Monday, 30 January 2017

Importance of Fascia

Fascia is EVERYWHERE! The fascial web covers the entire body. This connective tissue both facilitates and restricts movement!

SPIRAL LINE - is the link between the shoulder and the ankle of the opposite leg. Like a sling across the body. If you have a restriction along the line both 'ends' will be negatively affected. e.g. shoulder tightness (problem) = poor flexibility in the opposite ankle and hip.

Imagine a tightly knitted jumper, tug one end you'll see the tug travel a long distance to the other end. Like a domino effect. This time pull on it again but hold for 8 hours (amount of time a lot of us sit @ a desk) or pull on it 2000 times (average steps done on a light run). The outcome? Well the jumper isn't going to look how it started out.

Fascia just like all other connective tissue can change in response to stress/injury. Just as tendons thicken in response to repetitive motion/lifting heavy - fascia may also thicken. This leads to stiffening and reduced flexibility, it will also contribute to reduced range of motion and causes improper movement patterns. On the other hand fascia may also lose flexibility due to inactivity!

If the muscles or fascia are tight within the line you won't move properly and shit kicks off! Where it hurts doesn't mean that is the source, it could be down to the domino effect of the spiral line!

Myofascial Release: 

a soft tissue technique used by therapists whereby a gentle sustained pressure is applied to the area of connective tissue restriction. A low load (gentle pressure) applied slowly will allow a viscoelastic medium (fascia) to elongate.

Self Myofascial Release: Using a lacrosse/massage ball or foam roller (to be done POST workout)

1. Pressure Wave/Slow burn - to deal with the tissue stiffness apply pressure in the direction of restriction and wait. This can sometimes take 30 seconds or more to begin releasing so be patient. If you're just rolling around you're doing bugger all really. When change is actually being made there may be a burning sensation in the tissue. Don't quit at that point. This is a chemical change taking place and the beginning of release. Stick with it and the release will follow. 

2. Tack and Stretch - can be used along with the pressure wave in order to encourage broad motion to deep layers of tissue. Once we have a good bite on the tissue, we move through the range motion that is restricted and encourage new range through repetition, not force. Fascia is designed to transmit force so applying too much force can bypass the area you’re targeting. Make sure you don't move so far that you lose the bite. If the restriction stops you from achieving the full movement pattern you're working on, then stop at the point of restriction and repeat.

VID: Showing both techniques using both a foam roller & spikey massage ball for the quads and a release with the ball for the hamstrings. (with help from my boy Logan, woof woof)

Keeping your fascia happy:

1. Move it or lose it!
2. Stay lubricated - its made of water (like most things in the body), works better when hydrated
3. Stretch muscles - if muscles are tight so is fascia & vice versa
5. Foam rollers - self myofascial release
6. Exercising the spiral line

Exercising the Spiral Line:

It is important to exercise the spiral line as it dissipates force throughout the entire system, minimizing excessive isolated joint tension while giving our joints freedom to move in all three planes of motion and improving total-body awareness and coordination.

Some exercises to work the spiral line;

1. Windmills
2. Band woodchops
3. Steel Mace lunge paddle rows
4. Pallof presses
5. Landmine lunge rotational clean


Thursday, 12 January 2017

Perfecting the press up!

The press up is a staple in any body weight/calisthenics routine, providing a (basic) pushing movement for the upper body. Just about everyone knows what a press up is, and while it may be a simple/basic exercise, it is by no means an easy one.

When performed properly the press up works more muscles than you think. Primarily it targets your chest, front of your shoulders and triceps. However, in order to keep your body controlled and balanced, press ups also activate your lats, core and glutes.

There are countless variations of press ups and because of this, form will vary between them and the points below will not apply in all situations. However, for the standard press up the following points on form and positioning should be applied:

  • Hands, fingers facing forward, should be just below and slightly wider than your shoulders, in line with the middle of your chest.
  •  The muscles in your upper back and neck should be relaxed and shoulders down away from your ears.
  •  Core should be pulled in tight, just like in a plank, throughout the entire movement, with a straight line running from your shoulders, through your hips and down to your ankles.
  • Your head and neck should remain in a neutral position, in line with the rest of your body and looking at the floor just in front of you. Plus no dipping your head towards the floor to make you feel like you’re down lower than you are!
  •  As you lower your body your elbows should be tucked in by your sides, not flared out.
  • Lower your body until your chest almost touches (don’t let hips sink first) the floor before pressing back up to the top position.

