Exercise of the Week: Lateral (Side) Plank, Level 2

A couple of weeks ago we talked about how useful lateral planks could be, and showed you how to start building strength with the exercise, using the Level 1 variation. Depending on your starting point, you may already find this easy and be ready for progress (but if you aren’t, don’t worry – it can take some time to work out to it!). If you’re ready for a new challenge in the world of lateral planks (or side planks or bridges – same difference), our Level 2 option is for you.

In our previous lateral plank post, we talked a little about the true functions of the ‘core’: stabilizing the torso by limiting excessive movement (which can lead to at the least wasted energy, and at the most, increased risk of overuse injury), as well as transferring force between the upper and lower body. These functions become more challenged with our Level 2 plank, since our ground contact points are farther away from each other. Remember that we want to maintain a straight line from feet though hips to shoulders, and that the hips shouldn’t be sticking out behind you, nor the back arching.

Exercise type: Core strengthening

What it does: Builds strength for core stability

How to:

Lateral plank level 2– Start by laying on your side with your shoulders and hips stacked, elbow under shoulder
– Legs are aligned straight down from torso – if you look straight down your body, everything should be in line
– Brace through tummy and gently squeeze pelvic floor and glutes
– Lift hips off the ground
– Hold for 10-12 seconds, then relax back to ground
– Repeat 4-6 times

You should feel: “Work” through the entire torso and hips

 

Disclaimer: This does not constitute medical advice, and not all exercises may be suitable for all people. Please consult your health care professional if you are unsure whether these exercises are right for you. If these exercises increase pain or any other symptoms, please stop immediately and consult your health care professional. For best results, get your doctor, physical therapist, and personal trainer/exercise coach talking for a united approach – as well as your chiropractor and massage therapist if you see these. To find out who I refer to in the Alexandria area or the rest of Northern Virginia, please get in touch.

Anatomy Basics: Your Pec Minor

pec minorWe talked last week about the pectoralis major (pec) muscle (the square looking muscle on the upper chest). What many people do not realize is that the “pecs” are not alone. There is actually have a second set – the pectoralis minor. This muscle is much smaller and lies beneath the pec major at the corner of the chest. While smaller, the pec minor can be much more troublesome, especially when it comes to posture. Much of the tension felt through the upper back, shoulders, and neck after a stressful day or hours at the computer is also made possible by the pec minor at the front of the chest – when it is short and tight, it can create pull on the structures of the shoulder, leading to tension there are well. That being said, when it has normal tension and good length, it does serve a useful purpose: though small, it plays a big role in stabilizing the scapula (the shoulder blade) and keeping it in place along the back of the ribcage. Who likes it when their bones are in the right place? Turns out we all do!

Location: The top outer corner of the chest.

What it does: Stabilizes the scapula on the rib cage by drawing it forward and down.

If you want to study up on the Latin names, scientific terms, and all the other nerdy stuff, I suggest taking a look at my favorite anatomy website here.

What that means for you: A stable scapula is a must-have for quality shoulder movement. A short, tight pec minor will mean too much pull on the bone from the front, which can lead to misalignment and muscle tension at the back.

A good exercise for your pec minor: Tennis ball self massage! Check it out in our other post – Relief For A Tight Neck And Shoulders.

 

Inflammation: What’s The Big Deal?

Most of us have a some idea of what inflammation is. It conjures up thoughts of injury or infection, with swelling, heat, redness, and usually some pain and loss of function in the affected area. But inflammation is not always a localized event, and surprisingly, can have both positive and negative effects, depending on which of the two types  – acute or chronic – you’re dealing with.

Acute Inflammation

Acute inflammation is a protective process that happens to help the body rid itself of dead and dying cells caused by the injury – while it may not look or feel all that great, it’s the first step in the body fixing itself. Without the inflammatory response, all of the damaged (and dying) cells would be stuck where they were – not a good thing for ongoing health and healing! The physical process of inflammation occurs when blood vessels widen to rush immune cells, proteins, and molecules to the injured area, along with the extra fluid that creates the swelling we recognize. This rapid influx , with a little help from the nerves and other cells in the area, kicks off the healing process, and can continue for up to 72 hours; after this point these “first responders” should start moving out and the processes of rebuilding and remodeling the damaged tissue will move into a higher gear. Good job, body!

Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation, also known as low grade or systemic inflammation, is a whole other ballgame. Unlike the short-lived and highly noticeable acute inflammation, chronic inflammation occurs at such a low grade that people don’t notice its presence. There is no noticeable swelling, redness, heat, or pain that we associate with inflammation. But the immune system is still hard at work, with the same cells, proteins, and molecules present that we see with acute inflammation – just at much, much lower levels, and often across several tissues and organs of the body at once.

Why does this happen? There are a number of factors that can trigger a systemic inflammatory response (and often, trigger it continuously – hence the “chronic” aspect of it), and a number of presentations. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body has an immune and inflammatory response to itself; in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammatory response occurs in the joints without cause. Chronic inflammation can also play a large role in chronic diseases and conditions such as asthma or Crohn’s Disease, where the body has an above-average inflammatory response to triggers such as certain foods, allergens, or environmental toxins like smog. Indeed, the foods we eat are being increasingly noted as a cause of chronic inflammation, whether we are diagnosed with a particular disease or not. This is due in part to increased intake of processed foods, and to an increased ratio of fat to lean body mass that is becoming more and more common in Western countries. Obesity itself is associated with increased production and accumulation of inflammatory cells and molecules within the fatty tissue, which can go on to affect other tissues and organs, and may help explain the growing association between inflammation and many metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. And our lifestyles in general may not be helping: high stress levels – especially on a long term basis – can actually change the way our immune system reacts, leading to the same low-grade systemic inflammation as the other causes.

What can we do about it? The good news is that we can help moderate the chronic inflammatory response with sensible exercise and quality sleep and relaxation. A good, clean diet high in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, and low in the processed stuff, will also help – many foods are recognized to have anti-inflammatory properties, and all body systems will function better with a wider array of nutrients at their disposal. So sleep well and eat your veggies!

Exercise of the Week: Supported Single Leg Lower

I love bang-for-buck exercises. The series of straight leg raise & lower exercises sure falls into that category. Rather than working on a single muscle, or even a group of muscles, performing this exercise will instead help improve the quality of this basic, foundational single leg movement. Don’t worry if that sounds a little confusing – all you need to know that that this exercise will help you to strengthen and stabilize through your hips and core, while teaching (or cementing) good movement through your hips and legs. All with a single movement!

Exercise type: Activation and strength building

What it does: Improves core and hip strength and stability, and improves movement quality in the hips and legs

How to:

Supported Single Leg Lower to Bolster– Lay on back with arms out at a 45 degree angle and and palms up, and one leg straight and supported on a chair, table, or in a door frame at a height that allows you to keep the leg straight
– Hold the other leg up at the same height
– Make both legs active by pushing heels away and pulling toes towards shins, and keep toes pointing straight up (not dropping out to the side)
– Keeping leg straight, slowly lower unsupported leg down to floor (or bolster, as shown, if the floor is too challenging)
– Keeping leg straight and active, slowly return to starting position
– Keep the supported leg straight and active througout the movement; if needed, move farther back away from the chair
– Keep the core engaged and don’t let the lower back arch; if needed, move farther back away from the chair to allow better stability through core

You should feel: Work through your core and the front of your legs, and very likely a hamstring stretch as well!

 

Disclaimer: This does not constitute medical advice, and not all exercises may be suitable for all people. Please consult your health care professional if you are unsure whether these exercises are right for you. If these exercises increase pain or any other symptoms, please stop immediately and consult your health care professional. For best results, get your doctor, physical therapist, and personal trainer/exercise coach talking for a united approach – as well as your chiropractor and massage therapist if you see these. To find out who I refer to in the Alexandria area or the rest of Northern Virginia, please get in touch.

