Seated Resistance Band Exercises

As we discussed in the Magic of Movement, movement is key to keeping the body healthy and happy.  For those of you ready to move beyond the Chair Only Exercises, the video below will take you to the next level of challenge using exercise resistance bands.

 

All you need is an exercise band and a chair.  Follow along with the video as we complete one set of numerous banded exercises.   Afterward complete and additional 2 to 3 rounds of each exercise on your own. You decide how much tension to use on each exercise by adjusting the flexibility of your band.  If you use the NeeBoo bands, they come in a pack of four bands, each with progressive resistance.  They are a great investment and are a quality product I use everyday.

 

Click here to purchase NeeBoo Bands

NeeBoo 6″ Bands

The Magic of Movement – Especially for Seniors

We know that exercise can increase muscle strength and decrease body fat when coupled with proper nutrition.  Exercise also allows us to look good in a bathing suit, and feel better about our appearance.  When we feel good about ourselves we tend to get out and socialize and move more, which are great for quality of life.

Muscles are the the organ of longevity, and if we don’t use them,  we lose them.  Keep your muscles healthy by moving them as much as possible throughout your day. Even while sitting watching TV, you can do movements such as slow squats to the couch, knee marches, leg lifts, etc.

“The key to moving better and feeling better is to move every day” 

Muscles and Age

But  as we age, appearance begins to take a back seat to functional movement.  Suddenly as a senior we become worried when we can’t bend over to tie a shoe, or fear if we fall, we will not be able to get up off the floor.   These are all valid concerns because science shows us:

  1. Older people with the highest loss of muscle strength were four times more likely to be disabled, have difficulty walking and need walkers or other mechanical devices to help them walk (Am J Epidemiol, 1998; 147(8):755–763).

    Limited Mobility
  2. The average person loses about eight percent of muscle size in the decade between 40 and 50 years of age, and the rate of loss increases to 15 percent per decade after age 75 (J Am Geriatr Soc, March 2003;51(3):323-30).
  3. You can slow the loss of muscle fibers as you age and can enlarge the remaining muscle fibers by exercising against resistance, but you cannot increase the number of fibers once they are lost (The Journals of Gerontology, August 2012).

But not all is hopeless, we can improve our physical ability quite easily by moving more every day.  Even better is to move every joint through the its natural range of motion.  It isn’t hard, and the movements will leave you feeling refreshed and energized. Add in some resistance band work as your fitness levels improve and our muscle fibers can also enlarge.

NeeBoo 6″ Bands

click here to order your own set of 6′ bands.

Quality of Life Improvements

Movement provides many physical characteristics that help improve the quality of life:

  • Improve balance
  • Improve gait
  • Decrease chance of falling
  • reduce joint pain
  • Improve mobility
  • Reduce chronic illness (Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke)
  • Improve psychological health
  • Reduce osteoporosis
  • Improve vitality
Keep Moving

Find 10-12 minutes in your day to perform basic movement patterns and you will feel better and move better.

Here is a 12 Minute video where the only equipment needed is you and a chair.  What is stopping from you feeling better and moving better?

Oh, My Achy Flat Feet!

Is Having Flat Feet a Problem?

Overpronation of the Right Foot

Having flat feet, technically known as overpronation, invariably causes a myriad of issues that will continue to get worse unless corrected.  Untreated overpronation can lead to imbalances that transmit up through body, including the knees, hips, low back, shoulders and even the neck.

As imbalances slowly get worse, the result is chronic pain during movement. When it hurts to move, we move less often, and the cyclical effect begins to snowball leading to less activity, weight gain, and more pain.

Snowball Effect

Overpronation Can Lead To:

  • Calluses
  • Bunions
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Achilles Tendon Pain
  • Shin Splints
  • Pain While Standing or Walking Especially for Long Periods of Time
  • Knee Pain
  • Hip Pain
  • Low Back Pain

What is Pronation?

Pronation is normal movement of the foot collapsing inward toward the middle of the body to absorb transmitted forces while moving. If our foot collapses too far inward (overpronation), a disruption in normal function occurs and it causes additional stress to other body areas.

  • As we walk with a flat foot, the leg impacts the floor at a different angle, altering the direction of the pressure as it reaches the knee.
  • This causes the knee to cave inward.
  • The caving in of the knee causes the hips to shift forward, which can lead to hip and low back pain.  
  • Do you see a pattern here?

The Key Point Is:

“The Feet and Ankles Literally Form the Foundation of the Human Body.”  We learned in Mobility and Stability are The Keys to Movement Efficiency that the foot provides stability to create force production while the ankle allows for mobility.  Overpronation will most certainly affect our entire kinetic chain.

