Category Archives: The Province Articles

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.

Common Training Troubles – Elbows

One body part where there are a number of common issues is the elbow joint. Terms like tennis elbow, and golfers elbow, get thrown around regularly when people have pain in their elbows. Other related conditions, like carpal tunnel syndrome, also involve the elbow joint and muscles of the forearm.

One of the problems with elbow injuries is that this area of your body is constantly in use. People with pain in their elbows commonly list simple activities like typing, driving, writing, shaking hands or turning doorknobs as movements that aggravate their condition. When nearly everything you do causes pain, it can be pretty hard to fully rest the injury.

Over the years I’ve had my own share of elbow injuries. These have included troubles at the outer, or lateral, side of the elbow involving my forearm extensor muscles as well as at the inner, or medial, side of the elbow involving my flexor muscles. I’ve had problems develop from repeated overuse like extended fly-fishing trips, and from acute injuries during sports. Sometimes the issues have resolved quickly, while other times they have lasted for extended periods.

If you’ve ever struggled with elbow pain, you know how challenging it can be to live your life and participate in your favorite activities without making the problem worse. However, what I’ve found with many people is that they will just put up with the pain and let it linger for months or years, because it’s not debilitating like an acute lower back or knee problem. Take it from me, it’s better to prevent elbow problems if possible, and if they do arise, get on top of them quickly so they don’t become chronic.

Always remember to perform a progressive warm-up when you exercise, and be sure to get medical approval before starting a new fitness program.

Knowledge – Most problems that arise in the elbow area are easier to diagnose than more complicated body parts, like the lower back. This is because there are less joint articulations and for the most part the muscles are more superficial. For this reason, it really makes sense to get a timely, accurate diagnosis of what is causing the problem so you can start doing the right things to correct it.

Of course there are some conditions that can be tricky to assess but a well-trained and experienced practitioner should be able to give you an accurate diagnosis without too much difficulty. If the joints of the shoulder, elbow and wrist are functioning effectively, you’re likely looking at muscle imbalance as a primary contributor, unless an acute traumatic injury occurred. As an example, if the flexor muscles in your forearm are too tight, the smaller extensor muscles can be working too hard to move your wrist and hand, which can cause strain and pain in the tendons. By knowing exactly which stretches and strengthening exercises to perform, you can be well on the way to eliminating your pain.

Treatment – Treating an elbow issue effectively often takes diligence, especially if it’s a problem that has lingered for a while. The first steps are to ensure the joints are functioning properly, then reduce any inflammation in the joints or tissues. For this, icing and ibuprofen may be in order. Icing small body parts like the lateral epicondyle of the elbow can most easily be done with ice massage. Fill a few small Styrofoam cups with water and freeze them. When you need to ice, just pull out a cup, peel back a small amount of Styrofoam to expose the ice, and gently massage the painful area.

Once you’ve reduced the inflammation, gentle exercises to balance the muscles are probably in order. Because of the tendency to aggravate elbow problems, go gently at first until you build up tolerance. For rehabilitation add specific movements like resisted finger extension to more global movements like wrist rotation, flexion and extension.

Prevention – Avoiding elbow problems is challenging in a day and age where computer and smart phone usage is so prevalent. These products put high demands on certain muscles of the forearms and can cause repetitive stress injuries. Sport-specific injuries are also a potential problem when certain movements are performed over and over.

Your best bet is to maintain optimal strength, flexibility and balance in your body, by focusing on good posture and overall fitness. On top of this, pay attention to the health of the muscles in your forearms by doing regular preventive stretching exercises, like the forearm extensor stretch shown here. Extend your right arm in front of you and place your left thumb under your right wrist. Use your left hand to flex your wrist toward the floor. If you don’t feel a stretch in your forearm, curl your fingers up into your palm.

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.

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.

Common training troubles – Knees

After my last columns on the problem areas of the lower back and shoulder, I couldn’t decide what should be number three on my list of common training troubles. One of my clients helped me to decide that knees should get the nod.