Now that’s all well and good as long as you can do a press up right? But as I said before, just because everyone knows what they are, that doesn’t mean they’re easy. So how do you go about building up to a full press up?

There are 4 things we are going to be working on:
1      1.  Plank position
2   2.  Reduced lever press ups
3     3.  Elevated hand positions
4     4.  Negatives
Master these and with a little work and dedication, you’ll be doing full press ups before you know it!

Plank Position: When doing a press up you need to hold your body in a straight line throughout the movement, and before we do that we need to make sure we can hold a straight line while stationary.

Reduced lever press ups: I’m not going to lie, this is just a fancy way of saying doing press ups on your knees, I just wanted to sound clever… Performing a press up on your knees takes away some of the core strength required, meaning you can concentrate more on getting the pressing right. Also, it reduces the proportion of your bodyweight that you need to press, making it a bit easier. All the same points on form apply, except now your straight line only runs through your shoulders, hips and knees.

Elevated hand positions: This variation will bring back your whole body, once again resting on your toes, requiring that all important core strength again. However, by placing your hands on a raised surface (e.g. kitchen work top, chest of drawers, table, bench), more of your body weight is transferred into your feet, making it easier on your arms. The higher your hands are off the ground, the easier it’ll be, so as you advance make sure you start using other objects to lower yourself closer to the ground and keep challenging yourself. Using a set of stairs/steps is a great way to monitor your progress and gradually lower your body position.

Negatives: This final exercise works your muscles only during the eccentric phase of the movement, in order to get your muscles used to working against your full bodyweight. The eccentric phase is the lowering part of the press up, so we don’t have to worry about actually pressing yet. As with the above steps, form is just as important when lowering and it is when pressing. The key to this stage is to perform the negative press up as slowly as possible, controlling the movement from the top down as far as you can (eventually all the way to the floor). When starting with these it’s probably a good idea to put something soft under your face so you do squash your nose if you drop a bit quick! Once you’ve lowered to the floor, get back in to the top position and repeat. As you build up strength, lower to the floor performing a negative full press up (on your toes) and press back up from your knees.

 So now you know the exercises, what to do with them. Where exactly you start is going to depend on your current level of strength. The first thing is to master the plank, as without that you just won’t be able to do a press up. Practice holding the position for 3 sets of 30 seconds. While you are working on your plank, you can build up your strength either doing press ups on your knees, or with your hands in an elevated position. As we are trying to build strength, pick a position/height that is sufficiently challenging so that you wouldn’t be able to do more than 8-10 full range (chest to the bottom) press ups. Work on doing 4 sets, with 90-120 seconds rest between each. Finally, when you’re comfortable with the movement, you can start introducing negative press ups. These will be more challenging, so you only have to aim for around 5 of these per set. Here’s a progression programme you can follow. Advance to the next stage when you can comfortably complete the maximum number of reps in each set.
Stage 1:

  • On your knee press ups: 4 sets of 6-10. Rest 90-120s between sets.
  • Plank for 3 sets of 30 seconds.
Stage 2:

  • Elevated hand position press ups: 2 sets of 6-10. Rest 90-120s between sets.
  • Plank for 1 set of 45 seconds.
  • On your knee press ups:  2 sets of 6-10. Rest 90-120s between sets.
  • Plank for 1 set of 45 seconds.
Stage 3: 

  • Negative press ups: 3 sets of 5 (5 second lowering phase). Rest 120s between sets.
  • Elevated hand position press ups: 2 sets of 6-10. Rest 90-120s between sets.
  • Planks for 1 set, holding for as long as possible.
Stage 4: 

At this point you'll be ready for full press ups. Lower down slow and controlled and powerfully drive back up. If you can only manage 1 full press up to start with that's fine. Work on these single reps, resting between each one, and eventually you'll be knocking them out one after the other!!!

Happy Pressing :)   

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Why your perfectionism is leading you to a self-destructive path...

We should all strive to be and do our best throughout all walks of life, after all you put in what you get out. But doing your best does not mean being perfect, and in fact striving for perfection can sometimes do more harm than good.

