Technique Tuesday: Knee Tucks

This edition of Technique Tuesday focuses on a core exercise that we use often in our training sessions and bootcamps, knee tucks or suspended crunches.  These are typically done using glide discs, but the TRX can also accomplish the same goal, albeit slightly harder.

The Basics

In the last edition of Technique Tuesday, we went over our plank position in the last edition of Technique Tuesday.  If you missed it, just click here to review.  Starting in a push-up position, with the feet on glide discs or in the TRX foot cradle, maintain the basic plank.  From this point, you are going to use your core to drive the knees in towards the chest.   Once the knees get slightly past the hips, push the feet back to the starting position.

Two key points to remember:

  • Elevate the hips as the knees come in to maintain a neutral spine.
  • Avoid rocking the entire body to get through the exercise

One way to ensure a solid knee tuck that will eliminate the first technique breakdown is to put a foam roller under the hips.  This will give you a target to shoot for as the knees come in.  Hit the roller and you’ve likely dropped your hips and knees too low to the ground.  Hover slightly above the roller, and you’re in a better spot for more effective knee tucks. Practice these with the roller first, then progress from there.

 


Are You Imprisoned by Your Unhealthy Habits? Part 3

In this final part we are going to discuss how to  break those negative habits and thrive in the habits that will get us to a healthier, stronger YOU!

We have identified our habits, we’ve looked at their patterns, now we are going to take that information and apply it to our lives one question at a time:

•Do your health habits out weigh the unhealthy habits?

If you find that this is the case with you, how far off balance are the habits? Make it your goal for the month to reduce the unhealthy habits. Perhaps even replacing them with positive habits that you have been telling yourself you are going to instill. Depending on how far off balance they are you may need to pick three to replace. However, try to limit how extreme you get. Attempting to ride yourself of every habit that could be holding you back at once could result in feeling overwhelmed and may result in failure. Take it one step at a time.

• Is there a pattern to your habits?

Did you find a pattern to your habits? Its great when we have our habits set in motion and we don’t even have to think about whether or not we will execute them. Unfortunately the same can be true of the less than perfect habits. If you found that certain actions set off those habits, Can you adjust your daily routine to avoid those actions? For example, If you stop at the same place for breakfast every morning but you’re tempted by the treats they have for sale, could you try to prepare your own breakfast an avoid tempting yourself? Break the patterns that set off the actions you know will send you down the path you are trying every day to avoid.

• Which habits occur the most throughout your week?

This brings us back to our first question. Are you finding that some habits far outweigh other ones? If its a habit such as, drinking water or sleeping 6-8 hours every night; Congratulations! However, If its one of those sub-optimal habits, perhaps you can put that on  your list of replaceable habits. Yet, remember, one habit, one action, one day at a time. Try not to change too much.

By taking behavior change slowly, we are forming new habits. A habit is formed after an action becomes routine ( anywhere from 20-60 days). Can you commit for that long? Can you dedicate to these tips for the next 3-8 weeks, to make a life long change? You owe it to yourself to try! One habit and one day at a time!


Archaic Exercise Tips

How many archaic exercise tips do you know of?  No pain, no gain, don’t squat below parallel or squatting hurts your knees, static stretch before exercise, stay in the fat burning zone, blah, blah, blah.  These “fitness” tips seem to still be prevalent in the gym, yet in reality they are equivalent to people telling me the earth is flat.  It’s just outdated and on top of it, there’s tons of evidence to support the contrary.  Yet every day, somewhere, in some random gym, is someone sticking to these outdated tips for dear life.  What’s more is these outdated tips and myths never go away.  So lets blow the roof of some of these tips and give a little insight into why you should alter your ways.  And hopefully save you from making at least one mistake every time you exercise.