A year ago Wayne Deans’ right knee was swollen, painful and debilitating. After an MRI his doctor told him he had no cartilage left on the joint surfaces, and he needed joint replacement surgery. I’m going to share how he’s been able to avoid surgery so far, and at 66 years old, is currently very active and 100% pain-free.

The knee is a relatively simple hinge joint, but it does have its share of problems. Because of the amount of stress we impose on our knees through weight-bearing activities like running, cycling, golf and skiing, the internal structures of the joint can become damaged and worn. This leads to painful, progressive conditions like arthritis. In Wayne’s case, years of high-level competition in hockey, squash and triathlons had taken their toll.

In addition to wear and tear, acute knee injuries are common. Torn cartilage or ruptured ligaments can happen to anyone, at almost any time, and will often need surgical repair. I’ve had a major knee reconstructive surgery myself, as a result of a soccer injury. It was performed 25 years ago by Dr. Brian Day, and because I saw the top surgeon and was diligent about my rehabilitation, the knee has been 100% functional since.

In the case of Wayne, myself, and dozens of other clients, the most important aspect of managing knee injuries is to minimize the stress to the joints through proper body position and movement strategies, while optimizing strength and flexibility in the legs.

Always remember to perform a progressive warm-up before training or sports, and get medical approval before beginning a new fitness program.

Knowledge – It’s pretty hard to address a complicated, painful joint condition without knowing exactly what is causing the problem. A good practitioner can often accurately diagnose a knee condition through a detailed history and careful assessments, however appropriate imaging like X-ray or MRI is sometimes necessary. Once you’ve determined the cause, an effective management strategy can be put in place.

When I first injured my own knee, the sports medical practitioners in my hometown put me through almost 6 months of passive treatment, like ultrasound, etc. Every time I would try to play sports I would re-injure the knee and it would swell up like a balloon. Finally I came to Vancouver to see Dr. Day and in 2 minutes he told me that my ligament was ruptured and I would need surgical repair. All the therapy in the world wouldn’t have made a difference. The right diagnosis was essential.

 

Treatment – Just like the other areas that I’ve discussed, if you do have a knee problem, whether acute or chronic, try to get an assessment and treatment by a qualified practitioner that you trust. Once you’ve learned the cause of your issue, I’m going to bet that a good portion of your treatment plan will include strengthening the muscles that support the knee joint, and stretching the muscles that surround it.

Even in a condition like Wayne’s, where the joint is seriously worn and the bone-on-bone contact is causing pain and inflammation, a simplified approach of improved strength and flexibility can yield great results. Where he used to have a 6-8” deficiency in the flexion of his right knee, Wayne has worked hard to achieve full range of motion, getting his heel to his buttocks. We’ve also re-programmed how he stands and moves to properly utilize his muscles and joints. Through a combination of better body position, core function and movement quality, Wayne now uses the correct muscles, which keep his knees healthy rather than harming them.

Prevention – What can you do if you’ve never had a serious knee issue, and want to avoid them? As far as I’m concerned maintaining strong, flexible legs should give you the best chance of living your life with healthy knees. Of equal importance is making sure you move your body in a way that doesn’t cause wear and tear. I’ll use Wayne as an example again. As part of my assessment I determined that every time Wayne transferred his weight onto his right leg, his glute and hip musculature was less active than it should be. This allowed his pelvis to slide too far outward, rather than staying in line with his body, and put too much weight forward onto the ball of his foot. This shift of the pelvis off-loaded his strong, stable hip joint and transferred excessive load and rotational stress to the knee joint. Every step was aggravating his knee. Changing this pattern has been a big part of his success.

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.

Flexibility for Golf

Because of the movement mechanics during the golf swing, functional flexibility is very important, and most golfers I know don’t spend enough time focusing on this. Golfing clients often notice instant improvement in their game when we begin to release certain parts of their bodies that are involved in their swing.

