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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Warming Up with Back Pain

GettyImages-936117924How many times have you had every intention of heading to the gym either before or after work, only to be deterred by nagging back pain? Maybe you woke up feeling stiff and sore, or maybe you had a long day at work and had a flare-up of pain. Either way, you’re far less motivated to be active when in pain, which quickly turns into a slippery slope. Pain is often a signal that something is not right, and your body will likely encourage behaviors that relieve your pain or prevent it from worsening. If your pain increases with movement, the likelihood of you working out becomes very low. The less you move, the better you feel, and voila, your back pain “magically” goes away!

How long will that last, though, until yet another flare-up digs its claws painfully into your spine? Unfortunately, we have yet to discover a sensor for detecting such episodes, but in the meantime we can do everything possible to prevent it from happening. The first step has to incorporate some semblance of movement. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client come to me with a flare-up of pain. Virtually every single time, there is a significant reduction in pain after simply taking some really good breaths and/or actively moving through a safe range of motion. “My back was really achy/stiff/tight/sore/etc. when I came in, but now it feels great!” Some version of this is music to my ears, because now that individual is likely to be far more motivated to complete the workout.

The How

To know exactly what movements or warm-up activities you should be doing, the first step should be to determine whether your pain is something that is chronic (more than a week or two), or extremely severe. In either case, you might need to seek a trusted physical therapist or other healthcare professional to dig a bit deeper into your pain. However, if you’re simply in need of a consistent routine to optimize your warm-up, there are three main activities that can benefit virtually any generally healthy gym-goer.

1. 90/90 Hip Lift (adapted from the Postural Restoration Institute)

  1. Lie on your back and place your feet flat on a wall, or place your heels on a box of appropriate height. Your knees and hips should be bent to 90 degrees, as pictured.
  2. Lift only your tailbone, keeping your back flat against the surface on which you’re laying. Visualize tucking your tail between your legs, as though you are a dog that just got in trouble. You should feel your glutes and hamstrings engage.
  3. Holding this position, fully exhale through your mouth so as to push your ribs down into your back. You might place your hands on your ribs to better feel them lowering as you exhale. You should feel a very strong contraction in your abdominals, especially on your sides.
  4. After a full exhale, lightly inhale through your nose, keeping your ribs in the “down” position that you achieved after your exhale. Your goal is to maintain the engagement in your abdominals as you breathe in through your nose.
  5. Repeat this for 4 to 5 full exhales, and do 2 to 3 sets overall.

KEY POINT: The first priority here is to be in the correct position. If the body parts aren’t aligned properly, the muscles you want to be working won’t have any leverage to work. Feeling your hamstrings and glutes engage along with your abdominals, particularly on your sides, is a good sign you’re in the right position. It’s also entirely possible that you could be in the correct position, but not “feel” either of those areas working. That’s okay, just keep practicing and you’ll start to feel it soon. It never hurts to take a video of yourself just to double-check.

2. Hands and Knees Rib Lift

  1. Start on your hands and knees, with your palms directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
  2. Tuck your tailbone between your legs, as though you are a dog that just got into trouble.
  3. Push your palms through the floor or table to spread your shoulder blades, opening up some “space” in your upper back. Your spine will have a moderate curve to it, as pictured, and you should feel your abs around your ribs engage.
  4. Holding this position, exhale fully out of your mouth as though you are fogging up a mirror.
  5. Pause for a moment after you finish exhaling, note the activity in your abdominals, and inhale through your nose, keeping your abdominals engaged by pulling your ribs up into your spine.
  6. Repeat this for 4 to 5 full exhales, and do 2 to 3 sets overall.

KEY POINT: Avoid shrugging your shoulders toward your ears as you push your palms through the floor. You also want to make sure you’re not using those 6-pack abs (rectus abdominus) in this activity. You want to be focused more on the abs attached directly to the ribs, on the sides of your belly. There’s a time and a place for the 6-pack abs, but this is not one.

3. Spiderman Stretch with Rotation

  1. Start on hands and knees as in the Hands and Knees Rib Lift.
  2. Bring one foot forward and to the outside of your hand on the same side.
  3. Keep your forward foot flat, and take your hand on that same side up to the ceiling, reaching long through your fingertips.
  4. Fully exhale through your mouth as you reach up to the ceiling, inhale through your nose while reaching, then return to start.
  5. Repeat 8 to 10 times with each arm and leg.

KEY POINTS: Make sure you’re reaching straight up to the ceiling. Don’t rotate for the sake of rotation. Reach long through your fingertips as high as you can while you’re pushing away from the floor with your support arm.

Ask a Trainer

Try these out the next time you have some soreness or stiffness coming into the gym. Even if you don’t, these three activities will very much set the tone for your entire workout if performed properly. As always, if you’re unsure, just ask! Any one of our trainers will be happy to help you out, or find the person who can.

Happy moving!

