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For most people, the knees are one of the first body parts to start feeling pain when they work out, especially as they get older. Your knees take a ton of force every day just from general walking around. Add running, lifting or some other impact-heavy exercises on top of that, and it drastically increases your risk of injuring your knees. Knee injuries are painful, difficult to deal with, and hard to recover from. Here are some tips for protecting your knees and keeping them in good shape. Warm Up Getting your muscles and joints warmed up before you start exercising is key to preventing an exercise-induced injury. Do dynamic stretches and warm-ups before jumping into your routine. Leg kicks, lunges, high knees and arm circles will get your muscles moving and prepped to work out. Cross Train If you do the same motions over and over again every day, the parts of your body that you work the most will eventually get worn down. Cross training is important for giving those muscles and joints a rest. It will also help you build more strength in other parts of your body, which will help support the muscles you use for your primary workouts and exercises. Build Muscle Strong muscles will help protect the joints and ligaments in your knees by keeping them in proper alignment. Make sure you take the time to build the muscles in your legs. However, it’s not just the leg muscles that work to support the knees. The muscles in your body all work together to support each other. Strong glutes, core muscles and a strong lower back will all help prevent knee pain and injury. Practice Good Form Using proper form when you exercise is key to preventing injuries. For example, when you squat, your knees should face forward and shouldn’t shoot too far past your ankles. If they veer too far in or out, or go over your toes, it puts unnecessary stress on your knees. Strong form when running, squatting or doing any other exercise will safely work your muscles while reducing risk of injury. Stretch Having flexible muscles is just as important as strong ones for protecting your knees. Flexible muscles have a greater range of motion, so they can move farther without getting hurt. Stretching after your workouts will help you build and maintain flexibility. If you can, try dedicating at least an hour a week for a long stretching session such as in a yoga or pilates class. Rest Even elite athletes take rest days. It’s important to take time off in order for your body and muscles to heal. That’s how you’ll actually get stronger and into better shape. You don’t necessarily have to do nothing on all your rest days, although you should take a full day off sometimes. Even an active rest day with some yoga or a nice walk is beneficial. The more in shape you are, the longer you can go without a rest day. If you’re just starting out, you may need to have a few rest days each week until you get stronger. Listen to Your Body If something in your body doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to ease off. There is a difference between discomfort and pain. You can push...read more
Happy, healthy hip function is important to just about every part of your bodies well-being. Asymmetries or imbalances in the hips can lead to problems in all parts of your body, including, believe it or not, shoulder pain, neck pain, knee pain and foot pain. Long extensor muscles that run down the length of your spine can become stressed by imbalanced hips, causing stress as far away as your upper neck and base of the skull. The latissimus or “lats”, which are more commonly thought of as dominating the “lateral” sides of the body, actually attach as low as the sacrum and extend up to the fronts of your shoulders, meaning that hip imbalances can cause pain, trigger points and issues along the whole path of that muscle, including up into the shoulder. The knees and feet are similarly vulnerable to hip imbalances, as fascial and muscle strain originating in the hips can cause knee tracking problems and plantar fasciitis. Knowing that the hips play an important role in the health and pain free movement of so many parts of your body, it’s easy to appreciate how keeping them limber and mobile can help to ensure pain free movement and workout routines. Here’s a few stretches to keep your hips happy. Butterfly Stretch Butterfly stretch is a simple stretch that most of us are familiar with from childhood gym. It targets the inner thighs as they connect up into the sits bones on the hips. Sit flat on the ground, and bring the bottoms of your feet together, allowing your knees to drop out to the sides toward the ground. It’s important to relax the groin to allow this stretch the greatest effect, so if you’re feeling especially tight, roll up blankets or props underneath your knees for support so you can allow your legs to gently melt into the stretch. Remember to keep your back straight and sit up tall on your sits bones. If