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Sitting Combatives

So you are stuck working from home every day during the quarantine.  You notice that your hips and back start to feel like crap and wonder what you can do to combat this and make things feel better.  Well, here is a start.

  1. Reset Your Diaphragm and BREATHE

When you sit in one position for a long period of time, and stress out at all with the work you are doing, it becomes very easy for you to begin holding your breath excessively.  Couple this with a lack of much movement through your pelvis or ribs, and its very easy for your diaphragm to become “stuck,” and tension to build throughout your body as your nervous system is driven into sympathetic mode. When we inhale, our diaphragm should descend and when we exhale it should ascend.   It can become biased more towards one end of the spectrum depending on who you are and what you do.  For many of you, it and you will get stuck in a state of inhalation as you sit and subconsciously stress during the work you are doing.  Taking 5 minutes to perform some deep breathing, emphasizing full exhalation and then full inhalation can help to restore fluid movement of the diaphragm, stimulate some parasympathetic activity of the nervous system (relax things), as well as relieve tension through many of the structures around the pelvis and rib cage.   Perform these:

2. Unglue the Outside of Your Hips

When you sit, the structures in the front of your hips stiffen up over time.   If you sit with your hips and knees splayed out, the structures on the outside of your hips also stiffen up, causing compression and aggravation through the back of the pelvis and low back.  You can use the 90/90 drill shown above to engage the adductors and add the following move in on top of it to drive some internal rotation of your hips, in order to counteract all of the external rotation and outward drive your sitting position has left you in. 

First, watch this:

Then, do this:

Do 3 to 4 sets of 4 to 5 breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth in the same manner as the 90/90 video shown above. Notice how the working side pulls back/scissors behind the other; in this case the left pulling back relative to the right. This will help to “open up” the back side of that hemi pelvis, helping to relieve tension there.

3. Open Up Your Hip Flexors

Provided you don’t have any issues with laxity (excessive looseness or instability) in the front of your hips, this can be a good stretch to help open up the front of your hips and give some length back to the structures that have been shortened while sitting (specifically the psoas, rectus femoris and tfl).  Be sure to engage your glute to get a full opening up front and avoid overextending your low back.

Be sure to maintain a straight line between thigh and trunk

4. Engage Your Hip Extensors with Glute Bridges or Reverse Hypers

Engaging the glutes and hamstrings can help to inhibit the hip flexors up front, helping to combat the effects of sitting.  Both of these exercises can do that and the reverse hypers add in some fluidity and movement through your back and sacrum, while also helping to decompress your spine and loosen things up nicely.

Also works as great entertainment for your pets, although Whiskey does not seem impressed

5. Get Out of the Sagittal Plane

Driving some kind of rotation through the hips and thorax and moving in more than one plane of motion can also help to undo the sitting going on during your day.  Our body needs to move in 3 planes of motion in order to be fully healthy.  Here’s an easy way to “unwind” yourself even further after the previous exercises. 

Inhale as your reach with the left, exhale as you reach towards the left with the right. Let your thorax move and your upper and mid back expand as your breathe. Reach farther each breath for 6 to 8 total reaches Low back stays flat on the wall. Reverse the inhale and exhale side each set.

Get up and do these drills a few times throughout the day and your body will enjoy the quarantine much more while you feel much better.

Stuck at Home? Follow These Simple Steps to Make the Most of Your At-Home Strength Training

By Helen Kash, CSCS, NASM-CPT

Stuck at Home? Follow these simple steps to make the most of your at-home strength training!

By now, you’ve probably seen plenty of gyms, coaches, and avid-gym goers alike posting their home workout routines, advertising home training, and you have probably been bombarded at least once by an old Facebook friend trying to sell you some fat burning coffee (newsflash, save your money).  It can be a little overwhelming to decide what program is best for YOU and how you can optimize your time training at home. Look no further — keep reading to learn how to spot a good home training program, how to create one for yourself, and how to have a better home training session! 

No gym equipment? No worries!

First of all, take inventory of the equipment you have at home as well as things you have around the house that could be used as weights.  Do you have dumbbells, bands, a chin-up bar, a bike, etc.? If not, there are plenty of ways to make makeshift exercise equipment with everyday household items. 

Here are some of the creative uses of household items that my virtual clients and I have come up with since starting at-home training over the past few weeks:

  • Dumbbells can be substituted with wine bottles, gallon bottles of juice, cans of soup, heavy boots, or any other heavy object you can hold in one hand! 
  • Backpacks, duffel bags, heavy suitcases, or bags of soil to hold while doing squats, good mornings, and other heavy weighted exercises 
  • Water jugs or milk gallons or other heavy bottles with handles work great for rows and other upper body exercises 
  • Hardwood floors + socks or a towel make a great substitution for a slideboard 
  • Stack some of those old textbooks you never opened in college for some low step-ups or to stand on during calf raises
  • Your pets will be happy to sit on your lap while doing glute bridges and hip thrusts! 

If you get bored of bodyweight exercises or need an additional challenge, using some objects you have around the house can be a great way to add difficulty in a creative and fun way!

“…but working out at home is boring and too easy!” 

