020417 Strengthening the deep lower back muscles

Strengthening the deep lower back muscles

Sports scientists and strength coaches are well aware of the importance of a strong back. One of the exercises that will contribute to strengthening this often times injured area is simple to do and can be done nearly anywhere.

Position yourself up against a wall so that your head, shoulders, upper back, buttocks and heels are all touching at the same time. Now while maintaining this contact, try to push the lumbar area of your spine against the wall. Keep the pressure evenly distributed throughout the lumbar area and hold it for four or five seconds at a time for five to six good repetitions.

If this seems too difficult then do it supine on the floor. Once you’ve figured this out on the floor then move back to the standing version.

191216 Moderation is NOT the key to getting stronger

191216 Moderation is NOT the key to getting stronger

Moderation in all things in life has been the advice of many a parent over the years. It is almost a certainty that you have been exposed to this as you grew up. In most cases the saying has merit but not when it comes to getting stronger. When it comes to getting stronger, throw moderation[1] out the window. Your muscles don’t act in a moderate manner, so why should you?

Now just because I said to throw moderation out the window I did not say to throw caution out with it. Use your head while you train or suffer the consequences of your imprudent actions.

The all or nothing theory of muscle activation

Before we move on let’s review the all or nothing theory of muscle activation. This states that when a specific set of muscle fibers within a motor unit reaches its threshold of activation either all of the fibers in that unit fire or none do. There is no such thing as a ‘maybe firing’. This is similar to a woman being pregnant; she either is, or is not…there is no middle ground.

Once this concept is understood it’s time to consider what happens when the motor units are all firing to move the weight. Without something to protect the body from excessive loads it would be possible to damage the integrity of the joints.

The protective joint sensors

The body has built in feedback loops to help protect it from harm. The most significant are the Golgi tendons and the muscle spindles. Both of which are ultra protective of the joints. Resetting the levels of activation for these protective mechanisms may be the key to greater lifting achievements.

The muscle spindles are located, actually intertwined within the muscles themselves and can sense when the muscles are being stretched (lengthened) rapidly. When this happens a signal is sent to the spinal cord which then tells the motor neurons to tighten up, i.e. to ‘reflexively contract’. (Strength Training, Brown, L. E. et al 2007). This helps prevent the muscle from being over stretched to the point of injury. However this only works during rapid lengthening of the fibers. A fiber that is slowly stretched doesn’t receive the signal to contract and is thereby susceptible to damage. The opposite reaction to the muscle spindle comes from its counterpart in the joint protective association; the Golgi Tendon.

The Golgi tendon, located at the junction of the tendon and muscle fibers intersection, senses when there is high tension on the tendon. When this sensation of excess is noted a signal is immediately sent to the spinal cord to inhibit further contraction of the muscles attached to the tendon. Additionally another signal is sent to the antagonist muscles telling them to contract. Here in lies the problem of moderation.

It may be that the Golgi tendon response is set too low. Readjusting this could be the answer to greater strength outputs. But this is dangerous territory as injury is just around the corner if the limits are pushed to far upward and the joint is damaged by a disproportionate, in relation to training experience, weight. The question before us now is how can we make these two seemingly incompatible protective devices work for us, and not against us, in our training.

The relationship between strength training and muscle activation

Since we know that the smallest and lowest threshold muscle motor units activate first we have to figure out a way to bypass this process. Secondly we have to figure out how to reset the Golgi Tendon response so more weight can be lifted. Is this a possibility? Yes to a certain extent it is. The answer is through proper training practices.

Periodization of the training load intensity, volume and rest to work ratios will allow this training effect to take place. Remember only those motor units that are recruited to lift the weight are trained. If they aren’t activated they won’t be exposed to the stress of the training. Recruitment of the type two fibers is the goal for the strength athlete.

The order of recruitment is thought to be genetically fixed however this may be altered by using heavy weight and/or placing a high power demand on the muscles. Variations in the recruitment order and small changes in fiber type composition are also thought to be possible through a well designed training program.

