Isometrics can be a great way to strengthen weaknesses throughout a range of motion in a movement.
In this example I’m using an assisted low range isometric squat, but you can take the principle and apply it to anything. Use that pause to connect with your muscles and feel what’s working, what’s not, what should be. Take the time while in that pause to figure it out and get everything responding the way it should be and then groove it proper. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so find it and strengthen it.
I’ll typically start people between 2-3 sets of 3-6 reps with 5-6 second pauses per rep. I like this for slowing down mechanics and working on grooving proper patterns.
I’ve found this exercise to be an excellent way to get people comfortable with the bottom position of a squat. (Note: Make sure the range of motion is there first.)
Most of us are one-side dominant in our daily activities. We typically open doors, carry groceries, get in and out of vehicles more frequently on one side than the other. Over time these unconscious movements add up and create imbalances in our body which can sometimes lead to insidious aches pains or injuries. One of my favorite stretches that can both expose imbalances from left to right and help restore some balance is the Banana Stretch. Here’s a quick video tutorial! Hope you enjoy!
Our hips play a huge role in our mobility. They are at the center of where all the action takes place. Just about every way we move involves the hip joint in some capacity, whether it be direct or indirect when we initiate movement, forces travel through the area. It’s needless to say that keeping them healthy will have a huge impact in our overall well being and quality of life.
So, how do we keep them healthy you ask? With 21 muscles crossing this incredible piece of architecture you might think that the answer is going to be complex. Many experts will give you numerous stretches and exercises to take to task however the most important thing to do is keep them greased by keeping them moving regularly through all their movement ranges. This is something that should be done daily however most of us have set patterns throughout our day that have us using our hips in a very limited capacity and so they become limited to that.
There are 6 primary ranges of motion that the hip joint provides for us:
Flexion – when the thigh bone moves forward ahead of the hip.
Extension – when the thigh bones moves backward behind the hip.
Abduction – when the thigh bone moves out to the side of the hip.
Adduction – when the thigh bones moves across our mid-line.
External Rotation – when the thigh bone rotates so that the knee points out away from the body.
Internal Rotation – when the thigh bone rotates so that the knee points in toward the body.
Do you move your hips through all these ranges in a deliberate manner daily? Chances are that you don’t and by limiting the range of motion and freedom of your hips the cascade effect of compensatory patterns and the insidious onset of pain occurs.
To help mitigate this terrible outcome, I’m going to provide you with one simple dance that takes just seconds to perform to keep those hips greased and mobile daily. Whether you’re young, old or currently experience some form of discomfort, this little jig has got you covered. I have to give full credit to Kevin Darby, strength coach/educator extraordinaire and the authority in Canada for Fascial Stretch Therapy, as I picked this up from his playbook.
You can read this description, but the video provides a clear and easy visual as well as instructions. While my mother is from South America, you’ll see that I clearly didn’t inherit those well greased dance hips often associated with South American populations. Enjoy!
Step 1: Take one foot and plant it to the ground. Remember, plants don’t move so this foot will stay where it is for the whole dance as we maneuver around it.
Step 2: Take your other foot and step forward. (Planted foot hip is now in extension)
Step 3: Take that same foot and step back. (Planted foot hip is now in flexion)
Step 4: Now take a step across your planted foot to the side. (Planted foot hip is now in adduction)
Step 5: Step over to the other side. (Planted foot hip is now in abduction)
Step 6: Step back over to the other side crossing that planted foot and facing your whole body that way. (Planted foot hip is now in internal rotation)
Step 7: Now step back over to the other side again and rotate your whole body to face that direction without moving that planted foot. (Planted foot hip is now in external rotation)
Can you see how we’ve just covered all of the primary ranges of motion for our hip? It’s genius! You can repeat these steps and each time you go through them as your hip frees up, you can take larger and deeper steps increasing the range of motion.
We have an annual hill climb challenge at Active Life Condition called the Grind. It’s about a 2.2km trail that ascends 237m up Blue Mountain in Collingwood, Ontario. With this challenge seems to come a sudden increase in the amount of hill climb training volume and in the past, this has led to the surfacing of knee aches and pains. I wanted to highlight an often-overlooked weakness that can contribute to knee pain to help mitigate these issues.