you find your back rounding, sit up on a block or blanket to take some of the pressure off and ensure a straight back posture. This stretch can be modified into “extended butterfly” or “diamond stretch” by moving your feet away from you along the floor, until you feel the stretch move from your inner thighs to the outsides of your hips. If you’re not feeling it with a vertical spine, feel free to lean forward to enhance the hip stretch, remembering to keep a proud chest and straight spine as you lean forward, rather than rounding the spine. Seated Pigeon Stretch Pigeon stretch is a yoga pose that’s challenging for most to accomplish without practice. Luckily, there’s a modification that allows just about anyone to achieve the main benefit of the stretch, which is a targeted piriformis (hip external rotator) stretch. Sitting on the floor, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, bring your right ankle onto your left knee/upper thigh, and gently glide your right knee away from you. To ease into the stretch, start with your left foot far away from you and then gradually move it towards your torso to increase the stretch. You should feel the stretch in the middle of your right glute, targeting the piriformis. A version of this...read more
Most people fall into one of two camps when it comes to working out while sick. They will either call it quits the second their noses get the slightest bit stuffy, or they’ll try to power through a tough workout despite almost being on death’s door, much to the chagrin of their fellow gym goers. Just because you have a slight cold doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t work out. However, there is a line. So how sick is too sick to work out? First, if you have a fever over 100 degrees, don’t work out. You don’t need to be raising your heart rate and core body temperature any more than it already is. If you feel nauseous or have been sick to your stomach, you are also too ill to exercise. A fever, vomiting and diarrhea all make you more susceptible to becoming dehydrated, and working out certainly won’t make that better. Stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids. Most people are well aware of this and wouldn’t even attempt to hit the gym. Colds are where it can get tricky for most people. A general rule of thumb is that if you are sick in the neck and above, it’s probably okay to exercise. A little stuffy or runny nose may be annoying, but it likely isn’t cause to skip a workout altogether. In fact, an easy run or bike ride followed by a warm shower can help ease congestion. When you have a cough, especially one that’s deep in your chest, it could interfere with your breathing and make working out uncomfortable. If you’re suffering from chills or body aches, it’s best to skip the gym. They could be a sign of the flu or a fever. If you aren’t sure about how you will feel, you could just give it a try for ten to fifteen minutes just to see how you feel. If you don’t get into a groove or just feel terrible, stop. Of course, you can still exercise with a cold. Ease off a little bit to give your body a break. Take a walk instead of going for a run or do some gentle yoga. You’ll get your body moving without draining all your energy. If you do take some time off due to illness, don’t just jump right back in to your normal routine once you feel better. You could have some lingering weakness or fatigue that could be worsened or exacerbated by exercising. Give yourself one more day than you think you need before you start exercising again, especially if you were very sick. Once you do get back into your routine, don’t go at it 100 percent. Ease back into your routine to give your body time to adjust. Ultimately, though, it will vary from person to person. What one person considers a mild cold is another person’s very sick. If you feel like your illness will negatively impact your workout, or that you’ll feel worse after exercising, then skip it and take a rest...read more
With many of us spending a large portion of our day, often 8 hours or more, in an office chair, it’s hard to find time to stretch and maintain flexible, healthy, pain free joints. Over time, repetitive stress issues and back pain are bound to creep into your life without some sort of regular intervention to keep the body mobile even while confined to a sedentary position. Here are a few quick stretches you can do throughout the day to help keep your body pain free and ready to move, even when you’re not otherwise moving. Seated Pigeon Spending too much time in a chair, be it an office chair, air plane seat or car can sometimes cause sciatic pain in the center of the glute as the piriformis, an external rotator of the hip, becomes tight or inflamed and places pressure on the sciatic nerve. Some unlucky individuals happen to have a sciatic nerve that runs right through their piriformis, rather than under it, making them especially susceptible to this sort of discomfort. Keeping