Category Archives: active living

Common training troubles – Ankles

As an ex-soccer and football player, my feet and ankles have taken their fair share of abuse. I’ve had broken toes, sprains, strains and numerous other injuries. Even though the majority of these problems are no longer an issue, I still have difficulty with my ankles, mostly because of impingement in the joint at the front of the ankle.

One of my good clients, Jeff McCord, has also been struggling with ankle problems. After a recent accident, Jeff now gets intermittent pain in the front of his ankle joints. Everything might seem fine, and then he’ll make one wrong move (usually the rear foot when Jeff is lunging) and he’ll get a sharp, stabbing pain at the front of the joint. Other favorite activities like water skiing are next to impossible because of the anterior shear forces that jam his ankle joints and cause pain.

For Jeff, regular stretching, strengthening and maintenance of the alignment of the bones in the ankle and throughout his body are important to improving the function of this joint. Fortunately he gets help with this from some great practitioners. Without this management, muscle imbalance in the lower legs would increase the likelihood of this issue becoming a more chronic, painful condition.

Problems at the ankles and feet frequently arise in people who’ve had recurring ankle sprains, or other injuries that weren’t rehabilitated properly. Like any other joint in the body, trauma and immobility will compromise function and increase the chances of re-injury. By bringing awareness to the importance of diagnosis, treatment and prevention, hopefully I can help many people to manage ankle injuries, and stop even more people from ever experiencing one.

When exercising, always remember to perform a progressive warm-up beforehand, and be sure to get medical approval before starting a new fitness program.

Knowledge – Anyone can have ankle issues, and there are many conditions that could be involved. Because of the number of bones in the foot, as well as the need for the ankle joint to move freely in many directions, while under the load of your body, it’s possible to create serious injuries from small missteps or faulty movements. Most of us have ‘rolled’ an ankle at some point in our lives. Most of the time there is no real injury, but serious damage can happen in a split second.

If you have suffered an ankle injury, or struggle through life with ankle pain or immobility, it’s definitely worth getting an accurate diagnosis of which structures are involves. With my own ankles, the hyper-mobility in the joints can allow either ankle to become misaligned when doing something as simple as jogging across the street. I know what happens, what causes it, and what can be done about it. If I ignore the problem it can last for days or weeks and cause me constant discomfort. Usually a single joint manipulation by my chiropractor corrects the problem and I don’t have any further troubles.

Treatment – Ankle issues can be more common than you might expect. And you may not know it, but many people actually end up having ankle replacement surgery if the problem is bad enough. Assuming you’re not a candidate for surgery, there are numerous approaches to management and rehabilitation that can be very effective and help you get back on your feet in no time.

Depending on the exact cause of your ankle pain, you may have a slightly different treatment approach, but it’s an excellent idea to start with reducing the inflammation. This is usually done by icing the injured area, and possibly taking anti-inflammatory medications. Sometimes the help of a good physiotherapist or chiropractor is necessary to manage the acute injury, followed by flexibility and range of motion activities, as well as balance, proprioception and strength exercises. Fortunately there are advanced products like the Ankle Foot MaXimizer (AFX) to help properly strengthen all of the smaller muscles around the area.

Prevention – I used to have more trouble with my ankles and feet, but this has been reduced since I started to really pay attention to my alignment when standing and walking, and my overall foot function. I regularly strengthen the smaller intrinsic muscles in this area, and perform as many barefoot activities as possible. Sometimes these are as simple as doing one-legged toe raises. If you’re going to try this, diligent attention to your ankle and foot alignment is essential.

Another key point is to remember to focus on balance in your training. When I get carried away with too much calf training and not enough training for the muscles in the front of my lower leg, I know I’m always at increased risk for my ankles to act up. Keeping all of the muscles in the lower leg flexible and strong goes a long way. It’s also important to pay attention to your footwear to make sure that old, worn out shoes aren’t promoting poor alignment.

