Common training troubles – Save your shoulders

When it comes to keeping your body healthy and pain-free, there are a few target areas that I feel should get a little more attention than others. The lower back, which I discussed last week, has to be number one on the list. Shoulders are a close second.

The shoulder is a fairly complicated and unstable joint. It doesn’t have a lot of security provided by the bony structures, so it relies on soft tissues like the small rotator cuff muscles to help keep it safe and strong. I would estimate that 80-90% of my training clients over the years have presented with some degree of shoulder problems. Sometimes this is from an acute injury, but most often it’s a problem that has developed slowly and nagged them for a long time.

Throughout my own sport and exercise career I’ve probably had more issues with my shoulders than any other body-part. A lot of this involved injuries caused by soccer, football or heavy weight training, but I’ve also had a lot of chronic pain from tendonitis, impingement and so on. The thing that I’ve learned from dealing with my clients, and my own issues, is that the majority of chronic shoulder problems don’t usually originate at the shoulder joint.

To effectively prevent, manage and improve shoulder problems, it’s important to understand how the shoulder joint works, and how the function of the rest of your body is contributing to any problems you might have. With this understanding you can proceed in the right direction toward building strong, healthy shoulders.

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

Knowledge – As mentioned earlier, it helps to be knowledgeable about your existing condition, and the rest of your body, when you’re trying to improve your shoulders. Having a thorough assessment by someone with a good working knowledge of shoulder mechanics and overall body function can be invaluable. Because of the shape and mechanics of the structures in the shoulder, avoiding certain positions or movements could be important for you, but not for someone else who has shoulder pain for an entirely different reason.

In a lot of cases shoulder pain can result from compromised spacing inside the shoulder joint. This space, which is usually around 10mm in a healthy joint, can be reduced significantly by poor posture, muscle imbalance or faulty movement patterns. This can cause pinching of tissues like the rotator cuff tendons, producing inflammation, tearing and even rupture.

A simple test of flexibility and joint range of motion can usually reveal this condition. If you learn that one or both of your shoulders is in this state, there are a number of simple maintenance exercises to improve it.


Prevention – Once I learned what was causing the issues with my own shoulders I was able to train and play hard without problems. This has helped me to implement successful prevention and rehabilitation programs with many of my clients. Maintaining good posture is a huge factor in avoiding shoulder issues. By keeping your spine, ribcage and shoulder blades in the right position, your arms are fee to move without putting stress on your shoulder joints. Good flexibility throughout the body is also essential for shoulder function. Anytime your muscles restrict your movement, your joints usually suffer. Keep the muscles that surround and attach to your shoulder blades loose and balanced to ensure fluid motion at your joints. This can be done with stretching, massage or rolling out your muscles.

Another major factor in shoulder maintenance is the movement strategy that you use when pushing or pulling. At all times, focus on generating force from the center of your body. This should come from the middle of your chest when pushing, and between your shoulder blades when pulling. Doing this will engage the larger muscles and take strain off your shoulder joints.

Treatment – If you do have shoulder problems, whether acute or chronic, try to get an assessment and treatment by a qualified practitioner that you trust. I know from experience that Active Release Technique, known as A.R.Ttm is a remarkably effective treatment for long-term shoulder problems. If you start to feel pain in your shoulder joints during or after activity, be sure to rest the area immediately and do what you can to reduce inflammation to the injured tissues. I offered suggestions for this last week, including icing the area right after the injury occurs to reduce the level of pain and inflammation, trying homeopathic remedies or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or pain-killers for comfort. Unfortunately too many people ignore shoulder issues when they’re small, which is how they become more serious.



Common Training Problems – Low Back Pain

Anyone who plays sports or exercises regularly has probably experienced a variety of common body ailments or pain syndromes. It’s pretty hard to use your body to it’s fullest potential without running into issues like shoulder pain, or lower back pain. In my own athletic and exercise career I’ve managed a good number of these injuries, and thought it might be helpful to share some insight.

Lower back pain is a very common condition. A prevalent statistic is that 80% of people will experience some degree of low back pain in their lives. Based on my own personal and professional experience I’ve got to think that the number is at least that high, if not higher.

The thing about back pain is that it can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and for a lot of different reasons. My own back pains over the years have been related to pelvic malalignment due to a leg-length discrepancy. When I don’t train as regularly as I should, or I try to lift too heavy, I sometimes tweak my lower back and disrupt the alignment of my spine or sacrum (part of the pelvis). This happened to me recently and I spent most of the last weekend face down with ice on my back.

There are a number of things we all can do to help prevent lower back pain, as well as reduce the severity of an acute incident. With a good working knowledge of your own lower back you should be able to minimize the impact that back troubles have on your life.

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


Knowledge – Whether you’re trying to achieve great results with your fitness training program, improve your golf game, or avoid back pain, it helps to be knowledgeable about your existing condition. This knowledge usually comes in the form of baseline testing or assessments. Avoiding back pain is a lot easier if you know what movements or activities might be more stressful to your back, based on your own unique structure and anatomy. This is part of the rationale that we use during assessments at my training studio and posture clinic. Awareness of the condition of your spine, imbalances that exist or functional weaknesses can give you the knowledge that you need to fortify your body, or change your movement patterns. This, in turn, can help you to avoid problematic activities and back troubles. Even a test of flexibility and core muscle strength can shed a lot of light on potential weaknesses that might leave you vulnerable to lower back injury. I urge you to learn as much as you can about this important area of your body.