your left foot flat on the floor, bring your right ankle onto your left knee or upper thigh. Slide your ankle slightly past the knee, so that the weight of your right leg is on the lower calf to avoid stress on the ankle. Slowly lower the right knee down to parallel with the floor if possible. At this point, most people will feel a stretch in the middle of the right glute. If you’re more flexible, go ahead and intensify the stretch by leaning forward with a straight spine. If you cant get the right leg down to parallel with the floor, slide the left foot out away from you to lower your left knee and relax the stretch into your comfort level. Repeat on both sides. Chair Neck Stretch You’re already in a chair, you might as well use it to help with your stretching an desk mobility routine. If you’re at a desk that’s slightly too high for your body or tend to carry work stress in your shoulders by raising them during the day, this stretch will help to loosen your neck and upper traps. Take your right arm and reach it beneath your chair, grabbing onto the seat firmly. Ideally, your arm is straight at your side, and the grip pins your right shoulder down to allow for a fuller stretch of the shoulder and neck. Tilt your neck to the left, away from your arm. There are a number of muscles that run in slightly different directions along this neck and shoulder tract, so try experimenting with looking forward, upward and back toward your right shoulder, or down and away toward your left shoulder to see where your neck needs the stretch most. This stretch can be especially helpful with tension headaches. Repeat on both sides. Seated Twist With a sedentary work habit, even if your posture is perfect, you’re still likely to have back issues because of lack of movement laterally and rotationally. In a desk chair, you’re most likely always facing forward, and the muscles of the back were meant to move and twist throughout the day. A simple seated twist has you place your feet flat on the floor and turn to the right,...read more
The bench press is a mighty exercise that every guys wants to be good at. The most common question people ask when talking about the gym is, “how much do you bench?”. After reading this post, hopefully your answer will be slightly more impressive than before. I’m going to give you tips and techniques to both immediately increase your bench press, and also lead to more progress over the long term. Let’s get started. 1. Set Up Strong A strong bench press comes from a strong set up. You need to be rigid and stable, allowing you to put as much force as possible into the bar. Before you even touch the bar, you should lay down and create as much tension in your body as possible. This will be a platform that allows you to display the strength that you already possess. Have your feet flat on the floor, wide and making a solid triangle with the bottom of the bench. Squeeze your butt muscles and abs as hard as you can, pin the shoulders back and down against the bench and drive the head down. All of this before you even touch the bar. If you’re doing it right, you should start to cramp up in the butt and upper back if you’re not used to doing it. 2. The Lift Off Set your hands – aim for a width that keeps your forearm vertical at the bottom of the rep. Use the rings on the bar to judge it. Take a deep breathe in and grip the bar hard. When you lift it off, make sure you keep all of the tension you have created in your body. Think about ‘dragging’ the bar forwards, to rest above your chest. Use a spotter to lift the bar if you need to. Too many people go to the effort of setting up strong, only to lose all that tension when they pick the bar up, going in to the first rep like wet spaghetti. 3. Breathe I’ve mentioned taking a big breathe during the set up. This allows you to create tension in your midline and increase stability. You want to exhale through your teeth during the lifting phase – making a kind of hissing sound – and be sure to only partially exhale. You should never empty your lungs fully, you will lose all the tension. Take another breath at the top before descending for the next rep. Hold during the descent and again breathe out through the teeth during the lifting portion. 4. Feet, Hips and Head Whilst doing the lift, forget about pushing with your chest – you’re going to do that regardless. Instead focus on driving the feet down into the floor, keeping the glutes squeezed as hard as you can, and driving the head back into the bench. This will maintain your solid platform and allow you to transfer more force into the bar. 5. Break the Bar When you’re bringing the bar down to your chest, do not be lazy and let gravity do the work. You are not ‘letting’ the bar come down and then engaging effort to push it back up. You should be pulling the bar down into your chest. Using your back muscles to create as much...read more