Quick Test:

  1. Stand barefooted and look at your feet. Can you see an arch?  If not, you have flat feet.
Flat Feet
  1. Pinch your calf muscle. Is it tender? If so, there is a good chance your calf muscles are overactive from improper striking of the feet.

 

Self Help For Flat Feet:

  1. Release the fascia through Self Myofascial Release.  
    Roll the Bottom of the Foot
    • Roll the feet on a golf ball 1 minute every day.
    • Use a tennis ball if the golf ball is too painful.
    • Start while sitting, and as pain diminishes, stand up and roll.
    • Foam roll the achilles tendon and calf to release those restrictions.
    • Use a soft ball or lacrosse ball for more advanced rolling of the achilles and calf.
    • Use the Fascia Blaster Mini 2 or full size Fascia Blaster to get deeper into the fascia. (Click on link for direct transfer to Amazon).  Note: Clicking on Amazon Affiliate links through this web site provides a small monetary return to this web site.  There is no extra fee for the purchaser when clicking through this site and all products are delivered through Amazon.
      Fascia Blaster

      Fascia Blaster Mini 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Stretch the foot and calf muscles to increase flexibility and retrain correct movement pattern:

Calf Stretch

Calf Stretch
  • stand with feet in a staggered stance with feet facing forward.
  • Gently lean forward keeping both feet in contact with the ground.
  • Pull up on the the toes to get a deeper stretch.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and switch to the other side.

 

 

Foot Stretch

  • Stand barefoot with toes pushed up against a wall.
  • Keep the ball of the foot in contact with the floor.
  • Slowly collapse the foot into pronation to stretch the plantar fascia then pull it back to neutral.
  • Hold for 30 seconds then switch to the other foot.

 

3. Strengthen the muscles by retraining good walking mechanics.

  • Go barefoot and actively pull your arches up by putting pressure more on the outside of the feet.
  • Practice raising the toes off the ground while keeping a good arch.
  • Practice splaying (spreading) your toes apart before bed every night.

Having chronic pain means people have slowly grown accustomed to the discomfort. Don’t suffer any longer, try these easy solutions to see if we can get rid of your foot pain. It will take a few weeks to see improvements so don’t get discouraged. 

 

This video will outline the steps we mentioned above:

Remember when you move better…you feel better.

Mobility Part 2 – Tissue Elasticity

Mobility

In Mobility and Stability are the Keys to Improving Movement Efficiency, we learned the importance of full joint movement in moving well.  Then we discussed the many things that can cause mobility limitations in What Causes Poor Mobility.   

Foam Rollers
Foam Rollers

 In Mobility Part 1 we discovered the most common reason for mobility issues is soft tissue restrictions.   We learned how to remove soft tissue restrictions with the use of Self Myofascial Release (SMR) techniques using foam rollers, balls and other tools.   

Another very common reason for a lack of mobility in a joint is the lack of tissue elasticity.  The muscles are like rubber bands, they lengthen and shorten to create movement. As they lengthen or stretch when we move a body part, other reciprocal muscles resist to help slow down the movement.   If the rubber band is too tight, motion is restricted. If the rubber band is overstretched, the muscles do not extend back properly.  

Muscles are Like Rubber Bands

Your muscles need a certain amount of tension to create strong, healthy movement.  Dynamic stretching in one way to improve mobility due to poor tissue elasticity.

 

 

Static Stretching

An important point is that static stretching is not mobility. Static stretching or holding a passive muscle position for a length of time, can actually inhibit the amount of force that a muscle can produce and it can decrease performance if done before a workout. 

Dynamic Stretching vs Static Stretching

Numerous studies (1,2) have proven that static stretching can be counterproductive to athletic performance. We will discuss static stretching in a later article, because there is a time and place for it, but not as a warm up before an exercise period. Static stretching is best after the exercise session concludes, or for use in people with muscle imbalances or needing restorative flexibility.

Dynamic stretching on the other hand is beneficial to increasing mobility and studies have shown (3,4) that “dynamic stretching can improve power, strength, and performance during a subsequent exercise session” (5).

Benefits of Dynamic Stretching

  • Improves flexibility.
  • Combats the effects of aging by maintaining and regaining flexibility.
  • Protects from injury.
  • Increases the range of motion.
  • Boosts athletic performance through force and tension.
  • Increases blood flow to muscles.
  • Increases lubrication of connective tissue, making you supple.
  • Relieves lower back pain.

What is Dynamic Stretching?