Many of the concerns I’ve heard from clients about training at home are that they will lose all their progress since they can’t train at home in the same way they do at the gym.  This is –partially– true. Even a few weeks off won’t put you back entirely to square one. But, the longer you take off, the more strength, muscle mass, and endurance you can lose.  Programming your training sessions properly can help minimize that loss.

Incorporate a tempo: for example, we can use a 313 tempo while doing a squat.  Count to three on the lowering (eccentric) portion of the squat.  Pause for one second (isometric!) at the bottom of the squat. Then, count to three on the way up (this is the concentric portion).  This increases the amount of time your muscles have to work and are under tension during each rep, which is much more challenging than breezing through the set as fast as you can.  This is also a great way to fine-tune and solidify your positioning at each point in the exercise, which will make your movement even better once you can load it with heavier weight. 

Pair exercises that train similar muscle groups: let’s use our same squat example.  If you can’t do heavy back squats at home, I may have you do a set of goblet squats followed immediately by lunges.  Your quads should be feeling pretty fatigued as if you just did some heavy barbell squats! 

Perfect your movement: grab a PVC pipe or dowel rod (or bodyweight) and do a few sets of squats, RDL’s, or any other exercise you would do with a bar.  Bonus points if you do these with a slow tempo or pause at various points to solidify and feel the proper position. Use this time to remind yourself of important cues.  Even if you can’t train these movements with a weight on your back, this is a great way to perfect your movement with minimal-to-no weight so you will move even more efficiently once you can push it heavy. 

Stay consistent!

It can be easy to fall into a pattern of slacking off from your home training sessions when you’re stuck at home.  I mean, watching 6 hours of Netflix and eating ice cream can sound a lot more appealing than doing push ups in your living room.  But, this can make it even harder to get back into a routine of training to maintain your strength for when you can get back in the gym. 

If you already had scheduled times to go to the gym, stick to these times for your home sessions.  Viewing your home sessions with the same intent as your gym sessions will help you stay focused, maintain the same good habits you have formed, and still put maximal effort into your training.  Remember, the more effort you put into your home training sessions, the easier it will be once you can get back into the gym! 

Create a designated space that you can use as your workout area, and your workout area only.  Keep all of your equipment in this space, and try to minimize the distractions of a TV playing, your kids distracting you, alerts on your phone, or any other things that you might get sidetracked with.  Especially when you are stuck at home, creating a space that you can associate with exercising will help ensure you can carve out an hour a day where you can focus purely on your training. 

Find a buddy to keep you accountable — we are all in this together!  Reach out to a gym buddy who trains at the same time as you, and check in before and after your workout.  Better yet, do some virtual training sessions with a coach who knows what YOU need to keep your strength up and still meet your goals at home (remember, my team and I are always here and willing to help!). 

Obviously, nothing beats a good workout in a physical gym.  But, there will be times when it is out of your control to get to the gym, be it travel, work obligations, or a global pandemic.  What you CAN control is what you do in spite of those things — staying consistent, adapting your training to fit your current situation, and continually putting in hard work!

Cardiomisconceptia

By: Nick Rosencutter, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, LMT

Thinking back over ten years ago to when I was starting out this whole training thing full time out of college, I remember writing about the priorities of training for fat loss, as there was a lot of misconception out there about what needed to be done to most efficiently spark the metabolic engine and lose fat.   Now, today I sit here eleven years later writing about this topic once again, after training hundreds of people.  While I would say that the understanding of these things is at least better at this point in time and over a decade later, there are still a lot of people out there who are uneducated and basing their exercise choices off of their “feelings” or what some unqualified social media “expert” said.  It is not uncommon to hear something along the lines of “Well I just need to lose some fat first, so I’m gonna do cardio.” (You’ll soon see that this makes no sense) The bottom line is this: When it comes down to the large amount of research done over the last few decades, both academically and in the trenches; and when you understand even basic exercise physiology, it is blatantly clear what is needed for optimal fat loss and I’ll give you a hint: IT IS NOT LONG DURATION AEROBIC “CARDIO.”  (though aerobic work is still extremely valuable for its own reasons when used correctly)

In order to understand fat loss from a training standpoint we need to understand how our energy systems work.  I’ve covered this in multiple articles in the past so feel free to go back and read more if you are feeling ambitious. 

Energy Systems

We have our Aerobic System and our Anaerobic System.  Within our anaerobic system, we have our Glycolytic and our Alactic pathways.   Each of these systems has its own leadership role with different modes of physical activity.  While they all work together with anything that we do, one will be the dominant system utilized for specific activities.

 Our aerobic system is primarily responsible for fueling lower intensity, longer duration activities (5 mile jog) while our anaerobic system is primarily responsible for fueling higher intensity, shorter to more moderate duration activities, with the glycolytic pathway taking care of intense activity lasting primarily between 20 and 45 seconds  (100 yard sprint) and the alactic pathway taking care of powerful, explosive bursts lasting less than 10 seconds (vertical jump, max squat).  

