Let’s Get Real (with the Lunge)
While everyone is out there jumping and running around trying to exercise off unwanted fat at the same time as get ‘in shape’ few change beyond the short term and superficial. Exactly like so many fat blasting diets, some change can happen quick but just doesn’t stick, this is because they’re not real changes – they’re a short term survival reaction to dramatic changes in living conditions. Exercise and diet is stress, it’s a drain on your system, you may feel better short term while doing it but that is a cascade of temporary, feel good chemicals designed to help you deal short term against the sudden stress – It Does Not Mean That While You Are Doing It You Are Making Good Changes! The change comes well ‘after’ the exercise, after the clean food and the calorie restriction. The good of fitness techniques arrives during recovery ‘if’ you have chosen the right stimulus and allow for reasonable rest time. Otherwise yes you can make some short term alterations but what you can handle and maintain short term is very…very different from what your body will do long term.
We recommend you slow down and apply real intensity and stimulus to your body rather than always trying to be hyped up bouncing around. Take the lunge for example (pictured) what a incredible exercise all around. If you move slow and pause at the bottom (no not resting with knee on floor ;n) if you move slow enough to stay almost perfectly upright, if you focus not on getting up but on squeezing your thigh, if you breath in on the way down and out from your diaphragm on the way up…these things take it from an act to and action. No weights? Not enough weight? No problem – only come up halfway twice before standing all the way up during the third push ‘then’ switch legs (so lunge down then halfway up then back down again and up to the mid point once more then finally down a third time followed by a final push right to standing). You’ll feel this big time. Anyone can lunge and squat with piles of weight if they bounce out of the bottom quick but that is hard on the joints and connective tissue and a waste of effort.
Any plyometric, fast bouncing in general becomes an unnecessary act for the purpose of exercise. Sure it feels athletic and gets the feel going quick but it is wasted effort, loading the elastic connective tissues and just using momentum for the better part of the range of motion. Momentum unloads the muscles robbing many muscle fibres, in certain ranges, of needed stimulus and sure bouncing forces you to stabilize BUT only with your strong muscles and good traits. Your body doesn’t use your weakest muscles and poorest traits to maintain balance and coordination – in moments of quick action whatever your commonly used and strongest abilities are will kick in whether you notice or not – THIS is why you lose balance and coordination because your stronger dominant parts overcome the weaker ones. Basically they kick in too strong and what you learn with practice is to back them off rather than what is actually needed which is targeting and strengthening your weak underused abilities. [please read that a second time if it doesn’t ring totally clear, it is very misunderstood in exercise science] Bottom line the more you just blast into exercise the more it is just and act and your basic fight or flight response is superficial. Look at it this way, you can just grab any rock and throw it wild at a target in defence or you can carefully sharpen a spear. Just like diet, you can rush in and eat quantities of something that has some sort of singular short term health effect or you can learn about your body and take time to combine the foods in quantities you respond to best overall. Likely this won’t be popular to say but; yes real natural foods are good and basic exercises are best BUT only if carefully and smartly applied. The so called ‘Paleo’ notion is superficially fine however if you don’t apply things with honest understanding and with a healthcare result in mind then it is all just brutish b.s. Do yourself a huge favour, save play time for activities designed for release and fun and use exercise carefully, intensely, sparingly and focused on your specific needs. Separate acts from action because REAL actions make changes that improve your act immensely and allow you to act far more the way you wish to.
Back up your Fitness! (Rowing)
Your back is an incredible web of layered and criss-crossing muscle which you rely on constantly. Because there are so many varied muscles to your posterior side and so many angles of action it is tricky to exercise them all effectively. Basic pulling/rowing actions are fundamental to a strong back however what we see is so many people turning them into plain old lacklustre arm exercises. Here are some instrumental Fitness Clinician points to try.
First off is your hand…yes your hand and specifically your grip. Do not squeeze and crush whatever you are holding, doing so brings in your small, fine finger extensors which will fatigue much faster than your back and make a real row impossible. Furthermore, squeezing your grip locks in the arms far too much when what you actually want to do is let the weight get PAST the arms into the back muscle. Use your hands more like hooks and don’t completely wrap around and close hard at the thumb. You have more than enough strength in the big muscles on the other side of your arm (that run up your outer forearm and under your biceps) to keep a hooking action without needing to pull hard with the fingers, squeezing the grip is just a natural thing to do when holding weight…but for back exercise it is a bad habit.