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This blog was written by David Schoch, CSCS, FMS, and Healthy Lifestyle Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

Topics: stretching pain warmups back pain

Readiness and Durability: Better Movement Warmups for Fitness Training

I used to work at a golf course during my time as a teacher. It was a great way to spend my summers and be close to a game I truly enjoy playing. I mainly mowed greens and tees and dug a bunch of holes. I really enjoyed that time of my life very much. On all of the mowers there was a sign that read, “If this equipment can’t work, nor can you.” I think the message is self-explanatory: if the equipment is not properly cared for, it is a very good possibility it will stop working, leading to loss of productivity and failure to complete the job.

I believe the same can be said for our approach to preparing the body for training so that the body (equipment) can work when you need it to accomplish the job at hand. The most critical step in this process is changing the perception of the “warmup” as a secondary or unnecessary part of a training program—something you can skip if you are short on time. In actuality, warmups should be a major part of your training program (if you are truly looking for results, that is).

Long ago I adopted, both for the people I work with and for my personal workouts, a process from a great coach on preparing the body for work. It involves four exercises in four major categories of movement preparation: mobility, stability, core engagement, and loco-motor (dynamic stretches and small plyometrics). For obvious reasons, this is referred to as a 4x4 approach to physical readiness and preparation.

Mobility Drills

Mobility drills refers to the exercises aimed at gaining and enhancing the range of motion in a particular joint. With a joint-by-joint, ground-up approach, these drills typically work to tackle mobility of the ankle, hip, thoracic and cervical spine, and shoulder. Here at NIFS, we work to mobilize movement patterns that involve these joints, and others, which we evaluate in a Functional Movement Screen.

Here are just two of my favorite mobility drills:

i. 1/2K—Abducted T-Spine Rotation
ii. Dynamic Pigeon—Knee & Foot

 
 
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Stability Drills

These drills work to help stabilize the mobility you just gained with the preceding drills. A mobile joint is a great start, but then you must stabilize it with exercises that will aid in alignment and strength of the joint. These exercises are generally used immediately after the mobility work to help in the retention of the alignment and position we are hoping to obtain. Check out a couple of these drills that you can add to your 4x4 warmup.

i. Band Lat. Walks
ii. Split Squat w/ Band Pull-apart

 
 
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Core Drills

Exercises in this phase of our preparation are to “fire up” the core to stabilize the trunk before loading the body with all the great tools we use in strength training and conditioning. A common practice is to save the “ab work” for last during your training session, which is all fine and good, but adding these to your 4x4 work before a weight is lifted can help your performance. A strong, “awake” center will keep you safe during your exercises and allow you to get the most out of them at the same time.

i. Foam Roller Dead Bug with Ext.
ii. Side plank and row

 
 
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Loco-motor Drills

After mobilizing and stabilizing the system, now it’s time to energize it! These drills are used to increase the body and tissue temperature that will prepare your body for the strength and conditioning work that lies ahead. These drills are typically fast and fun, and can combine some dynamic stretching with basic calisthenics. These can be as simple as a jumping jack or lateral lunges, or these two gems:

i. Snowboarders
ii. Sprinter Lunge

 
 
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***

To prepare your body for work and to limit the chances of injury, you must perform a proper warmup. No more skipping a major part of your training session! As soon as you begin to look at the 4x4 warmup as a must-do, the harder it will be to work without it.

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This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: functional training core videos warmups mobility movement stability loco-motor drills

Sprint into the New Year: Do’s and Don’ts of Sprinting for Fitness

ThinkstockPhotos-610859290.jpgThe New Year is just around the corner and many will be out to improve themselves on many levels in 2017, with health and fitness usually being number one on the list. If losing weight, increasing lean muscle tissue, and sculpting a lower half that will certainly turn heads, while all at the same time improving your heart health is what you are looking for, I have one answer. The use of sprints in the world of fitness and sport performance is nothing exceptionally new, but can be new to you. Actually, sprinting (fast, short bouts of running) was used to stay alive long before we used it as a mode of training.

Author Mark Sisson has spent a great deal of time spreading the message of the importance of sprinting to overall health, and that it was a huge part of daily life for our early ancestors. He believes, and I like his theory, that primal humans (represented by a caveman known as Grok) owed their fitness to three important concepts:

  • They walked great distances during their hunting and gathering trips.
  • They lifted heavy things such as building materials and large animals.
  • They sprinted for their lives from time to time from wild animals, and chased down game for their paleo dinner.

So Mark says, walk a bunch, lift heavy things (and set them back down, of course), and sprint once in a while, and fitness will find you. I think he nailed it. There isn’t much difference between a sound fitness program and what I just described. So why is sprinting so important and beneficial?

The Benefits of Sprinting

There are easily a hundred benefits of sprinting. This acute stressor can have many positive effects on your body. Here are just a few benefits of adding sprint work into your training:

  • Sprinting can be used across all fitness levels.
  • Sprinting doesn’t take a lot of time to do.
  • Sprinting burns fat.
  • Sprinting improves endurance.
  • Sprinting improves insulin sensitivity.
  • Sprinting is a fun and easy way to get and stay lean.

