Category Archives: Fitness Training

The Long Femur and Squat Mechanics

The squat is one of the best exercises to improve performance, period. Athletes incorporate the squat into their workout regimen because it increases strength and power of the entire lower extremity and significantly activates the core muscles. Unfortunately, performing the squat improperly can lead to significant injury.
Without getting into too much detail, there are 4 main reasons why a person may not be able to squat with good technique.
 
  1. Poor ankle mobility, primarily dorsiflexion
  2. Poor hip mobility, primarily hip flexion and external rotation
  3. Muscle weakness/muscle imbalance of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex
  4. Long femur (a high femur to torso length ratio or high femur to short tibia ratio)
 Three of the above can be fixed with corrective exercise. This might shock you but there is no corrective exercise program that will lengthen the torso and shorten your femur (yes, that is sarcasm). Unless you are skilled at removing portions of the femur with a chainsaw you’re not going to fix #4.
Squatting with a long femur can lead to low back injury. In the image here you can see that the individual with the long femur has an increased forward lean. The excessive lean increases load at the low back.
I love the video here. If you move to the 3:40 mark the video shows an individual squatting with long femurs squatting.

It drives me bonkers when a provider (athletic trainer, personal trainer, therapist, etc.,) attempts to correct a client’s squat mechanics by forcing changes in items 1, 2, or 3 when the real problem is the unfixable number 4. Before you waste a client’s running them through a corrective exercise program make sure it is something that can be fixed.
If you have a long femur to short torso ratio you do have options!
  1. Widen the stance
  2. Externally rotate the legs
  3. Raise the heels
 If you continue watching the video (around the 5:30 mark) you will notice how the individual’s squat mechanics are improved by making subtle changes in body positioning.

All of these options change the lever arms and evenly distribute the weight between the low back, knees, and feet. Thus, one joint is not excessively loaded more than the others. You can try adjusting one of the above items or mix and match any three of the above.
 

The Squat: Should Your Knees Travel Past the Toes?

Should the knees migrate past the toes when performing a squat? I posted this question on downloadsocial media, and the immediate response by most was “No!”. I expected this answer from most everyone, from novice to advanced lifters. To you, I happily say, you’re wrong! The debate on proper squat mechanics will never die, but I am going to steal a line from Randy B., an athletic training, and performance enhancement peer, who answered my question: “Absolutely, [the knees] should [go past the toes]. Don’t believe urban legends or follow sports med sacred cows!” I couldn’t have said this any better! Randy is spot on. This urban legend could lead to injury. The purpose of this blog is to shed some light on the debate and provide the rationale for proper squat technique.

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15 Swing Set Exercises

As a father, I wanted to write this blog for the parents. It’s so hard to find time to workout in the summer. For most, fitness just takes a back seat during this time. Let’s be honest, you want to be outside. It’s the season of bar-b-que, beer, family vacations, and soaking up the sun. Your kids want and need to be outside too. For these reasons, attendance at health clubs declines significantly over the spring and summer months. So, how does one get a total body workout outside of the gym? Easy, head to the playground, jump on the swing set and try these 15 exercises.

  1. Pistol Squat: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and pointing forward. Hold arms straight out and grasp the swing for stability. Raise the right leg and lower the body while bending the left knee. Drop to a level of chair height, then return to standing. Repeat for the desired number of reps, then switch to perform on the opposite leg. Progression: Perform with the leg up on the swing’s seat. Pistol squat

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12 Booty Exercises to Improve the Back Side

 The glutes (not counting the core) are the single most important muscle group for athletic performance and injury prevention. 

Booty

I prefer a booty that has a functional purpose.

I am an ass man. Not in a sexual context, but in a functional movement context.  I do not care if you are fat, skinny, or look great in a pair of yoga pants. If your glutes function at an optimal level you will have better athletic performance and prevent injury. Over the years, I have worked with a variety of clients and the glutes are a focus for all of my clients. It does not matter what your current fitness level is; if you want to prevent injury, boost performance, or become more fitter, the butt is key.

