Archive for July, 2008

This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for USA Gymnastics.  Again, although written for gymnastics the functional relationships and concepts can be applied to any movement. The lumbopelvic hip area consists of the lumbar spine, pelvis, and hip joints. The major muscles include the low back, abdominals, gluteals, and hip flexors.  Optimal strength and flexibility are required for all parts to function efficiently and harmoniously in an effort to complete a task. Compensation patterns and faulty movement occur as a result of flexibility deficits and muscle imbalances. This in turn leads to decreased performance and increased risk of injury. The hip flexors, calves, hamstrings and chest muscles are most prone to tightness simply due to the patterns of daily living. For example:  sleeping in the fetal position 6-8 hours per night, sitting in school all day, driving, sitting to read, eat, study, etc. Not to mention fatigue and over training. The human body is very adaptable and efficient. When flexibility deficits or muscle imbalances are present, the system cannot operate efficiently. But the body will find a way (compensate) to get the job done.  For example; when the hip flexors are tight, the gymnast will not be able to fully extend the hip and will compensate by increasing extension through the low back. Over time this can lead to low back pain and stress fractures. Many female gymnasts are observed to have an increased curvature of the low back, a pelvis that tilts forward and a lengthened abdominal area. Let’s look at the functional relationships of this posture and discuss how this can lead to a myriad of movement/performance problems. An anteriorly tilted pelvis is usually associated with tight hip flexors, weak abdominals, tight low back muscles, tight hamstrings and weak gluteals. Tight hip flexors will pull the pelvis forward. As a result, the curve in the low back increases which puts increased stress on the joints. 

This stress coupled with the repetitive back bending and twisting can lead to pain and stress fractures. Also, any time you need to extend through the hip (move the hip forward or the leg backward), the tightness in the hip flexor will not allow it and guess where you will get the extension…that is right, through the low back. When the pelvis tilts forward it increases tension in the hamstrings by causing them to lengthen. This creates a higher risk of hamstring strains and contributes to weakness/decreased control of the abdominals. Ultimately leading to poor trunk control. An interesting neurological phenomenon occurs as a result of muscle tightness. It is called reciprocal inhibition. Simply stated, it means that if a major muscle is tight it will inhibit the muscle that opposes it. In our example, when the hip flexor is tight it will limit the gluteus maximus muscles function. That would mean the gluteals ability to powerfully extend the hip (take off, jumping), absorb shock upon landing, and control motion of the entire lower extremity, especially rotation would be diminished. You can imagine the performance and injury risks this poses to the athlete.  Tightness in the low back will inhibit the deep abdominal muscles that are important for trunk and lumbar stability. So, not only does tightness lead to compensation but also interferes with strength. For example, when doing a split leap, the front leg is at risk for a hamstring strain because it is tight from the anteriorly tilted pelvis and it will be very difficult to get the fully extended position of the back leg/hip due to tightness of the hip flexor. This article discusses the lumbopelvic hip area and will review the anatomy and the functional relationships of the musculature. The article also describes stretches and exercises to address the problems described in the lumbopelvic hip area. Additionally, the gymnasts will have decreased strength to push off the ground to get airborne and the gluteus maximus will not have the strength (reciprocal inhibition from the tight hip flexor) to extend the hip by pulling the leg back. The gymnast will most likely compensate by extending through the low back, not to mention hurry to get her feet back on the ground due to lack of height off the ground from a diminished push off. One more thing, while we are on the subject; tightness in the hip flexor will limit maximum extension of the hip while jumping in which the body will compensate, often by hyper extending the knees thereby leading to patellar tendonitis and knee pain. Keep in mind there are just a few examples relating to the hip/pelvis that can lead to compensation, injury and poor performance. With proper stretching and strengthening many of the above mentioned problems can be avoided and proper muscle activation and control can be achieved. With gymnastics requiring a combination of 