Common training troubles – Hips

I’ve been moving around the body a bit when discussing common trouble areas, first starting at the lower back, then addressing the shoulders and knees, and arriving this week at the hips. Each week I’m getting a growing number of emails from readers looking for help and guidance with their own specific issues.

Some of the people who have emailed, and a number of my current clients, have hip troubles. The issues range in severity, but all should be properly managed. Because the hip joint is so large and central to the body, it supports a lot of weight and takes much of the load during walking, running, and sports. When one or both hip joints become dysfunctional for any reason, movement patterns are often interrupted and other serious issues develop.

My good friend Bobby Lenarduzzi was referred to me almost 5 years ago because of hip pain. After a world-class soccer career that ended two decades ago, Bobby hadn’t done much regular exercise aside from jogging.

When he was diagnosed with a congenital joint condition, Bobby trained hard to get in good shape in order to delay surgery as long as possible, and improve his post-operative outcome. After a necessary hip replacement surgery he has again worked very hard on his rehab. Bobby is now very fit and athletic and credits his training for this success. He’s also seen a positive change in his overall outlook and motivation despite his hip condition.

Because his other hip is showing signs of similar issues, Bobby knows he must maintain his strength, flexibility and overall athleticism. With one artificial hip, and another that will likely need to be replaced in the future, Bobby is getting in better shape every day.

When working your hips, always remember to perform a progressive warm-up beforehand, and get medical approval before beginning a new fitness program.

Knowledge – Hips can be tricky. Although this is a relatively simple joint in terms of it’s anatomy, the function of the joint can be influenced by many factors, and there are numerous things that can go wrong. There are also congenital conditions that can cause the hip joint to be less stable than ideal, which often results in early degenerative changes. No matter how it starts, if you’re dealing with hip trouble, be sure to get a thorough assessment by a trusted practitioner. Once you’ve determined the cause, an effective management strategy can be put in place for your hips.

One reliable indicator of hip function, and the health of the hip joints, is the available range of motion during rotation. A healthy hip joint will have a decent amount of rotation, both inward and outward. This is often assessed in a position of hip flexion, with the subject lying on their back. Total range of motion of 70-80˚ or more is ideal. Usually there is more rotation outward than inward, and the movement should be relatively smooth and pain-free. If there is restricted mobility in any/all of the four directions, or pinching pain in the joint during movement, there can be an increased risk of joint issues.

Treatment – Whether you’ve had a new diagnosis of hip problems, or you’ve been struggling with painful joint degeneration for years, I believe that improved flexibility and strength can reduce pain and dysfunction. When you couple this with better body position, core function and movement quality during all activities, you can’t help but be successful in improving your overall comfort and mobility.

Start by taking the time to stretch all of the muscles around your hips, legs and pelvis. Simply balancing this muscle tension can reduce the compressive forces at the joint and reduce inflammation. Then, find ways to perform the most basic strengthening exercises, as long as they fatigue your muscles but don’t cause joint pain. Even little 3” squatting movements can strengthen and stabilize your body and help your joints. Focus on core stability, balance and symmetrical body position as much as possible to limit any tendency to compensate for a weaker hip.

Prevention – I feel the best way to address the topic of prevention is to look at what we’re doing with Bobby to delay further degeneration of his ‘good’ hip. I know Bobby won’t mind me revealing that he isn’t the most flexible guy around. Today we spend a good portion of our training sessions focusing on mobility in his hip joints. As we continue seeing progress in his flexibility and joint mobility, we also work on his posture, functional strength and athletic movement quality.

We carefully manage the rest of Bobby’s body with regular chiropractic care for his structural health, and Active Release Techniquetm for his soft tissues. This doesn’t mean that everyone with hip pain needs a team of trained practitioners working on them weekly, but it emphasizes the importance of diligent care of your body for optimal function.

Active Gardener-Strength Exercises

It’s been another excellent weekend, and I’m sure many of you have put in more long hours in the garden. I’ve talked with my neighbor, and exercise model Marg Tingley and I know she’s been regularly performing the exercises I showed her. It won’t be very long before she’s feeling the benefits.