All of these systems are used to produce ATP, a substrate that is like our body’s “gasoline.”  We need ATP to fuel activity and for muscle contraction to occur.  Our alactic system utilizes a molecule called Creatine Phosphate to help replenish ATP at a fast rate for those explosive short burst activities (yes, this is why people supplement with creatine).  When a high intensity activity continues for longer than those 10 seconds, our glycolytic system uses a process called glycogenolysis to break down glycogen (storage form of carbohydrates; yes we need them) stored in our muscle cells into glucose, and eventually ATP, to help keep us at that intensity a little longer.  Both of these systems work WITHOUT oxygen.  That last point is an important one so remember it.  Our aerobic system works WITH oxygen to break down fatty acids and convert leftovers from the glycolytic cycle into a substance called Acetyl COA, which then goes through processes called the Krebs Cycle and the Electron Transport Chain to produce a bunch of ATP.   That little sentence there talking about fatty acids is where a lot of confusion sets in with the general public.  People assume that since long duration aerobic exercise is utilizing these fatty acids that it is great for fat loss.  Well, there are multiple reasons why this is not the case.  First, lets sum this up:

Anaerobic System (Alactic and Glycolytic)-

No oxygen, lots of intensity, shorter duration, relatively small amount of ATP produced, can’t go for very long without having to slow down or stop (because we need oxygen to replenish things)

Aerobic System-

Oxygen, lower intensity, longer duration, large amounts of ATP produced, can go for long periods of time since intensity is low enough to allow oxygen to continue shuttling things along

These can be further broken down into Alactic Power and Alactic Capacity, Glycolytic Power and Glycolytic Capacity, and Aerobic Power and Aerobic Capacity. These subsets become more important when you begin training for specific sports and competitions.

Now, building muscle is absolutely and positively the most important component of training if the goal is fat loss.  The more muscle that one has, the more fat their body will burn even at rest.  It speeds up the metabolism like nothing else and has a myriad of positive effects neurologically, structurally and hormonally throughout the body.  Strength training with enough intensity and with the right movements is key and should absolutely be the number one priority of training.  While strength training does primarily utilize the anaerobic systems, we are going to focus the rest of this article on conditioning modalities and set the record straight on “Cardio”.  (I hate this word as it gets bastardized and means absolutely nothing in regards to the specifics of what you are accomplishing with your training).  So you are already lifting hard, now what do we do about conditioning?

Now, as I mentioned before, many people assume that aerobic work is great for fat loss since you are using fat as fuel and burning X number of calories as you do it.  While you do burn some fat while you do it, the amount is insignificant when you compare it to the amount that is burned AFTER higher intensity anaerobic exercise.  Furthermore, an excessive amount of aerobic work can lead to muscle breakdown, spiked cortisol levels and a decrease in strength and power, which can all lead to more fat STORAGE. (not what you want if your goal is, umm, fat LOSS).  A recent study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research compared endocrine and power/strength responses between subjects who either performed strength training alone, strength training and endurance training in a 3:1 ratio or strength training and endurance training in a 1:1 ratio after a 6 week training block. Excessively higher volume of endurance training lead to higher cortisol levels and decreases in strength (1). There are numerous studies over the years showing similar results. This is nothing new under the sun. (Please note the word excessive)

So why do we have this magnificent after effect with anaerobic work? Well, remember when I told you earlier to remember that tidbit about working WITHOUT oxygen?  That comes into play now.  When we work at those sprint paced high intensities, we put our body into what is known as oxygen debt.  If you build up enough of this debt, your body utilizes a phenomenon known as EPOC- Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption.  With EPOC, your body burns fat for hours on end AFTER you are done training.  Research has shown as many as 38 hours post training. While there are numerous studies on this over the last few decades, THIS (2) is one of my favorites, especially since it was done at UW-La Crosse, where I studied Exercise and Sports Science.   The amount of fat calories burned with EPOC ends up rendering the meager amount of calories someone burns during their elliptical workout while watching a soap opera irrelevant.  End of story, case closed.  You get the same kind of effect after a hard lifting workout.  This is precisely why you see all of those people on the ellipticals and treadmills or haphazardly jogging outside doing the same low intensity workout over and over again and never changing.  After the first couple of weeks, they never push their bodies to a point of discomfort and never force them to do anything to recover since their intensity NEVER GETS HIGH.  And as mentioned above, on top of this, the excessive amount of endurance work that is often done can lead to elevated cortisol levels and muscle loss, which contributes to more fat storage. Coincidentally, the aerobic system is what carries out the recovery from the oxygen debt that is created with anaerobic training.  Like I said, all of the systems help each other out.  They’re friends for the most part.  (However, they can clash and hurt eachother’s feelings, aka adaptations, if programming is not planned appropriately). 

Now, in no way am I saying that aerobic training is worthless.  It has a ton of value and I’ve written articles about this.  Check out this one:_Aerobic is the Word . It is very important for heart health, various aspects of performance, recovery and giving someone the ability to survive the higher intensity anaerobic work that we’ve been talking about. Not to mention, if you do aerobic work correctly, it is by no means a walk in the park. Aerobic power work can be some of the toughest stuff you’ll ever do. Without a good aerobic foundation, you are going to gas out after one or two rounds of anaerobic work and get absolutely nowhere.  I’ll say that again: an aerobic base is very necessary to be able to make it through any significant amount of higher intensity work.  And no, you’re not going to zap strength and muscle by doing a reasonable amount of aerobic work concurrently. When planned appropriately, aerobic work can actually help improve recovery from strength and power work. It just has to be planned, and not blindly overdone.