It's something that we see in the fitness industry a lot, especially with the prevalence of social media (instagram being the biggest culprit!). Every man and his dog seems to be posting pictures & videos of themselves either performing some superhuman workout or in their gym gear showing off bulging biceps, chiselled abs and buns of steel. Couple this with TV, film and magazine ad images shoved down your throat every minute of the day. You can tell yourself stop looking, STOP IT but that thumb just keeps scrolling. Eventually it can start to get to you and you start to think " Why don't I look like that, why can't I do that? Do I not train enough? Is my diet wrong? Am I just not as good as those people?".

What people forget is that for many of these people they see on their screens, this is their job! Be it actor, singer, model or just someone who is 'instafamous' and are sponsored by sports brands etc. They're paid to do this, that's a pretty good incentive - paid to workout and eat clean, if only eh! Trying to imitate the same workout and nutrition routine as one of these people? Remember you work a 40hr week, have 2 young kids and a mortgage to pay. Training x6 days a week is fine if it's your job and don't have the stress of a full time job that isn't in a gym or having to provide to feed the family.

And of course let's not forget about the magic of photoshop, filters and perfect lighting or even make up these days - contouring your legs & bum? Are you serious!!! Sure they work hard and put in the effort but i'm sure you also put in a lot of hard work into your job too. And what's more, if they're honest they will admit they don't look like that all the time. They prepare for photo shoots and events weeks in advance with even stricter diets and more intense workouts to look as good as they possibly can, it's not a healthy way of life, it is a form of yo-yo dieting. The rest of the time they're just like everyone of us, they bloat, they feel demotivated some days!

What i'm getting at is that it's hard to look like a fitness model, do crazy difficult workouts day in day out and eat clean 24/7, especially when juggling everything else in your life. Relationships, friends, work, family, they're all just as important. If you start to pour all your energy into trying to look and lift like some greek god or goddess chances are the rest of your life will suffer significantly and I know that from experience. You end up pushing people away, missing social occasions because they don't fit in with your strict routine of eating and workouts.

When you're overworked and look at yourself thinking what you see still isn't good enough all you can think of is to push harder for it, you end up spiralling deeper and deeper, even into the depths of mental illness and anxiety disorders.

Mental health is a massive issue and has so many links to body image and exercise (discussed in one of our other blogs). Here I want to mention physical health - Exercise is good for you right? Yes, but not if you work out for hours everyday without giving your body the time it needs to rest and recover. Overuse injuries can occur; sprains, pulled muscles, tendinitis. But you carry on regardless causing yourself more damage, compromising form in order to limit the pain, leading to more serious injuries and further imbalances. And then there's what happens inside your body - exercise is a form of STRESS. Your body adapts over time with regular exercise in order to better deal with that level of physical stress. That's why it is good for us. However continual exercise with little recovery means too much stress and no recovery or adaptation of the tissues, raised levels of hormones (cortistol) can cause havoc with your body and undo all the hard work you've previously achieved. Your body goes into emergency survival mode and actually stops you from losing fat, breaking down the muscle for energy instead. Not exactly what you want when you're trying to look like a greek god!

And all the while all you can think of is comparing yourself to others on instagram, thinking you're not doing enough, you've pushed away family and friends, caused yourself injury and illness, put added pressure on your work life and stopped enjoying life. The gym isn't life. All in the hopes of achieving perfection. Did it work? It didn't for me.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Miracle cure for your lower back pain...?

This week we're talking about the infamous lower back!! Most of the adult population have suffered some sort of lower back pain at one point...(shock horror it's probably those chairs' fault again!!)People are constantly on the hunt for this magical exercise/stretch that will fix everyone's lower back pain, but it doesn't exist!! Firstly everyone is slightly different, what works for one person won't work for another. You'll most likely have to go through a few different exercises to see which is best for you. Secondly, we're constantly told our lower back is this fragile thing and we shouldn't move it in a way that would seem to aggravate it - your back is a muscle just like your quads, it needs to be worked, it should be strong (not weak like most of ours because we don't use it). We have to learn to move without the fear of doing damage to it.

Say you've gone to the gym and tried a new workout which included a few Deadlift variations. The next day you have lower back pain and possibly start to freak you've hurt it, but is it truly bad pain or is it DOMS? It is a muscle after all, it will get DOMS just the same as your quads - we don't freak out when they hurt, usually we jump for joy that we've worked them enough that we now can't even sit on the toilet or walk down the stairs 👏 so why should we think differently about our lower back?! Also, the lower back has such a profound effect on the pelvis and when it's weak it causes imbalances between front & back, we get told to work our core to improve things and people will go and do sit ups?!!!🙈 Your core is like a corset, front, side & BACK. They all must be worked to restore balance.
Food for thought eh... back day shouldn't just be aimed at gaining those traps and lats, give your lower back some love too!