As discussed in last week’s column where I focused on flexibility, it’s also very important to make sure that your muscles are strong to help stabilize your joints and make every movement you do easier and less stressful on your body. If every bend, squat and lift is easier, imagine how much more energy you’ll have left over after a day of working in the garden, playing sports or performing other favorite activities.

Muscular strength and endurance can be developed in many ways, and you certainly don’t need to go to the gym to build up your gardening muscles. It was easy to come up with a number of great exercises for Marg that used objects found in most yards or gardens. The important thing to remember when you begin to strengthen your body is to use common sense and pay attention to your body position and joint alignment. For example, you don’t have to be a kinesiologist to know that your knee joint is supposed to hinge forward and backward, and shouldn’t really be twisting or bending sideways. When you do your leg exercises, or when you move around in your daily activities, try to keep this in mind.

Following are 3 good strength exercises you can do in the garden on a daily basis. I’ve chosen exercises that will engage the upper and lower body, and also involve the core muscles. Always consult your physician before undertaking a fitness program or making changes to your current routine, and remember to do these when your body is properly warmed up.

Chair squat

When we don’t use our muscles, they atrophy and lose strength quite quickly. The silver lining is that the muscles bounce back when you start using them again. If your legs have lost muscle mass and don’t feel as strong as they used to, rest assured that regular strengthening exercises will bring quick results. A simple exercise that uses many of the muscles of the lower body is the chair squat. Stand with your back to the chair, and your feet about shoulder width apart. Initiate the movement by reaching your hips back as if you were about to sit down. Keep your feet flat on the ground and your knees aligned over your toes as you slowly lower your hips. Hold your arms in front of you to help with your balance, and keep your core engaged to protect your lower back. Go down about half way to the chair, pause for a moment, then return to the top position. Repeat this for 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions. If this is too easy, go a little lower the next time. If you get pain in your knees, try to limit the movement to a pain-free range of motion. Breathe comfortably throughout the exercise.

Front raise

To strengthen many of your lifting muscles, including your spinal stabilizers, find a small plant, or other light object that you can lift. Hold the object with both hands in front of your body, and stand in a strong, balanced position with your hips and knees slightly flexed and your body slightly forward. Keeping your core muscles engaged and your head and chest upright and in good posture, slowly raise the object in front of you at arms length. Try to extend and lengthen through your upper spine to reverse the effects of ‘stooping’ when you’re gardening. When the object has reached the height of your chest, pause momentarily and lower it back to the bottom. Perform 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Try to keep your shoulders back and down throughout the movement.

Wallclimber

This full-body exercise is excellent for developing core control when you’re crawling around on your hands and knees in the garden. Start by finding a low wall or railing and lean forward onto your hands. Keep your body in good alignment with your core system engaged. You should be leaning far enough forward that you can feel your body working to hold itself in position. Starting with your feet close together, bring one knee up toward your chest, trying to prevent your pelvis from twisting or shifting at all. Switch legs, and repeat for 20-30 repetitions. The further forward you lean, the more stable you keep your body, and the wider you position your feet, the more difficult the exercise. Be constantly aware of maintaining good posture and core stability. Eventually you’ll be strong enough to do this with your hands on the ground!

Rob Williams is a kinesiologist, elite personal trainer and posture specialist. He has been practicing for 20 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’s parent company is Williams Health Group. Rob is an accomplished writer and speaker in the fields of fitness, posture and nutrition. He is a sought-after posture and performance coach for professional and amateur athletes and celebrities.

Make or Break – Staying fit on your holidays

With Spring Break coming soon, many people are planning a one or two-week escape to somewhere other than here. Most will be taking off to a tropical destination, while the rest are hitting the slopes to take advantage of the piles of new snow. Something I wonder is, how many will watch their fitness and their diet during the break?

