Category Archives: Perspectives

Tips for Healthy hips!

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!

The Dance:

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.

https://youtu.be/-JS4SWl6yNY

Avoiding Knee Pain During Hill Training

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!

Movement tip: Isometric Straight Leg Raise Adduction

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.

Suggested variables: 

2-3 sets, 4-6 reps of 5-10 second holds per side.

Meal prep – you don’t have the time to not do it

Food Prep

Preparation in general is a habit that pays back tenfold.  Meal prep in particular (in my opinion) is one of the best foundation habits you can have.  It’s close to the base of the pyramid in that it supports and affects so much of your daily structure.  There are a plethora of studies that show how proper nutritional balance improves everything from cognition and sleep to performance and body composition and much more.  Basically everything you need to be the best version of you, yet so many resort to the habit of, “Oh, I don’t have time to prepare a proper meal, so I’ll just grab something on the go.”  That’s okay every now and again, but that shouldn’t be the norm.  With all of the positive outcomes that can occur from one simple habit, it should be a priority, which is a nice segue into a few suggestions that might help make it so for you.

 

Make it a priority – because it is!  Do it during the hours that you feel the most productive so that you can get it done and out of the way efficiently so it takes less time and you can put the quality into it that it deserves.

 

Build an arsenal – Thinking of what to cook is an age old dilemma, but slowly building an arsenal of recipes that become easy to prepare, is a key element in being consistent with food prep.  Try learning a new recipe every couple of weeks and before you know it, you’ll have a wide variety of meals to choose from.  This takes a little bit of time in the beginning, but once it’s in place it will always be there for you.

 

Batch Cook – If you don’t like leftovers, get over it.  Batch cooking is one of the most effective methods of meal prep.  Each week I’ll take a couple of hours to prepare a few different meals all at once so that there’s variety and I have them ready to go for the week.  A lot of recipes will use similar base ingredients, such as onions, garlic etc.  So, if you’re chopping those up already for one meal, you might as well chop up what you’ll need for a different dish as well and prep that too.  It saves more time in the long run, plus it frees up intellectual real estate throughout the week when you don’t need to think or worry about what to cook or eat.

 

Have the right tools – Having the right equipment to perform a task makes it far more efficient and a lot more enjoyable.  A few good quality kitchenware items such as a good knife and frying pan can really make a world of difference.  This plays into something that I mentioned in a previous post about creating an environment that is conducive to the habit you want to create.  What items do you find yourself using the most when you’re cooking?  Do you feel miserable when you have to use them?  Get quality items for the tools you use the most that help you the most and you’ll find a much more enjoyable experience.

I hope these tips give you some food for thought!  Enjoy your week.

Structural Balance: Why it’s important

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!

Simplified tensegrity/structural balance explanation.

Why do I Keep Straining My Neck?


By Gavin Buehler, RMT

Disclaimer:  Please consult your healthcare provider before engaging in any of the activities or suggestions that are highlighted in this article/video.

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.

How Poor Posture Creates Tight Calves

By Gavin Buehler, RMT

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 Posture

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 Posture

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 ankle joint.

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 movement.  

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.

Own Your Movement With These Simple Techniques!

Mobility is a buzz word that is often used interchangeably with flexibility, however mobility is not just being flexible, but the ability to control your full range of motion and flexibility with proper muscle coordination patterns and awareness.

If you want to maximize performance and movement efficiency, mobility is a must!  So, it’s not just about being flexible, but also being in control throughout your entire motion.  You need to be able to own it.  Here’s where implementing things like slow reps and isometrics come into play.  Before you start to just move weight through a movement, you should be able to go through that movement in slow motion and be able to pause it at any point throughout it without deviation.  If you can do this, you will reduce your risk of injury and overload and create a more fluid and efficient movement pattern.

Here are a few techniques and examples you can try:

Isometrics – I’m a huge fan of these!  In gymnastics just about everything we did included being able to hold the movement position isometrically before being allowed to progress to the sexy stuff.