Fix Blogs! About Body Weight Exercise

The Sustainable Exercise blog isn’t just online. Our trainers at Fix Fitness & Bodywork work out of Alexandria, Virginia, offering the best in in-home personal training and remedial massage around the Washington DC metro area.  They do a little blogging on the side too. Check out the latest post on body weight exercise, Is Body Weight Exercise Better?, and see how body weight exercise can fit into your workout routine.

Food Friday: Stuffed Zucchini

Stuffed zucchini: a healthy and delicious dish that requires minimal prep work, packs a veritable vegetable wallop, and looks cool too! I could eat the whole of it on my own and make a meal of it, it’s so good, but you can count one or two pieces as a nutritious side dish, depending on your eaters (use your portion sizes and the other meal components as a guide for how much you need). This recipe comes out of the Gourmet Nutrition V2 cookbook from Precision Nutrition; you can find it online here, along with some other excerpts from the cookbook. Yum yum yum – just in time for Thanksgiving!

Stuffed Zucchini

Stuffed Zucchini

2 medium zucchini
Olive oil cooking spray
¼ cup finely diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup finely diced shitake or portobello mushrooms
¼ cup finely diced tomato
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup crushed pecans
½ cup tomato sauce

Preheat the oven at 375°F. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise. Using a spoon and knife (if needed) remove all the white flesh (do not discard the skin or flesh). If the green skin breaks don’t worry. Preheat a large non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Lightly coat with spray and add the white zucchini flesh, onion, garlic and mushrooms. Sauté until onions are lightly browned and liquids have evaporated. Then remove from heat. Add tomato, feta cheese and pecans to the pan. Stuff the zucchini peel with the heated mixture. Reform the peel around the stuffing. Add to a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 30 minutes. In a small saucepan, warm the tomato sauce while zucchini are cooking. Remove from oven and serve with warm tomato sauce.

Anatomy Basics: Your Pectoralis Major

Pectoralis MajorThe pectoralis major muscles (aka the pecs) are probably one of the most well-known and recognizable muscles on the body, thanks to movies like Magic Mike or 90 percent of everything you’ve ever seen related to bodybuilding. And while they seem to be more valued from an aesthetic standpoint than much else, they are actually quite useful in day to day life, especially if you use your arms… Yep, that’s pretty much all of us. So whether you’re interested in looking good or moving well, your pecs are going to need a little attention!

Location: Starts from the inner portion of the collarbone (or clavicle), the edge of the breastbone (or sternum), and from the cartilage attaching the top six ribs to the sternum. The fibers form a fan shaped muscle that attaches to a place on the upper part of the humerus – the long bone in the upper arm.

What it does: 

  • Shoulder adduction (moving the arm toward the midline of the torso, respectively)
  • Internal aka medial rotation of the upper arm (turning the upper arm inward towards the torso)
  • Shoulder flexion (as in reaching the arm above the head)

If you want to study up on the Latin names, scientific terms, and all the other nerdy stuff, I suggest taking a look at my favorite anatomy website here.

What that means for you: Strong, well functioning pecs, mean you can push things away from you. This comes in handy when closing car doors and when you’re reaching out for something. Also, as Wikipedia notes – correctly – your pecs are (in part) responsible for keeping the arm attached to the body. It’s a good thing!

A good exercise for your pecs: Push ups! Being able to move and control your body is a key component of good quality of life. Don’t think push ups are too hard for you, either – there are many variations. It’s very likely that you’ll find something in Five Ways To Do Push Ups that works for you.

 

Troubleshooting the Glute Bridge

Several weeks ago, we featured the Glute Bridge as our Exercise of the Week. In that article, there was some discussion of the function of the gluteus maximus and a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “gluteal amnesia”. To recap, thanks to our mostly sedentary lifestyle, we lose the ability to activate our gluteal muscles well. They never completely switch off, but if they don’t easily switch on, the body will find other muscles or movement patterns to do the same job. This is pretty easily done, actually, since movement is never dependent on one muscle alone.

