Category Archives: Outside Exercise

Playground Series – Core Stability

When you train your core, whether at the playground or elsewhere, try to find exercises that challenge you from head to toe, with load or resistance from all angles. Be certain to properly engage your core muscles, and focus on proximal to distal movement as well as good body alignment. This kind of overall, integrated strength and stability should help you to move more efficiently and avoid issues like back pain.

Always remember to perform a progressive warm-up before training, and get medical approval before beginning a new fitness program, especially if you have a history of lower back pain or injury.

Hanging leg-raise – An excellent activity to work the front side of your body (flexors) is to hang from the monkeybars and raise your legs up in front of you. To do this safely and effectively, take an overhand grip, with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart. Don’t hang from anything that is too high, and be sure that the ground below you is clear. Once you’re suspended, engage your core stabilizers and slowly bring your knees toward your chest. Be sure to stay under control and avoid swinging or using any momentum as you draw your knees up as high as possible. It’s ok to allow your spine to flex as you lift your pelvis forward and upward. Pause at the top, then slowly lower your legs to the start position. To progressively increase the difficulty, raise your legs when they’re bent, extend them slightly at the top, then lower them in the longer position. Further progression will involve raising your legs when they’re straight. You can also raise them slightly to the right or left of center. Always maintain controlled movements and remember to engage your core muscles. Try performing 2-3 sets to fatigue, in good alignment and control.

Bridge with alternating legs – To train the muscles along the length of your spine and the backside of your pelvis and legs, find a level, elevated surface that will be comfortable for the back of your head and shoulders. Lay back, with the lower half of your body supported by your bent legs, with your feet flat on the ground. Ideally your body should be level and straight from your knee joints to your shoulders and ears. Place your fingertips on your abdomen, or on the front of your hip bones, so that you can feel if your pelvis drops or twists as you lift one foot from the ground. As you lift your left foot and extend the leg, think about keeping your knees side by side, and your hips level. If your left hip drops, the muscles in your right hip aren’t doing a good enough job of stabilizing. Perform 2-3 sets of 5 lifts per side.

Side plank – To work the muscles along the side of your body, try performing a side plank on the ground, or on an elevated surface, which should be slightly easier. Most people advance this exercise too quickly, and don’t pay enough attention to their overall spinal alignment and head position during this exercise, so be sure to keep your body long and neutral, without twisting or bending forward. Side planks can be done as a static hold, or you can add movement by sliding the hips up and down against the downward pull of gravity. They can also be made easier by bending your legs and keeping the knees on the ground. Another variation involves raising the top leg up and down off the lower leg, which will challenge your lateral hip muscles. Perform 2 or 3 30-second holds on each side.

Playground Workout – Upper Body

Playground pushups – I sometimes wonder if my readers are concerned that I’ve included pushups in a number of my columns in the past, but then I remember that although I’ve been training steadily for almost 30 years, I still perform pushups during many of my workouts. With so many variations of the basic pushup, this functional activity is easily one of the top all-time exercises. When doing pushups in the playground, it’s not difficult to find a surface that allows for the appropriate level of difficulty. Just remember that the higher your hands are above your feet, the easier the movement. For stronger people, or advanced exercisers, you can even place your feet on an elevated surface so that they are higher than your hands for increased difficulty. Always maintain controlled movements and remember to engage your core muscles so that your body remains level and doesn’t sag through the middle. Try performing 2-3 sets to fatigue, with excellent alignment and control.

Horizontal pull-ups – Many people are challenged to perform a single full-body chin-up, let alone complete enough to make it a worthwhile exercise. This is why I have a lot of my clients work with a variation I call the horizontal pull-up. Just like pushups, there are numerous different combinations and variations that allow you to modify the difficulty depending upon your level of fitness. The angle of your body, the length of your legs and the width of your grip will all determine how hard or easy the movement is for you. In the version shown, Lorna actually has her feet as high as her hands, which makes this a challenging exercise, but we’ve bent her legs so she can actually pull herself up. Experimenting with these variables will allow you to find the right location and position that provides sufficient challenge for you. Ideally we’re looking for a position that will allow you to perform 2-3 sets of approximately 12-15 repetitions.

Bench dips – Although pushups and pull-ups work the major muscles of the chest and back, they also require a contribution by the shoulders and arms. This is part of the reason they’re such great exercises. Another excellent exercise that targets the triceps muscles on the back of the upper arm, is the bench dip. You’ve likely seen this before, and maybe even tried it, but I’m always amazed at how effective this exercise really is. The next time you’re at the playground, find a bench or step that is comfortable for your hands. Sit with your hips at the very front edge of the bench and place the heels of your hands on the front edge of the bench. Supporting your bodyweight with your arms, slide your hips forward off the bench, and begin to lower your body by bending your elbows. Be sure to keep your head and chest up as you raise and lower your body by bending your elbows, and avoid straining your shoulders by going too low. Perform 2-3 sets of roughly 15 repetitions. You can increase the difficulty by straightening your legs or lifting one foot from the ground.