  • Now for the best exercises to get your lower back STRONG!!


Say goodbye to bad back pain and hello to healthy DOMS and a strong back 💪:
1. Good mornings (10-15)
2. Kettlebell Swing (20-25)
3. Deadlift (5-10)
4. Glute/ham raises (10-15)
5. Back arch (30-45s hold)
6. Kettlebell windmill (5each side)

All exercises should be done for 3-5 sets. Pick a weight that's challenging but allows you to keep proper form throughout every rep.
Not necessarily to do one after the other but to incorporate a few into your daily workouts. 

  • Stretches: but as I said before some will work for you some won't, if you're like me and slightly more mobile than the average joe most stretches will do bugger all but you've got to tinker them until you feel the stretch, it may not look the most graceful but whatever works. These are to be done post workout (or once already warm) to help recovery and restore the imbalances 

Image may contain: 1 person

Stretching + strengthening needs to go hand in hand to get the best results. Happy Moving :) 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The P word

Everyone bangs on about posture, guilty! But thinking about it, the lifestyle we all lead now with comfy sofas, computers & mobile phones means 'good' posture is pretty hard to obtain when we are sedentary. But you know what it's ok - and i'll tell you why...
Our tissues adapt in nature to the stresses we place upon them including adapting to postures we assume during our working day/chilling with Netflix at home! Still try and get up/move regularly but we shouldn't be so harsh on the postures we adopt whilst sitting.The loads that we are placing on the tissues whilst sitting at a desk or reading something on your phone really aren't that demanding and load is really important when we are thinking of tissue damage. You don't need to panic that when we slip into 'bad' postures we are doing lasting damage. If you can get up from your desk and move around at intervals then great but if you can't don't stress about it, simple movements can be done whilst sitting which are usually enough to banish the feeling of stiffness, if done regularly (I'm afraid it won't fix the feeling of going stir crazy in the office, probably best to go for a walk!). The stiffness you feel when sat down for a while is actually a change in pH of the tissues causing irritation and reminding you you haven't moved in a while.

Those who wish to be active but feel because they've been told they have what is deemed poor posture that it may hinder them, don't worry you can change things quite quickly by simply starting exercise. At the start you may feel limited in your range of movement and general ability but a good exercise regime will address this and account for your limitations but also challenge you enough to ensure changes are being made. If your aim is to get stronger and fitter such that your daily tasks become easier then it doesn't really make any difference if you meet some ideal criteria for posture or not. Starting getting more exercise be it a walk or a trip to the gym regularly will improve how you both feel & move.

Moving more is what i'm getting at, slouching is gonna happen whilst sitting or in a prolonged sedentary position, it's just the way the world works now.

A great blog about misconceptions about posture, check it out:

So much is written about why we should have 'good' posture and what it looks like so we don't develop sore backs & necks. There is actually little or no evidence that posture has any relationship with these. There are so many other factors which influences pain- stress levels, how much you move during the day, sleeping patterns...

Above is a group of people with an array of postures, is one right or wrong? Good or bad? Well some of them may have pain caused by their bad posture but some don't.The position doesn't matter, what matters is your ability to move in and out of it and how that posture impacts your overall movement quality and capacity. 

It's what we look like when moving which is important! Try and aim for as good bio-mechanics as possible to minimise the stress placed on tissues. This area of posture is what we need to be looking at if we want to ensure we are doing our best to prevent injuries.

Losing the ability to move is when problems arise. MOVE IT OR LOSE IT. People hold themselves in one posture/sedentary for 30min - 1 hour and wonder why they feel stiff and perhaps have pain. Also when people are trying to resolve back pain they tend lock it down which just exacerbates the problem. 

Conclusion: Adopt a range of postures, keep moving and keep yourself pain free.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Flexibility vs Mobility

  • Flexibility: enables you to reach the end ranges of motion of some movements, it doesn't necessarily mean you have core strength, balance or co-ordination at these ranges to control the movement i.e. some external force is required e.g. gravity or leaning against an object.

  • Mobility: the ability to perform and control movement patterns through their full range of motion.

