More Core Stabilization Exercises

Here are 4 more Core Stabilization Exercises that are a little more advanced than the previous 6 exercise videos we posted earlier this fall. Please be sure that you are able to perform the Level One Core Exercises that we posted previously without difficulty before you attempt these new exercises. And remember that all exercises should be pain-free. Never push through pain or you might be creating injury! We have recommended starting with 8 repetitions of each exercise during the first several weeks. You may then perform 2 sets of 8 or rotate through the series twice resulting in 2 sets of 8.

Posture

Our lives are lived in front of us. We write, read, eat, talk, perform tasks around the house and at work, and type with our hands positioned where we can see them, which is in front of us. As a result, we develop what’s called forward head rounded shoulders posture. It occurs because of muscle imbalances that develop over time. For example, the pectoralis minor, as a result of always pulling the shoulders forward, becomes tight. This leads to weak upper back muscles (lower trap, middle trap and rhomboids) and tight neck muscles (suboccipitals) which causes the shoulder and neck to move differently. These adapted movement patterns can lead to pain in the neck, shoulder, and arm, cause headaches, and lead to a reduction in your quality of life. Therefore, it is important to take steps to prevent this:

  1. Sit with a neutral spine. In neutral, the low back (lumbar) region curves inward (called lordosis) and the upper back (thoracic) region curves outward (kyphosis). This evenly distributes the load of your upper body upon the intervertebral discs. Make sure you are sitting on your “sits bones” and not slumping back onto your tailbone and you will accomplish this.
  2. Be aware that your neck isn’t jutting forward. This will allow your cervical muscles to relax and not tighten up nearly as much. Imagine that a helium balloon is attached to the top of your head gently lifting you up. This gentle movement will help align your entire spine.
  3. Pull your shoulders down and back, but not up. Imagine gently placing the lower angle of each shoulder blade toward your opposite back pocket, and you will have it.
  4. Once you have done the above, perfect your alignment by keeping the tip of your shoulders in vertical alignment with your ear canal. This is neutral anatomic position and imparts the least amount of strain upon joints and muscles surrounding the neck and shoulders.

posture1posture2

There are some who cannot make large changes in posture. As you age, there are many reasons for the head to move forward and the upper back to round outward (due to genetics, faulty postural habits over decades and gravity pulling us forward). This creates stability within the neck. If this is you, being aware of future changes and beginning to make small postural changes will help optimize function and reduce pain.

If you have questions or are unsure if you are correcting your posture properly, we encourage you to see one of our physical therapists or our movement expert, Jeff Bickford. Learn more about Jeff and the Feldenkrais Method of Movement and Postural Integration on our website at www.peakperformancept.org. Or go directly to Jeff’s website at www.cosomatics.com.

posture3

Active Warm-up vs. Static Stretching

An active or dynamic warm-up is a crucial part of athletic readiness. The right warm-up should accomplish two things: loosen muscles and tendons to increase range of motion of various joints, and literally warm-up the body so that it is at its full potential. When your muscles are “cold” there is less blood flow to the muscles and tendons and they stiffen. They will then be less responsive and make you more prone to injury.

We all grew up with “traditional static” stretching/sustained holding type warm-ups in gym class. The latest research over the past 10-15 years points to the fact that holding a series of 20-30 second stretches prior to sport is not only ineffective but can be potentially dangerous! The evidence shows that aggressive static stretching can cause a reflexive tightening of a muscle and can also cause as much as a 30% decrease in muscle strength or activation for a period of time after stretching (the exact opposite of what you want to achieve). This means that not only can static stretching create a window where you are more prone to injury, but may also affect your sports performance negatively.

So how do we warm-up correctly? The best way to achieve actual muscle flexibility and to thereby reduce your risk of injury is by dynamic warm-up activities and through what is termed “inhibitive” or “fascilitated” stretching.

Inhibitive or Fascilitated Stretching

One way to increase the flexibility in muscles is through inhibitive stretching. This is accomplished by gentle isometric contractions of any muscle you wish to be more flexible. This sends a signal from your nervous system to a sensor in the muscle called the Golgi Tendon Organ and it signals the tight muscle to release. This form of stretching can be incorporated into any “old school” stretch position. For example, obtain the position for a static hamstring stretch, but instead of actually stretching the muscle and holding this stretch for 20 seconds, gently contract the muscle instead for 10 seconds and repeat 3 or 4 times. This sends a signal to your hamstring from your brain to relax the hamstring and is has been proven to be much more effective than static stretching:

Inhibitive Hamstring Stretch

Lean forward until you just start to feel a stretch in your hamstring. Then lightly press your heel down into the floor or bench. Hold this isometric contraction of the hamstring for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 to 4 times on each leg.
Active Dynamic Warm-Up_Page_1_Image_0002 Inhibitive Hamstring Stretch

Inhibitive Groin Stretch

Place the soles of your feet together and your elbows on your knees. Then gently press your knees up into your elbows to contract your groin muscles (do the exact opposite of static stretching in which you would have tried to get your thighs to the ground). Hold this contraction for 10 seconds and repeat 3 to 4 times.
Inhibitive Groin Stretch