It seems a bit finicky to be concerned about whether or not you maintain a fitness program during the break, but it’s not the one or two weeks that I’m concerned with. More importantly, the tendency to throw discipline and consistency out the window while on holidays contributes to a much greater likelihood of falling off the exercise wagon altogether, potentially taking months or years to get started again.

Being realistic, If you’re trading 8-hours at a sedentary desk job for long days on skis or a snowboard I’m not going to give you a hard time if you don’t get to the gym during your holiday. But, if you’re planning on racking up some serious hours by the pool, or at the beach, there should be a little extra time in there somewhere that you can exercise.

And remember, it doesn’t take a lot of extra time or effort to eat smaller portions of healthy food than it does to gorge on pizza, nachos, burgers and fries or fondue. By keeping an eye on the fuel you put into your body you’ll feel better and have more energy. This alone should be enough to help keep you on a healthier path during and after the break.

Following are a few strategies that can help you to maintain, or even improve, your health this Spring Break.

1-    Keep walking. No matter where you vacation, take advantage of the opportunity to stay on your feet and keep moving. Walk the beach in the mornings, or take an evening stroll with the family through the ski village. The focus is on being more active than you are in your regular routine at home.

2-    Plan your fuel. The timing of your days can often get twisted around when you get out of the work and school routines. The problem with this is that people end up skipping meals or eating large portions far too late at night. One of the best things you can do is to take a moment to plan the following day, deciding on a healthy breakfast for shortly after you rise, and eating balanced meals every 3-4 hours throughout the day, until bedtime.

3-    Stretch it out. Even though you might not be opting for a strenuous athletic adventure this Spring Break, you’re likely to be doing different activities than you would at home. This means you’ll be using different muscles, which can feel stiff and sore afterward. To manage this, make time to stretch regularly and stay loose. Fortunately beach resorts have higher ambient temperatures, which are good for keeping the body limber. Ski resorts have hot-tubs everywhere, and there’s no better place to stretch out at the end of an active day.

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4-    Watch the snack foods. When you’re not in your daily routine of work and life it’s very easy to find yourself grabbing snacks throughout the day. Whether it’s a handful of nuts, a few chips, a piece of fruit or a glass of juice, snacking between meals adds unnecessary calories and compromises the digestive process.

5-    Hydrate. When you’re skiing or beaching, it’s easy to get dehydrated. Personally I know I drink less water when I’m in cold climates, so I have to make a concentrated effort to bring water with me when I ski, and drink a big glass or two right at the end of the day. And there’s no doubt that the heat in tropical regions causes increased sweating and evaporation, quickly leading to dehydration.

6-    Maintain your muscle. If you are someone that exercises regularly, the last thing you want to do is lose ground because of a vacation. A simple program of push-ups, chin-ups, squats, lunges, etc can give your entire body a stimulus to maintain muscle mass, which will help keep your joints strong and your metabolism elevated. Large resistance bands, sometimes knows as safety toners, can be a great training tool. They’re versatile and lightweight, allowing you to perform dozens of effective exercises.

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7-    Party in moderation. A surefire way to make sure you don’t keep fit over the break is to get into the beer or cocktails heavily on the first day. By avoiding the tendency to ‘let loose’ and drink too much, you’ll feel better and stay sharp. If you appreciate this and are prepared with a strategy before the holiday begins, you’re less likely to have a boozy Spring Break.

8-    Have fun. Take advantage of free time to play hard and enjoy your health.

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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.

Take it of in 2012

Weight loss is no laughing matter. Although it’s probably the number one New Years resolution, successful weight loss eludes most people, including those who need it most. I’ve written about weight loss before, and shared my most effective strategies, yet I realize that there are still many people who struggle when it comes to dropping a few pounds.

Because there is so much conflicting information about how to lose weight, many people are confused and overwhelmed by the thought of it. Every second magazine I see in the stores promises to help you get a flat tummy or rock-hard abs in a few short weeks. I saw one the other day that was advertising how you could lose 30lbs in 3 months like a famous pop star.