While flexibility is important and being 'flexible' is something many people aspire to be, issues can arise from over training. As discussed previously, flexibility differs from mobility in that external assistance can be provided to reach the end position. This in turn means that at the end position the ability for the involved muscles to produce force and safely control movement can be greatly reduced. Training flexibility through prolonged stretching (and ignoring mobility) only provides a temporary increase in muscle length that will quickly revert to its previous state. Forcing a stretch using external input, without building mobility and muscular control around the joints, will not produce a lasting increase in range of motion, while also can be a risk factor for injury occurrence.
So if you've been stretching your hamstrings religiously for months without any improvement, flexibility is not your issue, mobility is what you should be focusing on.

As we now know, being mobile requires total control as you take your joints and tissues through a series of movements at their full range of motion. 

Improving mobility will in turn lead to improved flexibility. But this cannot be achieved through static stretching alone, instead motion is required, in a slow and controlled manner.
e.g. if you have poor ankle mobility, you will only be able to stretch the muscles around the ankle to match the joints current range of motion, which tells us that stretching will not fix the problem. 

Your ability to actively move a joint through a range of motion is not only dictated by the mobility at the joint but by your central nervous system. If your central nervous system does not feel strong through a certain range of motion it is going to show by limiting that range of motion. 

A combination of mobility and muscle activation drills paired with stretching is what is required to prepare your body for any challenge.

So if you feel stiff, have restricted movement or soreness, then focus on mobility drills, not just for that specific joint, but also those surrounding it. Not only can limitations within each joint affect how that joint functions, but also how joints above and below work as well. Poor hip mobility can cause low back pain or knee dysfunction. Lack of ankle mobility can cause knee pain. When a mobile joint becomes immobile (like the ankle) it can cause a stable joint to become unstable (like the knee).

Gray Cook, physical therapist and author of Movement: Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment, and Corrective Strategies
The joint-by-joint approach

Mobility Drills: (Check out Instagram for demo's of these)
 - 90/90 sitting switch

- 90/90 internal rot holds
- 90/90 external rot holds
- Froggers

- Squat to good morning 

- Band dislocates
- German hangs (advanced)
- Band pull apart

- Band external rotations

- Thoracic extensions using foam roller

- Thoracic extensions on a ball
- Quadruped thoracic rotations 
- Elbow sinks on chair

- Combination of flexion & extension moves

- KB dorsiflexions contract & relax
- Band rock back & forth
- Massage ball in anterior aspect of ankle
- Deep Squat

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Why is it always about looks?

Why do a lot of people go to the gym? To look good, to be slimmer, or get bigger or be ‘toned’ (say it again, I dare you). There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in how we look. But it’s not the be all and end all of working out.
Thinking about this reminded me of a tweet I saw when the Olympics were on. It was from a fitness company (naming no names) who are solely concerned with promoting exercise for aesthetics. It was something along the lines of “The shape on the gymnasts is insane”. Nothing wrong with the tweet, those gymnasts work hard and as a result look good. They have to be lean because any fat is just dead weight. However, what did make me chuckle was one of their equally aesthetically motivated followers comment of “What do they do to look like that?”. Ummm…. Are you serious?! They do gymnastics! That’s how they train. Not everyone just goes to the gym to do bicep curls and leg extensions. They go and do something they enjoy or to achieve goals other than losing X amount of fat so they can look good in their bathroom selfie.

Other examples:
Rugby players – yes they lift heavy weights but they also play rugby, a lot! Sprinting, agility, throwing, kicking, tackling and all in a random fashion reacting to the game. There’s no sets or reps.
Swimmers – lean and broad shouldered and you’ve guessed it most of their training is… Swimming!

I think you can see a pattern but what I’m really getting at is that there are many more benefits than simply to change the way you look. Our bodies are capable of achieving some pretty awesome things if we put the work in and train right. Power lifters and strength trainers can lift hundreds of kilos, while gymnasts and street workout people can perform insane acrobatics and static holds in positions that seem almost impossible. Sprinters and distance runners can move like a bullet or run at constant paces non-stop for hours. In all honesty, we don’t give our bodies enough credit for what they are capable of.

So next time you head to the gym, think to yourself is there something you’d really love to be able to do? And why not focus on that for a change instead. And going back to the gymnasts from Rio and the tweet, if you find something you love doing, achieving that look you want is part of the package.