Second and this is 90% of the technique – get this right through a little practice and it will completely change the way you feel your back and use the second largest muscle group of your body – You need to ‘shrug’ into a pull/row action NOT pull starting with the arms then trying to coordinate and feel for the back after you have already started moving. You know how you can shrug your shoulders up while your arms are loose, hanging and relaxed like when you motion to say “I don’t know”? Well you can use your back at all angles to shrug (pulling shoulders down, sideways etc) it just takes a bit of patience and practice. The first thing after you relax your grip a bit is to let the arms relax and try too feel the back muscles stretch some as your arms are forward and all the way outstretched in the start position. Then you use only the back muscles through pulling on the shoulder blades and trying to sense the muscles which run right down low and to the side of your back as well as in towards your spine. You do this BEFORE you ever bend your arms and it should eventually allow you to move about an inch or two even without barely tensing your arms. Next you pull through with the arms with most of the feel right in the back muscles so when you get to the top position you can really tense them up and give then a good hard squeeze before releasing and slowly stretching back out to the start position. Start with a set or two of just practicing the shrug with only one or two reps that you pull through to the top (keep the weight medium light). Take your time, the feeling is very subtle at first but when you find it, it will be obvious like it has been hiding in there somewhere all along. You shrug from a good pre-stretch then squeeze the back muscles through to the top where you imagine balling them up like a fist and giving them a hard flex before easing back out.
Additionally, one of the harder parts of back exercise is keeping the shoulders down and not pulling up on them with your easy to feel upper trapezius muscles beside your neck (the ones that get knotted up and sore from stress). As you row concentrate and work to keep you shoulders down as they would be when relaxed rather than pulled up towards your ears. Another tricky part is to draw the shoulder blades in the proper direction of pull. You need to squeeze them together towards the spine but again it matters what exact angle of pull you are rowing from because they can slide around with some reasonable coordination. Don’t over think it though, just imagine in your mind the proper actions of semi relaxed grip and shrugging into the action with a nice tight flex at the top and reaching out for a good back muscle stretching feel at the bottom. Always start slow looking for the proper feel – because pulling is such a natural easy motion in life we tend to jump into this exercise way too fast even when experienced with rowing.
As always what you really want from exercise is to work on your weakest muscles and poorest traits NOT things you are already ok at…right?! Again remember start slow, think about what you are going to do, the fact is once you create motion your nervous system kicks in with old ingrained motor patterns making learning and adjusting focus somewhat confusing. Ignore frustration just stop rest and start again, great things come to those who stick with it.
Squeeze Ups – Real Push ups!
Whether you perform push ups from your knees, standard style, hands up on a bench/table (coffee tables stabilized against a couch is good) or even with feet elevated for extra resistance – squeeze DON’T push. Pushing comes from the shoulders and arms and requires almost zero purposeful focus. In other words, when you try to ‘push upwards’ you will naturally use your arms and shoulders too much. Where this exercise is so darn effective (yet so under-learned/under-utilized) is in the use of the torso musculature especially the pectorals/chest. The chest is designed for adduction of the humerus (bringing together the upper portion of your arms like mimicking a flying motion). This means a push action almost totally misses the chest which then in turn misses all the tie in connections it has with the back and core.
When you perform a push up think of it as a squeeze up where you try and squeeze your pecs/chest hard to create movement. Don’t worry about sending a message to your arms, it is so simplistic it requires almost no concentration. Focus on how your upper arms come together as you raise to the top. Think of pulling your upper arms together rather than pushing away at the shoulders. For the pushing part think of pushing away whatever your hands are touching as though you are lying on your back pushing away a weight. Keep your shoulders in line with your hips, don’t raise your butt up or let the hips sag down, stay flat.