Hindsight is beautiful, isn’t it? I’ve been in the fitness game for over 10 years now, training myself under some of the best coaches in the world, and working with hundreds of clients as a personal trainer. I’ve learnt a fair bit about training in that time, and there is a lot of things I wish I had known back when I started. Lucky for you, I can tell you what you need to know, to save you finding out the hard way like I did. Use Your Muscles, Don’t Lift Weights Stop focusing on how much weight you have on the bar, and on getting it from A to B. Instead focus on the strength of contraction and how hard you can feel the muscles working. Tension drives muscular growth. You will have more tension on the muscle when you focus on using the muscle, rather than bringing in other muscles to cheat the movement and lift more weight. Supplements Are Supposed to…SUPPLEMENT Back when I first started training I wouldn’t work out if I didn’t have a protein shake. I genuinely thought it would hurt my gains. Seriously! Don’t believe the hype supplement companies tell you. Food is the bread and butter of your nutrition. Supplements are there to help fill in any gaps and make your life easier. They’re not a requirement. Nothing You Do In The Short Term Is Life Or Death Don’t worry about having a couple of weeks off, or trying to work yourself to death for 3 weeks because you have a holiday coming up. Consistency over the long term is what builds your body. What you do over months and years is going to determine how you look. What you can do in a couple of weeks will have very little impact comparatively. Focus on long term progression. Getting Really Lean Will Change You I believe everyone should diet down to very low body fat levels at least once. You don’t need to try and be a bodybuilder or anything, but the process of dieting changes your relationship with food and your body. You learn that hunger is not going to kill you, and become adept at shutting it out. You learn how to forgo things you’re craving, and find enjoyment in discipline. You will be tired, but train anyway, and that changes your mindset about what your body is capable of. When I got very lean and was in a large calorie deficit, I continued to get stronger! The body is a very adaptive machine and can take a lot more than you probably think. Habits Always Beat Motivation Want to make serious changes to your body? You’ve got to create new habits. No matter how motivated you are right now, it will not possibly last. You simply need it to last long enough to create new habits which make the necessary processes happen, without the need for motivation. Things like getting up and going to the gym first thing in the morning, without thinking about it. Doing your grocery shopping and food prep at the weekend, or spending 20 minutes working on mobility before a training session. None of these things are sexy or fun, but they’re important. If you want to make sure they happen, you need to...read more
If you’ve had a long, stressful day, the last thing you want to do is head to the gym. While we obviously think you should since exercise helps reduce stress, we also wouldn’t blame you for wanted to stay home and watch TV. However, just because you’re having some TV time doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. Here are a few ways to get a workout in while watching the tube. Do Exercises During Commercial Breaks You can focus on the show while it’s on, and then use the commercials to do your workout. If you have stairs, running up and down them for a few minutes will give your lower body a workout while raising you heart rate. You can also do a set of basic but effective exercises (see below) right on the living room floor. Work Out During the Show If the characters in your regular show always do certain things, use that as a cue to do a specific exercise. For example, in the show The Office, the character Jim always gives the camera a specific look. If you’re watching it on Netflix, you could do 10 squats every time he looks at the camera. Sit On an Exercise Ball If you really can’t bring yourself to do lots of exercises during your show, you can still burn a few calories and build some muscle. Instead of flopping on the couch, watch TV while sitting on an exercise ball. It will help you build strength in your core without too much effort on your part. Best TV Exercises The best exercises for when you’re watching TV are ones that don’t distract you too much from the show. If you didn’t care about watching, you would’ve gone to the gym. Below are some of the best exercises for a TV workout. Lunges Lunges work your legs, glutes and core in one easy move. Plus, there are lots of kinds of lunges at focus on different parts of your lower body. You can do classic lunges, backwards lunges, sideways lunges, or curtsy lunges. Squats Squats are a classic move that works for everyone from the serious athlete to the beginner. The best part is that you face one direction so you can keep your eyes on the screen. Jumping Jacks (or Jumping Rope) This is