Become a Control Freak

This morning I was watching a video of a workout that a friend posted which consisted of multiple rounds of high rep complex movements.  There was a few people doing burpees, and the ones that were still actually doing them (the others were completely exhausted and stopped) were flopping down, barely jumping backwards, spines all curved and loose and then had to modify their position through their hips and knees every single time to get back up.

This is a common theme in our industry and what most people pay for.  It’s high impact, you feel exhausted when you’re done and for many people they love the group atmosphere and consider it fun.


I don’t even want to imagine 50 types of burpees.  This is the typical type of workout that exists today, and constantly creates dysfunction and injury. 

Now here’s a fun little exercise for most of you:  stand holding onto something, lift your leg straight up in front of you without bending your knee and try to get it to 90 degrees (most people won’t even be able to do that).  Hold it there.  Then rotate your foot out and in and see what happens.  How long can you hold it up there for?  I’d imagine it was seconds.  And during those seconds the leg was shaking like a leaf or you had to lean over to compensate either in your trunk, neck, hip or all three.

In my opinion the way that strength work should be applied is under CONTROL.  This means if you can’t control the way you’re moving – especially under loaded conditions – you probably shouldn’t be doing it.  Athletes are an exception because they have to do it for their job more often than not and are highly trained to withstand the impact or have resources in place to minimize the damage.

For the average Johnny or Susie Q desk worker, this can have really awful consequences.  People don’t actually have any strength, then participate in high impact, movement based heavily loaded (and yes, your body weighs a lot and is a load) exercise.  Then they wonder why their joints break down and they deal with chronic ongoing situations like “my back hurts” or “I can’t move my neck today.”

Now before those people who love these workouts jump in with “it’s fun!” and “it motivates me.” I understand that.  All I’m suggesting is potentially adding something into your routine that encourages more control over your movement so maybe instead of barely being able to hold your leg up in the air, you can hold it for a period of time.  Then that joint might be able to generate more tension in its’ muscles – which means you get to DO MORE!  And, have the added bonus that your body will be okay with it.

straight leg hold

Holding this for 10 seconds can help establish hip control and engage your muscular system.  Try it lying down too.

I can run through these exercises in about three minutes, and you can too once you learn how to do it properly.  Three minutes daily isn’t a big investment but can reap long benefits over time.

If you’re one of these people who has had recurring injuries over and over but still wants to participate in activity you can, but at some point you have to acknowledge that maybe your approach needs to be adjusted because you’re constantly getting hurt.  This is where establishing control can really help.

Can you improve movement by not moving?  Of course you can.  In fact, if you think about it by establishing control over NOT moving, you’ll be better off when you do move.

So what I’m encouraging all my followers and clients to do it become control freaks some of the time.  Before you run into your next group fitness class or sport, take the time to establish some control over your joints and establish if they are likely to be there when you need them.  This can be as simple as assessing your available range of motion and seeing how the muscles respond.  You can even use it as a warmup for what you want to do.

If you find that your system isn’t responding well maybe you’re better off waiting to do high impact activity until you’re ready.  This doesn’t mean don’t exercise, it means MODIFY OR CHANGE IT.  This is something I do with clients all the time if they come in for a workout and I see there is something not working well.  You can do it yourself too.

In the weeks to come I’ll be posting more videos about what I mean.  Feel free to LIKE my Facebook page and follow me @strengthrehabottawa on Instagram.  And you can reach out with questions and comments any time.

Be a freak!  Let me know if you need help.



So How Does This Thing Work?

Since bringing the ISOPHIT into my facility a couple of weeks ago this is probably the number one question that I’ve received from people interested.  There is some curiosity for sure.  However, most people into exercise can’t wrap their heads around the idea that not moving can create the results that this machine creates.

To put it simply, an isometric contraction of a muscle is simply creating a contraction without movement of the joint and little shortening of the muscle fibers.  A good example would be to push against a wall or doing a plank.  You’re not moving, but your muscles are still generating tension and you’re still exerting a load onto them.


A plank is a great example of an isometric exercise. 

With tension, we are still creating load through the muscle.  The body responds to the increased demand by elevating heart rate and creates a scenario very similar to when you’re doing dynamic exercise.  Once you’re done a series of isometrics you will be breathing hard, sweating and tired just like when you’re doing standard movement, especially since the rest periods are often shorter between movements.  Imagine doing a high intensity circuit training – without moving!

Some sports require a large amount of static strength, especially in certain positions.  Imagine a skier who is in a bent knee position for long periods of time.  Imagine a volleyball player who has to be able to initiate a hard swing while being fully extended in the air.  Imagine a jiu-jitsu trainee who needs to have leverage and strength in very compromised positions.  Imagine a powerlifter who has to generate a massive amount of force to start a deadlift.  All of these things can be worked on very well with isometrics.

