An effective warm up can improve your performance in your workout or sporting activity as well as prevent injuries. However, some common methods of warming up may actually increase risk of injury and reduce your strength and performance.
For example, many people still perform passive stretches before working out, which can temporarily dampen the nervous system activation of the muscles you stretch and leave them weaker for a couple of hours. This not only reduces performance in your training session but can also lead to joint instability which increases risk of injury.
Another popular way to warm up is to run on the treadmill or hop on the bike for a long, slow, low intensity cardio session before hitting the weights. While there may be some benefits to a brief cardiovascular warm up, there is no need to expend a significant amount of energy doing cardio before training. There are more effective and time efficient methods for preparing yourself for a workout, such as a dynamic warm up and core activation isometrics. Continue reading
We’ve all seen it … the gym rat swinging heavy dumbbells and calling it “bicep curls”; or rocking back and forth with the full stack on the lat pulldown; or bouncing a heavy bar off their chest on a bench press, pounding out some fast reps. There’s also those people who treat weight training like “cardio” – firing off dozens of reps at lightning speed with very light weight.
What do they all have in common? Besides the fact that most of them are probably injured in some way, they are are all performing their resistance training at a fast tempo.
Now I admit that I’m generalizing when I describe everyone who performs fast reps as “ego-lifters” with crappy form… there are many experienced lifters who practice decent exercise technique but train with a faster tempo. However, the point of this article is to question whether that is the optimal way to train. Continue reading
What if I told you that there is one neglected body part that you could strengthen which would lead to an increase in full body strength and mobility? It might not be what you expect.
I’m talking about your FEET.
If you suffer from foot, ankle, knee, low back pain, or related problems including shin splints, bunions, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, ‘fallen’ arches, or Achilles tendonitis, then this article should be of particular interest to you. Your feet may be holding you back from becoming stronger.
The feet are the body’s base of support. During exercise, sport, and most daily activities, force enters the body through your hands and feet, with the feet supporting the bulk of this workload. However, whereas most people understand the importance of grip training and how strong hands contribute to a strong upper body, our feet are often neglected. Most people just shove their feet into rigid dress shoes or ‘bouncy’ running shoes and forget about them.
To make matters worse, when our feet start to hurt we are typically advised to wear rigid orthotics or “ultra-supportive”, inflexible shoes to help support our feet. Unfortunately, binding up your feet like this interferes with or even eliminates their ability to move. Less movement (or poor movement) leads to more weakness.
Orthotics are like crutches… they may take the pressure off while you are using them, but they do not correct the underlying weakness. If you had weak hands or sore wrists would you start wearing wrist wraps and rigid hand splints every day? I hope not. You would perform mobility and strengthening exercises to restore proper function to your hands. Well, your feet typically weight bear all day long, which makes it even more crucial to focus on strengthening their weaknesses rather than “bracing” them externally!
In this article I’ll be introducing you to exercises and footwear that can help you “fix” your feet, heal old injuries, improve your posture, and start moving better in general. Also take a few minutes to watch my recent interview (below) with Steven Sashen, barefoot runner and the founder of Xero Shoes® (a modern spin on the traditional barefoot running sandal), where he explains the problem with most “athletic footwear”
We discuss several important topics related to foot health, including:
- The three key moves that let you easily and comfortably run barefoot
- Why “minimalist” shoes are not the same as barefoot (so if you tried minimal and it didn’t work, here’s why)
- How being barefoot can help if you have ankle, knee, hip, back, or even neck pain… and plantar fasciitis
- The “foam mattress” theory about why cushioning and orthotics may be harming you. Continue reading
I wish all the women who are afraid that lifting weights will “bulk them up” would show me their muscle-building secrets! I’ve been busting my ass for years to gain a few more pounds of muscle mass! Where does this fear come from? Certainly not from personal experience.
Men and women need to approach their resistance training program with a similar intensity. Of course there will be small variations in each individual’s workout, but to get results both men and women need to participate in a challenging strength training program as part of their overall exercise plan.
Are you suffering from sciatica? Know all about it here and find how to reduce your pain. Sciatica is defined as the pain caused in the lower extremity resulting from irritation of the sciatic nerve. The pain of sciatica is felt from the low back that is the lumbar area to behind the thigh and can radiate down below the knee. The root cause of this pain is irritation of sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in body. It begins from nerve roots in the lumbar spinal cord in the low back and extends through the buttock area to send nerve endings down the lower limb.