a great way to get your heart rate up. If jumping jacks are going to be too distracting (or if you don’t have the space), try jumping rope. You don’t even need an actually jump rope. Just mimic the motions with your arms. Sit Ups The sit up is a tried and true method for working your core. They can easily be done on a yoga mat on the floor. There are all sorts of workouts you can do while watching your favorite TV shows or movies. Simply search online for a workout to do with a particular show. There are exercises for The Office, Parks and Rec, Law & Order, The Bachelor, Harry Potter and more. Pick whatever you want to watch and follow the exercise routine. Plus, you don’t have to have a ton of equipment to do a great workout at...read more
A relatively new treatment called “Dry Needling” is now being employed by physical therapists, and it’s becoming increasingly popular with athletes. Though some consider it to be painful and invasive, other swear by it as the miracle treatment that resolved their chronic pain issues and allowed them to keep competing at a high level after a severe muscular injury. Studies have shown that dry needling is both safe and effective for treating myofascial injuries, many of which are chronic and debilitating for serious athletes. What is dry needling? “Dry Needling” is also called “Trigger Point Needling” or “Intramuscular Manual Therapy” and with those three names, you might begin to get some idea what it’s all about. It involves sticking a small needle, the same type used by acupuncturists, into an active and often painful trigger point. The needle works within the muscle, thus the name “intramuscular manual therapy” and attempts to resolve the trigger point by overstimulating the nerve connection at that spot. In the 1940’s, some of the initial investigations into treating myofascial trigger points involved identifying the points, and then treating them with an injection of some type of solution (saline, etc) to try to stimulate and disperse the trigger point and resolve the myofascial pain issue. Later on, in the late 1970’s, further studies determined that the solution injected during the “wet needling” was not causing the relief, and that the needle alone, inserted into a trigger point, was all that was needed to stimulate the tissue to release. Trigger points are often located at the muscle to nerve junction, and occur when some other imbalance in the body, be it repeated stress or overuse, has caused the nerve to misfire and create a chronically tight spot that can radiate pain both locally around the area and because of the nerve connection, also has the potential to send pain to other places within the body. Dry needling hopes to use physical intervention to disrupt and reset that nerve signal, ideally releasing the trigger point and resolving the pain it causes. How is dry needling different from acupuncture? Dry needling and acupuncture both involve the same type of small needle, but acupuncture relies on an eastern theory of medicine, where disease originates from stagnation or excess of energy (Chi), while dry needling is based in western medicine that sees disease and dysfunction as more of a physical phenomena. That said, a study comparing traditional acupuncture points to myofascial trigger points found that both their location and the area they affect with referred pain or dysfunction lined up 71% of the time. That implies that much of the time, the same issue treated with an acupuncture session or dry needling session might have a similar treatment and outcome, regardless of the theory behind each of the treatments. Who can preform a dry needling treatment? Dry needling in most states can only be preformed by a specially trained physical therapist, or doctor of physical therapy. Other types of manual therapists that also work with trigger points, such as massage therapists, are legally prohibited from treating with dry needling because the treatment is intramuscular, and involves penetration below the skin level. It become a bit murky in states where acupuncture is not thoroughly...read more
We all know that too much sugar isn’t good for you, especially the processed kind. It can lead to weight gain, make your energy levels inconsistent, cause breakouts, and increases your risk of things like heart disease and diabetes. Still, most Americans eat way too much sugar on a daily basis. For a healthy diet, men should consume at most 37.5 grams or nine teaspoons of sugar per day. Women should eat no more than 25 grams or six teaspoons. However, some studies have shown that the average American eats 76 grams of sugar per day, or the equivalent of 19 teaspoons. Thankfully, there are relatively easy ways to cut back on sugar. Read Labels Companies sneak so much sugar into products you wouldn’t expect. Jarred tomato sauce is a big culprit of added sugar, as is peanut butter. Always check how many grams of sugar per serving are in all your processed food. You should also