* Tip: a lot of people especially females lack pectoral feel when doing push ups. A good way to develop it is to start by working only the mid range of the movement. The middle ROM creates extra feel and muscle burn and will help you develop the mind muscle connection you need to get the most out of this solid foundational exercise. [this is caused by enhanced interdigitation http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/interdigita… in the halfway contracted position of a muscle] Start with doing repetitions in just the middle 1/3 of the move until your muscles burn and you can barely move. Then after a short 30 second break try full push ups. A good combo is to do the middles flat in traditional style then skip the rest break and go right into full push ups but with hands up on a bench or edge of couch to slightly reduce the resistance. Always start slow with these and feel for the chest muscles squeezing then slightly…just slightly increase speed into a rhythmic pumping sort of action, like soaking a sponge then squeezing out the water then soaking it again and ringing it out again and so forth – squeeze/release/squeeze/release…forget about your arms and shoulders just think pectorals only.
For push ups with lightened weight you can simply do them with hands up on couch or bench or with knees down, there is never any harm in going lighter especially if it enhances feel and form. Often we have very strong males do these to good effect after they have already pre exhausted their chest.
Shoulders the real ‘Core’ muscle
If you push, pull or hold anything even when you are exercising your legs, it is your shoulders which are the primary link…let’s not let them be the weak link. As Fitness Clinicians we thought we would be dealing with low back pain the most often yet weak shoulders have come up as far more common. Weak shoulders roll forward and destroy all posture. Weak shoulders cause neck pain and weak shoulders stop people from exercising the rest of their body properly.
Two key mistakes we commonly see with shoulder training – the first is simply using too much weight and cheating with outlying musculature. Because your arms, chest and back can easily participate in shoulder moves people tend to think their weight choices are too light. You feel your shoulders burning so they must be working hard however it can easily be your langer, near by muscles taking the greater part of the tension. The key is actually to stay on the light side the better part of the time while focusing on trying to make the actual smaller deltoid muscles contract and take the bulk of the load. We have a few excellent dumbbell routines for you to try that require light weight but it won’t be easy. Remember always make a point to avoid pulling up with your upper back muscles in a shrug, try to keep shoulders down in relaxed position rather than straining your neck. Additionally, avoid swinging and working with your torso and arms to move the weight, if you need to cheat it is too heavy – smooth, slow and steady wins this race.
The first exercise is a great warm up where we combine a basic external (away from you) rotation with an overhead press. We suggest this be done standing so you can have a subtle spine. Weight of 3 lbs to 12 lbs will feel very tough after a few reps here even for larger men IF you go smooth and slow with no swing. Follow the first picture but when you get to the bottom left position you push right up into a shoulder press, then back down and reverse the external rotation. It may seem confusing but you will get it. The rotation brings you to the standard start position for the shoulder press so it is natural to go into. Just start with the dumbbells pointed out with arms bent 90 degrees both your elbows at your sides (top left) raise them to shoulder height while maintaining the 90 degree bend (top right). Rotate back and up to having dumbbells pointing to ceiling (bottom left) then press up over head and back down followed by reversing the first 3 actions of rotation. Bend, side raise, rotate back and up, overhead press, down, reverse rotate, reverse side raise and repeat.
Next routine is simply to combine the three standard dumbbell raises as the different angles of action fatigue each other to greater effect. Perform and alternating front raise (one side then the other) into a rear fly raise with both hands (together) then back to upright posture for the common side raise and repeat. Front raise one side then the other, next bend forward for rear raise (but don’t strain neck and don’t swing the dumbbells back too far try to keep them more in line with shoulder joint) finally come upright posture and squeeze the dumbbells away from you to side raise.
Try to avoid lifting the weights upwards as that tends to engage your neck and upper back, instead squeeze the shoulders like making a fist and push away from you, the lifting part will happen with little thought. As well, avoid coming up with your hands and elbows higher than your actual shoulder joint. Keep going through position 1, 2, 3 and your deltoids will achieve a thorough deep fatigue.
Exercise 3 A and B
Last routine you have a choice of 2 seated overhead shoulder press approaches. The second is more challenging and you may want to leave it until your strength increases. With either choice make sure you are seated for stability.