When implementing sprinting into your training, there are some pretty important steps to follow. To help you get started, here are a few tips that will get you on your way to sprinting more in 2017.

Step 1: Prepare Your Feet and Mobilize Major Joints

Feet: https://nifs.wistia.com/medias/7w84n4t9px

Mobilize: https://nifs.wistia.com/medias/l6m3ft8v72

Step 2: Perform a Proper Warmup

Warmups: https://nifs.wistia.com/medias/x6i393bxk3

Step 3: Ease into Sprinting

When starting your sprinter program, follow a progressive level of intensity and volume. You do not want to start out with all-out sprints for 100 meters for sets of 5 to 10. That is a surefire recipe for an injury at worst, and failure to perform the movement properly at best.

A great tip I picked up from Eric Cressey is to start by sprinting uphill first before moving to the track or any flat surface. This will help with proper mechanics and decrease the chances of injury because you are less likely to overextend. Your timed intervals should start at a 1:2 work-to-rest ratio and gradually ramp up to a 1:1, and even a 2:1 ratio. For example, do :20 of max work followed by :40 of rest, then repeat for the desired number of sets.

The recovery from the sprint is just as important, and I would recommend using your heart rate to tell you when it is time to go again. Waiting until your heart rate is 110bpm or lower before starting your next bout is a good general rule. I am also a huge fan of using your heart rate both as a measure of intensity and for determining your rest. You would rest until your heart rate recovered to 110–120bpm before starting your next set. The bottom line is that there will be no first-place ribbon waiting for you at the end of your sprint, so know your limits and use a progressive program when implementing sprinting.

Step 4: Mix It Up with Different Types of Sprinting

Treadmill: https://nifs.wistia.com/medias/bsjs720s4a

One of the best things about sprinting is that there are several ways to sprint, and sprinting is relative to you. If you give everything you’ve got into a sprint, that is where the work is done, but it doesn’t mean you will be breaking any land speed records (unless your last name is Bolt). Your sprints don’t have to be rep after rep of 100m dashes; it just has to be a near max effort for a few reps or a short period of time. Those who claim they just got done completing 20 sprints were probably not maximally sprinting. If you intersperse a couple periods of higher effort levels with periods of lower effort levels, you will be in good shape (pun intended).

Here are some other sprinting options:

Sprinting can be a fun and very effective training tool in both fat burning and performance. I can’t stress enough the importance of a proper warmup and easing into higher-intensity sprints. Stay healthy so you can stay moving! (And if you have injuries, see this blog for tips on working through it.)

Ready for another challenge in 2017? Train with us in our Mini-Marathon and 5K Training Program! Starts July 25th!

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FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE PROGRAM AND GET REGISTERED TODAY!

This blog was written by Tony Maloney, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: fitness injuries sprinting paleo heart rate warmups new year joints

Warming Up Before Your Workout

ThinkstockPhotos-498944002.jpgHave you ever gone into the gym and jumped right into your workout, only to notice that it took a good 20 minutes to get into it? Or how about heading out for a run without any form of warming up, and you really don’t start to feel into your rhythm until halfway through?

I know that I have experienced both of these things, and I also know the value of warming up before you begin a workout! Warming up before you start has several benefits that I will talk about, as well as giving you a few good exercises to get yourself moving.

Why Warmups Are Important

Some key benefits to getting in a warmup before you begin to lift or do cardio exercise is that it is one of the most efficient ways to avoid an injury. You want to be sure to get all parts of the body moving to keep yourself from getting hurt. Also, warming up is important if you want to be sure to get the most out of your workout by moving efficiently and reaching your peak performance.

How to Warm Up

The warmup is the prep phase of your workout. This needs to include static and dynamic movements to get the body going. You also want to be sure to incorporate some corrective exercises and foam rolling to get the blood pumping, stretch the muscles out, and make your joints more limber. Getting blood moving through the body and to the muscles will help to increase your body temperature in preparation for movement. Stretching helps to also warm up the muscles and help with making your body more stable, mobile, and flexible. And you want to be more limber so that you are more mobile when beginning exercises and explosive movements.

You might be thinking, “Okay, so what does a good dynamic, all-around warmup look like?” Here are some things that you can include into your warmup (and which take maybe just 10 minutes):

  • Toe-Touch Squats
  • Glute Bridges
  • Bird Dogs
  • Inch Worms
  • Pushups
  • Planks (Side Planks)
  • Lunge Reaches
  • RDLs
  • High Knees
  • Butt Kicks
  • Lateral Lunges
  • Side Shuffles
  • Frankensteins
  • Knee Hugs
  • Line Jumps
  • Reverse Lunges
  • Body-Weight Squats
  • Mini Band Steps

Maybe it’s a time thing, or maybe you just don’t like to warm up, but I want to encourage you to get yourself moving in preparation for working out and see what a difference it makes. Ask one of our Health Fitness Instructors at NIFS to show you some good exercises and come in for a free fitness assessment to get started the right way!

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This blog was written by Amanda Bireline, Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: fitness center workouts injury prevention stretching warmups