A competent strength coach will be able to design strength program for you that meets the needs of the prior discussion. If you are interested and motivated enough to follow through with the plan you will reap the benefits.

Summary:

Resistance training, i.e. strength training can be a valuable asset in your sports activity program. These strength cycles will generate changes in the physiological make up of the body if they are properly planned. Moderation is not what will elicit these changes. Only maximal training effort will lead to maximal change in the muscle fiber recruitment and composition. The plan should involve periodization principles for the greatest effect and outcome.

[1]] Moderation is a relevant term in this context. Don’t be stupid with your weight training or you will get hurt.

171216 Sport and lifestyle activity-range of motion exercising

171216 Sport and lifestyle activity-range of motion exercising

Your joints and muscles are meant to function within standardized degrees of movement, commonly referred to as the range of motion (ROM). The stronger you are within these ranges, the better protected you will be in preventing injuries from occurring. Therefore when doing your exercise routine keep in mind the following two guidelines:

1. You gain the most strength within the range of motion (ROM) at which you exercise.

2. The smaller the range of motion you in the joint, the less will be the carry over strength throughout the rest of the movement.

The basis of every quality strength training or fitness program relies, in part, on these two premises. As an example, let’s look at the squat while explaining these principles.

Many lifters do short range squats, known as high squats, in the gym. They get into a machine or in rare cases under a bar and drop down a few inches and call it good. In many instances this isn’t even to a parallel position, let alone below parallel where they should be before starting back up again. Depending on the load of the bar or on the machine, strength may be increased within this small range of motion but its unlikely this will happen.

This range of movement is too little and does not support normal living activities such as sitting down in a chair and then getting back up. If the strength is not developed within a range that is vital to living an active lifestyle then it is not useful. This group of fitness enthusiasts would be better served by going deeper in their squats, thereby getting a transfer of useable strength into their daily lives. This naturally leads in to the second principle.

An individual or strength athlete will become stronger when training the full range of motion. This expands the strength curve and transfers more useable muscle activity across greater degrees of the joint angle. Greater degree angles of strength protect the joint from injury, especially at the far ranges of motion.

The take home message is don’t cut yourself short with limited range of motion exercises.

101216 The benefits of resistance training

101216 The benefits of resistance training

A lifestyle of activity provides ongoing lifelong benefits for many people. Amongst these favorable side effects are reductions in high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Using our muscles helps in staving off osteopenia and osteoporosis by engendering positive changes in bone mineral density. This, along with a higher level of lean body mass leads to healthier body composition figures, i.e. more lean muscle and lowered adipose or fat tissue in the body.

For those who are finding it difficult to stay at a healthy body weight, strength training may be another method of control. It has been noted that muscle is more metabolically active than fat which means more calories are burned if you have more muscle mass compared to fat tissue.

A greater percentage of lean muscle mass brings with it increased feelings of self esteem, greater self confidence and certainly contributes to a much more positive body image.

Now that a few of the recognized benefits have been listed, it’s time to get started planning your strength training program.

Misguided, but well intentioned, people go out and buy an expensive, supposedly multipurpose machine. Those who do generally find that it doesn’t fit them, is uncomfortable to use, is too big, too cumbersome or worse yet hurts them. Simply put they would have been better off spending their money on a set of free weights, a bench and knowledgeable coach to guide them along for a few months. A small set of weights consisting off a couple hundred pounds, a sturdy bench and coaching sessions would set them back less than the high priced ineffective machine that ultimately will end up in the garage or basement and then in a garage sale.

Free weights provide endless opportunities to exercise. They create greater strength gains because of increased muscle fiber recruitment brought on by having to maintain the movement of the bar in its path instead of allowing the machine do it for you. Using free weights permits full range of movement during the exercise. This motion is unencumbered by the limitations of a machine and makes for unimpeded progress. Using free weights increases the range of motion helps to maintain flexibility in the joints.

Additional benefits of free weight set ups are greater personalized accommodation to individual body structure differences such as height, weight, torso types, limb length and joint mobility. Free weights mandate greater skill development in balance and coordination which are vitally important to leading an active life.