Playground Series – Lower body workout

As we are well into the summer holidays and the weather is a bit more consistent, it’s clear that people are spending a lot more time outside. This involves increased activity, which is a very good thing, but maybe you can step it up even more? Whether you’re walking the dog, or just keeping the kids away from the television, try to find a local park or school with a nice playground.

The great thing about playgrounds is that they make for excellent workout environments. The bars, benches, platforms and swings are perfect for exercising while you keep an eye on the kids. It’s also a natural way to expose children to the concept of regular exercise and functional fitness. By modeling healthy behavior you can positively influence their impressionable young minds. This can go a long way toward helping them to develop a positive attitude about exercise.

When you’re working out in a playground, it’s important to be aware of some of the basic principles of training, like making sure the environment is safe before you start exercising. This includes being aware of where your kids and other playground users are playing. The last thing you want is a 6 year old on a rope swing crashing into you while you’re doing a set of squats!

Click the below photos for details on the individual exercises.

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.

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

Better Bootcamp – Active Agility Exercises

Summer’s nearly here and the number of people looking to exercise outdoors is going to multiply quickly. Some will do it alone, some will be dragged out by their private trainer and a lot will sign up for a group training program commonly referred to as bootcamp.

Bootcamp programs are everywhere these days; in the parks, on the seawall, even in the children’s playgrounds before the kids are out of bed. Because of the demand for instructors to teach all of these classes, and the fact that sessions are often run during prime morning and evening timeslots, when full-time personal trainers are booked solid, the truth is that not all bootcamp instructors are the most highly qualified or experienced. There are some committed, educated professionals, but many are working day jobs in other industries, making extra cash teaching these fitness classes. Because of this, the level of knowledge and expertise about anatomy, biomechanics and athletic conditioning might not be what it should. Hopefully I can help.

With this Better Bootcamp series, I will provide useful information about a number of the common exercises incorporated in bootcamp classes. If you’re joining a group training program this summer, you’re likely to come across these exercises. Hopefully I can educate you about how to perform them safely and effectively. Some of the recommendations may seem a little picky, like when I talk about maintaining a neutral pelvis, but believe me when I tell you that this is the kind of stuff that makes the difference between a successful training session and an icepack on the low back.

Whether you’re doing these exercises on your own, or participating in a bootcamp group somewhere, make sure you warm up fully before performing the movements. Pay close attention to the recommendations and stop if you feel pain.

Try to initiate movements from your mid-section rather than your extremities

Lateral Shuffles

In bootcamp, lateral movement is often incorporated as part of the warm-up, which is fine. The reason I’ve singled this movement out is because it helps me to teach an overall movement strategy that can be applied to almost every exercise you do. This is the strategy of proximal to distal movement, which I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from well-known physiotherapist Rick Celebrini, and it’s an important one. I’ve touched on the concept in previous columns, and the easiest way to explain it is that all movement should be initiated from your core, and then transferred to your extremities, rather than the other way around. In lateral shuffles, this means that rather than casting your leg out to the side and then following with the rest of your body (Figure 1) you should lead with a small lateral movement at the pelvis and allow the leg come along as part of the deal. (Figure 2) If you do this properly, you stand a much greater chance of maintaining stability at all of your joints, while improving movement efficiency.

Proper core muscle activation can help you protect your spine

Star Jumps.

This exercise involves jumping from a position with arms and feet together, spreading out like a star while in the air, and then landing back in a closed position. There’s one technique point that can help to prevent stress through the lower back when doing star jumps. Often as bootcampers fatigue, they will begin to lose control of their movements, and what happens is that they will really start to throw their arms and legs. This exaggerated movement puts increased ballistic forces through the mid-section, where the muscles are also tired. In the star jump, this can cause hyper-extension of the lower back at the top of the movement. You can prevent this by activating your deep abdominal muscles (lightly draw your belly button inward and upward toward your spine) to stabilize your lower back and pelvis as you jump.

The leg thrust portion of the burpee can sometimes be the most challenging

Burpees (aka Squat Thrusts).

Because burpees are so dynamic, involving multiple muscle groups during the squat, leg thrust and jump portions, it’s not easy to break it down to highlight one aspect. The area that I find to be most challenged in this movement is the lower back. When doing the burpee, be certain that you’ve activated those abdominal and lower back muscles to stabilize your lumbar spine and pelvis and prevent hyper-extension or excessive flextion during the movements. If your instructor is asking for burpees and you’re not feeling up to the task, skip the leg thrust portion of the exercise and just do the squat and jump. Another option is to just kick one leg back, rather than two, alternating legs on each repetition.

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. www.williamshealthgroup.com