Ask any client I have trained, and they will tell you that I will destroy your glutes – in a good way. Over time, I have developed some favorite booty-popping exercises.  In clinical research, there isn’t any published data that truly says these exercises are best. What you have here is based on my clinical experience and what I have found to work best. These exercises are designed to give you optimal gluteal function and they might even make you look good in a pair of jeans.

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Pregnancy Fitness Program Using TRX RIP Trainer

Watch the video below as I take my client who is 8 months pregnant through a 30 minute total-body circuit program using only the RIP Trainer by TRX.

A little over a year ago I wrote “A Runner’s Story: From Pain to Performance” which is about a client I began working with about 2 years ago. When we met, the simple task of walking caused sharp pain in her hips and had essentially given up on her long-time passion of running.

After a few months of working together she was racing 5ks and 10ks. In one year’s time (April, 2014) she ran the Illinois half-marathon. I still train her today, but now we have a new challenge; she’s expecting a baby at the end of March. Continue reading

Planks: You’re Doing Them Wrong

Here’s a challenge: I bet you cannot do a forward or side plank for 1 minute straight. Many people will say that is easy. So, let me rephrase: I bet you cannot do a forward or side plank properly for 1 minute straight.

Many fitness enthusiasts choose planks to work the core, but are they really working the core? When I observe clients perform the plank exercise, 9 out of 10 fail to perform the exercise properly. Take a look at the common compensation patterns that occur during the plank exercise and then challenge yourself. Can you do the exercise for 1 minute, with perfect technique, and without compensation? Continue reading

15 Myths and Facts for Runners

runningRunners are a very particular type of athlete and will try almost anything to run longer, faster, and remain injury free. Unfortunately, there is a lot anecdotal and pseudoscience being pulled from the internet that leads runners astray. In this article I talk about the biggest myths and facts in running.

  1. Static stretching decreases performance.

MYTH: A study done a few years ago demonstrated static stretching reduced power output and performance. Suddenly, performance experts started saying “Static stretching is the worst thing you can do.” This is not true! These people just misinterpreted the facts.  The data stated that performance decreased when the muscle was stretched for 45 seconds or longer… When a stretch was held for 30 seconds or less – as recommended – there was no performance loss.  A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning confirmed this (1). This study found that the threshold of continuous static stretching in which muscular power output decreased was 60 seconds. Static stretching for a short-duration (30 seconds) had a negligible influence on performance.

  1. Static stretching can increase tightness.

stretchFACT:  Muscle is made up of two types of fibers, intrafusal and extrafusal.  Inside the intrafusal fibers is a receptor called the muscle spindle. It’s like a spring-loaded sensory detector. It is a protective mechanism that when over stretched sends a signal to the brain and spinal cord telling the muscle to contract and protect itself, thus making the muscle tighter. Some muscle spindles are overly active causing chronic tightness. So, when you stretch a muscle that already has over active muscle spindle, the tightness can increase. I wrote an article about this phenomena, if you want to read more about that.  I understand this can be confusing, but when you read #3 you will see how all of this comes together.

  1. You should foam roll after running.

Foam Roll TFL

MYTH: Foam rolling or self myofascial release is one of the most effective tools to improve motion and prevent muscle injury. Unfortunately, many runners foam roll after a run. It is just as important, or even more important, to foam roll before a run. As I mentioned in #2, muscle spindles create tightness when stretched. Due to the repetitive nature of running, runners are very susceptible to developing hyper-active muscle spindles. Foam rolling or self myofascial release targets the muscle spindle and inhibits it (hence the term release in myofascial release). Foam rolling overloads the muscle spindle and the nervous system and gets it to relax and turn off. This allows the muscle to be stretched without the muscle spindle becoming overprotective. Every client I see is directed to foam roll first, stretch, then exercise.