If you’re determined to lose weight and are looking for some direction, here’s a no-nonsense, tried and true program for building muscle, burning fat, and being happy with your body. I can’t actually make you follow through every step of the way, but I can be sure you know what to do and how to do it. Always consult your physician before beginning or modifying your fitness program.

Weekly training schedule

I truly believe that an individual should be able to maintain their bodyweight at desirable levels by doing regular resistance training and eating properly. You shouldn’t need to grind away at cardiovascular exercise for hours each week just to keep from gaining fat. If this is the case, then you’re eating too much. For anyone whose goal is to steadily lose body fat, I find some cardio is helpful, and the following schedule works very well:

Monday/Wednesday/Friday – Full body resistance training program  40-60-minutes

Tuesday/Thursday – Cardiovascular exercise   30-45 minutes

Saturday – Be active

Sunday – Rest

The full-body resistance training sessions will jump-start your metabolism by stimulating your muscle tissue. This will increase the number of calories that you burn during all activities. By training the body on non-consecutive days, you’ll give your muscles time to recover and repair so they’re ready to go for your next workout. The cardiovascular activity days will help to remove waste products and deliver healthy nutrients to your muscles in-between your resistance workouts, and will improve your cardiovascular health, while burning extra calories. Having a day on the weekend for activities like cycling, hiking, kayaking or sports will ensure enough variety in your week to prevent boredom, while providing a cross-training benefit. Resting your body one day per week is essential for re-charging your engine and keeping your energy levels up.

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The Workout

The full-body workouts recommended in this program aren’t specific when it comes to particular exercises, and the exercises can be changed from one day to the next. The important thing is that you use as much of your muscle mass as possible for the duration of the training session. The more muscle mass you use, the more calories you’ll burn, and the greater the benefit, both during the workout and afterward.

One approach is to take all of the major muscle groups in the body and pair them up. The three larger muscle groups that require compound exercises are the legs, back and chest. The smaller muscle groups that are targeted with more isolated exercises are the shoulders, biceps and triceps. Pair a large group with a small group (ie. legs + shoulders, back + triceps, chest + biceps) and choose two exercises for each muscle group. Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps of the first exercises, alternating between the muscle groups, then move on to 2 sets of 10-15 reps for the next exercises. Repeat for each pair of muscle groups.

A workout might look something like this:

Warm-up

Squats and DB Shoulder Press – 3 x 10-15

Walking Lunges and Upright Rows – 2 x 10-15

Seated Cable Rows and Overhead Tricep Rope – 3 x 10-15

Lat pulldowns and Bench Dips – 2 x 10-15

Incline DB press and Barbell Curls – 3 x 10-15

Pushups and DB Hammer Curls – 2 x 10-15

Core Work

This may seem like a lot of sets but if you keep moving from one exercise to the next, and only rest when changing exercises, you’ll easily get through the whole workout, including warm-up and core work, in 45-60 minutes.

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Nutrition: The Key Ingredient

There are dozens of books and internet websites devoted to eating for weight loss. Personally I’ve seen so many of my clients succeed with the approach of eating 4-5 small meals, evenly spaced throughout the day, that I’m not sure why anyone would do anything else. Choose high-quality foods, avoid snacking, and keep sugars, fats and alcohol to a minimum. Limit the amount of carbohydrates that you eat in your last two meals of the day. Diarizing everything you consume will help keep you accountable, and drinking lots of water will improve your digestion, absorption and removal of waste products.

Rob Williams is a Vancouver based multi-business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is an entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, athlete, father, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, coach and mentor to many young athletes in the North Shore community.www.williamshealthgroup.com

Sport Posture for Golf

When listening to Mixx clients talk about the swing technique of the touring professionals, there are a number of words that are consistently used. Smooth. Powerful. Fluid. Quick. Effortless. All of these words can be used to describe a good golf swing, yet these are words that don’t often get used together to describe one athletic movement.

