Exercise of the Week: Band Lat Pulldown

The latissimus dorsi is one of the largest muscles in your body. This pair of muscles – called your lats for short – arise from the connective tissue of your lower back, sweeping up the sides and attaching to the long bones in your upper arms.

Chin ups are pretty much the king of upper body pulling exercises.

They are also really hard!

The vast majority of my clients aren’t able to do a body weight chin-up when they start working out. Daily life doesn’t place a high strength demand on our latissimus dorsi, one of the most important muscles working in the chin up exercise. But we still want to make those muscles stronger and work toward being able to move our own body weight.

So thank god for exercises like the band lat pulldown. Rather than asking our lats (and other muscles) to try to move our entire body weight, we can ask them to work with more appropriate resistance provided by a band. As we get stronger, we can use a thicker band to provide more resistance and keep building strength!

What it does: Builds upper body pulling strength

How to:

Band Lat Pulldown


– Securely attach the band within a door frame
– Take a step or two back from the door, kneel down and sit back on your heels
– Lean the torso forward slightly so it’s in line with the band and reach up to grab  the band (arms should be straight and slight tension on the band)
– Brace through abs and following an ‘arc’, pull the elbows down towards the sides
– Keep abs braced and control back to the start position

You should feel:  A squeeze through the upper outside of the back, work through the arms and the abs

 

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 Beaverton or the rest of the Portland area, please get in touch.

Exercise of the Week: The Tall Plank

We’re stepping up our planks once more this week, with a progression on last week’s prone plank. This is the tall plank (also called high plank, or just plank if you’re into yoga). This variation is slightly more challenging, because you are holding your center of gravity higher off the ground. That being said, some people think this is an easier variation, which can have a lot to do with shoulder, arm, and wrist strength and conditioning. Remember, we’re always looking for an exercise that is both challenging but achievable with good technique. Which do you prefer?

Exercise type: Core strengthening

What it does: Builds strength for core stability

How to:

Tall Plank

  • Start on knees with hands under shoulders
  • IF NEEDED: Use a Cat/Camel exercise to find a neutral spine w/ a “normal” curve in the lower back
  • Lift knees off floor to come into tall plank position with hands under shoulders and spine in neutral
  • Squeeze shoulder blades slightly
  • Keep tummy and pelvic floor tight – gently squeeze glutes and “tuck hips under” if you’re not feeling it in the core
  • You should feel this: a little between the shoulder blades, and through the arms/shoulders and core
  • Hold for 10-12 seconds, then relax back to ground
  • Repeat 4-6 times

You should feel: “Work” through the arms, 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.

Exercise of the Week: The Prone Plank

Time to work more on your core!

Contrary to popular belief, crunches, sit ups, and Russian twist-type exercises are not your friends when it comes to building core strength and stability. In fact, Dr. Stuart McGill, a leading researcher in spinal biomechanics – tells us that to avoid injury, we need to “spare the spine” when it comes to core training. That means minimal spinal movement, especially through the lower back, and letting the core muscles provide support and stability and allow efficient transfer of force between the upper and lower body. (As an aside – Think you aren’t producing force? Every time you take a step, you create force that bounces from the ground back into your body. Good force transfer helps it dissipate without negative impact on your joints.)

So if crunches are out (or anything else that causes repeated movements in the spine), what’s in? Well, anything that teaches your body to build strength without movement (or while resisting movement). Plank variations are not an old standby for nothing. The prone plank – your face-down version – is a great all around core stabilizer and strengthener.

Exercise type: Core strengthening

What it does: Builds strength for core stability

How to:

Prone Plank
– Lay on ground with feet hip width and arms shoulder width, elbows under shoulders
– Tuck toes under, gently squeeze glutes, tummy, and pelvic floor
– To move into plank position, lift knees and hips off ground
– Keep a neutral neck and  spine – no sagging through the lower back, and keep hips in a straight line from shoulders
– Hold for 10 seconds, return to start position on the 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.

Exercise of the Week: Single Leg Hip Lift

This is one of my favorite warm up and glute activation exercises. It can serve as both a test of the ability of the glute muscles to fire, and a good exercise to help them get stronger. The positioning of the legs mimics a more functional position (read: more realistic), in that we have one leg going “forward” and one going “backward”, just like when we walk or run. Hugging the knee towards the chest also helps keep the work in the glutes, not in the back. Trying to get higher off the ground is a common mistake with glute bridge/hip lift variations, but bringing the knee towards the chest makes that much more difficult to do. Last but not least, doing this exercise slowly and making sure you lift and lower the hips evenly, rather than rolling to one side or the other, will help keep the core engaged as well. Bang for buck deluxe!

Exercise type: Glute activation

What it does: Improves glute activation ability and strength

How to:

Single Leg Hip Lift

  • Lay on back with one heel towards butt and other knee bent towards chest
  • Use top knee to hold tennis ball onto chest just above hip bone (keep thinking about pulling top knee towards chest as you move)
  • Use hands on top knee if needed, to help maintain position
  • Squeeze glutes and push through heel of bottom leg to slowly lift hips off the ground
  • Hold hips up for 3-5 seconds, then slowly control back to ground
  • Aim to minimize hip wobble or movement as you lift and lower
  • You should feel this: in your butt, not your lower back

You should feel: Through the glute on the bottom leg. If you are feeling it in your lower back or hamstring (back of the thigh), check out Troubleshooting the Glute Bridge – many of those tips apply here too!

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Exercise of the Week: The Incline Pushup

There are some exercises that seem to conjure up images of drill sargents in a split second.

The push up seems to be one of them.

