First and foremost, if you have any type of physical fitness exercise routine, pat yourself on the back. Albeit, walking, cycling, doing house chores, weight lifting or other fun physical activities–it ALL counts as movement!
Keep in mind that the latest guidelines posted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2018) recommended amounts of physical activity (150 minutes per week) and strength exercises (two days per week). Oh, and good news, exercise bouts can and should be in increments of 10 minutes or more!
Okay, let me get off of my educational exercise soap box. Okay, I’m going to assume you have some type of routine going to your local gym or home gym. Perhaps you walk on the treadmill, maybe you do some strength exercises (e.g., bench press, squats, etc.) and finish up with some core exercises and cardio in cycle class. You probably look super focused and like you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
Good news! This is great! Even better news! There’s a way to work EVEN SMARTER at the gym.
DID YOU KNOW?
Most of us are roaming around this earth with one or more muscle imbalances?
It is extremely common. What do I mean by muscle imbalances? Well, we often overuse and underuse muscles as a result of repetitive (un)movements in our daily lives. This results in super tight and lengthened muscles. Sometimes, good ol’ fashioned genetics can pass down muscle imbalances, too. Chronic muscle imbalances often lead to future physical challenges later in life.
WHAT IF…. you could identify your muscle imbalances AND revise your exercises to help you strengthen weaker muscles, increase flexibility in tighter muscles, and potentially alleviate nagging pain(s) you’ve had for days, months, or even years?
I’m serious. Months and years. Knowing and working on your muscle imbalances WILL ROCK YOUR WORLD.
Contact me [firstname.lastname@example.org] to schedule your posture and movement assessments TODAY. This is one of the best investments you will ever make in yourself or a loved one. This can be done virtually or in-person. It’s painless. It’s easy. All you need is me and one of our smartphones. The results will have lasting effects on your life FOREVER. Guaranteed!
And the best part is that from here on out, you’ll understand the WHY to your WHAT’s at the gym!
In the spirit of Valentine’s and celebrating the power of individuals and complementary couples, we wanted to highlight two of the best exercise couples. These aren’t any type of couples–they are SUPER SET couples!
What’s a super set?
“The superset system uses two exercises performed in rapid succession of one another.”
Couple 1: Bench Press + Push Ups
This is an example of “performing two exercises for the same muscle group back to back.” Completing exercises in this format improves muscle endurance and size. If you want to kick it up a notch, try adding one or two more exercises targeting the same muscle. Using the example above, you could add a Dumbbell Chest Press and Resistance Band Chest Press.
Couple 2: Squats + Dead Lift
This is an example of “performing two exercises back to back that involve antagonist[, or opposing,] muscle groups.” Performing super sets in this manner allows you to place a higher load on target muscle(s) in each exercise. While one muscle group is working, the other is resting.
Want to learn how to integrate super sets into your workout routine? Contact us today!
Source: (National Academy of Sports Medicine, 2014)
As a certified Spinning® indoor cycling instructor, I’ve recently noticed a trend in seeing some of my class participants integrating backwards pedaling into their workout. Not per my advice, of course. Outside of telling them the bikes are not made for backwards pedaling and the unnecessary stress they may be placing on their knee joints, I felt compelled to conduct a review of the literature on this topic and follow up with my class participants next week.
Spinning®, one of the premier international indoor cycling certifications, does not recommend pedaling backwards. Here’s why.
Pedaling backward is risky on a fixed gear bike. If riders try to quickly stop the flywheel while pedaling backward, the compressive forces on the knee joint can be sufficient enough to tear cartilage or the meniscus. Also, pedaling backward may hyperextend the legs, which could damage the ACL or other soft tissue of the knee joints. Aside from being risky, a further reason not to do it is that there is no physiological advantage to it. A study in the Strength and Conditioning Journal showed that muscle contribution and metabolic cost were the same for pedaling forward and backward. Lastly, this movement puts the bike at risk as well. Pedaling backward may eventually unscrew the pedals from the crank arm.
Source: (Spinning®, 2015, Retrieved from http://www.spinning.com/en/spinning_program_faq)
Of course, I probed a little deeper and looked for the study referenced above in the Strength and Conditioning Journal. I could not find it. After asking around a few professional networks, it is believed the SCJ article was in reference to the ACE study I discuss below.
In May 2015, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) conducted an independent study to determine if and how pedaling backwards increases sports performance. Important note, the research was conducted on Cascade recumbent bikes (and not a Spinning® or standard upright indoor cycling bike) that have bi-directional resistance throughout the entire 360 degree motion of the pedals.
The study revealed that pedaling backward on the Cascade cycle elicited higher heart-rate and energy-cost values than when pedaling at identical workloads in the forward direction.