Often the knee itself isn’t the initial problem but becomes the primary concern when other structures in the body aren’t functioning optimally. Hips and ankles are the two most common areas that directly effect the health of your knee. When we look at the biomechanics of a hill climb, due to the incline and increased forward angle of the torso, the demand placed through the hips differs from walking or running on a flat surface. The force that is driven through the ankle and foot also changes dramatically due to these angles and combining this with the uneven ground surface of a trail, the demand for ankle and foot mobility intensifies as well. Having the stability and awareness to maintain the proper alignment to channel these forces through your body in the safest most efficient manner is crucial, and what we often see is the poor knee having to take up the slack being sandwiched between rigid or unstable hips and ankles.
The glutes get a lot of attention when it comes to hills or stairs, but I find the hip flexors tend to be a little more overlooked. With an incline they are required to move the thigh higher into a range of motion often not used and generally weaker. This leaves them prone to quicker fatigue and compensatory patterns occurring to achieve the hip flexion movement. The videos below lend an explanation as well as an exercise tip to help create strength within this range. Remember, this is just one of many things that could be occurring, it’s important look at the big picture, and take everything into consideration. Enjoy!
In the past I’ve mentioned how I’ve felt that the hip adductors seemed to have been a little neglected with the glute focus that’s been so prevalent in the past few years. I’m happy to see a lot of higher profile “guru’s” starting to bring them back into the fold again due to their importance in core, pelvic and knee stability.
If we look at their functional anatomy we can see that they play a huge role in core and pelvic stability. In my experience I’ve found that many patients with deep core dysfunction also have dysfunction with their hip adductors or vice versa. If you follow the deep front net of Thomas Myers Anatomy Trains, this makes sense as you can see how these structures are interwoven with one another.
In my practice I’ve found a lot of people unable to coordinate this sling which leaves them very vulnerable to back strains or more serious injuries. In working with a soccer team over the winter months (who won a tournament in Italy in the Spring. So proud of them!), my colleague and I noticed many of them were giving up a lot of power due to this instability. This movement prep exercise was discovered to try and help them connect and strengthen this line. I’ve found it to be quite effective with most populations. It requires the deep core and hip adductors to work together creating that link. Give it a try!
Isometric Supine Straight Leg Raise Adduction
Attach a large O-band to a secure anchor about knee to mid-thigh height.
Lie on your back with body parallel to anchor placing feet inline with the anchor point.
Position yourself away from the anchor point at a distance that will provide a challenging tension for you.
Loop the O-band around the mid-foot portion of your inside leg.
With the band under tension, clamp your body into the ground maintaining a neutral spine.
Use your hamstrings and glutes of the outside leg to squeeze into the ground and anchor your sacrum and hips keeping them square with shoulders throughout. Lock down this position.
Ensure that rib cage does not rotate or glide laterally out of alignment with hips. These are common errors.
Start movement by raising inside leg up to about 30-45 degree angle and squeeze in toward mid line of body keeping leg straight with knee and toes point up toward ceiling. Hold contraction for specified time.
Slowly release but do not let leg drop before repeating next repetition.
The majority of the injuries that I see with my patients are usually the result of some form of structural imbalance. What do I mean by this? Let me try to explain…
Our bodies are designed in such a way that everything is interwoven and in a pre-tensioned state. When everything is balanced as it should be, we are able to adapt to and withstand different ranges of internal or external forces. This is what makes our bodies so resilient. To give you an idea of how this works, Fascial Stretch Therapy founders Chris and Anne Frederick often use the example of a geodesic dome (think of a dome tent). When the poles and tent fabric are placed together and under balanced tension, you have a durable attenuating structure. By themselves, the fabric or poles wouldn’t be able to stand erect with integrity if at all. The term tensegrity is used to describe this sort of structural phenomenon.
So, we have bones which act similar to the poles of the tent, and soft tissues such as fascia, muscles, ligaments, etc. that are like the fabric. If any of the soft tissues are tensioned more or less than they should be, the entire structure will be unbalanced and compromised.
Of course we can still function, but not optimally and usually at the expense of an area of our body that is compensating for this imbalance. You can drive a car that’s slightly off alignment for quite some time, but more wear is put on the tires and they will need to be changed much faster than if the car were aligned properly. Sometimes that extra wear might result in a premature flat. Often times our joints are like the tires of a misaligned vehicle. This is why I am so keen on structural balance as it can provide a solution or prevention to many of the ailments we experience.
I hope this simplified video explanation of tensegrity helps!
It’s well known how important core stability is, and
while static exercises like planks are a great place to start and learn how to feel
and engage your core for stability, you’ll need to advance and be able to
maintain stability with weight and or force transfer. I’ve found that most people are good with sagittal
plane stability (resisting a forward or back bend), but poor with coronal (side
to side) and transverse (rotational) stability.