As I’ve written before when discussing flexibility and stretching, there are two important times to stretch, and different approaches needed at each. Shortly before playing a round of golf or driving a bucket of balls, the golfer should perform dynamic warm-up activities and dynamic range of motion movements that prepare their body for the ballistic rotation of the repetitive swings. An example of this kind of movement would be side to side torso twists, where you might perform 20-30 repetitive turns with increasing range and speed.

The kind of stretching and flexibility work that you do after you’ve played, or on non-playing days, can be referred to as static stretching. This is the more traditional stretching, where you warm up your body first, then perform specific golf-related stretches that are held for longer durations (usually 30-60-seconds). The focus of this kind of stretching is to permanently lengthen short muscles that can restrict your mobility or cause you to lose your balance during your swing.

Following are three great exercises for flexibility and improved function. 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.

Shoulder mobilizers

The necessary range of motion at the shoulders is quite significant during the swing, and regular stretching can help improve your performance. Since many golfers don’t have enough flexibility at their shoulder joints, they experience inefficient swing mechanics and unnecessary stress. A golf club is an excellent tool for improving your overall shoulder mobility. Start by holding the club in your right hand, placing your thumb at a certain position on the club. Reach the club up and over your back, letting it hang down behind your backside. Reach up with your left hand to grab the bottom of the club. Hold for 30-60 seconds, gradually working your hands closer to each other. Release the club with the right hand, and notice the location of your left hand on the bottom of the club. Now repeat with the left hand on top, paying attention to the overall distance between your hands, and symmetry from one side to the other. Focus on good head position and spinal alignment, remembering to breathe comfortably throughout this stretch.

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.

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 spinal flexibility. 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 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 through your mid section, and not with 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 for increased flexibility.

Shape-Up Series – Anterior core

I’ve written about this before, and I want to stress again that the true definition of the body’s core is more than just a certain muscle or muscles that you can see in the mirror. Your core is a complex system involving numerous muscles in different layers, as well as other soft tissues and the bony structures they attach to. This also includes body systems like breathing, as well as your strategy of contraction, recruitment and integration.

To try to accurately and comprehensively relay this information through a few words and pictures is difficult, but I strongly believe that a little awareness and understanding is better than none. To train the muscles in your mid-section without this awareness is like driving a car with a flat tire. You might get where you’re going, but you’ll have very little control and probably cause costly damage along the way.

Anterior Core Setting

 In almost any movement you do, there is the potential for your body to be either strong and stable, or weak and unstable. Strong and stable is always better. This starts with good inner unit core activation, which provides stability for your pelvis and lower spine and initiates good firing patterns and sequencing for your muscles. On a daily basis, and before any core training or athletic activity, it’s good to practice this movement. Start on your back with your legs bent and heels on the floor. Place your fingertips flat on your lower abdomen so you can feel if it domes upward or flares wide. Take a deep breath in and exhale, allowing your abdomen to rise and fall. Once it has fallen inward, ‘set’ your inner-unit core system by contracting your pelvic floor muscles (as if you were gently trying to stop going to the bathroom). You should be able to feel your lower tummy flatten slightly. Now slowly perform a curl-up movement, leading with your lower ribcage rather than your head, while keeping your lower abdomen flat and narrow. Try to leave your legs (especially your hamstrings) relaxed as you go through this movement. Attempt 2-3 holds of 20-30 seconds, breathing comfortably and improving your core engagement throughout.

Ball Plank

Doing a plank on the floor is an excellent exercise, and performing it on a ball adds a whole new dimension. 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 before you lose control.

Twisting Ball Crunch

When you’ve established the ability to maintain proper core activation, exercises like this ball crunch will be much more effective. Start by sitting on a ball and roll your hips forward until your lower back is on the dome of the ball. Have your feet hip to shoulder width apart and maintain a good core set. Place your fingertips behind your ears and lean back until your spine is in straight, neutral alignment. Crunch upward and twist to one side, moving your head, arms and shoulders as a single unit. Lower to the center and repeat to the other side. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions per side. If this is too challenging, try keeping your arms folded across your chest.