Furthermore, one can only handle so much anaerobic conditioning before burning out.  Taking a break from this activity and performing aerobic work will keep the body healthy while still allowing for at least some extra caloric output. And it absolutely can help with the overall fat loss journey. It just needs to be planned appropriately and should not be the primary focal point of training when fat loss is the main goal. Another time sticking with aerobic work is beneficial is pre competition or in season.  The last thing you need at this time is excess fatigue and burnout from doing a bunch of extra high intensity anaerobic work on top of the sport specific work that is already being done.  The right amount of aerobic work can help facilitate some recovery and supplement strength work going into a competition or season (again, provided its not too much and is planned appropriately). 

So yes, aerobic work is a great tool that absolutely should be used; however, it should not be misconstrued as a primary fat loss tool if that is the goal at hand, because it is simply not that effective of a tool for this SPECIFIC job. I.e. if your goal is to complete a marathon, then by all means go and do all of the endurance work that you need to, just be sure to plan it and supplement it with the appropriate strength work; and don’t plan on looking that lean or muscular, because you will lose muscle with that kind of endurance volume. If your goal is to lose fat as effectively as possible while building a solid body, then cut the bs, get off of the damn elliptical, stop blindly running unplanned miles and train with a proper program that will give you the physiological effects that you are looking for. (the effects we’ve talked about this entire article) Know what your goal is and know what physiological effect your training is having on your body. Otherwise what is the point?

So, we now have an idea of what is going on behind the scenes with these different modalities of training.  How about a few examples of putting them into use?  Since we are all quarantined right now, I’ll give a couple of ideas that can easily be done at home with little to no equipment.  I’ll cover some glycolytic conditioning guidelines here since they are the most effective modality for fat loss around the clock.  See the previously referenced aerobic article for guidelines on that front.  These will be a mixture of glycolytic capacity and power.

  1.  Power Jacks–  Simply perform jumping jacks as fast as you can without getting sloppy.  Do this for 30 seconds as hard and as fast as possible.  If you are truly getting into glycolytic mode, your heart rate should be over 170 and you should feel that you need to slow down or stop after the 30 seconds is up.  If this is not the case, go faster.   Rest 90 seconds and repeat for 8 to 10 rounds.  If it seems like 90 seconds is too much rest, you probably didn’t go hard enough. 
  2. Jump Rope– Perform the same layout as the jacks, but use a jump rope.  I find that the jump rope essentially forces you to go harder because you have to coordinate your hops with getting over the rope.  With either of these examples, just make sure you are prequalified to be hopping and jumping.  If you struggle to squat your own weight, I wouldn’t recommend these yet.
  3. High Step Sprint Marches in Place–  Drive your hips and arms as hard and as fast as you can for 20 to 30 second rounds with 60-90 second rest. Do 8 to 10 rounds.
  4. Bear Crawls– These are always a pretty good ass kicker.  Do them at a fast pace and they’re really fun.  Be sure to keep your torso and hips solid as you crawl. You shouldn’t be flailing around like a fish out of water.  Use the same rounds as above.
  5. Sprints–  Go outside, approximate 80-100 yards and sprint hard.  Again, you should be in some kind of decent shape prior to doing this. Rest 2 to 3 minutes between rounds.  If you are going hard on these, you should need at least 2 to 3 minutes to recover.  If you have one or are in a gym setting, pushing the prowler here works wonders.  Perform 5 to 10 rounds. We are looking for maximal power output with each round here, so full recovery is key.
  6. Stair Sprints–  Sprint up and down your stairs for 20 to 30 seconds and rest 90 seconds to 3 minutes depending on how gassed you are.   Perform 8 to 10 rounds. 90 second range will be more geared towards capacity while 3 minute plus range will be more geared towards power. Do one for a couple of weeks and then switch. Simply marching fast up and down the stairs may be enough for some of you.
  7. Bike Sprints– Hop on your bike and pedal as hard as you can for 20 to 30 seconds.  Rest for 90 seconds. You can increase rest towards 3 minutes like the last two examples to skew it more towards the power end.
  8. Boxing– Either with a bag or with air (shadow boxing),  throw punch combos at a fast pace for 20 to 30 seconds.   Start with a basic jab cross combo.  If you are not familiar with this, choose another modality for now. 
  9. Medball or Rope Slams– Leading with your hips and driving with your whole body, repetitively slam the ball or ropes for the same intervals as above.

8 to 10 rounds is a good starting point for most of these.  You can also perform two series of 4 to 5 rounds.  For example, you do 5 hard rounds, take a prolonged rest (5 to 8 minutes or until you’re close to full recovery) and then perform the second 5 rounds.   And yet a third option is to perform these circuit style. Pick 4 to 5 of them and simply go to the next one after the alotted rest period. These are just a few possible examples out of hundreds of possibilities. Whichever route you go, the key is getting the intensity to a high enough level to make your body go glycolytic and create enough oxygen debt to get the after effect we are looking for in order to burn fat calories and get a giant metabolic spike around the clock.  In regards to how long these should be done, perform these for around 4 weeks and then perform aerobic work (see other linked article) for 4 to 6 weeks. With general fat loss, this tends to give good results while avoiding burnout and keeping things healthy. If you are new to training, then you will want to perform a cycle of aerobic work first; otherwise, you will not be able to handle the anaerobic work. Athletes training for specific sports will need different guidelines, but that is a topic for another article.