The latter two are especially important for all populations as something
as simple as getting in and out of your car requires the awareness and
stability of all planes.
The Palloff Press is an excellent movement choice that incorporates stability work in all planes, with focus on the transverse and coronal while adding some force transfer through the press. I like starting with the half-kneeling variation to promote the locking in of good pelvic stability, and for people with tight hip flexors and quads, you get to work in a nice open hip position on the knee down side. I’ll initially use an isometric hold at the top of the extended range to make sure that people are able to feel and adapt appropriately to the force transfer.
This is a fantastic movement to include in your movement prep. or warm-up exercises.
See the video below for a full demonstration and explanation.
Here’s what it looks like:
Anchor a Large O-Band or resistance band to a stable object at about shoulder height when you are kneeling.
Face 90 degrees away from the anchor so that your torso is perpendicular to it. Holding the band with inside hand first and overlapping with the outside, center hands over solar plexus (mid-torso) and move away from the anchor so that there is resistance on the band. (Distance will depend on your current level of comfort and strength.)
Assume a half-kneeling position with inside knee down on the ground inline with hips, shoulders and head. Outside leg should be forward and flexed 90 degrees at hip and knee with foot maintaining full contact on ground. Ensure pelvis is level and lock it in by contracting glutes, hamstrings and core.
From this position slowly press hands forward straight away from torso fully straightening arms and maintaining shoulder height.
Keep hips and shoulders square with one another and resist the torsion of the band. Hold arms extended position for specified time and then slowly bring hands back toward torso.
Remember to breathe throughout.
Complete full set with weaker side first before switching.
Recommended variables to start with:
2-3 sets, 4-8 reps per side, 3-5 second holds in extended position.
This is a movement that I picked up from Dr. Spina’s FRC
material. I love it because it addresses
the top range (short range) portion of a hamstring curl or knee flexion which
is so often neglected. Most hamstring
movements focus on the mid or low range, and the movements that are supposed to
include the top range are often performed poorly, leaving it out anyway. In many cases people don’t even have to flexibility
to perform work for this range and that’s the other reason why I like this
movement. It also works on quad
flexibility at the same time, in particular the rectus femoris that crosses
both the knee and hip joint which is often a restricting muscle for many
I like using this as a movement prep/warm-up movement
especially on a lower body focused day.
The set-up is key to making this an effective movement and for those
that can’t get into this position, the video below offers an alternative
Cramping or muscle spasms in the hamstrings are common
when first attempting this movement.
This is a normal response and will pass once your body and brain adapt
to the pattern.
This exercise should be performed slow and controlled
Start in a half-kneeling rec fem stretch position
keeping head, shoulders, hips and planted knee aligned with one another. Hold the foot of your back leg up as close to
your butt as you can manage.
Slowly release your foot while squeezing hamstrings and
glutes controlling the negative all the way down to the ground. Try not to let your foot just sling shot out
of your hand. Slowly curl your leg back up to the top position as
far as possible before assisting with hand as little as possible and returning
2-3 sets, 3-6 reps/side, slow and controlled throughout. (4-5 seconds to lower, 3-4 seconds to return to start.)
Disclaimer: Please consult your healthcare provider
before engaging in any of the activities or suggestions that are highlighted in
During this time of the season the coaches and therapists
at Active Life tend to notice a rise in complaints surrounding the neck and
shoulder area. Generally it’s a little
more stiffness than usual or mild “tweaks” frequently around the posterolateral
(side/back) area of the neck.
So why the sudden rise in these occurrences during this time
of the year? Our posture seems to change
with the colder weather and maybe even from the stresses that may have been
incurred over the holidays. We channel
our inner turtle power (everyone knows Raphael was the coolest Ninja Turtle)
and manage to suck our heads into our protective shells between our shoulders,
usually with our chins poked forward, and with added stress our breathing
becomes shallow adding more to strain to some of the neck musculature that
assists in breathing. Spending more time
in this type of posture can make the neck and shoulder area more susceptible to
these aches and injuries.
To understand why this is happening we need to take a
closer look at the functional anatomy of these muscles, and since there’s a lot
of them, I’m going to focus in on a muscle that I’ve found to garner the most
complaints, the levator scapula. This
muscle takes a lot of abuse and is one of the most common reasons why I see
people on my table.