A) Hold both dumbbells with both arms stretched up overhead and alternate sides of overhead pressing. One side keeps the hold up,top,while the other does a down/up repetition. Basically this is the reverse of a standard alternating shoulder press, holding at the top rather than resting at the bottom. Strange as it may sound we want you to focus on the shoulder which is keeping the hold up overhead not the one pressing. You will be able to press and switch sides with little thought and the act of feeling for the holding shoulder keeps the tension and balance where it needs to be. Sit nice and upright with good tall posture looking straightforward, hold the dumbbells right overhead (you will have a natural slight bend in elbows). You won’t need heavy weights here because of the hold and because this is your third exercise so with lighter weight you will be safe but always remember to move slow, smooth and purposefully (the purpose of course is not to move around dumbbells but to strengthen the deltoids)
B) This one is a bit tougher to describe but it is actually very simple and smart. You are doing your overhead press for the pushing up action and a side raise for the lowering down action. So you start seated with dumbbells hanging at your sides like you are going to push away for the side raise you did earlier. Instead, you curl the weight up to shoulders for an overhead press. You set and go pushing up overhead in standard fashion then stop there for a moment holding like in the previous exercise. Now is the fun part, while you are still holding you turn your hands so your palms are pointing away from you (outwards away from your sides). Think about that for a minute, this sets you up for the side raise position as when you now lower your arms slowly you end up coming down to sides again and back into the side raise start position. This is tricky because you have to turn hands properly (palms out not palms in) and fight the weight as you lower down to the point where your arms are outstretched away from you in flying position (where the action is heaviest). Just go slow in steps, curl up to starting position for the overhead press, press then stop, turn palms out, stop, then lower slowly really squeezing those deltoids hard as you pass midway point. You need to fight it and purposefully attempt to slow down the lowering as though the weights are made of glass and need to be carefully set down.
*Go light the first time you do three exercises in a row, you can always go back and do it again a bit heavier, the point is to learn the moves and to feel the shoulders flexing and squeezing. How much you can lift and how fancy you look doing it is a distant second from how you lift and how well you properly and safely load the target musculature.
The All Wonderful Squat
Squatting is one of the most natural body movements there is yet the one exercise we continually find people reluctant or incapable of performing. We even find people having difficulty sitting back and down into a chair without collapsing. Then in reverse people lean way out and swing up to stand. Your body is designed to take advantage of the squatting muscles and children do it easily. Unlike sitting in a chair where your lower back is loaded, when you are at the full bottom position of a squat there is very little load on the spine. For eons humans have worked and rested down in the bottom of the squat position.
Often we think we are not flexible enough to squat but that is an illusion. Decades of not squatting has built a neurological inhibition into your actions and restricts your motion just like an arm gets tight and weak when in a cast/sling for months making it tough to straighten afterwards. It is literally a matter of doing it enough times to relearn the action and release the motor pattern restrictions. The key is in the hips – the common mistake is to bend at the knees as well as the lower back to create the initial downward squatting action. This pushes the knees out far over the feet and you compensate by leaning your face down towards the floor too much…both of which throws you off balance and places you in a weak position.
The key is to think only of pushing the hips backwards while keep the chest up and shoulders square (rather than allowing rounding forward of shoulders and upper back). When you simply maintain upper body squareness and push the hips back like sitting down into a chair the action takes care of itself. The knees and lower back bend only as much as is needed because to push the hips back without falling they must adjust naturally for balance. Don’t over think it just practice while holding a chair back and squatting down into another chair but without resting on it. Just touch the seat lightly using your hips, gluteus and thigh muscles to support you and drive you back up to standing. You can also practice by putting your hands up just above shoulder height on a wall you are facing. As you squat down your hands on the wall help you relearn the balance points.
Again it is all in not fighting it, relaxing into it and letting the lower body muscles light up and burn. Don’t worry how deep you go at first, in time you will increase range of motion. As an exercise the dumbbell squat in the first picture is good as is holding just one of the dumbbells by and end bell with the other bell hanging toward the floor. This ‘sumo’ squat (second picture) makes it easier to maintain balance and go deeper as does the third example called the ‘goblet squat’ which is a bit tougher balance wise but good for reminding you how to maintain upper body squareness.
Don’t avoid or overlook this fundamental exercise, anyone who can do even a halfway reasonable motion can try 25 continuous body weight squats and know how effective they are. When holding weight almost your whole body will get worked including your cardiovascular system. As always move slow and smooth, breathe in as your lower downwards and breathe out as your drive back up to standing. Look forward not down, looking down may feel better for balance but it throws off posture and in reality makes balance tougher.