  1. Icing or an ice bath after a run helps injury and speeds recovery

MYTH: Inflammation is REQUIRED for the body to bring supplies to worked areas, clean up any debris and help rebuild tissue. When we ice that sore knee, aching Achilles, or painful plantar fascia after a run or workout we are delaying our body’s innate ability to repair that tissue. Yes, icing is not all it is cracked up to be. Even the physician who coined the term RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) has said that icing is wrong. I’ve written many articles about this, but the most recent, explains why RICE is no longer accepted as the cure-all.  If you want to recover, cool down with foam rolling and stretching, and have a few days of light exercise or rest.

  1. Drinking extra liquid will prevent heat illness.

MYTH: In general we overhydrate. Tim Noakes, MD, a long-time researcher of water balance and author of “Waterlogged:  The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports,” says we have been misled to believe that we need to drink to stay ’ahead of thirst’.  Hydration prevents dehydration, but it does NOT prevent heat illness. Dehydration and heat illness have very similar symptoms and often we use the two interchangeably, but they are not the same. If someone is suffering from heat illness, giving them water is not the answer, cooling their body temperature is. Giving excessive water to a person suffering from heat illness can cause a serious or fatal event called exercise-associated hyponatremia encephalopathy (EAHE).   Marathoners and distance runners who drink at every aid station or drink excessively before a run put themselves at risk for this condition. Dr. Noakes states we should aim for ingestion rates that never exceed 27 ounces/hr (2). 20140501More about our hyper-hydration nation can be found in this article.

 

  1. Dehydration kills performance.

MYTH: It’s long been held as fact that losing more than 2 percent of bodyweight to dehydration will hurt performance. But several recent studies, as well as anecdotal evidence from the world’s top runners, suggest it’s possible to lose more than 2 percent with little to no detriment to performance. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that current hydration guidelines are erroneous and that dehydration does not impair performance (3). In this article the authors found weight loss of up to 3 percent did not slow down athletes (cyclists, in this case) or lower their power output.  Finally, in 2012 a study found that Haile Gebreselassie lost a whopping 9.8 percent of his bodyweight during the 2009 Dubai Marathon—and still won, in 2:05:29 (4).

  1. Energy chews prevent bonk or fatigue.

FACT: But don’t be fooled: Energy chews do work to prevent fatigue during long distance running events, but so do raisins!  A study published a few years ago compared raisins vs. energy gummies. There was no difference in performance between the raisin group and the gummy group. In addition, the raisin group showed a lower insulin spike when compared to the gummy group, a win for the raisin. Plus, the raisin group demonstrated higher free fatty acid content in the blood post activity, demonstrating more fat metabolism. So, for the same performance gains, you can gain additional benefits from raisins over energy gummies.

  1. Bananas prevent cramps

MYTH: While bananas are a great source of nutrition and do contain many electrolyte replacing nutrients, they alone do not prevent cramping. Cramping can be caused by a large number of reasons, including over hydration (see above) or poor conditioning. Tim Noakes, MD, in Lore of Running, 4th Edition, suggests muscle cramps are caused by muscle fatigue and that cramping has more to do with not training properly than nutritional or hydration deficits.

  1. Runners need to strength train.

FACT: Running strengthens your muscles, but it only strengthens certain muscle fibers to a certain degree. A total body strength training is imperative for running performance. Strength and stability of the core and shoulder help translate to lower body power and efficiency. If you need a kick to climb a hill faster or sprint to beat an opponent to the line, strength training is imperative. Proper strength training and targeting specific muscles will also prevent injury. John Martinez, the assistant head doctor for the Ironman World Championships says “You can run five days a week and you’ll finish a marathon, but if you want to PR or qualify for Boston you need to have some kind of strength training in there. It’s about improving our performance.” Always add a strength training component to your training program. Running alone is not enough.