As you can see in the
diagram, the levator scapula originates from the transverse processes of C1-C4
in your neck and attaches to the superior aspect of the medial border on your
scapula (shoulder blade). Looking at
the fiber direction and attachment points, we can see that its functions
include scapular elevation (lifts shoulder blade up), scapular downward
rotation (rotates shoulder blade down) and ipsilateral cervical flexion and
rotation (rotates and flexes neck to the same side). The most prominent action is the downward
rotation of the scapula and it’s important to recognize this along with the
cervical attachment points due to the impact this can have on overall shoulder
movement. Explanation is provided in the
video along with a demonstration of actions.
When we’re in a forward head carriage postural position,
this puts tension on the levator scapula pulling the shoulder blade into
downward rotation. This is generally the
opposite movement of where we want our shoulder blade to go for the majority of
our daily activities seeing as they are performed with our arms in front of our
bodies where upward rotation of the scapula is required. So we have a muscle that’s connected to our
neck that’s pulling in the opposite direction we’re trying to go with our arms,
inhibiting optimal movement of our shoulder causing compensatory muscle
activation and firing patterns.
The postural placement of our head can interfere with the
range of motion in our shoulders. So if
our heads are forward and our shoulders a little shrugged up and we go and try
to do anything with our arms, such as reaching for a door handle or shoveling,
we’re putting added strain on a muscle that’s already in a stretched position
making it easy to “tweak.”
Be conscious of your posture and stand tall and proud with your ear in line with your shoulder to minimize your risk of injury and maximize your shoulder movement.
Disclaimer: Please consult your healthcare provider before engaging in any of the activities or suggestions that are highlighted in this article/video.
An issue that’s becoming
more prevalent in my practice is lack of ankle mobility, particularly with
dorsi flexion (foot flexes up toward shin).
I’ll hear comments about how calves always feel tight even though the
individual is always stretching them out.
While the calves feel like they have an issue, the problem might stem
from somewhere else. In a case where I
hear comments such as above, looking at the body globally and assessing postural
alignment can help find the source.
Two fairly common postural
patterns that are just about guaranteed to produce limited ankle mobility as
well as many other problems that I won’t dig into in this article are “sway
back” and “hyper lordosis.” In both
cases a dysfunction through the core triggers compensatory patterns in order
for the body to keep balanced.
Sway Back – In the case of the sway back posture the pelvis
shifts forward off the plumb line usually presenting with a posterior pelvic
tilt and flattening of the lower back.
There are many possible reasons for this that may include weakness in
the transversus abdominis (TVA), imbalanced internal and external obliques,
glute weakness, poor sequencing etc. But
it’s the lack of support through the core that displaces the weight creating an
“S” like posture when viewed from the side.
With the pelvis shifting forward, the upper torso needs to shift back
making the head shift forward. In the
lower body knees will usually lock out in hyper extension and due to the angle
that the weight is being driven through the tibia, a constant posterior glide
at the talocrural joint (ankle) stresses the Achilles tendon.
Hyper Lordosis – With hyper lordosis a slightly different “S” like
pattern forms as the pelvis dumps forward in an anterior tilt which tends to
create a flatter upper back and exaggerates the arch in the low back shifting
the torso forward off the plumb line.
The weight displacement of the upper body causes the lower body to
compensate by pushing the pelvis backward as well as the knees in a lockout
position. As with the “Sway Back”
posture, this places the tibia at an unfavorable angle to bear load through the
There are a number of
other issues that are also formed with these postures, but since this article
is about tight calves, I’m just going to highlight how they are affected. In both the sway back and hyper lordosis
cases, these postures produce a constant stress on the calves through both the
knee joint as well as the ankle joint. The
calves are in a lengthened state crossing the knee and working hard to fight
hyper extension and stabilize the joint.
Through the ankle, because of the way the weight is being distributed
through the tibia (lower leg) and the angle that it is forced to meet the talus
(foot bone), they’re again stretched and working hard to combat the posterior
glide and stabilize. The body’s nervous
system will perceive these areas as being unstable causing the calf muscles to
brace for stability making them tight. No
amount of stretching will remedy this type of tension. In order for mobility to take place in any
joint, there needs to be stability for your nervous system to allow the
To address the constant
tension through the calves, postural improvement is needed first to place the
load of the body in an optimal position where the joints are stable. Improving the function of your core will
generate the greatest success in these situations.
In this video I explain the compensatory patterns and offer a simple tool to help improve your posture.