Here’s a list of some of the benefits of using isometrics in an exercise program – beyond getting stronger.  These have all been research studied and proven – if you want to read the studies themselves simply let me know and I can forward them to you:

  • Lowers blood pressure BETTER than dynamic exercise
  • Pain reduction for lower back (including disc herniations), shoulders and knees
  • Can help reduce cervical spine injuries and possibly protect against concussion
  • Preventing reduction of bone density and can actually INCREASE it
  • Better sports performance, especially in sports like golf, baseball and others
  • Specific sports movements like sprinting and jumping equivalent to plyometric training
  • Rehabilitation for ACL injuries
  • Elderly patients less likely to experience slips and falls
  • Weight loss – studies have shown up to 20 pounds in 4 weeks
  • Fat reduction, even in specific areas (something up until now thought impossible)

However, the number one reason that I decided to go ahead and invest in this piece of equipment is that it allows me to control levels of joint movement and is 100% SAFE.  The good news is, now if you need to train into a specific position but can’t do it dynamically (or are afraid to because of pain) we can get you into that position on the ISOPHIT and get you stronger.

I’m also using it with my clients as an additional benefit to doing full strength sessions.  With the ISOPHIT we can get weak or compromised joints into positions that dynamically they can’t get to and then work on strength within that position – again, without having to worry about other muscles cheating, momentum or any risk of moving through a sore point.

I hope that answers some of your questions.  If you want to experience what I can do with the ISOPHIT feel free to check out my page and contact me to book your free trial session.  Come and see what NOT moving can do for your movement!




Starting at the Beginning

Recently I took a course in NeuroKinetic Therapy, which was a great weekend of learning.  Not only did I get to experience a great new modality to help my clients but I found out some things about myself.

As practitioners we often overlook little flaws in what we do because we think we know everything.  My strength levels are good, my mobility is excellent and I have a great amount of power and endurance.  A funny thing happened though.

When I got my deep abdominal layer tested it was a MASSIVE fail in one area.  Having the humility to analyze that made me realize that I had to go back to the drawing board and rebuild what I had been working on for my own workouts.  And this meant going right back to some very basic exercises that I had been overlooking for years.

One of my roles as a coach is to remind people of basic fundamentals, and I spend a lot of my time during sessions doing just that.  Reminding people to slow down, focus on form, even adjusting loads constantly to create the ability to control muscles and joints.  More often than not my athletes have overlooked that if they can’t do A properly, then they have no business doing B.

So here’s the question I ask people – are you good enough at the simple fundamentals before you jump into more advanced things when it comes to your training?


I’ll give an example of my runners.  So many runners are notorious for simply strapping on their shoes and going out for runs without having strong lower limbs or backs and then wonder why they are constantly getting hurt.  My runners get trained like powerlifters in the gym because their bodies HAVE to be able to take a large amount of load constantly.  This means they need to be able to have strong backs and hips which means great form during heavy lifting.  Then, they need to be able to run short distance consistently day after day with good form and recovery principles in place before expanding their distance and speed.  This takes months for many of them, not days or weeks.

If your goal is to deadlift heavy weight, can you even get into lifting position (ie a fairly deep squat) without compromising your spine first?  Have you worked on basic position fundamentals enough to then be able to load the bar and try some controlled repetitions?Practice this first and make sure you have it down.

If your goal is to play a sport, can you do the basics like push hard anaerobically for 45 seconds without getting completely winded repeatedly and losing form during your movement?  No?  Maybe you need to focus on just doing hard repeats before getting back on the ice or track.

Or, if your goal is simply to get into a good exercise habit, can you perform some basic bodyweight movements – at home – for 10 minutes every other day and establish a habit before you even think about joining a gym?  This can also take weeks for some people.  And before you say an excuse, remember that it’s only 10 minutes.  Drop one episode of Netflix or don’t hit the snooze button.

If you have tried to change things in the past and keep going back, sometimes it takes a complete step back to the very start and beginning there again before you move forward.  for many this requires some humility, but if it will get you to your long term goal faster and without hurting yourself then it is worth the investment.  Nothing in life comes without some hard work over time, and this is usually months, not days or weeks.


So my lesson today is to take a look at your program and maybe take a step back if you’re not seeing progress or you have gotten out of a good habit.  Break down what you’re really trying to accomplish and begin with the simplest parts.  Once you have mastered that, then you have the right to move onto more difficult parts.

I’m already applying this to my own exercise practice and seeing improvement even after two weeks.  You can easily do the same.

By the way, this doesn’t have to apply to exercise only.  Whether it be work goals, life goals or even family goals starting with simple fundamentals is always the best course of action.

If you need help figuring out where to get started, I’m happy to help.  Reach our at, on Facebook or on Twitter or Instagram @strengthottawa.  I look forward to the opportunity to help you move forward.