flexibility, strength, power and balance/control; it is important to recognize the functional relationships and devise exercise strategies that are effective in optimizing performance and minimizing injury. Hopefully, this article shows how one tight muscle can lead to a series of compensations and altered muscle firing patterns that effect strength and control around the hip/pelvis area. Now we will focus on a few flexibility and muscle activation exercises to address the problems identified above. Initially, once a muscle tightness is identified it should be stretched utilizing the “traditional” static stretches. Paying close attention to posture and form to ensure the appropriate area is being stretched. Unfortunately this is the only way many continue to stretch. The next step should be to incorporate dynamic multi plane flexibility exercises. Knowing that gymnastics requires dynamic movement in all three planes of motion simultaneously, a question to ask is why do we only do static stretching that is isolated to one plane of motion? Yes, it can increase flexibility, but is it the best way to improve, maintain and carry over flexibility to performance? Maybe not.  Stretching dynamically in all three planes of motion better prepares a muscle to move in those planes and complete a skill such a back hand spring without unwanted compensations that could lead to injury. The benefits of dynamic stretching include increased neurophysiologic input to the system which enhances its ability to perform a task or series of tasks and maintain flexibility. This is because the muscle and the joint are getting stimulated similarly to the activity taking into account momentum, gravity and ground reaction forces in three planes. These are the things that turn on and drive the muscles. 

See this full article with pictures of the stretches at

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While gymnastics is used in this post the concepts apply to any endeavor.  Most would agree that a strong “core” is essential to all sporting activities and tasks of daily living. What is the core and how do we train it to maximize performance? Generally speaking, the core consists of the lower back, lateral trunk and abdominal (rectus abdominus, obliques, transverse abdominus) musculature. For years, largely based on traditional anatomy lessons and body building routines, we believed that endless sit-ups and hyperextensions were the way to go. As our understanding of human movement and sports performance have grown, we began to realize that training for performance often required a different approach – hence the term “sport specifi c” training. Simply stated, the more an exercise looks and feels like the activity to be performed, the greater the carry- over to that activity. When designing exercises to enhance performance, one must look at the activity or skill and ask – how does gravity, ground reaction forces and momentum effect the body and how do all the muscles and joints interact to complete a skill or movement?  In the traditional sit up one lies on their back and attempts to bring the shoulders up towards the pelvis, in essence contracting only the abdominals. For performance/ function we would ask – when in gymnastics do you lay on your back and do this? Are the gravitational forces the same? Are the ground reaction forces the same?  Is the momentum the same? Do all the body parts interact similar to a gymnastics skill?  The answer is rarely, if at all. In gymnastics, the body is primarily in a vertical position with various components of spin and rotation acting against gravity, utilizing and absorbing ground reaction forces and momentum. Therefore, training the core in an upright position would be a better choice to facilitate greater muscle, joint and balance receptor activity, ultimately leading to greater carry-over to the skill or activity. It also facilitates more effective interaction between all the muscles and joints involved in the skill, not just one or a few as seen in the traditional sit-up or hyperextension exercise. The object being to enhance the body’s ability to load to explode.  The true function of the abdominal muscles is to decelerate or control backward bending and rotation of the trunk. You do not need them to forcibly fl ex the trunk forward (as a sit-up does) because gravity will do this for free. The muscles of the low back help decelerate forward flexion and rotation of the trunk. The respective muscles of the trunk rely on various other muscles to assist them with the task at hand.  One common theme that is critical for human movement and sport is that all muscles need to be eccentrically elongated relatively quickly (loading) to enhance their concentric contraction (exploding). Think of a rubber band, the more you pull it the harder and faster it snaps back. Your muscles utilize the same principle called the stretch shortening cycle to enhance the muscles ability to move the body explosively. An easy example of this is in jumping. You always “squat” down or load first to enhance your ability to jump or explode higher. Try jumping up high without bending your knees or ankles first; its impossible.   So when training the core think of how they are going to “react” in relation to gravity, ground reaction forces and momentum in the context of how they will be required to function.