  • Dynamic stretching is rhythmically moving your joints within their full range of motion to mimic a particular sport or activity. 
  • It incorporates postural control, stability, balance, and explosive movements.
  • It utilizes basic movement patterns such as hinging, squatting, lunging, and swinging to bring joints through the full movement patterns.

Examples of Dynamic Stretching Routines:

Prehab Dynamic Stretches
  1. Arm Circles:

Extend arms out, parallel to the floor. Slowly rotate each arm in tight circles in a forward motion. Gradually make the circles wider until you get to 8 to 10 repetitions (reps).  Then reverse the direction and do 8 to 10 more reps, starting small and again increasing the circle size.

2.Leg Swings:

Hold onto a wall, counter, pole or golf club and swing one leg at a time front to back 10 times.  Start with small swings and increase the arc as you get higher in reps. Then swing the same leg side to side in front of the foot, and then swing 10 times behind the planted foot.  Now do the same for the other leg.

3. Hip Circles:

Stand with knees below shoulders, rotate your hips clockwise for 8 -10 large circles. Then switch directions and rotate the other way for 8-10 circles.

4. Toy Soldier Walk:

Toy Soldiers

Walk forward with legs stiff, knees straight and toes flexed back toward you.  Every time you lift a leg, try to touch the toe with the alternate arm. Walk for 10 – 20 yards.

 

 

5. High Knees:

As you walk back to your original position raise each leg high so the knee taps your extended arm in front of you. You can vary the speed from a walk to a quick tempo. Walk for 10 – 20 yards.

6. Butt Kickers:

Butt Kickers

As you take a step, extend the leg toward the rear and try and kick your butt with your heel. This can be done at a slow speed or rapid tempo.  Walk for 10 – 20 yards doing the butt kickers.

7. Standing Torso Twist:

a. Horizontal – place arms straight out from sides, slowly twist so the left arm is facing directly in front of you fully extended, the right arm is now behind your back, fully extended parallel to the ground. Now twist to the left so the right arm is in front and the left arm is behind you. Keep your head and neck aligned with your torso, do not crane your neck. Do this 10 times slowly in each direction.

b. Rotational – same as above except the arms rotate out diagonally during the extension and you keep one up high while the other drops low.

8. Air Squats (Body Weight):

Stand with knees shoulder width apart, and your arms held out in front of your body.  Slowly drop down toward the ground while pushing your butt back, like you are going to sit on a toilet.  Keep your knees behind your toes and swing your arms back to your side as you approach the bottom. Then slowly rise back up, bringing the arms out in front of you.  Try to get to where your upper leg is below the hip crease (below parallel).

9. Lunge:

Lunge Execution

a. Forward – Step forward dropping one knee to the ground and keeping your hands on your hips. Once the knee touches the ground, raise back up and alternate legs so the other leg steps forward and touches the ground. 

b. Walking Lunge – keep walking forward with each step for 10-20 step.

b. Reverse – Once you get comfortable with the front lunge, you can drop the knee to the rear and do reverse lunges.

c. Lunge With Upper Body Rotation – once in the lunge, extend the arms overhead and twist the torso to the side of the raised knee.  On the next step, twist to the opposite side.

Vary Your Dynamic Warm Up

Try to expand your movements to go beyond the basic flexing and extending patterns. Incorporate side to side moves, twisting, bending, and diagonal movements.  The more you move the body, the better the movements become and the better you feel.

The beauty of dynamic stretching is it can be incorporated into your warm up and it can do specific movement patterns for your sport. The Golf Swing Warm Up video demonstrates dynamic stretches and warm ups that will assist any golfer in getting ready for 18 holes of golf. It is amazing what 5 minutes of warm up and mobility prep can do to prepare your body for your sport.  Most people who practice the warm up routine for 2 to 4 weeks report improved performance and decreasing levels of discomfort after their sport.

Injury Prevention

  • Never stretch while cold, always warm up first. Spend at least 5 minutes doing an active warm up (jogging, rowing, jump roping etc) or doing dynamic stretches that get the body moving.
  • Don’t bounce.
  • Use active stretches that simulate your muscles for the activity or sport you will perform.
  • Hold static stretches for the end of a workout when they are most effective.
  • Tired muscles have limited elasticity, so if you train them when tired, they might remember a restricted range of motion.

Simple stretching alone rarely makes long-term changes.  When tightness or mobility limitation is identified somewhere in the body, there is usually a weakness, overactivity or imbalance existing somewhere else in the body. Combining SMR techniques with dynamic stretching and joint distraction (Part 3 of this series) will go a long way toward improving mobility impairments.