  1. Running is the best way to lose weight.

Graphics like this misguide those seeking weight loss.

MYTH: You’re being duped folks! Long duration cardio training does not make you lose more fat or weight. Running in the “fat burning zone” as depicted on a cardio machine does NOT burn more fat. If you want to lose weight, you need to burn calories. What burns calories? Intensity! Higher intensity requires more oxygen demand and thus a greater oxygen debt.  High intensity training has a caloric after burn that lasts for 12-24 hours. Standard steady state running only has a caloric after burn of 1-4 hours. You can burn more calories in a 20 minute high intensity interval training program than you can running for 60 minutes at a steady pace. If you want to lose weight, get off the treadmill!

  1. Minimalist shoes improve running mechanics and prevent injury.

vibram-shoes1MYTH: Will the minimalist running trend ever end? Minimalist shoes do not prevent injury. In fact, those who jump from a normal shoe to a minimalist shoe without proper training or adaptation are at an increased risk for injury. Five separate studies presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine “found no significant benefits, in terms of economy, from switching to minimalist, barefoot-style footwear.” Minimalist shoes also do not magically improve your running mechanics. There are no quality studies that show running in a minimalist shoe improves mechanics. In order to improve mechanics, you need a quality strengthening and flexibility program that encourages appropriate muscles firing. If you want to go the minimalist route, walk first. Adapt to the new style and supplement with a structured training program.

  1. Getting a shoe that matches your arch height will prevent shin splints.

MYTH: Shin splints are not caused by a high or low arch. Many runners with a high or low arch can avoid shin splints. Similarly, runners with a “perfect” arch can develop shin splints. The cause of shin splints is multifactorial and correcting musculoskeletal dysfunction through a structured program prevents shin splints. The article Shin splints 101 demonstrates how to prevent shin splints. A systematic literature, published in the Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that selecting running shoes based on arch height had little influence on injury risk. (5)

  1. A midfoot strike is best for performance.

MYTH: If you run slower than a 5-minute mile, it may be most efficient to heel strike. A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that rear-foot strikers are up to 9.3 percent more economical than midfoot strikers (6). Lead author Ana Ogueta-Alday believes the reason for the improved efficiency stems from the increased ground contact time the study observed in rearfoot strikers. More contact time with the ground allows for more force to be applied, while also decreasing the metabolic cost of running. If you’re a heel striker and haven’t been chronically injured, there’s no need to change your ways.

  1. The more mileage you run per week the better your performance.

MYTH: If you want to improve, you need rest, recovery, and varied training. I challenge you to find an elite marathoner who trains only by running. The elite runners have rest and cross-training built into their weekly programs. See the importance of strength training in item #9 above.  Two of the best known experts on running, Jack Daniels and Hal Higdon, provide run training programs. There programs stress the importance of recovery days and strength training days. In fact, Jack Daniels says that when training for long running events, train for time, not mileage. Getting 20+ miles is not the best for all runners and could cause injury.

  1. Preventing injury is a matter of not doing too much too fast.

FACT: There are many things that can cause injury, but one of the biggest determinants of injury is doing too much too fast. A study in the Journal of Sports Physical Therapy evaluated progression of running distance and its relation to injury. The authors found novice runners who progressed their running distance by more than 30% over a 2-week period seem to be more vulnerable to distance-related injuries than runners who increase their running distance by less than 10% (7). Owing to the exploratory nature of the present study, randomized controlled trials are needed to verify these results, and more experimental studies are needed to validate the assumptions. Still, novice runners may be well advised to progress their weekly distances by less than 30% per week over a 2-week period. So stick with the 10% rule.

If you are a runner and look to increase performance or prevent injury, please feel free to contact me for a free consultation.