While sciatica is most commonly a result of a lumbar disc herniation directly pressing on the nerve, any cause of irritation or inflammation of the sciatic nerve can produce the symptoms of sciatica. This irritation of nerves because of an abnormal intervertebral disc is referred to as radiculopathy. Apart from these reasons, other causes of sciatica include nerve irritation due to adjacent bone, tumors, internal bleeding, pregnancy, infections etc.
We’ve all heard the expression ” No Pain No Gain.” Unfortunately I’ve seen far too many people have more pain than gain as a result of this philosophy. Part of the problem with an overly aggressive approach to getting in shape is that once you are injured you will have set yourself back significantly.
As an example, let’s look at the popular yet somewhat controversial group fitness craze called Crossfit. Those who argue in favor of Crossfit insist it is a fun, effective, and intense approach to fitness that delivers fast results. Many believe it is also a terrific way to train for overall “athleticism”.
However, Crossfit has also gained a reputation for delivering more than it’s fair share of injuries as well. Part of the reason for this is the explosive nature of many of the exercises involved. Quite often, these fast movements are performed for very high repetitions with minimal rest between them. This can be a recipe for disaster. As one fatigues, exercise form tends to get sloppier, and when moving weights quickly in a fatigued state the risk of injury is much higher. Also, in my opinion many Crossfit athletes adopt a “don’t quit” attitude, which can lead them to push to the point of flirting with injury. This is when speed can kill.
My last few blog posts have focused on injury prevention and fixing sore joints and muscles, specifically feet / ankles, knees, lower back, shoulders, and neck. This post is a summary or culmination of each of those previous topics, which I am collectively entitling “Bulletproof Your Body”.
My hope is that this will serve as a convenient reference for those suffering from aches, pains, weakness, and / or injury. Let’s start by outlining my fundamental approach to injury management:
1. Fix muscle imbalances by addressing your weak or inhibited muscles rather than trying to stretch out the tight ones. The key is to address the root cause, not just the symptom. This is why I suggest to avoid passive stretching, and instead to employ active stretching, isometric exercise, and corrective isolation exercises. Learn all about this in my recent blog post:
2. Fix your foundation (The Feet) by doing progressive foot exercises and choosing the right footwear. Weak feet and foot issues can contribute to all sorts of issues up the chain (ie: knees, back, etc):
3. Fix your knees by following these phases of rehab, progressing from isometrics, to isolation exercises, to compound exercises, targeting problem areas such as the medial quads and glutes:
4. Fix your back: Learn how weak core and glute muscles can lead to a tight, sore lower back, and find out what you can do to fix this. Even if your back pain is “disc related”, many of the static core exercises shown here can help…
5. Fix your shoulders: Discover some common causes of shoulder pain and learn how to correct them. Of course, if you’ve had an injury you should get assessed by a medical professional to rule out any serious tissue damage before beginning any exercise plan.
6. Build a Strong & Stable Neck: Neck issues are often closely related to shoulder issues. Weakness and muscular imbalance in your neck muscles can affect the strength of your upper limbs and can also lead to pain and postural issues. In fact, the neck and the feet may be the most important areas to work on in order to get your body back in balance. Try these exercises to build a stronger, healthier neck:
7. Pain Management: Certainly, correcting muscle imbalances, restoring range of motion and function, and allowing for proper healing and recovery are keys to reducing joint and muscle pain… but sometimes you will still experience pain or stiffness from training, such as DOMS. You don’t want pain to prevent you from actively following your recovery program. Here are some tips for managing pain in it’s different forms.
8. Rest and Recovery: To adapt and grow stronger from the training you do, your body needs plenty of quality sleep and nutrition. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of good quality sleep, stay well hydrated, and consume nutrient dense foods, focusing on protein, vegetables, and good fats. Certain supplements can reduce inflammation and support recovery as well, including fish oil, vitamin D, and joint-support supplements containing glucosamine, such as Flex Freak.
Research has also shown that having an optimistic mindset and a positive expectation of your outcome can lead to better results. Never underestimate the power of intention and the mental aspect!
In the end it’s important to keep in mind that the body is greater than just a sum of it’s parts. We function as an inter-connected machine, not as separate, individual muscle groups. As you may have noticed going through the series of blog posts and videos above, each area of the body strongly affects other parts. Your feet affect your knees and hips. Your glutes affect your lower back and knees. Your neck affects your entire upper body.
As important as corrective exercise, warming up, and muscle activation is, the ultimate goal is to progress towards building a strong, well-balanced body by incorporating big basic compound exercises. By building some muscle and overall strength you increase your ability to take on a greater number of different physical activities while reducing the risk of injury. In the end, strength is what makes your “bulletproof”.