 

Static Stretching

Static stretching does have its place in your training program, however, it really comes down to WHY it’s in your program to begin with.  One of the more common errors with static stretching is placing them in the warm-up, and you’ve likely seen people stretching their shoulders or their quads before a workout to “loosen” up. Picture an early morning runner, kids before a soccer game, or people waiting for their instructor before a class at the gym. What do you always notice people doing? Stretching. Sometimes it even looks extreme and uncomfortable. Randomly ask one of them why they are stretching and their reply will no doubt be: “I’m warming up”. However, that is where the outdated information starts. Unfortunately, this myth has been perpetuated and passed down as general information, but did you know that this is actually counterproductive to your performance? Muscle tension is the reason we are able to stand, walk, jump, and run. Take away that tension and now we become loose in our joints and are unable to perform with the explosiveness, coordination and precision that we need to. Your muscles do not need to have their end range of motion tested as a warm up. What your muscles truly crave is preparation. Preparation through performing dynamic drills and simple body weight exercises that get your blood pumping through the muscles and joints, your body will feel energized and properly warmed up for whatever activities you have in store.

 

Squatting Below Parallel & Knees Over the Toes

These two are combined because they basically address the same issues when it comes to squatting and /or lunging.  Often these are tips recommended to people that feel pain in their knees when they do either exercise.  However, what these tips ignore is that everyone has their own unique anatomy when it comes to their hips and legs, and have their own specific ranges of motion in which they can move.  If you have a long femur and shorter tibia/fibula, it is likely that your toes are going to go over your knees.  That’s just biomechanics and levers.  Does it mean it’s putting stress or strain on the knee?  Most likely not.  Have you ever seen a picture of an Olympic lifter in the bottom of their set-up?  Their knees go beyond their toes often.  Again not a bad thing.

As far as squatting below parallel, everyone’s anatomy is different.  As is everyone’s stance when squatting will be.  The key is finding one that works best for you.   But there is no reason that you can’t or shouldn’t squat, outside of a crazy injury.  In fact, after I tore my PCL in my knee, one of the first things I did was re-groove my squat by holding onto a bar.  This took some of the pressure and load off my knee, but allowed me to work through ranges of motion.  Slowly I progressed through different stages of getting my leg stronger, thus making my knee a lot healthier and stronger.

Going through full ranges of motion allows your muscles to work through that full range of motion.  And that will lead to stronger muscles.

Isolating “Lower Abs”

How many of you work your core in sections?  Or have you heard people say: “I do x crunch for my upper abs, y crunch for my lower abs, and z for my obliques.”   Truth of the matter is, there is no targeting a specific part of your abs, especially if you’re still doing crunches.  Your main ab muscles, the ones that gives us that “six pack” look,  rectus abdominis, runs the length of your stomach is what people are usually referring to when they talk about x, y, & z ab exercises. However, when a muscle contracts, it does so fully, meaning the entire muscle, from origin to insertion fires.  This is the “all or nothing principle” which is one thing I still remember from anatomy class.

On top of this outdated tip of doing specific crunches for lower or upper abs, doing crunches in general for a 6-pack is outdated.  First, seeing your abs requires a nutrition plan that will take you down to a low percentage of body fat.  If you don’t have that in check, then it’s likely you’ll never see your “six pack.” Secondly, if you think of your core as a cylinder or a box, there are multiple sides to it. So when you do core exercises, ones that resist movement because that’s what the core is for, the entire cylinder fires, not just one specific muscle.   Pick up one heavy dumbbell or even a suit case.  Everything works together to keep you upright, not just one specific muscle.

 

No Pain, No Gain

The age old “bro-ism” that if you’re not in pain, then you’re not gaining is overly mistaken and has probably caused many an injury in the gym.  The truth of the matter is that if you’re in pain, it’s likely your body is telling you to stop or that something is wrong.  Now certain types of exercise shouldn’t be a walk in the park, no pun intended, but there’s a difference between discomfort from exertion and pain.  If you’re going to squat with 200lbs on your back, there’s going to be some discomfort.  But if you’re feeling pain while doing it, you may need to take a step back, readdress your technique or analyze if there’s any restrictions in your body.  Avoid working through pain.  That just creates more of a setback.

If you find yourself in pain, its your body alerting you to the fact that something is wrong and you need to stop and seek out some help.  Sometimes that can be an adjustment in technique or some SMR work or even seeking professional help from an LMT (we have on staff for a reason).   Avoid fighting through pain.