It’s a great exercise though, if you can get past the visions of “drop and give me 20!”. We should all be able to control our own body weight, for a variety of reasons – both related to strength and the ability to get through daily life with a minimum risk of injury and maximum efficiency. Fortunately, it can be easily modified to make it achievable for any fitness level. One of my favorite variations is an incline pushup, which itself can be made easier or more challenging by the level of incline you use – great for building strength if you can’t do a standard pushup, and awesome as a backup if you have to (or want to) grind out high reps and still keep good technique!

Exercise type: Strength building

What it does: Builds strength in an upper body pushing pattern, and builds core stability

How to:

Incline Push Up

Incline Push Up – Start and Finish

– Stand with feet hip width, on the balls of the feet
– Place hands on surface edge, a little more than shoulder width apart
– Keep a neutral spine with glutes, pelvic floor, and tummy braced
– Bend elbows to lower body towards wall, then push back to starting position
– At the lowest point, surface edge should hit at mid-chest or nipple line

You should feel: Hard work through your arms and chest! But not too hard 🙂

 

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.

Exercise of the Week: Band Shoulder Dislocates

First, a little disclaimer – you will not actually dislocate your shoulder with this!

I’ve had about a million clients tell me I should change the name of this exercise, but I love it – people always remember which one it is, and that’s half the battle. I’ve also seen them called shoulder pull-throughs, but that doesn’t make quite as much sense to me, so dislocates are here to stay.

Most of my clients also eyeball me like I’m crazy the first time I show them how to do this. Yep, I really do want you to make a huge circle with your arms and end up with a band touching the back side of your body – all without bending your elbows. You CAN do it! It’s not as bad as it looks 🙂 though you are guaranteed a heck of a stretch.

As you move through the range of motion that this exercise requires, you will stretch just about everything through the upper chest and front of the arms. I briefly mentioned Thomas Myers’ Anatomy Trains last week, and here again he gives an excellent illustration of where you should expect to feel the pull of the stretch as you move through it. (For those interested in the fascial train theories, you’ll be stretching you superficial and deep front arm lines as you go along).

Superficial and Deep Front Arm Lines

Superficial (L) and Deep (R) Front Arm Lines from Thomas Myers’ Anatomy Trains

Like all the other exercises anywhere ever, this can be modified to make it challenging but achievable, just like it should be. Also, I promise your shoulders will stay in their sockets! 🙂 Happy stretching!

Exercise type: Dynamic mobility

What it does: Increases tissue length along the front of the arms and chest, and promotes dynamic mobility through the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint

How to:

Shoulder Dislocates– Standing or kneeling on both knees, and hands outside shoulder width, hold a band in front of the body with a little bit of tension on it
Keep your arms straight and reach up overhead (pretend your elbows don’t exist – you can’t bend what you don’t have)
– Still keeping your arms straight, reach around the back of the body – this is where you’ll really start to feel the stretch
– Stop when you can feel the band at the back of the body
– Return the same way – it’s hard to keep the arms straight coming back, so think about stretching the arms out long
– If you can’t complete this without bending the arms, move your hands wider on the band
– If this is too easy, bring your hand closer together on the band
– Keep a neutral head and neck as you move through the stretch by thinking about being “long” at the back of the neck (Don’t poke your chin out)

You should feel: The biggest stretch ever through the front of the chest and arms (but not too big!)

 

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.

Exercise of the Week: Plantar Fascia Self Massage

Who loves their feet?

Sadly, most people barely even give them a second thought, let alone have fond feelings for them. This is a shame, because our feet do so much for us – not just keeping us upright and able to walk. Each of our feet has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons, with high levels of proprioceptors – sensors that provide our nervous system with information about where we are in space. Because they have so much information gathering potential, in a perfect world, they provide a huge amount of information to our brains about what’s going on with our body and our immediate environment, allowing us to adapt and not twist an ankle or fall over, among other things.

Superficial Back Line Fascia

The Superficial Back Line – Thomas Myers’ Anatomy Trains

As usual, we have managed to outsmart our bodies on this one. When we wrap our feet in the cloth, leather, and rubber combinations we call shoes, we shut down a lot of these proprioceptors and stiffen the fascia, connective tissues, and muscles of the foot. This is especially true for higher heeled shoes, from cowboys boots to stilettos.

If you want to get into the nerdy stuff, consider that the plantar fascia – the largest, most dense sheath of fascia on the bottom of the foot – shares fibers and lines of pull with the other connective tissues and fascia  moving up the entire back of the body (if you want to learn more about fascial lines, Thomas Myers’ Anatomy Trains is a fascinating read, though definitely written for the professional).

Poor soft tissue quality through the bottom of the foot often goes hand in hand with:

  • Tight hamstrings
  • Excessive lumber lordosis, a lower back posture often correlating to back pain
  • Tight muscles at the back of the neck, that are often resistant to release and can lead to acute and chronic neck pain and headaches

The good news is that we can easily release the plantar fascia and other associated muscles, tendons, and ligaments. All you need is a tennis ball!

Exercise type: Self massage

What it does: Decreases tissue tension in the plantar fascia and associated muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the bottom of the foot

How to:

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– Stand with weight even between bare feet (or socks) and bend forward with straight knees, just to see how it feels
– Stand back up, and step one foot onto a tennis ball
– Take as much body weight as you can onto the tennis ball – it should be pleasantly uncomfortable (like a deep tissue massage)
– Hold for a minimum of 20 seconds, then move the ball to another point on the bottom of the foot and hold again
– Keep moving the ball around, looking for spots that feel tight or tender
– After a few minutes, remove the ball and bend forward with straight knees again

Notice the difference between the two sides? Now do the other foot!

You should feel: A deep massage type sensation in the bottom of the foot.

 

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.