“Pedaling backward…has been observed to reduce pressure on the tibiofemoral joint which may offer value in the rehabilitation of meniscal problems or tibiofemoral osteoarthritis.” ~ACE Chief Science Officer Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D
Dr. Porcari and his research team recommend treating backward pedaling on a Cascade recumbent bike as a change of pace and a form of cross training to better target the quadriceps. The improved quadriceps strength resulting from pedaling backward may eventually produce an enhanced cycling experience by making pedaling forward mentally and physically easier.
Read about the full ACE study here.
Check out what John Macgowan, a 20 year veteran indoor cycling instructor, had to say about the ACE study. He concluded:
There doesn’t appear to be enough positive benefits, in contrast with the possible injury. Not to mention pedaling backwards just looks wrong/goofy, So I can’t see including it in my class.
Me too, Mr. Macgowan, me too.
So let’s wrap this up!
Should we or should we NOT pedal backwards on our indoor cycling bikes?
Nope. Thou shall not pedal backwards on your indoor cycling bike.
The reality is that you still may consider doing it anyways. (Aren’t you adventurous?!?!) So, here’s a short list of what I believe we should all do if and when we consider pedaling backwards in our indoor cycling class or on our personal indoor cycling bike. WAIT! Before you read this list, remember that I believe, “Thou shall not pedal backwards on your indoor cycling bike.” Okay, please continue reading.
- Check with the manufacturer of your bike and find out if pedaling backwards is safe for the bike. More than likely, it is not and will result in unnecessary wear and tear and decreased safety on the bike.
- A good rule of thumb is to NOT do anything you would NOT do on a REAL BIKE on a REAL OUTDOOR ROAD. Marinate on that for a minute. (How would you climb an outdoor hill while pedaling backwards? How far would you get sprinting pedaling backwards on a flat road?)
- Advice participants with prior lower body injuries or ailments to consult their physician PRIOR TO insisting that they integrate backwards pedaling into their cycling workout.
Who needs fancy gym equipment when you have several items in your home that could serve a similar purpose? Check out the list below to see if you already own any of the following creative fitness solutions in the privacy of your own home!
- Canned foods – Work well as dumbbells. They could also serve as mini-foam rollers. Be careful with the semi-sharp edges.
- Chair – Great for dips, inclined push ups, and reclined push ups. Use two chairs side-by-side with space in the middle to do some inclined push-ups .
- Broom or mop – A great alternative to a weighted bar. You can also hold up the broom or mop overhead with straight arms and wide grip and wide leg stance to do overhead bar squats. You can also let the broom rest on your shoulders while letting grabbing hold of either end and complete some torso twists.
- Paper plates – Who needs Valslides? Use paper plates instead!
- Milk or juice jug (filled with liquid or sand) – This makes a great replacement to several medicine ball activities, but don’t slam it…it will get messy! You can lug this around instead of something like a sandbag.
- Plastic grocery bags – Another great alternative to Valslides! Just place them underneath your hands or feet and start sliding. They work best on carpet or smooth surfaces. Double or trip bag something heavy inside and use these as weights!
- Towel – Fold up into a square or rectangle and use this instead of a balance disc. You can also do something like an overhead bar (towel) squat.
- Pillow – Work those abs with a lying (face up) hand-to-feet pillow exchange.
- Coasters – Another item to use instead of Valslides.
- Step / Stairs – Do some basic step ups and jump ups. Do a few calf raises. Bust out some inclined and declined push ups. Knock out an elevated plank. Depending on step height, you can crank out some dips.
- Dresser or counter top – Do some inclined push-ups!
- Books – You can also use these as an alternative to Valslides. Use a thick book to do some elevated push-ups. Heavy books could also serve as dumbbells and the different grip works those forearms.
- Old extra long phone cord – Use this as a jump rope. You could also use this as a stretching strap to help with some stretching exercises (be careful because the thickness of the rope may not be strong enough to support your weight).
- Wall – Do some wall sits or modified standing push-ups. Lie on your back, slide your butt close to the wall and do a leg inversion up against the wall.
- Sofa – Take those shoes off, lie on your back, and rest those legs up on sofa and do some assisted crunches. You can also tuck those toes underneath the sofa to help hold your feet down as you do some crunches. Lastly, do a plank facing your sofa and do some single arm punches into your sofa as you continue to hold your plank position.
- Bottle – You could use this as a mini foam roller for extremities (be careful, it’s GLASS).
- Water bottles (filled) – These work well as light weight dumbbells.
- Laundry detergent jug (full) – See filled milk or juice jug above (#5).
- Children – Small children make excellent weighted vests, sand bags, and large weights! Proceed with caution! Safety first!