Probably one of the most important reasons to strength train is the fact that it will help to decrease fatigue brought on from daily living activities.

As we age the sense of balance gradually diminishes along with our agility, coordination and overall body awareness. All of which are leading causes that contribute to falls, injury and fractures. A healthy body plays a significant role in preventing injury and if injured then in the rehabilitation of that injury.

Many individuals who participate in sports find the stronger and more physically fit they become, the better their athleticism on the field.

If the choice is made to buy your own weights and get started, then it incumbent upon you to get a medical check up and discuss this exercise option with your doctor before starting out on your own to greater fitness.

Remember to have a spotter for over head, on the back or over the face lifts such as the military press squat or military press exercises. Of course if you decide to perform heavy lifting then a spotter should also be an essential part of your lifting program. Always use correct technique, lift safely, sensibly and smart.

121116 Exercise suggestions for those with limited equipment

121116 Exercise suggestions for those with limited equipment

Make a space to work out in that is easy to get to. Get all of your gear in one spot so it is available for immediate use without moving a lot of stuff around each time.

Equipment

  • Bicycle
  • Dumbbells
  • Treadmill
  • Stability ball

Set up the dumbbells in 5, 10, 15, and 20 pound sets. Make sure the collars are on tight and the weights are centered on each one.

The warm up

Begin on the treadmill or your bike at the low end of each of the times. Start out at a walk for 1-2 minutes. As your pulse becomes faster increase the speed and work up to a fast walk or slight jog for another 2-3 minutes. Now slow to a walk for another 1-2 minutes. As you become stronger these times will seem awfully low, once that happens then add 10-25% more to each of them. At some point you will find the ideal warm up time that just feels right for your needs.

Leg rotations

Move your legs in giant circles, forward and backward and then out to the sides. Hold onto something sturdy if you are unsure of your balance. Gradually you’ll want to do these without support to enhance your balance capabilities.

Shoulder series

Do each one of the following 15-20 times each.

  • Wide clockwise circles with outstretched arms.
  • Wide counter clockwise circles with outstretched arms
  • Arms straight to the sides with palms facing the body moving out front and back over head without bending them
  • Arms bent at 90° and then extended rapidly to the front and back to the 90° starting position
  •  Arms bent at 90° and then extended rapidly to the front and back to the 90° starting position

The exercises This is just a minute fraction of the ones that are available.

Column one Column two Column three Column four
  • Dumbbell Military presses
  • Chin ups or pull downs
  • Dumbbell floor presses
  • Dumbbell rows
  • One arm dumbbell rows
  • Dumbbell bench Squats
  • Wall squats
  • Dumbbell dead lifts
  • Dumbbell good mornings
  • Dumbbell side bends
  • Leg Raises
  • Straight leg/stiff leg dead lifts
  • Dumbbell curls
  • Dumbbell Triceps extensions
  • Dumbbell Wrist curls-flexion and extension
  • Thors hammer wrist deviations

.

  • Dumbbell Calf raises
  • Abdominal exercises of your choice

The schedule

Work out five times a week for fifteen to twenty minutes a day. Each day will be a different series of exercises that you choose to do. Start out by doing two sets of eight repetitions with a rest of 30 seconds between each set. Gradually increase up to four to five sets of eight as your conditioning improves. Work quickly but without throwing the weight around. Let your muscles do the work instead of momentum.

Keep your pulse up in the 70-80% target heart rate (THR) range as you exercise. This is found by taking your age from 220 and multiplying the result by 70-80%. Although this is a very common method of finding your THR it is also somewhat inaccurate because the outcomes may be off by as much as 10 percent plus or minus.

Begin your exercise session with the warm up, move onto your choice of exercises from columns one, three and four and then cool down with a few selected static stretches.

The second day of exercise begins again with the warm up and your selections from columns two and four. Follow this with your cool down and you are done for the day. The week ends can be days off or walking for fun sessions. Add weight as these become easier to do each day. The heavier you lift, the stronger you’ll become. The greater your muscle mass the higher will be your calorie expenditures each day.