read the ingredients list. Some foods have naturally occurring sugars, but if you see sugar (by any name—glucose, dextrose, sucrose, maltose and high-fructose corn syrup) on the list of ingredients, you know it contains added sugar. Eat Real Food Sugar occurs naturally in a lot of the food you eat, but those sugars aren’t necessarily bad for you. Your body needs them to function properly. There also isn’t a ton of sugar in them anyway. The more real food you eat, the less likely to are to eat sugar. Instead of reaching for boxed snacks in the afternoon, grab an apple, a few almonds or some carrot sticks. Don’t Drink Your Sugar We don’t necessarily thinking about the contents of our beverages the way we think about food. It’s easy over the course of a day to drink a ton of sugar. Sodas, fancy coffeehouse drinks and alcoholic beverages all contain sugar. Skip the sugar in your morning coffee and swap out soda for tea or sparkling fruit water. At happy hour, stick to beer, straight liquor or even a little bit of wine—just no mixers. Get Enough Sleep When you’re sleep deprived, you’re less likely to make wise decisions when it comes to what you eat and drink. You reach for quick carbs and sugars when you’re tired to give you a boost of energy, but it doesn’t last long. Your blood sugar drops and you eventually crash. You then reach for even more sugar, turning it into a cycle. Eat More Often You are much more likely to reach for sugary foods when your blood sugar is low and you feel ravenous. Eating consistently throughout the day can help keep your blood sugar and energy levels steady so you’re not as likely to give in to cravings. Just remember to stick to healthy snacks that are mostly whole foods. Go Cold Turkey If you’ve tried the easy ways and still have trouble dealing with sugar cravings, you may want to consider quitting it altogether, at least for a little while. Eliminating processed sugar completely is tough, but after a while you’ll stop craving sweets. It might even make natural sugars in fruit and dairy taste even...read more
A foam roller is an extremely versatile piece of equipment that everyone should have. They’re inexpensive (a cheap one costs around $25), portable and you can use them to do a wide variety of exercises. They can be used to help you stretch, relieve sore muscles and even build strength. Here are our favorite ways to use a foam roller. Massage Your Muscles The best and most popular use for a foam roller is for massaging your muscles, also called self-myofascial release. If you’ve been working out hard and your muscles are aching, massaging them with a foam roller can help loosen them up. It gives you a deep tissue massage that breaks up scar tissue and other tight spots. It promotes healing and speeds up the recovery process. Here are some of our favorite massage moves that can be used for both warm ups and cool downs. Be warned: it will hurt in the best way possible. Back Sit upright with the foam roller under your lower back. Place your hands on the floor behind you. Slowly bend your knees and move the roller up your back to just beneath your shoulder blades. Hamstrings Tight hamstrings seem to be a big complaint. Place the roller under your thighs and roll from your butt to your knees. Cross one leg over the other and roll one thigh at a time for increased pressure. IT Band Lie on your side with the foam roller underneath one hip. Cross your top log in front of you with the knee bent. Move your bottom leg over the roller from the hip to the knee with as much pressure on the bottom leg as you can stand. Do Some Yoga Foam rollers can be used as a yoga prop to help deepen your poses and make yoga more accessible. Make the Ground Closer If you’re in triangle or another pose where you want your hand on the ground but can’t quite get there, a shorter foam roller can help. Place the flat edge on the floor anywhere you need the ground to be a little closer. Ease Lower Back Pain Sometimes when you’re lying flat on the floor in yoga, it can cause pain or discomfort in your lower back. Place a foam roller under your knees to relieve pressure. Extend Your Stretch If the basic yoga poses have gotten a little too easy for you, use a foam roller to make them more challenging. Place a foam roller under your ankle for a deeper hamstring stretch or use it to really work your shoulders and lats. Build Strength You can use a foam roller to boost your workouts and help you build muscle. Plank and Pushup Make planks and pushups a little harder by adding an unstable surface. Place your hands on the foam roller while doing a plank, or put it under your feet while you’re doing pushups. Core Workouts Instability helps build your core. Place the foam roller lengthwise down your spine while doing sit ups and marching crunches. Balance A foam roller can work like a balance disc. Try a rolling lunge. Instead of stepping backwards into the lunge, keep the roller under your back foot and roll into...read more