The glute bridge is an awesome exercise to get the glutes going again, but it can take a little fine-tuning sometimes, if the body is used to using other muscles. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to troubleshoot this exercise, based on where you’re feeling the “work”. First thing to do is make sure you’re setting up for the exercise correctly – check the original post here for directions.  If you’re having any of these problems, adjust as suggested, and put that work back in the glutes where it belongs!

Problem #1: You feel like your quads (the muscles at the front of your thighs) are doing the work, not the glutes.

The solution: Make sure your body weight is pushing down through your heels. Try lifting your toes to touch the tops of your shoes (or just slightly off the ground), which will shift your body weight back into your heels.

Glute bridge - Quads

Problem #2: You are getting super humongous hamstring cramps (the hamstrings are the muscles at the back of the thigh). Or you’re feeling them work more than your glutes.

The solution: Check the angle of your shins – determined in part by the how far your heels are from your butt. Shins should be just a bit less than vertical. You may need to move your heels closer to your (so move your heels closer to your butt, if needed). Make sure to keep squeezing the glutes and pushing through the heels as well.

Glute bridge - Hamstrings

Problem #3: You’re feeling this through your lower back.

The solution: Most of the time the lower back kicks in with this exercise when we move out of alignment, which usually happens when we’re going for height rather than activation. If you’re feeling this in your lower back, return to the start position and relax, and find your neutral spine. Then get your glute squeeze going, and aim to life an inch or two off the ground. As long as glutes stay on and you can maintain a neutral spine, you can add another inch or two in height – but remember, we’re going for quality here, not quantity!

Glute bridge - Lower back

Exercise of the Week: Lateral (Side) Plank, Level 1

Yay for core exercises! Ok, so not a lot of people say that. But they are good for you for a reason. There is some argument about which muscles actually make up your “core”, but it is generally agreed that we’re talking about the muscles of your lower torso, including the pelvic floor, at the very least. We’re NOT talking just about your six-pack (which we all have – sometimes it’s just hiding)!

The real purpose of your core is to help stabilize the torso – whether you’re moving or stationary – and to transfer the force created by your arms and/or legs to the other parts of your body. This creates efficient movement – meaning you’re moving safely and using as little energy as possible, allowing you to more quickly build strength or endurance, or just get through life a little more easily!

Considering the stability and force transfer roles these muscles are actually designed to fulfill, doing thousands of crunches might not be your best bet (also, not the way to make your spine happy). Using exercises that mimic the role the core muscles play in real life will take you a lot farther, a lot faster. Planks are just one example, but (done correctly) one of the best; the lateral or side plank has a higher stability component from a side to side perspective than other planks. And though they look straightforward, they can be challenging, so lets start with our basic Level 1 version:

Exercise type: Core strengthening

What it does: Builds strength for core stability

How to:

Lateral Plank Level 1– Start by laying on your side with your shoulders and hips stacked, elbow under shoulder
– Legs are aligned straight down from torso – if you look straight down your body, everything should be in line
– Tuck the bottom foot behind the body so the knee is at a 90 degree angle (bottom knee should not move forward)
– Brace through tummy and gently squeeze pelvic floor and glutes
– Lift hips off the ground by pushing through your bottom knee and elbow
– Hold for 10-12 seconds, then relax back to ground
– Repeat 4-6 times

You should feel: “Work” through the entire torso

 

Disclaimer: This does not constitute medical advice, and not all exercises may be suitable for all people. Please consult your health care professional if you are unsure whether these exercises are right for you. If these exercises increase pain or any other symptoms, please stop immediately and consult your health care professional. For best results, get your doctor, physical therapist, and personal trainer/exercise coach talking for a united approach – as well as your chiropractor and massage therapist if you see these. To find out who I refer to in the Alexandria area or the rest of Northern Virginia, please get in touch.