Here’s an oldie but a goodie from my Southridge Athletic Club days. This is the kind of intensity you need to generate, as Kollin shows here. Also, here’s yet another way you could perform these type of intervals at home. Stack some weight on something that you can push and you have your own homemade prowler.

So if you’ve been stuck in a rut for any period of time and your fat loss seems to be stagnant or worse yet, is increasing, there’s a good chance this is the solution you need.  Its going be hard work and you won’t be able to watch that soap opera or game show while you do it, but success takes some sweat and guts.  Now go train.

Sources:

  • (2) Mikat, R P, M D Schuenke, and J M McBride. “Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management.” European Journal of Applied Physiology 86.5 (2002): 411-7. pubmed.gov. 29 Jan. 2002. 18 May 2009 <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11882927?dopt=AbstractPlus>.
  • (1) Jones, Thomas W; Howatson, Glyn; Russell, Mark; French, Duncan N. “Performance and Endocrine Responses to Differing Ratios of Concurrent Strength and Endurance Training.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. March 2016- Volume 30- Issue 3. P.693-702.

Don’t Forget about the Adductors

If there is one thing that I’ve seen since coming into the fitness industry over 12 years ago, it’s the growth in the knowledge of the need for more specific glute work with a large number of people out there living today.       Poor glute function often leads to an overworked low back and/or aggravated knees along with less than optimal movement quality.  The fact that more and more people are becoming aware of this is great; however, there are other players around the hip and leg that are also very important to take care of, and in my opinion, a specific group of these often gets sad because they are not addressed and not included often enough in the conversation.  While strengthening the glute muscles is great to help keep the outer hip solid, people often forget that there is a VERY LARGE section of muscle on the INSIDE of the hip and thigh.  Bring on the adductors!

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Your Hamstrings are not the Enemy- So Stop Stretching Them!

 

Feelings can be deceiving, and so can the word “tight.” Every day, many people all over the world get on the floor or on their feet and stretch their “tight” hamstrings. Interestingly, those same hamstrings are still “tight” after days, months and years of stretching them. Hmm? If stretching them were actually doing something, shouldn’t they be “untightened” by now? You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

With some fairly uncommon exceptions, on most people, the hamstrings are not “tight” in the sense that they are actually stiff or in a shortened position, needing to be stretched. They are actually being pulled TAUT because they are stuck in a lengthened position, due to the pelvis being tilted forward (anterior tilt). They are in a constant state of being OVERSTRETCHED. In this oh so common situation, what do you think the continued stretching of these already overstretched hamstrings leads to? You guessed it! An even worse position of the pelvis and even “tighter” hamstrings.

Are there some people out there who have hamstrings that are actually stiffened and/or shortened up and are actually “tight.” Sure, some people have a pelvis that is tilted the opposite way, with hamstrings that are being shortened; however, in my experience, about 9 out of 10 people come in with a forward tilted pelvis and hamstrings that are weak and long. The muscles on the front of the pelvis, the hip flexors, are usually the suspects that actually should be stretched, or at least inhibited (shut off), since they are often shortened and amped up from sitting all day. These hip flexors pull the pelvis forward, effectively putting the hamstrings in a tough to deal with position on the back side. To add fuel to the fire, the ever so important glute muscles cannot effectively do their job in this faulty position, which leads to even more problems for the hamstrings. Not only are they locked in an overlengthened position, but now they also have to do extra work since the glutes are out of the picture. The brain engages them even more (or at least attempts to; we actually need to get better at engaging them in a correct manner)  to make up for the glutes’ lack of contribution to the group project. No wonder they’re so “tight” and angry. If you can think of a time that you did most of the work in a group project, I bet you can relate with how pissed off you probably were.

Here’s an easy way to tell if you actually have stiff/short hamstrings: Lay on your back and make sure you low back is flush with the floor, table, ground or whatever it is that you decide to lay on.  Keeping your leg straight, raise your leg up as high as you can.   Ideally, you’d do this actively (you raising it) and also passively (someone else raising it) to get the full rundown but assuming you are on your own, we can just look at the active version for now.  If you can get your leg to between 80 and 90 degrees of motion (your foot is basically facing the ceiling or sky), you have normal hamstring length and probably suffer from one of the situations we talked about earlier, if you tend to feel like your hamstrings are tight.  If you had to put significant effort in to get your low back to touch the floor during set up, this is probably the case.  If you can go beyond 90, you definitely have excessively lengthened hamstrings from a structural standpoint, and stretching should be the last thing you do.    If you are struggling to get near 80 to 90 degrees, you may actually have some legit tissue stiffness (could still be a neurological issue).  The rest of this article will address what we need to do if you fall under one of the first two categories, yet still feel like your hamstrings are constantly “tight.”