Push/Pull Summer Shape Up

Often in the training industry we’ll look at exercises, or training programs, in terms of which movements are being performed rather than which specific muscles are being worked. One common example of this is the development of a ‘push/pull’ workout.

Of course, most pushing movements with the upper body involve the major muscles of the chest, anterior shoulders and triceps, while most pulling movements require the participation of the back, posterior shoulders and some biceps. The benefit of taking the movement perspective when it comes to training is that it is sometimes easier to develop a program that is balanced.

As an example of what I mean by this, many fitness enthusiasts are following a program that is based on training specific muscle groups, like chest, shoulders, triceps, etc. This can be an excellent approach, but what often happens by the time they’ve put their program together is that they select a total of 5 or 6 pushing exercises, but only 2 or 3 pulling exercises. When you perform twice the training volume in one direction as the other, you’re bound to develop imbalance, which can lead to injury. Just be careful to do as much pulling as pushing when you train.

Again this week I’ve recruited Catlin Carruthers, a kinesiologist at my studio, to demonstrate exercises that can be performed with very little equipment. These training tools are inexpensive and readily available, which means they’re perfect for this kind of workout.

As always, technique is important, so watch your core engagement and posture throughout the workout. Remember to perform a dynamic warm-up before each session and check with your physician before starting a fitness program.

Seated Toner Row

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More often than not, it’s pulling or rowing movements that get neglected in training programs. Maybe this is because the back muscles targeted by these exercises aren’t visible to you on a daily basis, so it’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Whatever the reason, these exercises shouldn’t be ignored. For this exercise, use a relatively short, firm toner if possible. Start by sitting with your feet against the base of a wall and your legs extended, with a slight bend in your knees. Loop the toner over and pinch it against the wall with your feet. Holding the handles in each hand, sit tall, with a long spine and strong core engagement. Begin pulling on the handles of the toner, keeping your elbows out wide from the sides of your body and ensuring that your shoulders stay low, away from your ears. Pull your elbows back as far as you can, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Pause in this position, then release slowly to a position where your arms are in front of you, and repeat. If your toner is long, just shorten up on the handles, or pinch some slack between your feet. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions, resting about one minute between sets. Always breathe comfortably, exhaling on exertion.

Medicine Ball Pushup

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Pushups are an excellent pushing exercise that can be modified for exercisers of all abilities. Those who aren’t as strong yet can do pushups against a wall or on the edge of a desk. For those looking for a bit more of a challenge, try this version. Start in a full push-up position, with good spinal alignment and core support. Place one hand on a firm ball. This will increase the instability during the movement and challenge more muscles in your body. When performing the pushup motion, try to maintain equal weight distribution on both hands, while keeping the ball still. Be careful not to go too low, which could overload the shoulder that’s on the ball. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions on each side. If this is too challenging, try putting your knees on the floor.

Toner Crossover Punch

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Pulling and pushing movements like those described in the previous exercises are pretty common, and are fairly easy to perform. The Toner Crossover Punch is a bit more complicated and uses many more muscles of the body. Start by holding the handles of your toner and stand on the center, with your feet about hip width apart. Now cross the handles to your opposite hands and drop into a slightly flexed, athletic position. Keeping good core engagement and postural alignment, raise your hands to the level of your chest and hold this starting position. Without tilting or twisting your body, or allowing your hips and knees to move, push one hand forward in a punching motion. Work hard to keep your arm from dropping as you stretch the toner. Draw the arm back and repeat with the other arm. Perform 3 sets of 20-30 repetitions in a smooth, controlled fashion, alternating arms. To challenge different muscles, try holding your hands wider or punching in a slightly different direction on each repetition, sometimes going wider, higher, etc. As you get more comfortable with the movement, you can also increase the speed of the punch.