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One of the many problems with youth sports today is early specialization.  This basically means that kids are pigeon holed into one sport at too early of an age.  The consequences of this are the development of compensatory and faulty movement patterns, missing critical stages of development, increased likely hood of injury, inconsistant performance and an early drop out rate from sports/activity.  While much (needed) emphasis is placed on the underactive/obese children it is important to realize that both groups, the “overactive/specialized” and the obese kids are all headed in the same direction…unactive adulthood.  They are just arriving there from different points.  We already have a problem with a large part of society being sedentary and this problem continues to grow.  The impact on the healthcaresystem, productivity and national security will be significant.  The way we approach training of kids in this country has gotten way out of hand with the desire to win, the allure of scholarships and “big money” fueling the craze.  The focus on youth sports should be to promote and maintain good health for a happy, healthy and terrific life.

Here is a good study to demonstrate the benefits of kids being involved in many activities and developing many different skills.  A study done by Harre in 1982 in the former East German, as cited in Tudor Bompa’s book, “Total Training For Young Champions.” studies a group of young athletes ranging from nine to twelve years old who specialized in one sport and a group who followed a multilateral program (many different activities/sports).  The results are summarized below:


         Quick performance improvement, inconsistency of performance in competition, by age eighteen many          athletes were burned out and quit the sport and they were prone to injury because of forced adaption.


         Slower performance improvements, consistency of performance in competitions, longer athletic life              and fewer injuries.

As a parent take an active roll in your childs activities be a positive role model and your kids biggest supporter (regardless of how they do).  Encourage them to do multiple sports, avoid the pressure or advice of other parents, take responsibility and do what is right your kids.  Dont be afraid to ask questions, its your child (make sure you do this in a constructive and productive mannner) If everyone can do this we can make the needed changes in the way our kids are developing and return the physical culture we have lost and so need to get back to!  Check out the IYCA for more great information and their efforts to revolutionize youth fitness.

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Who needs a fancy gym or expensive equipment!

More motivation to take my daughter to the park! (not that I need any)

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This is awesome!

Please share this great story.

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This was an excerpt from Charles Staleys’s “The Unatural Athlete.”  Some good sound advice!

1.  Don’t lift weights alone. Accidents can be avoided when a training partner is there to help. 

Bench pressing is particularly dangerous — many have died after becoming trapped under a 

weight they couldn’t lift back up. If you must bench alone, use dumbbells or a machine press. 

2.  Don’t lift weights unless you know what you’re doing. Seek qualified supervision so that you can 

get the most out of your training efforts, and stay safe in the process. 

3.  Don’t lift heavier than what your program calls for. Doing maximum-effort lifts (for any number 

of reps) can be dangerous, are not necessary, and have little place in most athlete’s training 

programs, except for occasional tests of maximum strength. As a general rule of thumb, leave 

2-4 reps to spare on every set. 

4.  Don’t training with weights right before skill training. Fatigue resulting from the weights will 

hamper your efforts at acquiring/improving skill, so do your skill training on days when no skill 

training is taking place. 

5.  Don’t train your legs with weights before running or jumping rope. Tired leg muscles (from 

squatting and other leg exercises) mean that your hip and knee joints are not as protected, and 

these activities create too much shock and jarring of these joints. 

6.  Don’t neglect to use safety equipment. Locking collars, proper training attire, solidly built 

equipment, and adequate space are all-important for accident-free training. 

7.  Don’t leave weights scattered on the floor or leaning against the walls or equipment. The single 

biggest cause of gym injuries is failure to put weights back on their storage racks. Keep a neat & 

tidy gym to avoid injuries. 

8.  Take a moment to make eye contact with anyone else lifting nearby before heavy lifts that 

require your total concentration (such as squats, power cleans, or deadlights). Doing so will let 

them know to stay at a distance so that you can concentrate on lifting, rather than whether or 

not someone is going to “walk into you” during a heavy set. This sort of thing happens more 

often than you think, especially in commercial gyms. 

