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 firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook or on Twitter or Instagram @strengthottawa. I look forward to the opportunity to help you move forward.
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!
It’s a New Year and gyms are flooded with people with the best of intentions. They’ve set a weight loss or other fitness goal to work towards in the New Year. Many of them have never been in a gym or haven’t used their membership in a long, long time. So what’s a good idea? Hire someone to help keep them accountable and help them with your goals, right?
Now before I go into the negatives, I believe strongly in my industry. A good trainer is worth their weight in gold towards keeping you accountable, safe and progressing towards better health and physical movement. Someone who is dedicated to their craft, learns constantly and uses many types of tools depending on the client.
The reason for this article is that in most chain gyms this is rare. The personal training world has no barrier to entry. I can direct you to a web site where for $200 and doing a quick multiple choice exam (which I got 92% on without studying a thing) you can get a certificate as a personal trainer. Many certification courses out there aren’t much better than this. Goodlife for one actually has their own training certification (called GLPTI) their employees are forced to go through (and have to pay for themselves) that teaches sales techniques, not proper training principles beyond periodization. Here in Ottawa, I recently learned that another big chain gym (Movati) is doing the same thing now. It’s not about results – it’s about money. Sales drives the training industry, especially in chain gyms.
Training also has its’ share of people who really don’t care. Most trainers (80%) leave the industry within two years and get into it for the wrong reasons. They want an easy way to make money because training has a high pay rate per hour while they can work where they like to hang out – the gym. At the beginning, maybe they have good intentions but quickly realize that they aren’t going to be working with athletes and fitness models and have to get up at 5am to service people. So their motivation is gone, and therefore your results.
So what can happen is a lot of people who really need help hire a “trainer” who has no knowledge or intention to really do a good job. Or, at most chain gyms you book a “free consultation” (ProTip: EVERY TRAINER OFFERS THESE, IT ISN’T SPECIAL). You get paired with not who is the best fit, but who has an open time that fits yours or a new trainer who needs to fill their schedule. And you get results – maybe – or possibly a higher risk of getting hurt or bad advice.
So here’s my recommendations of what to do when anyone starts looking for a trainer, either at a chain gym or elsewhere.
Do Your Homework
Chain gyms often have a wall of trainers, with lists of their skills and certifications. The newer ones will have less – or have things like “former college athlete” on their bio along with their one certification. This is to fill space, it isn’t a qualification. They will also be a lower level therefore cheaper to hire. This isn’t necessarily bad, it is just an indicator that they haven’t been around as long and possibly don’t sell packages well (ProTip: At most chain gyms, the “Level” of trainer is based on sales – not skills.)
Read the bios, then if you find one that you think sounds like they have qualifications to match what you want – go find them. Preferably WATCH them with a client. Some things to look for:
- Are they paying attention and focused on the client?
- Are they writing things down or recording somehow (some use tablets now)?
- Are they coaching and correcting when needed or just counting reps?
- Are they doing proper rest periods or chatting for minutes between sets?
Then – if they seem to be doing all these things – approach them (or the manager) and ask specifically to meet with them for a consultation. I’ve been doing this job for over 15 years and my consults are my time. Why? Because I as the trainer need to know if we are a good fit to work together, and sometimes I need to refer people to someone else if we’re not. I just recently did this with a friend of mine because she wanted something I don’t specialize in, even though she wanted to work with me.
If you’re going the independent or at home trainer route, make sure to ask for references from people who have similar goals to yours. Any good long term trainer has lots of happy clients, even if they are former clients for whatever reason. If they can’t provide this simple thing, then you might want to be wary. You also want to make sure that their style and facility matches with things like your location and how they will motivate you since you likely can’t see them work with people ahead of time.
Don’t Fall For Sales Tactics
A good trainer will have a plan, but if a potential client asks me how long it’s going to take to get to their goal my first answer is I DON’T KNOW. I can give a rough estimate, but it depends on a variety of factors, the biggest of which is your adherence as a client.
Many trainers will sit you down and say “It will take x amount of weeks at this phase of training (usually using big words like hypertrophy or mesocycle) to get to the next phase, we go through these phases and then you’re at your goal!” Hooray, right? But that’s over a period of 9 months and most will tell you you need 3 sessions a week to get proper results. Don’t get me wrong, you get the best results with more sessions – but cost (and time) is a factor for most people. Any trainer who says you MUST have this amount to reach your goals is trying to sell you something.
But wait – the total amount might be $$$ but we can stretch out that amount and you can pay for it over 12 months instead of 9, so it’s affordable. And then they start in with telling you all your flaws, or reminding you of that dress you want to fit into in six months and try to shame you into signing a big contract. I had a former co worker who prided herself on making people cry during consultations. Many trainers are really very good salespeople disguised as experts. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine and honestly it disgusts me. However, many trainers are hired by gyms for sales skills, not training skills.
A good trainer has a plan – but it is adjustable and takes into consideration things like time, budget and realistic situations. Most of my client roster basically had three weeks off schedule recently because their kids were out of school for holidays. A good trainer will adjust based on these circumstances. If you are in a specific phase of training then it can be extended, adjusted or whatever you need. Life happens.
If it sounds more like you’re buying a used car than hiring someone for a service then please think twice. The person should be telling you about how they are going to do things, not haggling on prices.
Don’t Sign a Long Term Contract
You’ve found a good trainer. You’re getting results, you get along and they seem to be a good fit. Excellent! But one day your trainer tells you that they are changing to a different gym that is inconvenient for you – or worse, is leaving the industry. There are little to NO safeguards that you can get your money back if you have paid them up front.