The Science Daily reported on progress being made identifying Reversible Mechanism that Increases Muscle Elasticity (6). They found the combination of exercising and stretching leads to long-lasting yet reversible increases in flexibility.  So it is important to establish a dynamic stretching routine as part of each daily movement session, followed up with static stretching after your workout.  Today is the perfect time to start your movement practice. Five minutes a day will do wonders for you. Give it a try!

 

References

  1. Gergly, J.C. Department of Kinesiology and Human Science, Stephan F. Austin University. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013 April;27(4):973-7.
  2. Simic, L., Sarabon, N., Markovic, G. Motor Control and Human Performance Laboratory, University of Zagreb. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 2013 Mar;23(2): 131-48.
  3. Zourdos, M. (2012). Effects of dynamic stretching on energy cost and running endurance performance in trained male runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(2), 335-41.
  4. Su H, Chang NJ, Wu WL, Guo LY, Chu IH. Acute Effects of Foam Rolling, Static Stretching, and Dynamic Stretching During Warm-ups on Muscular Flexibility and Strength in Young Adults. Journal of Sports Rehabil. 2017 Nov;26(6);469-477.
  5. Greenfield, B. https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/fitness-articles/workouts-exercise-articles/mobility-for-endurance-athletes/
  6. Columbia University, March 13, 2014. reversible Mechanism that Increases Muscle Elasticity Discovered.

 

Mobility Part 1 – Soft Tissue Restrictions & Self Myofascial Release

Soft Tissue Restrictions 

When we are unable to move a joint through a normal range of movement, it results in a lack of mobility.  One of the primary causes for lack of mobility is soft tissue restrictions, or trigger areas, that result in tightness and pain.   This restricted tissue is the fascia, a very thin, collagen-like substance that permeates the entire human body from nerve endings, to muscle fibers, to bones and organs.  

fascia
Fascia on chicken breast

Think about that clear layer on a piece of raw chicken breast, that is fascia.  Fascia in humans is a living seam system and provides a soft tissue scaffolding system to help support your body as well as assist in movement.

The fascia is responsible for the huge range of movement we possess. The fascia can get tacked down, and restrict the movement of different layers of tissue.  Thus  we lose functionality or have movement painful.  Think scar tissue and matted down old tissue that hasn’t been required to move in a long time (i.e. you haven’t done a full squat in decades).  These tacked down areas are called adhesions, knots, trigger points or scar tissue.  

Self Myofascial Release

SMR
Self Myofascial Release

Using self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques, we can break up those adhesions and restore the sliding surfaces of the various layers of tissue. The main tools used in SMRF include foam rollers, lacrosse balls, tennis balls, and even barbells and kettlebells.   By using friction, pressure, and movement with a hard object over these areas of adhesions, we begin to break up the knots. A recent study in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation (1) found the foam rolling is more effective than static or dynamic stretching in acutely increasing flexibility of the quadriceps and hamstrings without hampering muscle strength, and is recommended as part of a warm up in healthy adults.

SMR can be performed before a training session to help loosen tissue and improve mobility for that workout, but should also be done after the workout to release those areas tightened during the workout.

How To Perform Self Myofascial Release

Foam Rollers
Foam Rollers

Lie on a foam roller, using a slow up and down movement, roll over the tissues applying pressure to the muscle.

  1. When you find an area that hurts, stop and hold pressure for 30 seconds.  
  2. Then slowly move your body around to apply different pressure points.
  3. Roll slowly, no more than one inch per second.
  4. Bend and extend the limbs in the area you are working to untack the tissue.  
  5. Roll each area for up to 2 minutes or move if the pain subsides.

SMFR breaks up the adhesions, but it can be very painful the first few times you do it. Don’t get discouraged, the more you roll, the less painful it gets. When the pain diminishes, tissue changes are occurring and the adhesions are being broken up.  Your fascia is free to move again.

This 13 minute video shows how to foam roll the entire body:

SMR Don’ts

  • Do not roll over joints or a bone (like the front of the shin).
  • Don’t foam roll your lower back. Use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball or two balls taped together in a peanut shape. Place the ball(s) on the side of the spine and slowly roll along the spine.
  • Don’t roll to the point of excessive soreness.

Here is a good reference chart showing how to roll various areas:

Foam Rolling
Foam Rolling Basic Patterns

Other Tools for SMR

Tools for SMR
Lacrosse Ball
  • The lacrosse ball, VooDoo Floss reviewed in this article, tennis ball, edge of a kettlebell or even a barbell can be used in place of the foam roller to target deeper tissues.  Be creative, humans have used rocks and man made tools for years to work out areas of discomfort on their bodies.  I have a lacrosse ball in my car to roll out my back and shoulders during my drive.