Schedule sample

Day one from column one, three and four

  •  Dumbbell military presses
  •  Dumbbell curls
  •  Abdominal exercise
  •  Calf raises

Day two from column two and four

  •  Dumbbell bench squats
  •  Dumbbell good mornings
  •  Abdominal exercise
  •  Calf raises

Day three from column one, three and four

  •  Dumbbell military presses
  •  Dumbbell curls
  •  Abdominal exercise
  •  Calf raises

Day four from column two and four

  •  Dumbbell bench squats
  •  Dumbbell good mornings
  •  Abdominal exercise
  •  Calf raises

Day five from column one, three and four

  •  Dumbbell military presses
  •  Dumbbell curls
  •  Abdominal exercise
  •  Calf raises

Week end off

Day one from column two and four

  •  Dumbbell bench squats
  •  Dumbbell good mornings
  •  Abdominal exercise
  •  Calf raises

Day two from column one, three and four

  •  Dumbbell military presses
  •  Dumbbell curls
  •  Abdominal exercise
  •  Calf raises

Day three from column two and four

  •  Dumbbell bench squats
  •  Dumbbell good mornings
  •  Abdominal exercise
  •  Calf raises

Day four from column one, three and four

  •  Dumbbell military presses
  •  Dumbbell curls
  •  Abdominal exercise
  •  Calf raises

Day five from column two and four

  •  Dumbbell bench squats
  •  Dumbbell good mornings
  •  Abdominal exercise
  •  Calf raises

You will notice that each week emphasizes more of one part of your body by doing either upper or lower torso exercises three times instead of two sessions per week.

071116 Strength training

071116 Strength training

Working out with weights does more than just build muscle and increase your bone mineral density. It decreases your chance of injury and helps promote better agility, balance, and coordination.

Stronger bones help to forestall osteoporosis and decrease the risk of fracture if you happen to fall. Not only will strength training help make you better in your chosen sport or favorite recreational activity it also strengthens your ligaments and tendons thereby making your joints less susceptible to injury.

The development of greater strength makes daily life easier by helping to eliminate muscle weakness and muscle strength imbalances within your musculoskeletal system. Being stronger makes carrying the groceries and working around the house less strenuous.

Resistance trained legs will make that daily walk or those recreational runs you may have planned to enter this year more pleasurable to accomplish.

For those of you who have recurring back, neck or shoulder pain a strength training program can be a God send. Simply getting stronger in these over worked and over stretched muscles can often time alleviate chronic pain symptoms.

Where to begin?

Start out by exercising the major muscle groups at least twice a week. These groups include the shoulders, upper back, chest, lower back, arms, abdominal, legs hamstrings and calves.

Do two to three sets of eight to ten repetitions with rest periods of thirty to sixty seconds between each set of exercises.

051116 Adaptations to strength

051116 Adaptations to strength

Positive adaptations to strength and thereby power accumulations will take place with workouts scheduled twice a week. Day one should emphasize the development of strength through the use of heavy weight loads and low repetitions.

On the second day of training concentrate on increasing your power output by the use of alternating loading. Set up the equipment so there is a light and a medium heavy station for each piece of gear. The light spot will be loaded with weights in the 30-45% one rep max range. The heavy will be set at 60-75% one rep max.

Go from one directly to the other for one full set. The rest for three to four minutes before beginning again.

Or use the second day as a speed day with weights in the 45, 50 and 55% 1RM. For the squats do them in eight to nine sets of two reps, benches eight to nine sets of three reps and for the dead lift do them in ten to twelve sets of one rep.

Attack the weak points of your strength development

“Avoid what is strong and attack what is weak” (Sun-Tzu, The art of war, 500 BC). The same can be said for strength training: Keep your strong points strong but hit your weak areas with high intensity until they are the strong ones.

Train for strength and power

Train for strength and power by challenging your CNS to actively engage with the heavy weights. Develop strong tendons by using weight loads that will not allow more than 1-3 repetitions before failure. Focus on myofibrilar hypertrophy rather than sarcoplasmic. Work the muscles to be strong instead of just looking strong.