Friday, March 28, 2008

Fitness at any Age

Stanley Paris, PhD, PT, FAPTA is a living legend in the field of physical therapy. His influence on the way that we understand and practice manual techniques and the hands-on treatments of musculoskeletal injury has literally changed the field.

Dr. Paris' blog, chronicling his experiences as he trains to swim the English Channel to raise money and awareness for much-needed research in physical therapy, is an interesting and inspiring journal and a great read. It's even more incredible when you realize that Dr. Paris is 70 years old. When he completes his journey, he will have broken the World Record as the oldest person to swim the Channel.

It's an amazing story, but the fact is that this is nothing new for Dr. Paris. Twenty-five years ago, he successfully swam the Channel twice. He has also competed in and completed the World Championship Ironman in Hawaii. In other words, Dr. Paris has made a lifestyle around competition, health and exercise. By adopting a healthy lifestyle earlier in his life, he defies the norm now.

So what will you be doing when you're 70 years-young? Chances are, it will basically be what you're doing right now. Whether you're swimming the Channel or channel surfing...well, that's up to you.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Getting a Leg Up on Performance

Q: Jonathan,
At a workshop I attended this weekend, the instructor said that short/tight and weak hip flexors go together a lot and that this will affect your squat do I determine what's a weak hip flexor?

A: Our bodies work best in balance. Any tight muscle on one side of a joint can affect its opposite (antagonist) muscle on the other side. At the hips, a stiff or shortened hip flexor (the psoas) will cause a weakening of the glutes on the opposite side of the hips, a phenomenon called inhibition. When exercise physiologists or coaches refer to muscle dysfunction, this is one of the ways in which a muscle can become dysfunctional.

In the case of a squat, you can easily see how this can negatively affect your movement: a short psoas will cause a dysfunction in its antagonists, the glutes. Normally, the glutes play a significant role in hip extension when you stand out of the deepest point in your squat (the concentric phase). If your glutes are weak, your hamstrings and erector spinae (the long muscles of your back) will overcompensate because of this (called a synergist dominance, which is how your body deals with faulty muscle activity), and this will possibly lead to muscle overuse injuries. Even worse, the psoas (which is sometimes included as half of a larger muscle called the illiopsoas) attaches at your lumbar spine, which can affect your hip mobility and lead to chronic damage in the spine.

None of this is good!

To see how your hip flexors match up, perform this simple self-test: Stand with your back and arms against a wall in order to prevent back extension. Lift your right leg so that the knee is above your hips and hold your leg there for 10 seconds. Repeat with your left leg. If you're unable to hold either leg in that position for 10 seconds due to fatigue or cramping, it's safe to say that you have a hip flexor weakness.

Luckily in this case, the test is also a good way to treat the problem, too. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps on each leg as part of your accessory work, and along with appropriate dynamic stretching for hip mobility you'll be able to audition with the Rocketts in no time!


Friday, March 7, 2008

Lazy Lifting

I used to play a game at my old gym, where there was an elevator that led to the 2nd floor where the gym was located. I would wait by the elevator and see just how many members would use the elevator instead of the stairs to get to the exercise once they got there.

On most days, it would be nearly 100%. Apparently, exercising in the gym was fine, but for anything outside of the gym, including how they got there, they took the easiest way possible.

I guess that the logic there was that you wouldn't want to exert yourself actually getting to the gym.

...Isn't that the point?

So what's your viewpoint and approach towards your own goals? Trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or otherwise improve yourself by using the path of least resistance won't work terribly well for terribly long, and pushing yourself in the gym but not following that approach throughout the rest of your day will basically get you...terrible results.

Your goals won't be achieved just because you showed up: they take hard work and effort in every aspect of your day...And that really is the point.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Perfecting Your Deadlift

The deadlift is one of the most functional and natural exercises that we can use in the gym. If you've ever picked something up from the floor, you've performed a "natural" deadlift technique to accomplish it. Ironically, what should be a highly intuitive and second-nature way to move is one of the least understood and often incorrectly performed exercises seen today. And the only thing worse than not including deadlifts into your routines is by performing these highly effective and challenging exercises with poor form (or in this case, probably the most horrible thing that I think that I've ever seen in my entire life):

One of the keys to performing a perfect deadlift is in keeping your spine in its natural alignment and learning how to move with the hips and not with the low back or even the knees (the knees will bend in a deadlift, but even this is dictated by the hips first. Never try to "squat your deadlift"). By moving your hips backwards and keeping the back naturally arched, holding the shoulder blades tight and depressed down (the opposite of a shoulder shrug), you will train your posterior chain (all of the muscles that span the back of the body) both safely and effectively.

The problem is, most people won't realize that they've got it wrong until it's too late and they've developed back pain and damage from years of bad deadlifts, both in as well as out of the gym. So here's an easy test to see if you've got it right:

Stand roughly 10-12 inches away from a wall (depending on how tall you are) while holding a broomstick in your hands with the back straight and your abs braced tight (i.e. in a deadlift position). Now, try and get your glutes to touch against the wall by moving the hips back towards the wall and keeping your back straight without losing your balance. This is hip flexion. If you can't do this, you're mistaking the motion of lumbar flexion (the bending of your lower back) for hip flexion.

Hopefully you understood this motion and got it right...if not, you've got some lifting homework to do.