Quality products to help you begin your SMR journey include:

 

Double Lacrosse Balls
Voodoo Floss Bands

 

12″ Rumble Roller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*This page may contain referral links to help support the site.

 

References

  1. Su H, Chang NJ, Wu WL, Guo LY, Chu IH. Acute Effects of Foam Rolling, Static Stretching, and Dynamic Stretching During Warm-ups on Muscular Flexibility and Strength in Young Adults. Journal of Sports Rehabil. 2017 Nov;26(6);469-477.

The Move Better Principle

BETTER.

Better is an improvement over status quo.

Better Than Before

 

Better increases value and performance while defeating complacency.

Better moves us forward, and makes us feel happier and healthier.

 

The ultimate strategy for succeeding in life and health is to get better.

Better always beats best, because best is a static point.  But the top point is never permanent because better is aiming for continual improvement to overthrow best.

Better Than Good

Everyone wants to be better, but sometimes we need a compelling motivator to change our behavior and to help us take action.  So how do we take action to start moving and feeling better?

 

  1. Identify what your goal is and break it into Actionable Steps.

 Goal: To decrease my lower back pain over the next 3 months through diet and exercise.

Actionable Steps:

  • Reduce sugar and processed foods from my diet.
  • Eat at least 2 servings of vegetables every day.
  • Drink 8 eight oz glasses of water daily.
  • Educate myself by reviewing the Four Back Exercises in 4 Minutes.
  • Strengthen my core.
  • Stand up straight and pull my shoulders back.
  • Don’t sit for longer than 50 minutes without getting up to move and stretch.
  • Take a daily collagen supplement.

Continue reading “The Move Better Principle”

What Causes Poor Mobility?

In the article Mobility and Stability Are The Keys To Improving Movement Efficiency we learned that Mobility is how well a joint can move, while stability is the ability to maintain control of joint movement.  Mobility is key for moving better, and moving better is key for feeling better.

Many things can limit mobility resulting in less than desired movement and performance:  

Muscle Imbalances
  • Soft tissue restriction.
  • Shortened and tight muscles (tissue elasticity).
  • Joint range of motion dysfunction.
  • Motor control problems.
  • Postural misalignment.
  • Muscle imbalances.
  • Neural dynamic issues.

While this list can be daunting, many of the techniques to improve mobility will fix the most common problems.  If the basic corrections fail to improve mobility, or discomfort worsens, a comprehensive assessment by a specialist is encouraged. Specialists will likely prescribe a follow up regiment of soft tissue mobilization, dynamic and static stretches and/or self mobilization to reinforce the manual work.  

Remember it took time for the dysfunctions to build up, so reversing the damage will take time as well.  But a few proactive minutes every day addressing problem areas, can improve movement efficiency, speed recovery, and improve sports performance and make moving feel good.

Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk Might Lack Mobility

If you lack adequate mobility, you could be the Incredible Hulk and still find it difficult to do basic body movements like bending over to tie a shoe or put your pants on.

 

Movement is Medicine

Kelly Starrett, a Physical Therapist, CrossFit Gym Owner, and author of Becoming a Supple Leopard writes “we believe that much of the orthopedic dysfunction we encounter in our physiotherapy and human performance coaching practice results from people either not having a movement practice or exercising like fiends in poor positions and in narrow exercise ranges”.

The other area I see mobility issues is in people who are busy with their life, and do not spend enough time moving.  Sitting at a computer for eight hours a day will shorten muscles, cause restrictions, and even cause muscle imbalances if poor posture remains the position of preference. 

Establishing a daily personal movement practice will greatly improve our mobility.   The three most pertinent areas we can work on include:

  1. Loosening soft tissue restrictions with Self-Myofascial Release (SMR).
  2. Addressing shortened and tight muscles (tissue elasticity) by stretching.
  3. Improving joint range of motion (ROM).

Stay tuned, we will break these areas into three separate articles in the near future.

 

Mobility and Stability are the Keys to Improving Movement Efficiency

Movement Efficiency

A fundamental objective all people should aim to improve is movement efficiency.  Efficient movement:

  • Makes it easier to perform the daily activities of living.
  • Allows you to build strength on a solid platform.
  • Reduces pain and the risk of injury.
  • Make you better at your sport.
  • Makes you feel better overall.  

Movement is the result of muscle force that affects another body segment along the kinetic chain. There are other forces on the body, such as gravity pulling down on the body and reactive forces pushing upward through the body like when you run.