Inhibitive Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch

Standing upright grasp front of ankle and gently pull heel to buttock until you begin to feel a pull in your quadriceps muscle on the front of your leg. Keep shoulder, hip and knees in a straight line. Then gently press the top of your foot down into your hand and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 to 4 times with each leg.
Inhibitive Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch

Inhibitive Calf Stretch

Place a towel or a yoga strap around the ball of your foot. Then gently press into the towel like you are pressing on a gas pedal. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 3-4 times with each foot.
Inhibitive Calf Stretch

Inhibitive Squat

This exercise is good for relaxing all of the major leg muscles. Stand with a wide base of support. Squat down keeping your back straight and making sure your knees don’t go past your toes. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 to 4 times.
Active Dynamic Warm-Up_Page_3_Image_0001 Inhibitive Squat

Some great examples of dynamic warm-up include light jogging and jumping rope for 10-15 minutes to increase blood flow to the muscles and tendons. Actual dynamic “stretches” may also be performed after jogging or jumping rope. This involves actively training a muscle to lengthen through movement. The benefits include increased power, flexibility, and range of motion.

Rules of dynamic stretching

  1. You should always warm-up prior to dynamic stretching (jogging, inhibitive stretching exercise,etc.)
  2. Movements should always be pain-free.
  3. Start with shorter, smaller motions and progress to larger motions later in the set (again in pain-free range).
  4. Perform 3 to 4 sets of 12 repetitions with each movement.
  5. Do not force anything – the flexibility will come over time.

Examples of a dynamic stretching routine

  1. Leg Swings: Flexion/Extension (increases flexibility in hip flexors and back extensors/gluteals): Holding onto something for support, gently swing your leg forward and back, gradually working your leg up higher and higher. Let you body gently lean forward as you are taking your leg toward the back. Repeat 12 times on each leg for 3 to 4 sets. Do not force the movement. Your leg should be relaxed and act like a pendulum.
    Active Dynamic Warm-Up_Page_3_Image_0003 Leg Swings: Flexion/Extension
  2. Leg Swings; Abduction and Adduction (increases flexibility in groin muscles and outer hip): Holding onto something for support such as a chair or wall, begin gently swinging your leg out to the side and then back across your body. Once again, gradually swing your leg up higher and focus on pulling down in the downward portion of the leg swing. Be sure to keep your toes pointing straight ahead/ do not let you leg roll out from the hip.
    Active Dynamic Warm-Up_Page_4_Image_0001 Leg Swings; Abduction and Adduction
  3. Standing Trunk Twists (increases spinal flexibility): Gently swing your arms side to side and allow your trunk to twist back and forth. Slowly increase the range of motion or the size of the swing. Repeat 12 times each way for 3 to 4 sets.
    Active Dynamic Warm-Up_Page_4_Image_0003 Standing Trunk Twists

Utilize these simple but effective active warm-up exercises to enhance your flexibility and reduce injury risk. Happy Trails!

Proper Lifting Tips to Avoid Back Injury

Do you have a physically demanding job? Do you often lift things and end up hurting afterwards? Are you a weekend warrior who likes to hit the gym but is unsure of technique? These concerns can be addressed by discussing lifting techniques. For most people, there is a correct way and an incorrect way to lift. It is too often that I see people lifting with a rounded back. I hear “lift with your legs” often enough, but it does not address the position of the back. To protect the back fully, a couple things must be done:

  1. Keep your spine in neutral as you lift. Never let the low back round outward (i.e. don’t “tuck your tail”). This places tremendous pressure on a small area of the intervertebral discs, increasing your risk for herniation or bulge.
  2. Bend or hinge at the hips. This will engage the large and strong buttock muscles while allowing you to maintain neutral spine.
  3. Keep your center of gravity between midfoot and heel. This will force your knees backward, reducing the amount of force imparted upon them.
  4. Keep each knee centered over the midline of each foot. Do not let your knees go to the inside of your feet. This is called valgus collapse, and it is a significant biomechanical deficit, a sign of weakness, and a predictor of injury.
  5. Never rotate at the spine when it is under load. This greatly reduces the stability of the spine and the disc and reduces the effectiveness of the back muscle stabilizers and movers. Always pivot your body by moving your feet.

Practice these principles before performing any kind of lifting and make sure that you continue to utilize them while lifting. Making these rules habit will greatly reduce your risk for injury and keep you healthy for longer!

Proper lifting illustration

Spring 2014 Newsletter

An employee holds a gold medal for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games during a presentation for the public at a jewellery shop in St. Petersburg. The gold, silver and bronze medals for the Sochi Olympics weigh 531g, 525g and 460g, respectively. (Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters photo)
An employee holds a gold medal for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games during a presentation for the public at a jewellery shop in St. Petersburg. The gold, silver and bronze medals for the Sochi Olympics weigh 531g, 525g and 460g, respectively. (Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters photo)

Hot off the presses: our Spring Newsletter: Melinda’s Olympic Experience in Sochi.

Also, the February 2014 issue of PT in Motion features a story about Melinda. Correction to article: Melinda has worked for US Figure Skating for 15 years, not 5 years.