In my opinion the golf swing is somewhat unique in the world of sports. In many athletic movements the athlete is either looking to generate power or is emphasizing finesse. The golf swing requires both. My golfing clients constantly comment that their drives are longer and straighter when they relax and don’t try as hard. This happens when we see maximal club head speed and power derived through fluid body mechanics. This is a rare combination of power and control.

To be able to consistently reproduce an exceptional swing, a golfer must train his or her body appropriately. Like any other sport, there’s no substitute for practice. At the same time, there’s significant additional benefit to be derived from off-sport conditioning to improve posture and alignment, enhance core stability and functional range of motion, and increase power.

When working with any athlete who performs their sport in a standing position, there are certain requirements for optimal performance. Neutral athletic position, effective core engagement and proximal to distal movement are all essential for fluid swing mechanics.

Following are three great exercises for golfers. Always remember to do a proper warm-up, and make sure that you consult your physician before undertaking a new fitness program or making changes to your current routine.

Like most athletic movements, golf requires stability in some parts of the body and mobility in others.

Ball squeeze torso pendulums

This movement will help you to maximize power to the ground by engaging both your adductors and abductors of your legs and hips as you create fluid rotation of the torso and upper extremities. Start by placing a small exercise ball on the floor between your legs and drop into a neutral athletic position, with your hips, knees and ankles slightly flexed and your core engaged. The ball should just fit between your legs when you’re in your standard foot placement as you address a golf ball. Place your legs snuggly up against the edge of the ball and lightly weight the inside edges of your feet. This should activate your inner thigh muscles just enough to lightly squeeze the ball. Hold a light medicine ball in both hands at arms length in front of your pelvis. Without letting your pelvis move at all, begin a small arcing motion from side to side with the medicine ball, being certain to create the rotational movement from your mid section, and not your arms. Be diligent about maintaining constant pressure through the ball and neutral alignment of the spine as you perform 30 turns. Gradually increase the speed and range of the rotations.

Lauren Taylor physiotherapist knows that by changing movement strategies, it is possible to create more mobility in tight joints.

Hip closer breakouts

Many golfers don’t have enough internal rotation at their hip joints, resulting in inefficient swing mechanics and unnecessary stress to their knee joints and spine. I find that this is especially prevalent in men. Stretching or other forms of muscle release are only effective if you re-train the movement patterns that caused the restrictions in the first place. To improve hip mobility, start in a neutral athletic position, with weight equally distributed between your feet and core engaged. Initiating the movement from the pelvis, break forward with your right leg, stepping slightly across in front of your left foot, while keeping your upper body facing forward. Holding a golf club in both hands across your chest can help you to maintain alignment. Be certain that your left leg doesn’t spin or flare outward, but stays in neutral forward alignment. Pause in this position, with equal weight on both feet, then fire back to the start position before repeating on the other side. Perform 2 sets of 30 breakouts. Focus on good head position and spinal alignment, remembering to breathe comfortably throughout the set.

When stretching pay close attention to balancing out your range of motion on both sides of the body

Quadruped golf twist

Rotational mobility is critical for golf, and symmetry in the body is very important. Start on your hands and knees with your back flat and spine neutral. Reach your right arm out and upward toward the ceiling as you rotate your torso and shoulders to your right side. Be certain to keep your hips and pelvis neutral to encourage greater spinal rotation. Breathe comfortably, letting your spine, shoulders and hips stretch out thoroughly for 15-20 seconds before taking a deep breath, exhaling and reaching even further upward for another 15-20 seconds. Perform this stretch on both sides of the body to ensure balanced flexibility.

Rob Williams is a Vancouver based business owner in the health and fitness industry. He is a kinesiologist, posture expert, entrepreneur, health and fitness columnist, presenter, inventor, athlete, father, prominent downtown vancouver personal trainer, coach and mentor to many young athletes in the North Shore community. http://www.williamshealthgroup.com/index.htm