Efficient movement requires having appropriate levels of stability and mobility.  They are a check and balance system that work together to generate motor control. Too much of either one is a problem, and too little of either is also a problem.  

An example of too much mobility is a hypermobile elbow joint. If someone with a hypermobile elbow lifts weight overhead, the elbow joint might not lock in, thus, there is no stable platform and it comes crashing down.  Other times additional muscles, tendons and ligaments are forced into supporting the load placing extra burden on them. This isn’t ideal because it can lead to over use injury since they are not doing activities they they are designed to do.  

A lack of mobility is much more common, especially in the ankles.  Athletes that lack ankle mobility typically have problems getting to full depth in a squat.  Fortunately, through proper attention to mobility and stability, we can greatly improve our movement efficiency.

What is Mobility?

  • Mobility is the ability to move in an uninhibited range of movement around a joint or body segment.
  • Mobility is the ability to put one’s body into the correct position for various movements such as a squat, deadlift, overhead press etc.
  • Having mobility means having the ability to move the way our bodies were designed, that is the correctly and safely.  
  • Mobility allows for greater performance through higher force and therefore power production.

What is Stability?

  • Stability is the ability to maintain control of a joint movement and resist an undesired movement.  
  • Without stability, the joint is more prone to injury, and will not allow efficient power production.

Stability and Mobility

The American Council on Exercise identifies that individuals who exhibit optimal levels of stability and mobility anticipate movement and stabilization needs well.  Efficient mobility and stability elicit the necessary motor responses to perform proper joint mechanics.

Gray Cook of Functional Movement Screen (FMS) goes further in depth with his “joint by joint approach” where different joints have specific functions and needs and are prone to predictable levels of dysfunction.  We must also take into consideration the joint above and below as these joints will also impact the mobility and stability of each joint.

Mobility and Stability are not mutually exclusive,

you cannot train one alone, they work in conjunction.

All joints have varying levels of stability and mobility, but they tend to favor one over the other depending on their function in the body. Using the joint by joint approach, we see how joints stack on top of each other, alternating from stability to mobility.  Starting at the bottom:

  • Foot = Stability to create force production when pushing off the ground.
  • Ankle = Mobility to allow pronation and eversion of the foot.
  • Knee = Stability for walking, some mobility with flexion and extension.
  • Hip = Mobility in the ball and socket joints to allow legs to swing.
  • Lumbar Spine = Stability to support the upright body.
  • Thoracic Spine = Mobility to allow bending over.
  • Scapulothoracic = Stability between the arm and the shoulder.
  • Glenohumeral = Mobility allowing  arms to swing and move 360 degrees.
  • Neck = Stability to hold the head upright. 

    The Kinetic Chain

    The kinetic chain is defined as the relationship between joints or segments, and the effect they have on each other during movement.  When one is in motion, it creates a chain of events that affects the movement of neighboring joints and segments. Movement efficiency involves a synergistic approach between stability and mobility throughout the kinetic chain.

    It is important to understand that proximal stability promotes distal stability. This means having a stable core while performing an overhead squat will allow the athlete to lift heavier weights.  In a previous article Engage Your Core! we identified the importance of bracing the core to allow for optimal production, transfer and control of force and motion.  Without a strong core, your power to your arms and legs will be greatly reduced.

    When we look at people with good posture, they generally exhibit an improved relationship between stability and mobility throughout their kinetic chain. People with poor posture have a compromise somewhere along the kinetic chain.  The longer the imbalance exits, the more it compromises the adjacent joints until movement becomes dysfunctional and painful.

    We can reverse inefficient movement patterns through mobility and stability exercises, so stay tuned for the next articles.   In the meantime, engage your core, retract your shoulders , exercise your back daily and stand up straight so your joints are stacked in line.  When you move better, you feel better.

Four Minutes to a Healthy Back

Do the overwhelming number of back exercises that claim to build strength, flexibility and improve posture confuse you? Some of those highly touted exercises can actually cause more tension on the spine, adding to discomfort and negatively impact your movement.

This article and video will outline four easy to perform back exercises, all of which are scalable to various levels of conditioning, and can be completed in under four minutes a day. Dr. Stuart McGill, considered the back expert in the field of back rehabilitation, highly recommends these four exercises.

In the Engage You Core article, we learned the core and back are intertwined as they work in conjunction to provide stability. Stability is the ability to maintain control of a joint movement and resist an undesired movement.  By having a strong back and core, we have a solid foundation for all other movements to build upon. This is called proximal stability, a term we will discuss more in the future.  To build back stability, practice these back exercises daily.