So what do we need to do to address the situation?

We need to get hip flexors to chill out a little bit and get the hamstrings to actually shorten up and engage more effectively, tilting the pelvis back to neutral. There are other muscles and factors at play here as well and if you throw in the possibilities of rotation, shifts and any other side to side differences, we have plenty more to talk about, but to keep the concept simple and straight forward, we will focus on the hip flexors and hamstrings for now.

Here are three great exercises you can use to get the process started:

90/90 Breathing–  Set up in a 90/90 position as shown and be sure your low back is solid against the floor.  To do this, think about pulling down through your heels on the wall as you engage your hamstrings, effectively tilting your pelvis back under you.   This action and this position lines our pelvis and ribs up over one another so that our hamstrings as well as our diaphragm are in an better position to work ideally.  Inhaling through our nose while getting three dimensional expansion around our abdomen and chest, followed with a full exhale through our mouth, driving our ribs down, back and in,  will help to solidify a better rib and pelvic position, as well as reset our nervous systems, in order to allow us to create new positions and muscle firing patterns.

The Hip Flexor Stretch-  Many times, taking care of the rib and pelvic positions with the breathing drill above will eliminate the need for this drill; however, it can still be very useful if you do have a true stiffness or shortness in your hip flexor muscles, especially if you sit a lot all day.   Set up in a 90/90 position as shown in the picture.  Simply place your back foot on a box, chair, etc. to increase the pull.   Be sure to keep your thigh and trunk in a straight line to avoid putting unwanted stress on your low back and front of your hip.  Squeeze the glute of your down leg and brace your abs (harden up like you’re going to get punched in the stomach) to create the opening of the front of your hip that you are looking for.  This will help to pull the pelvis back in position, get the hip flexors to open up and let go, while allowing the glute to be in a better scenario to do its job with the follow up glute bridge exercise shown next.

           Be sure thigh and trunk are lined up straight as shown and elevate the back foot to increase the pull

The Glute Bridge–   Lay on the floor as shown below:  Think about “pinching pennies between your cheeks” as you squeeze and engage your glute muscles before you leave the floor.  We need to activate them and wake them up before we intiate the movement, or the hamstrings and/or low back will take over the bridge.  Once we have them engaged, we are going to lift our hips up until we have a straight line between the hips and trunk, as shown in the bottom picture.  We are at hip lockout and are glutes should be contracting nicely.  Lower back to the floor under control and repeat the process.  Shoot for 8 to 10 reps without your hamstrings or back doing too much.  It this is not possible for you right now, you may need to start with your feet elevated on a box to make the exercise easier.  Other regressions are possible if necessary.  Stay tuned for a follow up article about glute bridge progressions and modifications.

 

Glue bridge -bottom position

                                                                                 Glute bridge- top position

Ditch the stretching, give these exercises a try and watch your hamstring tension melt away!

Aerobic is the Word

Do you know what kind of effects you are creating on your body when you do your cardio or conditioning work?  Read this article by Nick Rosencutter to find out more………………

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For many people, “cardio” is a term that is thrown around when it comes to one facet of training, and it is thrown around without much understanding behind what is being said. Cardio is short for cardiovascular, which would basically refer to any activity that you do that trains your heart in some capacity. Rather than use such a generic, undefinitive term, why don’t we use something more specific that actually describes what we are trying to do? I prefer to use the term conditioning or energy systems development when talking about developing physiological capabilities in order to elicit a specific performance. Call it whatever you want; when it comes down to it, each energy system and its subsets needs to be developed to certain levels at certain times and for certain reasons depending on what it is that you are training for. The main energy systems can be broken down like this.

Aerobic

  • Capacity
  • Power

 

Anaerobic

-Glycolytic

  •  Capacity
  • Power

-Alactic

  • Capacity
  •    Power

Whether you call it “cardio,” “conditioning,” or “energy systems development,” there have commonly been two schools of extreme thought when it comes down to the modalities used. On one end, you have the excessive endurance, long distance, slow, steady paced group, who swears by doing nothing but endurance work (actually aerobic capacity work), and on the other end, you have the “all you need is high intensity interval” group, who seems to think that if you aren’t laying flat on your back after puking by the end of your workout that you haven’t conditioned appropriately. (actually anaerobic glycolytic work)

While the “aerobic endurance” group dominated for quite some time, over the course of a large part of this past decade, “aerobic” training has taken a lot of heat from many (and in certain circles still given unbalanced attention). It has been deemed useless and pretty much dumped and replaced with all anaerobic high intensity work. I’ll be honest, I even started to go this route myself at one point in time. Well, if you pick up a physiology book and actually study these energy systems and how they work with one another in depth, you will realize real fast that you’d better not skip out on your aerobic work, and you will also realize that, depending on the person and task at hand, all of the energy systems and their subsets will probably need to be trained to some extent at some point in time.