9.  Don’t neglect any part of your body. Your training program should address every major muscle 

group so that a solid foundation can be developed. A neglected muscle means that you will have a weakness.  A recipe for injury.

10.  Don’t try to unload a bar one end at a time. Taking weights off the bar on one side only causes the 

other side to become unbalanced and fall (or more often, catapult) from the rack — sometimes 

with great speed and force. Be safe and unload plates from the bar by alternating ends.



Here are a few “functionally based” core exercises to follow up my Death Of A Sit Up post. Take care not to overextend the back.  I like to use wall to limit excessive motion.  Can progress to holding medicine ball.  Make sure to stretch the hip flexors as a tight hip flexor will limit hip extension and cause you to compensate by extending the back more.  Some cues I give are to squeeze the butt, push hip forward and dont reach back too far.  Remember,  most daily activity only requires small efficient amounts of trunk motion.  If single leg is too challenging then toe touch opp. foot or keep both feet on ground.  Have fun!

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                                                                                                                     Large View

For the longest time people have focused on calcium and vitamin D for bone health. While important, without adequate magnesium (Mg) the absorption of calcium is hindered. Magnesium is stored in our bones and is a buffering mineral when our blood becomes too acidic or when needed in other areas of the body. Many people are Mg deficient and have used up the Mg in their bones and they begin to weaken. An Israeli study showed that 22(71%) of the 31 women who took 250 and 750 mg of magnesium daily for 2 years (without extra calcium or vit. D) increased their bone density by 1-8%. The women who took placebos lost 1-3% of their bone density over the same 2 years. Great food sources of Mg include: broccoli, kale, collards, spinach, romaine lettuce, almonds, seafood and apples.

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Games08Jelli185DL-th.jpg    Games08JodiThruster1-th.jpg

This girl is cut! And she is lifting heavy!  Look at those abs!

Lifting mod to heavy weight for lower reps is great for bone and muscle strength, function, a lean look and a host of other benefits!   

Go get em girls!

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Many years ago the sit up was king of abdominal training.  Today in the world of rehab, function and performance training the tide has shifted away from the sit up.  Our study of the human body, how it works and how it responds to various training modalities has led to a shift in our training methods.  Also, Stuart McGill PhD has shown the shear and compressive forces on the lumbar discs while doing a sit up to be quite detrimental to the health of the spine.  Now, we don’t just train the “stomach,” we see the body as a link system and the trunk, front, side and back collectively make up what is now referred to as the “core.” Most abdominal activity occurs while in the upright position working against gravity, ground reaction forces and momentum.   In fact clinicians and trainers, in the know, very rarely train muscles.  They train movement.  Activities like walking and swinging a golf club are engrained in our brain as patterns.

Think of this, people do thousands of sit ups to work their abdominals for the almighty six pack or what they consider “core” training.  If you think of this functionally, while standing, do you really need your abdominals to forcefully pull your shoulders down to the floor?   Of course not, gravity will do this for free!  So what is the “function” of the abdominals?  The rectus abdominus eccentrically controls back bending and the obliques eccentrically control rotation.  This all works together (with the back buscles) to control posture and produce rotational torque for efficient walking and more powerful activities like throwing a baseball or catching your child as they jump into your arms.  It is the rotational and side to side activity that drives us forward.  A bicycle moves forward only because the wheels are rotating.

Current abdominal exercises consist of arms overhead, reaching back, chops, diagonal chops and rotations using various modalities such as medicine balls and bands. We use kettlebell swings, waiter walks, snatches, cleans and windmills.   Also, variations of push ups, planks and bridges are utilized.  Assymetrically loaded squats, deadlifts and lunges are great abdominal activators.  Many want the washboard ab “look”, but the real question is are you training for show or go?  It is possible to have both!

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