  1. Cat-Camel Exercise (aka Cat Cow in yoga).

Cat – Camel is spine flexion-extension cycles that reduce internal resistance in the spine. It is a motion exercise, not a static hold. Do 5-8 cycles per day.

Cat Camel

It begins with the Cat portion or upward extension of the thoracic spine:

  • Starting on hands and knees, fingers spread evenly.
  • Wrists in line with shoulders & elbows.
  • Arch the back upward as you exhale.
  • The chin comes toward the chest.
  • The tailbone tucks under.
  • Briefly hold for 1-2 seconds.

Then you move into the Camel portion:

  • Lower the belly.
  • Neck comes up looking out in front (not upward).
  • Tailbone lifts.
  • Briefly hold for 1-2 seconds then go back into the cat position.
  1. Bird Dog.

The Bird Dog is a leg and opposite arm extension exercise. These are isometric holds that should last no longer than 8 seconds.

Bird Dog
Bird Dog

 

  • Build endurance by holding for 8 seconds then increasing repetitions.
  • Higher difficulty is achieved by drawing the elbow to the knee (Bird Dog Crunch).

    Bird Dog Crunch

 

  1. Side Plank (aka side bridge)

Side planks target the lateral muscles of the torso and are important for optimal stability. These are isometric holds, so hold the position until your form starts to break down then rest. Work on getting to one minute per side, then advance to a more difficult progression.

side plank
Side Plank Variations
  • Begin by bridging the torso between the elbow and knees and raising the torso so a straight line occurs from the shoulder down to the legs.
  • Place elbow directly under shoulder, forearm on ground to help balance.
  • Always maintain a neutral neck and spine position.
  • Feet should not be stacked one on top, move the top foot out in front of the bottom foot.
  • If you are bending in the middle, work on an easier progression.
    • Level 1 – Knee on ground.
    • Level 2 – Ankle to shoulder bridging.
    • Level 3 – Star pattern – raise the top leg and or top arm.

      Star plank

 

  1. Modified Curl Up.

The modified curl up is a modified sit up where the key point is to maintain a neutral lumbar spine while slowly raising the back using the upper abdominals.  Do not flatten your lower back. 

  • Use your hands underneath your lower back to provide support or a small rolled up towel. Flattening the back flexes the lumbar spine and adds stress.
  • One knee is bent while the other is straight to lock the pelvis.
  • Alternate the bent leg halfway through the repetitions.
  • Engage your core muscles, while raising your shoulders several inches off the ground.
  • Keep lower end of scapula on the ground. You are only doing a small motion.
  • Use hands to support the neck if needed.
  • Wok to increase repetitions, up to 3 sets of 10-12.

Low back exercises have the most beneficial effect when performed daily. You should not experience pain during any of these exercises, if you do, stop immediately and consult a professional. Add these four minutes of back exercises to your morning routine to prep your body for the day ahead and build stability for better movement.

 

What is Scapular Winging and Should I Care?

Shoulder stability is key to building a strong foundation of support for your upper body, especially when the upper extremities are moving like when throwing a ball or weight lifting overhead.  A common imbalance we see in the shoulders is scapular winging.

Many people do not know they even have scapular winging because:

  • It usually does not cause discomfort.
  • It is difficult to see your own back, so you don’t even know you have it.

Failure to correct scapular winging can lead to overuse of other muscles, weakness in the primary movers, nerve damage, shoulder impingement and/or other injuries if left uncorrected.

A winged scapula can be visible upon posterior viewing of the back.  Typically we see protrusion of the inferior angle and vertebral (medial border near the spine) of the scapula protruding outward.

Scapular winging indicates:

  • Instability or weakness of the scapular stabilizers (primarily the rhomboids and serratus anterior (S.A.) that fail to hold the scapula in place
  • and/or tightness in the pectoralis minor muscle.

In a normal, healthy back, the scapula should be snug against the posterior ribs with no obvious edges visible as in the photo below.

How to Assess If You Have Scapular Winging

  1. Take a photo of your upper back while standing with arms at your side. Do you see the shoulder blades pop out?
  2. Take a video of you performing a wall push up while shirtless, or wearing a sports bra. Observe for winging of the scapula during movement.  

The photo above left has obvious scapular winging of the right shoulder while the photo on the right shows a fairly flat back with good scapular control during the wall push up test.

Can I Fix It?

To fix the scapular winging involves some Self Myofascial Release  (SMR) techniques, as well as stretching and strengthening exercises that will help to restore balance. First let’s try to figure out the primary culprit(s) for your scapular winging.