Prevention – There are a number of strategies for preventing lower back pain. Regular low impact aerobic exercises, like walking or swimming, are excellent for keeping muscles active and balanced while building strength and endurance. Building a strong core stabilization system is also very important. The core acts like a protective belt around your entire mid-section, and when it works properly it will enhance your movement while reducing stress to your body’s bones, joints and other tissues. Strength in your other muscles will help to make movement and lifting much less taxing on your lower back. It’s also very desirable to maintain good flexibility in your hips and upper legs, to allow for good postural alignment and un-restricted movement. And remember that being overweight puts additional strain on your lower back, as well as other joints and structures of your body, so work hard to maintain a healthy weight for your body.


Treatment – If you do experience an acute episode of lower back pain, try to get an assessment and/or treatment by a chiropractor, physiotherapist, or other qualified practitioner that you trust. The right treatment can reduce a seriously troublesome lower back episode to nothing more than a day or two of mild discomfort. I know this from my own repeated experience, and I can’t understand why people wait weeks to see if their pain goes away on it’s own. If you can’t see a practitioner right away, be sure to rest the area immediately and do what you can to reduce inflammation to the injured tissues. Icing the area right after the injury occurs can make a big difference in reducing the level of pain and inflammation. Many specialists also recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or pain-killers for comfort. There are also a number of homeopathic remedies that might help. Overall, it’s important not to over-react, but to take the matter seriously.

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.

Flexibility for Tennis

I’m not sure if I’m right about this or not, but it sure seems to me that tennis is growing in popularity. I’m seeing far more coverage on television than ever before, and I’m meeting lots of young athletes that are competing seriously and are focused on their performance. When I work with these athletes, one area that always comes into play is their flexibility.

Tennis is primarily a one-sided sport, requiring much more activity from the dominant arm. In addition to the arm activity, the foot placement and torso motions can be asymmetrical, and after many days, months and years of play, the body can wind up getting a little imbalanced.

To make sure that you have adequate functional flexibility to play tennis, and to prevent your body from developing imbalances between your right and left sides, it’s a good idea to regularly perform a variety of sport-specific stretches. Think about what will happen if you try to perform a powerful overhand serve, but the muscles of your arm, shoulder, torso, hips or legs aren’t flexible enough to allow you to let loose with a smooth, powerful stroke. At the very least the performance of your shot will be compromised, but it’s also possible to injure yourself any time you attempt a powerful, dynamic movement through ranges of motion that your body isn’t ready for.

Following are three great exercises for flexibility and improved function during your tennis match. These stretches would primarily be performed after games or practice sessions, and on non-playing days. Hold each one for 30-60 seconds, breathing comfortably throughout. 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.

Pivot rotation

Because there is a significant amount of rotation involved in tennis, it’s important to make sure that your trunk and spine can turn efficiently, without putting stress on your body. Sometimes we want the hips to turn during rotation, while other times the goal is to maintain lower body stability with movement between the pelvis and ribcage. This stretch is very effective for opening up this area and progressing your mobility. Start by standing with your side toward a pole or other vertical support. Place your feet roughly shoulder width apart and hinge forward at the hip joints, keeping your back flat and spine long. Reach to the side with your left arm and grasp the pole, then turn your shoulders and ribcage to the left as you reach across and grab on with the right hand. Hold this rotated position, gradually working to turn your body slightly further each time you exhale. Now repeat on the right side, looking for symmetry from one side to the other. Focus on good head position and spinal alignment, remembering to breathe comfortably throughout this stretch.

Standing cross-over side flexion

The mobility of the muscles along the side of your body (lateral slings) is most important during overhead shots where you must be able to reach overhead. This can become imbalanced because of the lack of reaching with the non-dominant arm. To stretch these slings, stand with your left side to a wall, and cross your right leg behind your left. This leg position will increase the stretch of your iliotibial band over your right hip and the outside of your leg. Now lean toward the wall and reach up and over your head with your right arm being careful not to twist your body. Breathe comfortably, letting your spine, shoulders and hips stretch out before taking a deep breath, exhaling and reaching even further upward. Perform this stretch on both sides of the body to ensure balanced flexibility.

Sloppy pushup

In most sports, and most daily activities, there is a predominance for flexion positions, where the body bends forward. In tennis, the act of picking up the ball, or being in a flexed, ready position are examples of these actions. Less frequently the body is required to bend backward into a position of extension, and it’s important to maintain this mobility. A combined, passive/active exercise for this movement is something I call the sloppy pushup. Start on your stomach on the floor or mat, and gently press your body upward on your hands into an extended position until you feel a light stretch through your spine and abdomen. Keeping your hands side by side and your core engaged, slowly lift one hand 1” off the floor, without letting your body shift or tilt. Lower this hand and repeat with the other. Perform 20 lifts, gradually widening your hand position to increase the challenge on your core muscles. Raise you body slightly higher for an increased stretch.

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.

Better Biking Flexibility

The number of my friends and clients who are wrapped in lycra and spending hours each week on their road bikes is increasing dramatically. Whether they’re riding for recreation, or training for charity rides or the very popular Fondos, the hours these people spend on the bike take a toll on the body, and it’s important to know how to stretch to maintain good physical health.

Fortunately there are many excellent bike shops doing a good job of fitting these riders with bikes that are properly adjusted for their bodies. However, even with the best bike fit, the cycling position is one of flexion and sustained repetitions of controlled movement. Just consider the activity of the hip joint during a long ride. The fixed range of motion, and thousands of repetitions, can result in tightness of muscles like the hip flexors and hamstrings.

When these muscles get shortened and tight from these activities, they can affect an individual’s posture and movement, even when they’re not on the bike, and can contribute to chronic pain and injury. With a simple structural maintenance plan to manage these muscles and balance the alignment of the body, it’s possible to enjoy favorite activities like cycling without suffering the consequences.

For the cyclists that I work with to improve performance and prevent injury, my goal is to balance their flexibility to permit a more neutral pelvis and spine when they ride. This reduces stress and allows for improved stability and power production.

Click here for full article with 3 essential bike stretches.

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


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


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


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.