Did I miss anything? Household items? Creative exercises? Please share!
Also let me know if you want me to provide details about any specific exercises using the items listed above.
Many of us have heard the saying, “we must crawl before we walk and walk before we run.” A key word missing from this old adage is “balance.” To rephrase, we must balance our body while crawling and do the same for sitting, standing, walking, hopping, running, and any other movement or static hold exercise.
Q: “So, why do I need to do balance exercises if I’m trying to gain muscle size?”
A: Balance and stability exercises help improve body stabilization, align imbalanced muscles, and increase joint strength. And with a stabilized body, balanced muscles, and increased joint strength, your body is in an ideal position to gain muscle size.
Oftentimes, we get caught up doing common exercises that involve weight machines, free weights, and group fitness classes. But the reality is that these exercises become more effective when anchored by a solid balance training program.
What exactly do I mean by balance training program?
Dynamic balance is the “ability to move and change directions under various conditions without falling,” (Clark, Sutton, & Lucett, 2014, p. 246). Balance training develops “synergy and synchronicity of muscle firing patterns required for dynamic balance and neuromuscular efficiency,” (Clark, Sutton, & Lucett, 2014, p. 248). In other words, balance training helps our muscles move more efficiently. Thus, dynamic balance is interconnected to hypertrophy (i.e., increased muscle size) and other neuromuscular skills (e.g., speed, flexibility, endurance).
The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s (NASM) integrated performance paradigm states that force reduction and stabilization are required for force production. In other words, the ability to successfully execute dynamic balance exercises (i.e., balance training) helps us increase force production for strength exercises. Increases in strength helps us achieve hypertrophy or an increase in muscle size.
Balance training also helps correct kinetic chain imbalances; thus, improve muscle imbalances and flawed movement patterns. As a result, joint stress is relieved, neuromuscular efficiency is improved, and we are less susceptible to injury. With increased neuromuscular efficiency, we are able to maximize prime movers in strength building exercises and in turn, increase the size of muscle fibers.
Enough with the talk about balance training.
Let’s chat about a couple of BALANCE TRAINING EXERCISES.
1. Multi-planar lunge to balance: Stand with feet shoulders width apart and pointed straight ahead. Place hands on hips. Begin with a basic single leg forward lunge. Keep toes pointed forward and knees aligned with toes. Push off the front foot and maintain balance on the back leg. Repeat. Switch legs. Repeat. You can progress this exercise in different planes of motion (frontal plane, or lateral lunge; transverse plane, or turn 90 degrees). You can also add weight (e.g., weighted vest, dumbbells) to make this exercise slightly more difficult. I found a video that demonstrates this exercise.
2. Single leg Romanian dead lift: Stand with feet shoulders width apart and slightly raise one leg (the knee of the raised leg should be slightly bent). Place hands on hips, bend from the waist down and reach the hand opposite of planted foot down to touch toe. Planted leg will slightly bend. Keep spine in neutral position and try not to hunch over and round the back. Slowly come back up to starting position. Repeat. Note: if you can’t reach your toe, you can regress this exercise by reaching down to touch your shin or knee. You can make this exercise more difficult by standing on an unstable surface (i.e., balance beam, half foam roll, balance disc) and eventually adding weight (i.e., dumbbell).
For both exercises, play around with the duration of the isometric movement or the point in which you return to the starting position. For example, lunge forward for 1 second, hold the lunge for 1 second, return back to single leg balance and hold for 3 seconds. You can also play with the tempo of the concentric (acceleration or movement against the direction of resistance) and eccentric (deceleration or movement in the same direction of the resistance) movements. Have fun with it!
Feel free to ask me about other ways to progress (increase difficulty) or regress (decrease difficulty) these exercises.
Clark, M.A., Sutton, B.G., & Lucett, S.C. (Eds.) (2014). NASM essentials of personal fitness training. 4th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Kinetic chain. Retrieved from http://www.opedix.com/kinetic-health
Pink flamingo. Retrieved from http://www.how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com/cartoon-flamingo.html
Single leg deadlift woman. Retrieved from http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/abs/exercises/ab-exercises/?page=7
Millar, A.L. (2012, Feb). Improving your flexibility and balance. American College of Sports Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/articles/2012/02/02/improving-your-flexibility-and-balance
Rogers, M.E. (2012, Jan). Balance and fall prevention. American College of Sports Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/articles/2012/01/10/balance-and-fall-prevention
Zech, A., Hübscher, M., Vogt, L., Banzer, W., Hänsel, F., & Pfeifer, K. (2010). Balance training for neuromuscular control and performance enhancement: a systemic review. Journal of Athletic Training, 45(4), 392-403. Retreived from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2902034/