In case you don’t know much about energy systems, lets do a brief summary. Your body uses whats called ATP as its fuel source to promote physical activity. These different energy systems are utilized to replenish this ATP in order to continue physical activity. The aerobic system uses oxygen during its chemical processes and can produce a whole bunch of ATP; however, it can’t do it very fast because of all of the steps that it must go through to get the job done. For this reason, longer duration and generally lower intensity activity are taken care of with this system. (i.e. 5 mile run) This is also the most active system at rest. If you have poor aerobic development, your resting heart rate will be higher than desirable and you will have a much better chance of running into health problems as all of the body’s systems will suffer. That alone should end the debate.

The anaerobic glycolytic system works without oxygen and produces ATP pretty fast; however, it can’t produce a ton of it and can’t do it for long. For this reason, shorter to moderate duration activity of higher intensities (20-45seconds, HR>170) is generally taken care of with this system (i.e. 1-400 yd sprints). This is why your body gases out after a certain amount of time if you are doing something such as an all out sprint. Substances such as hydrogen ions and blood lactate volumes build up and glycogen stores run out. Your body can only buffer so much of these things at a time before it gets too fatigued to continue. (With aerobic work, the ability to utilize oxygen makes things more efficient)

The anaerobic alactic system also works without oxygen and produces ATP pretty much immediately (1-10 seconds) but can’t do it long at all. Its used with fast paced high power activities such as a 40 yd dash, a vertical jump or a max deadlift.

Each of these main systems then has subsets for different forms of activity, which is a fact that many people seem to forget about. While anaerobic power is great, you also need to think about anaerobic capacity, which will give your body the ability to perform high intensity activity over and over again (i.e. important for a fighter).  While aerobic capacity is great, you also need to think about aerobic power, which will give your heart the ability to work more efficiently when you do get to higher levels of intensity.  One main factor that comes into play that some people seem to forget about is that all of these systems are always active to some extent. They all work together.

This all being said, for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on the importance of aerobic development. When it comes to fat loss, anaerobic work is still the most effective because of its post exercise fat burning effects. It can still be important when it comes to many sports; And on the aerobic side, in my opinion, sitting on an elliptical for 45 minutes 5 days a week is still not an effective use of time.

So, heres the deal.

Without an adequate aerobic base, that anaerobic work that you do is not going to be as effective. Without an adequate aerobic base, you’re going to gas out in the later rounds of your fight or game and you will not recover from your anaerobic bouts as efficiently, since your aerobic system is largely responsible for facilitating recovery after an all out exertion. On the contrary, to train aerobically, does not mean that you have to sit on an elliptical for 45 minutes to get the job done. Aerobic work can be fun and effective and be performed using modalities that have valuable carryover to other activities.

Building an aerobic base is very important. The more efficiently your heart can pump blood with each beat and the less hard it has to work when you do get to higher intensity activity, the better your performance will be. Having a more efficient aerobic system to rely on will help you recover faster from higher intensity activity, it will help you perform it for longer periods of time and it will help you dominate in the later portions of competition when your opponents are ready to fall over and quit. Try doing an all out prowler push workout without any aerobic base. You will realize real fast what a mistake this is. You will not complete the workout as you planned because your body simply will not be able to recover well enough. (and you’ll probably be yacking your most recent meal up on the curb before you get half way through the workout). If you want to see what true aerobic development really means, watch an MMA fight where a fighter comes out blazing in the first round only to be gassed and pretty much useless by the last round. Without an aerobic base to help recover from any high intensity bursts that may have occurred during the fight, his body went full anaerobic mode too fast and he couldn’t recover from it fast enough since his aerobic system wasn’t able to effectively get oxygen to his tissues efficiently enough.

Heres something else to think about

It takes an ample amount of time to develop aerobic qualities. It takes relatively little time to develop glycolytic and alactic qualities. You can maintain residual effects of aerobic qualities for a pretty long time. You don’t maintain the others as long. What this means is that if you have a decently long offseason to develop these things before competition gets under way, you can really prepare yourself anaerobically in 3-4 weeks before the season begins or by at least touching on it a couple of times during the offseason. Spending a couple of months developing yourself aerobically will have great carryover when you do get closer to the competition period.

Something else to think about is the effects that training different physical qualities simultaneously have on one another. I’ve studied and researched this stuff a ton over the past few years and if you look at quality texts like Block Periodization by Issurin or Ultimate MMA Conditioning by Joel Jameison (the best book I’ve come across for energy system development along with his great conditioning coach course that I’d highly recommend), there are certain physical qualities that can be developed effectively together. For example, training max strength at the same time as aerobic endurance tends to work well as aerobic endurance can help with recovery from heavy lifting and has little negative effect on strength development if it is not done excessively (too much can have negative effects). On the other hand, training max strength with glycolytic power does not generally work as well since they both take a lot out of the CNS and energy stores and can lead to negative effects and overtraining. (10 minutes after a workout is ok) Thats not to say that they can’t be combined in some way; in general it just doesn’t work too well together. So, what different qualities you are developing simultaneously needs to be taken into account.

Now, along these same lines, working with an athlete and working with a fat loss client are too different things. You don’t have to be quite as specific with a fat loss client since the main focus is fat loss, not developing optimal performance at a specific time. However, having ample aerobic development before killing a client is still pretty important stuff.

So Nick, what should we do to develop an aerobic base?