Long Lean Muscles

If there was ever a marketing buzz word or phrase that was so blatantly incorrect, or meant to deceive people, this is one of them.  The act of doing a particular type of exercise to build “long, lean muscles” ignores basic principles of anatomy. Muscles have a distinct origin point where the muscle starts, and an insertion point, where the muscle ends.  There is no way to make them longer outside of dramatic surgery.  What this phrase is meant to do is elevate one type of exercise that builds “long, lean” muscles, against another, in this case weightlifting, which creates “big bulky” muscles.  Or that you should only do light weight for many, many reps instead of going heavier for less reps.

Instead of pitting one form of exercise against another, integrate them into one solid program.  Pick a few days to do weight training using a variety of rep ranges, pick another day to do mobility and recovery, and another to do something like Pilates or yoga.  Keep a well-balanced exercise program rather than say “this is better than that.”  Remember, it’s all relative towards what your goal is.  Just remember, your anatomy won’t change.

 

Takeaway

The earth is round. That wasn’t always what people believed though. Knowledge came to light that caused humans to throw out the falsehood that the earth was flat. So why have we not done that in the exercise industry. We know better now, we have new knowledge that tells us how we can better train our bodies.  However, there’s still people that are we so stubbornly holding on to buzzwords, myths, and misinformation, even when the correct information is put in front of them.  Maybe they’re just stuck in their ways and in how they exercise that they don’t want to hear anything that may show them they were wrong.

It’s a crazy, mixed up world out there, and despite the abundance of information available to us, we still can’t shake off old exercise tips. Anatomy and structure don’t change, a muscle contracts fully, and pain is your body’s alert system that something is wrong.


Hierarchy of Success

Hierarchy

Whether your goal is to lose fat, build muscle or gain strength, there is a pyramid or hierarchy to the things you need to do in order to successfully reach your goal. However, most people have this flipped upside down, as they view exercise as the number one strategy to reach their goals.  And when that doesn’t work, the only solution is to pack on more exercise, more intense exercise, because if one hour a day is good, then 3 hours a day must be better, and will get you to your goals quicker.

That is flawed thinking.  And if you’ve been following us for a while, you’d know that all progress is made when you rest and recover, not while you pack on more exercise and training.

To get an idea where people stood on this topic, we posted on our Facebook page to rank, in terms of priority, where nutrition, sleep, cardio, strength training, and stress management rank for your goals, and we got a lot of varied responses, but also a fair amount of consistency. The hierarchy for success that appeared most often was:

  1. Sleep
  2. Stress Management
  3. Nutrition
  4. Strength
  5. Cardio

This is pretty spot on when it comes to prioritizing what you’d need to see success, no matter what the goal is.  Now you could argue that sleep and nutrition play a big role in managing stress, and you’d be correct, but stress management can be attributed to other things as well.  4 and 5 can also be goal dependent, as a marathon runner will need to prioritize their cardiovascular training over strength training, but generally this ranking holds true.

Sleep

Progress comes with rest, and rest means sleep.  Sleep is when our body has a chance to repair all the ‘wear and tear’ we experience throughout the day.  When our body is finally at rest the healing process begins.  Whether that’s repairing muscle tissue after an intense training day, letting soft tissue heal, or letting the nervous system recharge, sleep is priority number 1.

Sleep is going to be the foundation in which everything else is built, as without a solid 6-8 hours:

  • Recovery doesn’t occur, which means poor training sessions.
  • Decreases in satiety hormones, TSH, and testosterone
  • Increases in hunger hormones and estrogen.
  • Cortisol rhythms thrown out of whack.

If the choice is between needing to sleep more or get in a training session, you’d be better served to sleep.

Solution: Prioritize sleep, set a sleep schedule and create a night time routine.

Stress Management

Stress is a normal part of our day.  Without it, we would never adapt and change.  Everything we do has a degree of stress, work, school, even exercise, but when it lingers over the long haul, it can become problematic.  This is where how we manage the most stressful parts of our day becomes so important.

Lets go through a typical day:

  • Wake up to screaming kids, trying to get them ready for school
  • Get in the car to go to work and you hit traffic
  • Check into work late, and your boss is on your case
  • Project is due tomorrow, and you’re not ready
  • Leave work to go to the gym
  • At the gym, you do a super intense workout

Stress, on top of stress, on top of more stress and the cycle continues.  This can lead to many different coping mechanisms, like emotional eating.  And we all have those times where stress gets so out of hand that we reach for things we know we shouldn’t have, food and drink alike.

