without losing any quality in your spinal position or core engagement.  As you get stronger, increase the movement of the ball, and incorporate opening at the shoulders and hips at the same time. Perform 3 sets of 30-60 seconds in a smooth, controlled fashion. For increased instability and greater difficulty, try putting your hands on the ball instead of your forearms. As you get more comfortable, you can also increase the speed of the movements, or add side-to-side action to the ball. Always use your core engagement and neutral spinal alignment as your measure of quality, and stop performing the exercise before you lose control in these areas.

SkiFit Ball BridgeBall Bridge

Ball bridging uses much of your core and hip musculature. Start in a sitting position on a ball, then roll out until the back of your head and shoulders are resting on the ball and your knees are at 90˚ angles, with your feet hip-width apart. Extend your arms upward, with your palms together and maintain good core activation and spinal alignment. This is the basic starting position, from which there are numerous progressions. Try turning your ribcage, shoulders, arms and head as one stable unit, while keeping your hips as still and level as possible. The ball should roll sideways, underneath your bottom shoulder as you turn. Pause and twist to the other side. Keep your alignment as neutral as possible. Perform 3 sets of 20 repetitions. Another variation is to keep your upper body neutral, and your hips elevated and level as you raise one foot slightly off the floor. Hold for 5 seconds on each side. Starting with your feet close together will make this easier.

SkiFit Side RaiseBall Side Flexion

Try this great exercise to target the sides of the torso, which include the lower back and abdominal muscles. Start by laying on your right side over the top of an exercise ball, with your feet braced against the base of a wall and your top leg behind the bottom leg. The ball should be positioned so that it supports your pelvis and lower torso, just below your rib cage. Place your arms across your chest, or for greater difficulty, place your hands at the side of your head as shown in the picture. Maintain good alignment of the body as you lower your body down, stretching over the ball, then raise back up, lifting your left elbow toward the ceiling as you shift your ribcage upward. Try 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on each side, maintaining strong core stability and controlled movement speeds. Be careful to maintain good balance and control of the ball while preventing your body from twisting.

Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for 16 years and currently operates an exclusive private training studio Mixx Fitness Studio, with a team of 10 trainers, as well as a multi-disciplinary posture facility, Performance Posture Clinic. Rob is an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition, and can be contacted at Williams Health Group.

Ski Fit Flexibility

There are a lot of years that ski season sneaks up on many of our clients. One day they’re playing golf and cycling, and the next they’re racing to Whistler because the ski hills have opened. I decided that I’d do my best to make sure everyone is ready this year!

Skiing well, and staying injury free, requires a strong, stable and flexible body. The last thing you want to happen is to lose your balance in a turn, causing you to injure a joint or tear a muscle during a fall. If you can get at least a few weeks of pre-season preparation in before skiing, hopefully you can increase your enjoyment, and reduce your risk.

I’ve decided to look at pre-season ski conditioning in 3 parts this season. First I will address flexibility in the lower extremities and hips, by sharing a few of my favorite stretches. These are static stretches that you can perform every day, with the intent of increasing and balancing your flexibility before you ever get to the mountain. You should also perform a good dynamic warm-up before each session on the hill, but I’ll address this later.

In week 2 I will discuss core function and movement, which will give you a solid foundation for explosive athletic movements while on your skis, while keeping you stable and balanced. Week 3 will cover a few great, ski-specific strength and conditioning exercises to get your legs and other muscles primed and ready to go.

As always, consult your doctor before beginning or modifying your training plan, and always perform a progressive warm-up before exercising.

Ski Glute StretchGlute Stretch

As the largest muscle in your body, your glutes can be your biggest friend when it comes to powerful athletic movement. However, if they’re too stiff, or not firing properly, they can also be a problem. To connect with your glutes and keep them flexible, try stretching them regularly. This stretch can be done on a bench or table, or on the floor as shown. Start on your hands and knees, crossing your right leg underneath you. Support most of your weight on your hands as you lay the outside of your right lower leg on the floor, with your left leg extended behind you. Begin shifting your weight back into your right hip joint, while keeping your hips square and your spine and head as neutral as possible. Be certain to stop this stretch if you feel any strain in your right knee. If you don’t feel a stretch right away, use your core muscles to twist your left hip toward your right foot, while picking up your tailbone slightly. These small shifts should dial up the intensity of the stretch. Hold for 30-45 seconds on each side.

Ski Hamstring StretchSeated Hamstring Stretch

Also known as the modified hurdler stretch, this seated hamstring stretch is most appropriate for people with at least an average degree of flexibility. If you’re very inflexible you will likely be more successful performing a standing hamstring stretch on a low step. For this seated stretch, begin by sitting flat on the floor with your right leg extended out in front of your body. Bend your left leg so that the sole of your left foot rests against the inside of your right calf or knee. Sit as tall as you can, trying to extend your spine upward, and pivot forward at the hip joints. You can either reach for your toes with your hand, or hold onto your leg as shown. By pulling the toe of your right foot toward you, you’ll feel a strong stretch in your calf as well. Hold for 30-45 seconds on each side, progressing as you exhale.

Ski Hip FlexorKneeling hip flexor

Whether you’re skiing or snowboarding, one muscle group that gets a lot of work during a day on the slopes is the hip flexors. Because they connect your legs to your pelvis and lower back, these are important muscles to look after so they don’t cause you any problems. To stretch your hip flexors effectively, start by kneeling on your right knee on the floor, with your left foot on the floor in front of you, and both legs bent to 90˚ angles. Keep your core muscles engaged to prevent your pelvis from tilting forward or your abdomen from protruding. Once you’ve found this position, use your abdominal muscles to draw your bellybutton inward and your tailbone under, pressing lightly forward with your pelvis until you feel a stretch in the front of your right hip and thigh. Try to maintain the right angles at your hips and knees, avoiding the tendency to lurch forward with the hips to increase the stretch. Hold for 30-45 seconds on each side. Always pay attention to your posture and body position.

Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for 16 years and currently operates an exclusive private training studio Mixx Fitness Studio, with a team of 10 trainers, as well as a multi-disciplinary posture facility, Performance Posture Clinic. Rob is an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition, and can be contacted at Williams Health Group.