References:

  1. Pinto, MD, et al. Differential Effects of 30- Vs. 60-Second Static Muscle Stretching on Vertical Jump Performance. December 2014. 28:12. p 3440–3446.
  2. Noakes, T. Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Athletes. Human Kinetics. Champaign, IL. 2012.
  3. Wall, BA, et. al. Current hydration guidelines are erroneous: dehydration does not impair exercise performance in the heat. Br J Sports Med. 2013 Sep 20.
  4. Beis, LY, et. al. Drinking behaviors of elite male runners during marathon competition. Clin J Sport Med. 2012 May;22(3):254-61
  5. Knapik JJ, et, al. Injury-reduction effectiveness of prescribing running shoes on the basis of foot arch height: summary of military investigations. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2014 Oct;44(10):805-12.
  6. Ogueta-Alday, A, et. al. Rearfoot striking runners are more economical that midfoot strikers. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014; 46(3):580-5.
  7. Nielsen RØ, et. al. Excessive progression in weekly running distance and risk of running-related injuries: an association which varies according to type of injury. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.2014 Oct;44(10):739-47.

 

 

Season of Running and Injury

Illinois MarathonIn April, the Boston Marathon kicks off yet another season of running. Whether it is 5k or a Marathon, from April to October running enthusiasts have no trouble finding a running event to participate in. Here in my town of Champaign, some 20,000 participate in one of the Illinois Marathon events. With these races comes training and where there is training, you can find injury close by. Continue reading

Three Exercise Programs You Can Do Anywhere!

Turkey, pumpkin pie, holiday parties, alcohol, sweet treats, 12-hours of college bowl games, and non-stop travel to visit family and friends—the inevitable holiday weight gain. Too many calories and no time or place to work out. When the holiday season comes, people want healthy eating options. I get it, diet is important, but I am not going to be giving out recipes here. If you want a stellar gluten-free mashed potato recipe or a simple salt-free, sugar-free, protein-free honey glazed ham recipe, go elsewhere. I am going to help you get moving. Movement equals calorie burn, and the goal of this blog is to provide you with three exercise programs that you can do anywhere without equipment. The programs are designed as circuit programs, which have been shown to be most effective at burning calories.

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Weight Loss: Burn the Treadmill

You’re being duped folks! Long duration cardio training does not make you lose more fat and weight. If I had a dollar for each time I heard the phrase, “… but I need to do cardio so I can burn fat and lose weight…” I’d be rich. This statement couldn’t be further from the truth. I understand where the confusion comes. It’s really not your fault. You’re being hoodwinked by health and wellness companies who put on this persona that they are health experts. They are not. These are simply business savvy folks who misinterpret science and pass garbage on to you. Let me explain.

Graphics like this misguide those seeking weight loss.

Graphics like this misguide those seeking weight loss.

First, the respiratory exchange ratio (RER) says that fat is metabolized greatest when the body is at rest. This is true. However, the aforementioned wellness companies misinterpret this and say that the closer the exercise level is to low intensity, the greater the fat loss. Thus, they try to give you these easy to follow fat burning weight loss guidelines. Have you seen those ridiculous diagrams on cardio machines that say 55%-65% of max heart rate is the “Fat Burning Zone” (see image). We also have trusted magazines like Women’s Health and Fitness that give you a Fat Burning Zone calculator. If you plug data in to the Women’s Health and Fitness calculator you will see that they also recommend you work at approximately 60% max heart rate.  We trust this information and are led to believe that lower intensity, longer duration activity equals weight loss. This is untrue. Continue reading

The Sit-up: So Simple, Yet So bad!

I have nSit upo idea how long the sit-up has been around – a thousand years maybe? Whatever it is we’ve been doing it for a long time. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “I do crunches every day.”, “I’m working my core.”, or “Look at my 6-pack.”. My responses to those statements: “No you don’t.”, No you’re not.”, and “great, do you want a cookie for your efforts?”  The fact is I see so many people “working their core” and the only thing they are doing is making a bad problem worse. Something so simple and you are doing it wrong!