Solution: Find ways to unwind during the day or at the end of the day.  Meditation, breathing exercises, or just going for a walk can bring down stress levels.

Nutrition

You can’t out train a bad diet, nor can you do extra exercise to make up for past sins.  It just doesn’t work that way.  Conversely, you also can’t expect results from eating too little, or at the very least not long lasting results.  Additionally, nutrition doesn’t have to be perfect 100% of the time, because 1) that’s boring as hell, 2) you’ll just end up frustrated and 3) you’ll never enjoy life.

Whatever nutritional strategy you take, it should match up with what you need to get out of your training whether that’s fat loss, improved strength, or increasing muscle.  When you do this, you also enhance your recovery, as the food you eat is able to help repair your muscles and give you energy throughout the day.  Where we tend to go wrong is cutting too much out when looking to drop fat, or adding too much when looking to build muscle.  It’s important to add or subtract just enough for either process to occur.

If you think of everything you eat on a scale of 1-10, 1 being garbage that takes you further from your goals and 10 being perfection or bringing you closer to your goals, then the more you can stay above 5 or 6, the more success you’ll have.

Solution: Keep it simple with lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, carbs (yes carbs are necessary) and healthy fats.  And water.

Strength Training

These next two can be interchangeable depending on what your goal is, but prioritizing strength or resistance training will help you maintain or build muscle mass depending on what your goal is.  Especially when in a fat loss phase, the go to is to do more exercise, usually cardio, and that’s great but what ends up happening is a loss of fat, water weight, and yea, muscle mass.  We want to avoid that.

Why is it this far down the list?  Well, if the top 3 aren’t flowing smoothly, then training is going to suffer.  Either you’re going to stress your body more, which will just compound the problem, or the workouts wont be done to optimal potential.

Solution: Prioritize multi joint movements, using loads that are challenging.  Rep ranges from 3 up to 15+, but no matter what, it should not be easy or comfortable. Think movements like squats, deadlifts, pushing (pushups), pulls (rows), and sprinkle in core exercises (pallof press, side plank,etc)

Cardio

Cardio is usually the first thing we turn to when looking to get back in shape, meaning we tend to think that if we just run for endless amounts of time it will end up bringing us closer to our fat loss goal.  Now when strength is a priority, this falls off the wayside, but it still has its purpose in the program.

Moderate intensity cardio, where you can barely hold a conversation, can be beneficial in improving aerobic function, health markers, and recovery between bouts of more intense training.

Adding in a higher intensity cardio session, like interval training, tabata’s, etc can give you a great anaerobic workout, which will help improve your threshold for intense exercise, and can spark some fat loss.

Solution: Sprinkle in longer durations (15-30 min) of moderate intensity cardio with more challenging intervals.

 

So that’s it.  Your hierarchy to fitness success.

  • Get some sleep
  • Manage your stress
  • Eat to perform
  • Train smarter not harder

Technique Tuesday: Plank

This weeks edition of Technique Tuesday is all about the plank.  Why the plank?  1, because it can be tough to get into the right position and 2 it is one of the basic exercises in which every other exercise we do can be based upon. The positioning we use for the plank creates context for the positioning we’ll have for all of our other exercises.  What this really means is we’re looking to maintain a braced core, keep alignment through the shoulders, ribs, and hips, and keep a neutral spine.  If you can own this position, you’ll make everything else you do that much easier.

plank

Two of the most common faults with this exercise stem from either an excessive lumbar extension or and excessive hip hike.  Both of these are big NO’s when it comes to the plank.

To create a solid plank, go through this checklist:

  • Neutral Spine- meaning a straight line from your head to your butt.
  • Elbows Under Shoulders- straight line from the elbows to the shoulders.
  • Feet Shoulder Width Apart
  • Glutes Engaged- Want to see a slight posterior tilt to the pelvis.

Lastly you want to breathe while holding a plank.  That can be considered another fault as holding your breath is a way to compensate for poor core strength.  So the last tip is to breathe.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can progress further by:

  • Adding movement
  • Change the base of support- feet closer together, one foot or arm off the ground, or opposite arm/leg off the ground
  • You can change the lever arm