I’m glad you asked. For starters, you’re going to want to monitor your heart rate during activity. To make improvements in aerobic endurance, you’re going to want to train with your heart rate between 120 and 150 beats per minute and you’re going to want to do this for an ample amount of time. Depending on the specific activity you are training for, the individual fitness level and goals at hand, generally from 20-60 minutes will be a good duration to shoot for. If you look at research, it is around the 75 second mark that reliance on anaerobic systems begins to shift towards aerobic systems, so the shift towards an aerobic focus happens fairly quickly. To IMPROVE aerobic capacity, you just need to get it going for a lot longer. Again, how long you go for and how often you do this is going to depend on the person and the goal. After working with a multitude of clients with this, I have found that many people need to work with much less intensity than they realize they need to in order to get the specific physiological improvements that we are looking for with aerobic capacity work. This might mean walking slower, using less weight on a sled, lowering the incline on a treadmill, pacing easier, etc.

Since aerobic training does have vastly different effects on tissues and systems compared to strength work, anaerobic work, etc., doing too much of it can have negative effects on performance in sports that have large requirements for strength and power output; however, it does need to be done to a certain extent as its benefits are too many to be ignored. I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a powerlifter, so obviously strength output is very important to me. Running 10 miles every day of the week would surely hurt my strength performance. Performing aerobic workouts for 20-40 minutes a few days a week for certain cycles gives me all of the benefits I need without having many, if any, negative effects on my lifting performance and actually helps me handle larger workloads and volumes with my lifting along with facilitating more efficient recovery.

As I said before, you don’t need to train all qualities at all times of the year. In a certain stage, I might develop aerobically for 2 months, while doing less anaerobic work. If I’m going real hard with lifting, the aerobic work plays out nicely as it helps with recovery and doesn’t take too much of an extra toll on my energy stores and CNS state. I might follow those 2 months up with a month of anaerobic work with something such as prowler sprints. The residual effects from the previous aerobic work stick around long enough to prevent things from going backwards. Again, how much time you devote and when you devote it to specific development of these systems depends on what it is that you are training for. Ultimately, they all need to be developed to a certain extent since they help one another. The question is, where does your focus need to be? If you are just training for general health or to have a good body, cycling on and off of different qualities for different time intervals works fine.

Aerobic POWER is another subset of the aerobic system. This basically consists of your hearts ability to work efficiently as you reach levels of higher intensity. While training for aerobic endurance increases the heart’s stroke volume, or the amount of blood that the heart pumps with each beat and increases the chamber size of the left ventricle (eccentric hypertrophy), training for aerobic power trains the heart to pump blood stronger with each beat and betters the aerobic system’s ability to work effectively (i.e. deliver oxygen) towards higher intensity ranges and heart rates (an increase in mitochondria and improvement in contractile capabilities in the heart helps with this).   Increasing the heart’s performance here will make aerobic endurance work feel like cake.  This is done with fairly high intensity activities with the heart rate towards the upper end of the aerobic range and lower end of anaerobic range. The intensity and heart rate is not quite as high as anaerobic work (which can get up to 180+) but it is significantly higher than typical aerobic endurance work (150-160 vs. 120-140) and the work to rest ratio is generally either 1-1 to 1-0.5 or a longer 1-3 minute interval with a slightly longer rest can be used. There are many methods that can be used to train this quality.

There are many ways to perform an aerobic workout. For aerobic endurance: Circuits are great. Pick 4-8 exercises/movements and perform them nonstop for a set time. Sled dragging, jump rope, battle ropes, rowing and med ball tosses could make up a nice workout. The key is keeping the intensity at the right level by monitoring your heart rate. You can also do one continuous activity, as is the common aerobic practice (“cardio”). Find a treadmill, go for a run, hop on a rower, hit the heavy bag, jump rope, do kettlebell work or dodge cars in the street. Pick something that keeps you interested and keep yourself moving in the correct heart rate range. For aerobic power, you can use similar activities; however, you will go harder (HR more towards high 150’s/160’s) and you will have some rest time between bouts. A work to rest ratio of 1-1 to 1-0.5 usually works well. (Rest ratios for anaerobic workouts are much longer with anaerobic power being the longest.)

Whichever way you choose to do it, developing the aerobic system will improve stroke volume (how much blood the heart pumps with each beat), decrease resting heart rate, speed up recovery from high intensity work and provide a better oxygen supply to working tissues among other things. It is absolutely essential for anyone trying to improve sport performance or get in shape in any capacity. It doesn’t have to be boring and repetitive like so many people seem to believe. Pick some exercises that keep things fun and motivating and get that heart working.  An entire aerobic workout could be done with varying movements with a sled as shown in the video below:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvRR1gh9mCo

 

 

While its outside of what I want to cover with this article since I want to focus on what people usually think of as “cardio” activities, there are also specific lifting modalities that can be utilized to improve the utilization of these systems by developing specific muscle fiber types as well (and strength training is also obviously utilizing an energy system while you do it)

The bottom line is this. All of the human body’s energy systems are important and they all help one another to a certain extent with different ranges of activity. The aerobic system should not be shunned as it is key for optimal performance and also to keep you healthy.