Does Your Back Hurt? Part 3

Finally the finishing touches to my back pain series.  This was prompted by the epidemic of back issues that have been posted all over my social media lately.  It seems that this winter many people have decided to “throw out” their backs.  And this is something that is completely avoidable.  The problem lies in that you’ve already likely done it to yourself.  Now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

In July I wrote two articles on back pain.  The first one which you can find here was about identifying what and why back pain typically occurs.  The second one, which you can find here was about movements you can use when you’re feeling stiff or sore to help provide relief for general stiffness and soreness.

This part is about the exercises.  Now, most therapists and trainers would identify that you need “more core strength”.  What does that actually mean?  Many people will think that yoga, pilates or even just simple crunches will do the trick.  As I said in Part Two, the “core” is a very complex thing and can’t be isolated into one or two muscles.  You have to strengthen the entire complex, and this stretches from the pelvis all the way up to the shoulders and even down into the legs.

So how do you begin?  Well, a good place to start is by working on movements that you have to perform daily anyway.

My number one exercise to develop and improve back strength and resolve symptoms of back pain:  The Deadlift.  

In fact, if you were only allowed to do one exercise for the rest of your life, this would probably be my first recommendation.


Pretty simple, right?  Picking something up and putting it down.  This is not actually true. There is a lot of proper technique and intention behind this movement and I strongly suggest you have a competent coach (not your “brother-in-law who lifts”) teach you the movement and all of its’ parts.  It includes the ability to squat, hip hinge and also keep your spine engaged throughout the movement, all individual components that you need to be aware of.

The good thing about this exercise is that it can be regressed so that my 103 year gold Grammie can do it, or progressed to an Olympic lifting level.  It is very versatile and hits most of the muscles in your body in a very good way.  One of my goals with any of my clients (even those with compromised backs) is a good solid deadlift.

My second choice for back strength actually involves the hips more than anything.  Strong hips (and you can feel free to think “glutes” here) are essential for spinal integrity.  Therefore my number two is:  Hip Thrusters.


Now, this can be an uncomfortable position for many so I typically suggest starting this movement on the floor, then progressing to a Swiss Ball for mild loads, then a bench or modified floor position for heavier ones.  You also need to make sure that your legs are in the proper position and you can actually hinge at the hips before you can do this properly.  Again, please consult a professional coach to help give you the right technique.

Easy regression is an isometric hold in the up position (on the floor or a mat) for 15-20 seconds to start.  Focus on pushing through the heels and pretending you’re holding a pencil between your butt cheeks and not letting it go.

Now, we also need a movement that takes place in the frontal plane – which means up and down if you’re standing up.  This makes sure that the spine is being trained with forces that it will experience frequently.  One way that people frequently hurt their backs is by extending a load over their heads they have no business lifting.

Most people also have very little upper body strength in relation to their lower body or vice versa.  Men are horrible at this because they want to have a big upper body and never make their legs strong so their poor spine is like a pipe cleaner balanced with a big rock on top of it – and easily collapsed.

Therefore my next exercise for proper back health is very simple: The Pull-Up.

I realize that most people can’t do one full pull-up properly.  Therefore I’ve given you two pictures that show easy ways to do these assisted in a gym or at home.  If you need more ideas feel free to email me or google it and you’ll find a few more.  I have at home clients do this with a bed sheet and a door frame sitting on the ground.

This movement not only is great for loading your spine in a frontal plane, it also hits those often neglected upper body pulling muscles that don’t get a lot of use.  I encourage all of my clients to get to the stage where they can do pull-ups without much assistance.  There are also a variety of choices in terms of grips and adjustments to enhance the strength in your shoulders without wrecking them.  Please be careful and progress things appropriately.

Oh, and yes there is some debate over whether this is a frontal or sagittal plane movement.  I believe it is a frontal plane movement.  If you want to debate it, feel free to call me out.

There is a long list of complimentary exercises that I would add to this list.  Some of them include:

  • Overhead Pressing
  • Romanian Deadlifts
  • Back Extensions and Reverse Back Extensions
  • Loaded Planking with movement
  • Lateral Side Flexion
  • Loaded Trunk Rotation
  • Split Squats

And the list can go on.  However, if you want to get started on the path to good spinal strength, these three are your first and best bet towards good spinal strength.

You might also notice that none of these first three exercises are traditional “core” exercises.  However, all of them load your spine quite nicely and give you the benefit of adding strength in a bunch of other places as well.  This is essential for total body health.

All of these exercises can be progressed and regressed by a competent coach.  Always remember that exercise is tailored to the individual, and a good coach will adjust your program based on need and result (and goal).

I’m planning on putting together a proper E-Book on Back Strength coming soon.  If you would like a free copy, feel free to subscribe to my site by adding yourself to the list at the side, or follow me on Twitter at @strengthottawa, Instagram at @strengthrehabottawa and on Facebook at Strength Rehabilitation Institute of Ottawa.  I’m also always interested in your thoughts and feedback, so feel free to Share this as well on any social media.

Take care of your backs!