Tight Pectoralis Minor Muscle (Pecs)

The pec minor muscle attaches from your ribs to your shoulder blade. Tights pecs (from actual shortening) can occur from front rounding of the shoulders when we sit for prolonged periods or are hunched over a computer. This chronic tightening can tilt your shoulder blade forward, causing the winged look from the back.

Remedies for Tight Pecs

  1. Perform SMR by placing a lacrosse ball or soft ball directly under the pec muscle and rolling out tightness.
  • You can do this while lying on the ground or
  • Standing against a wall or corner of a weightlifting rig and leaning into the ball.
  • Apply pressure into the ball, move your arm around slowly.
  • If you find a painful spot, hold the ball on that area for one minute to release that trigger point.
  • Repeat 2-3 times every day.

2. Doorway Stretch

  • Standing in a doorway, extend both arms against the door trim keeping elbows at a 90 degree. Lean the body through the door slightly to get a good stretch of the Pec Major.
  • Now raise arms a little higher, around 2” with more of a “Y” configuration and do the same stretch. This will stretch the pec minor.
  • This can also be done in a corner of a room.
  • Hold for 1 minute and repeat 2X at each height.

Unengaged Serratus Anterior (S.A.) Muscle

The S.A. muscle holds your shoulder blades against your rib cage. If this muscle is weak, or not engaged appropriately, it will be ineffective, and lead to scapular winging.

Activate (Engage) the Serratus Anterior

  1. Assume a wall plank position with one arm on the wall but place the other arm on your serratus anterior muscles on the opposite side. You should feel the bumps where the S.A. connects to the ribs. Internally pull your shoulder blades down then try to draw your shoulders around the ribs. You will feel the S.A. muscle move when you have properly engaged it. It is difficult for many people to activate this muscle, so take time trying to move the various muscles until you feel it engage.  Once activated:
  • Hold the contraction for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 5 times.
  • Practice activating the SA during push ups.
  1. Wall Push Exercise – perform a wall push with arms fully extended.
  • Activate the serratus anterior.
  • Push your arms into the wall keeping arms locked.
  • Protract your shoulders (slide then down and around).
  • Do Not round your back.
  • Hold this end position for 5 seconds.
  • Slowly bring your shoulders back to a starting position.
  • Repeat 10 times. Gradually progress to 30 reps.

     

     

    Do NOT round your shoulders

    3. Wall Push in Plank Position:

    • Same as above only have your forearms bent against the wall instead of extended out straight.4. Lying Dumb Bell Protraction:
      • Lie on back with knees bent.
      • Hold a DB straight over your shoulder (easily maintainable weight).
      • Activate the S.A.
      • Push the weight toward the sky while keeping the arm straight.
      • Hold for 5 seconds.
      • Return to starting position.
      • Repeat 10 times. Gradually progress to 30 reps.
Supine DB SA Push

Weak Rhomboids

Strong rhomboids hold the shoulders together, rotate the scapula down and provide stability for the shoulders. They also play a big part in posture. So when the rhomboids are weak, the shoulders tend to round forward, the back hunches over and we can develop pain between our shoulder blades and into our neck.  To strengthen our rhomboids:

  1. Prone Lateral Raises
    • Lie flat on your stomach. Hold a light dumbbell (DB) in each hand or no DB if performing for the first time
    • Place forehead on the floor or mat and keep toes down.
    • Raise the light DB’s with arms fully extended, thumbs up.
    • Once you have reached shoulder height, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 1 sec. The goal is to isolate you back. You will only lift the DB’s a few inches.
    • Inhale, then slowly lower the DB to the starting position.
    • Repeat 8 X, gradually working toward 15 reps.

2. Front Raise Thumbs Up

  • Same as above but arms are straight out in front of you next to your ears.
  • Thumbs should be facing up, with no weights initially.
  • Keeping torso glued to the floor or bench you are lying on, slowly raise arms. Squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades as you lift as high as you can without breaking form.
  • Hold for 1 second.
  • Repeat 10 times, gradually working to 15 reps.

3. Banded Pull Aparts

  • Using resistance tubing, keep arms at a 90 degree angle, elbows bent at chest level.
  • Extend the arms out laterally, fully extending the tubing until the arms are at full extension.
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades together.
  • Hold for 1 second.
  • Release the tubing slowly and start again.
  • Repeat 10 times, gradually working up to 20 reps.

We have covered a lot of important material regarding shoulder stability.  Now is a good time to perform these exercises if you have any sign of scapular winging or other shoulder weakness.  The strength you develop performing these exercises can prevent a more severe injury down the road.  Remember mobility, stability, strength and intensity, this is the roadmap to moving better and feeling better.