A chain gym will simply assign you another trainer (it’s in your contract). If you do your vetting process properly as in my previous paragraph this may work out well. But they will NOT give you a refund. Find another trainer that is a good fit for you and hopefully you can continue on the road to results. However, if you never signed a long term contract in the first place you can potentially move with the trainer which might be a better option.
If it is an independent trainer, then hopefully they are ethical enough to refund you, but this can be drawn out, and if they are more of a salesperson than a good trainer then likely they will simply disappear, especially if they are leaving the industry. Buyer beware. It’s much safer just to not have a long term commitment paid for up front. If a potential trainer is trying to get you to sign something for a long period of time, be careful and ask for options. (ProTip: Sessions should not cost less just because there are more of them, no other professional does this type of thing.)
Don’t Be Afraid to Fire Your Trainer
One thing that should drive the personal training industry is SERVICE. Just like any other industry. If your trainer is showing up late, constantly cancelling or rescheduling and you’re not getting the level of service you want then have a discussion with them about expectations and if they don’t meet them, you have the right to find another one who meets your needs.
The trainer/client relationship is often fairly close and can develop into friendship (which some trainers take advantage of in my opinion) so a client can “feel bad” for asking for good service from someone they are paying for a service! This is ridiculous. You’re paying $1 a minute for service – not a chatting partner or rep counter or someone who just doesn’t feel like working that day.
Just like any other professional, you have the right to expectations, and so does the trainer. I can count on one hand the amount of clients I’ve actually fired myself over fifteen years, but it has happened. Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate and do what is best for yourself and moving towards your fitness goals. Any professional will understand.
I applaud any of you who are looking to improve in 2017 and work towards getting healthier and in better shape. Set some short and long term goals, and remember the key to your success is consistency over time. The journey is worth it when you realize how good you feel and how much you can move without pain. A good trainer is a partner in that journey with you and I hope that you all find good ones.
If you want to reach me for inquires within the Ottawa area or elsewhere you can reach me at email@example.com or head to my web site at http://www.srottawa.com if you have questions. I’m always happy to help.
Happy New Year!
The full title of this should be How To Shovel Snow (And Not Hurt Yourself). We just had our first fairly serious snowfall in Ottawa and inevitably this brings on clients starting to shovel large amounts of the white stuff.
This also inevitably brings on back problems, shoulder problems and even knee problems from doing this seemingly simple activity. If I told you to pick up a 20 pound weight, for most of you it isn’t a problem (especially if you work with me). However, if I told you to pick it up, then throw it about five feet beside you while twisting, then repeat that about 200 times you might be a bit sore. This is actually what you do when you’re shoveling snow, it’s just you don’t realize it.
Some simple physics: The further something is away from you the heavier it is on your joints. This is actually an exponential relationship, meaning if something is twice as far away, it is four times the load. So my first basic thing is to have a compact shovel – the shorter handle you can manage the better. However, this is sometimes a trade off for having to bend more, which we will get to in a second. Having the right shovel in terms of size and length can help in the long run.
Tip #1: The place people run into problems most while moving snow is that they tend to pick up a load, then twist and throw it. Twisting under load makes your lower back extremely vulnerable, especially with a flexed spine (ie bent forward). Position seem familiar?
If you can pick up the load and throw it straight in front of you it lowers the impact on your back significantly. Pushing it in front of you also works, using one of those large sled like shovels. It may take some creative positioning but your back will thank you.
Tip #2: People have a dominant side, and feel more comfortable moving with that side. My next tip is to switch sides frequently in order to give one side a rest. You can do this with every 10 shovel loads, every 5 or whatever you like. Make a system and use it. Not only will this help your back, but it will also lower the impact on your shoulders and arms. This usually means you can go for longer if you need to. However, this isn’t always the best way to do things.
Tip #3: If you’re not in fantastic shape and don’t have good cardiovascular health, take frequent breaks – even long ones. The snow isn’t going anywhere (until April) so you have lots of time. Lifting and repetitive movement is hugely anaerobic activity and can get your heart rate to dangerous levels for long periods of time (hence frequent heart attacks). Keep your exertion levels in check. If you need to, stop and take 2 minutes – is your heart rate back to below 60% of your maximum? Then continue. As you work harder, your body will take longer to recover from the exertion and if you find that your heart rate isn’t coming back down even after 5 minutes then stop the activity altogether and come back after a long break. Don’t be a hero just because you want to get the driveway finished. It’s hard work just like any other workout.
Tip #4: To save your shoulders, try to keep your arms bent, especially when you have a loaded shovel and you’re lifting. Having your arms extended puts most of the load directly on your shoulders and they usually aren’t strong enough to support it. Again, imagine if I handed you a 20 pound bar and asked you to hold it straight out in front of you. Your shoulders would think it was about 80 pounds. If you simply bend your arms, and put some force into your biceps and wrists then the load is lessened to the shoulder significantly.
Tip #5: Shovel more frequently if there is a large snowfall. Doing it 2-3 times with a small amount is much better than trying to move 30 centimeters all at once. So many people wait until the snowfall is over and then move a huge amount all at once, rather than moving 1/3 at a time 3 times. Again, in terms of overall volume this will greatly reduce the potential for overload and therefore injury. Better to lift half the amount more often than a larger load and increase risk of hurting yourself.
We here in Ottawa embrace winter (or at least we’re supposed to). Don’t let something as simple as clearing your driveway be the reason you have to rehab a serious back injury or shoulder problem this holiday season.
If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to SHARE it on social media. And, if you have a problem with your back or shoulders you need help with, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @strengthottawa or find me on Facebook here.
As a bonus, here’s my dog Woofie enjoying the snow! Hope you have a great day!