I do not have a 6-pack. I do not have a 12-pack. I have what some may refer to as a party-ball of Guinness Extra Stout. Ask my wife, she will vouch for this sexy, fuzzy pillow that serves as my beer containment center. Despite my rather portly and ovoid mid-section, I know my core is a lot stronger, more stable, and less susceptible to injury than the 24 yr. old fitness geek down the street referred to as Jacked Jimmy. Yeah, that guy with glistening abs, who at every chance will raise his extra tight wife-beater tank top up, ever so slightly, just so he can hear the throngs of women fall unconsciously to the ground. Yeah that guy. How do I know that I can beat him in a core-off? Because more likely than not, he’s doing it wrong. I’ve seen too many “fit” clients fail miserably when I put them through a core routine. Continue reading

Butt Battle

A nice booty is not always a good booty.

A nice booty is not always a good booty.

Everyone loves a nice butt. Walking down the street, at the mall, or at the bar, there is bound to be a butt that catches your eye. Like a kitten following a piece of yarn, there is the occasional butt that walks by and causes heads to turn, leaving onlookers with a severe neck strain and mouths agape. Don’t act all innocent and holier than thou, we’ve all done it! Therapists and rehabilitation specialists are no different. In fact they can spend an entire day staring at booty. However, we are not looking to see if “Baby Got Back” or how that plump bump fills a pair of Wranglers, Levis, Seven, or True Religion jeans. We have a reason to look and it is strictly professional; is the little butt working?

For several years now rehabilitation journals have published articles linking a myriad of lower extremity injuries to poor gluteal control. While the glute max – that which makes our heads turn – and the glute minimus are both important, the glute medius is the real problem. We have learned the important role the glute medius has on controlling lower extremity mechanics. Glute medius inhibition precipitates many lower extremity injuries such as ACL tears, Patellofemoral pain, Iliotibial band syndrome, Achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, MTSS (shin splints), the list goes on. Rehabilitation specialists must pay special attention in strengthening the glute med., but how? What is the best exercise?

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3C’s + P Approach to Successful Outcomes

How many times have you racked your head wondering; why is this not getting better? How come they’re still in pain? How do we have all of this evidence and knowledge at our disposal, yet individuals do not respond as anticipated? The science says, for injury ‘Z’ treat with ‘X’ and rehabilitate with ‘Y’, yet when we apply those tools they don’t work? Why are they not getting better? What are you doing wrong? What are they doing wrong? Continue reading

Low Back Pain in Runners: In a Battle of Muscle Supremacy, Evil Prevails

Introduction:Chronic-back-pain-image

When we think of running injuries we immediately think lower extremity, IT Band syndrome, Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, Achilles Tendinopathy, Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, Plantar Fasciitis, and the like.  However, one of the most common and debilitating injuries in runners is low back pain.  So why are runners so at risk of developing low back pain? Most musculoskeletal injuries are multifactorial, but more often than not many chronic injuries result from underlying movement dysfunction.

Vladamir Janda (1928-2002) revolutionized human movement dysfunction and rehabilitation in 1979 when he described three compensatory movement syndromes.  These syndromes were a result of pattern overload (i.e. running) and static posturing. Janda recognized that certain muscles were prone to weakness while others were overactive. He continually investigated these movement syndromes and later learned that the muscle imbalances were systematic, predictable, involved the entire body, and a common cause of injury. Continue reading

A Runner’s Story: From Pain to Performance

Photo_shoot_runningIn 2010, I left clinical rehabilitation and performance training. While I love my current job, I do miss the clinical aspect, which is why I seize opportunities to take on random clients with complex issues.  I’ve never written about my clients, but this case is so common, yet complex, that I thought my readers might be challenged with similar clients/athletes, or might be experiencing similar issues themselves. Here is a runner’s story that went from marathon training, to painful walking and an inability to run. Her experiences with continued failed treatment and the road we have taken to get her back to training and setting personal records. Continue reading