Example:  The Back Extension – this is a movement I always see performed poorly in the gym.  Most of the time I see a swing up with momentum.  Try just holding your body at the top position for 5-10 seconds and see how it goes.  You can try pausing this movement at any point in the arc and holding to see where you may have weakness.  It’s a humbling experience and will really make you see what muscles you’re working, and what ones you aren’t.

10 Second Negatives – One of the greatest power lifters of all time, Ed Coan talked about these at a SWIS conference one year.  He explained how you should be able to control every aspect of your squat throughout its entire motion.

Example:  The Squat – a lot of people like to rush through this movement letting gravity push them through the negative.  Try counting out a full 10 second negative with your squat keeping the motion constant and smooth.  This will allow you to feel every little deviation and instability you may have.  Guess what?  The more stability you have, the more force you will be able to generate and the bigger your real lift will be.

Think of the Opposite – I encourage this with every movement in order to stimulate the full use of your stabilizers as well as help maximize the agonist contraction.

Example:  The Bench Press – instead of just letting gravity push the bar down to your chest, think of pulling it down instead.  Envision squeezing or rowing it through the negative.  You’ll find a much smoother and solid movement, and actually get a nice explosive pop into your positive out of the bottom!

This video gives a contrast between the typical momentum rep, and isometric rep and a slow controlled rep.

Enjoy!

Perspectives/Movement Tip: Animal Walks

There’s a saying that goes, “We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.”  I truly believe this.  Most of us slowly begin to shift priorities as we age, losing the fundamental spark and passion that drove us in the first place.  As a result, we stop moving in the patterns that maintained our body’s mobility and health and stop imagining the dreams that kept our minds stimulated and creative.  The change happens so slowly that we don’t realize the creep, until we’re already in a state that is possibly irreversible, or at the very least, depressing and tedious to get out of.

In gymnastics we used to warm-up with patterns we called animal walks.  As a child we pretended to be animals and played.  Remember how you used to be able to get down on all fours and crawl around effortlessly and how good you felt after playing?  What happened?  You stopped.  I didn’t realize how amazing animal walks were as a child, but decades later have learned to appreciate their complexity, and importance for developing motor patterns and muscle firing sequences.  I believe them to be one of the best ways to warm-up the body as well as to teach muscle coordination and sequencing.  The synchronization needed to move in those patterns while loosening of entire fascial nets can not be replicated with the isolated linear movement that’s typically done.  That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for those movements as well, they also play a crucial role, but as a general initial warm-up, full body movement will give you the best bang for your buck.

Over the past year I have revisited “animal movement” patterns incorporating them into warm-ups, and I am always amazed at the effort that is needed to properly perform them, as well as how good and loose I feel after.  A quick heads up, if you’re planning on trying this out, and it’s been a long time since you’ve “played,” gradually add some basic movements over time.  It will be uncomfortable at first, but once your body relearns the patterns and regains its mobility,

things will feel fantastic!

This is just a quick clip of some basic patterns that I like to use.  Play with it!

Perspectives: Striving for Success

Everyone that I have the opportunity to work with has a goal that they wish to pursue.  What I commonly find is that most people aren’t in the right mental state to begin their quest.  They’ve got an idea of what they think they want but when the journey is laid out for them, their priorities quickly change.

So what is it that is truly preventing us from moving forward?  How can we overcome that barrier to achieve the goals that we’ve set out?  It’s usually a deep seeded emotion that will prevent us from taking action and conversely it’s usually a deep seeded emotion that will motivate us to take action.  Back in 2012 I attended a lecture presented by Robert Cappuccio where he emphasized the fact that, “Thinking does not affect action, emotions do.”  We have to find the true reason why we’ve selected the goal or change we have chosen, and that will provide the motivation required to make the journey.

So let’s get emotionally connected to our goal.  Successful people are mentally focused and invested in what they are going to achieve.  In their minds they have already accomplished the goals they have set out because they have gone through the necessary steps to connect with their emotional drive.  They can already feel the triumph because they have envisioned it and placed themselves in that moment.  When I was a gymnast we used to be coached on visualization.  We used to take time in our training to relax, close our eyes and go through our routines from start to finish as well as envisioning stepping on to the podium during the awards ceremony.  You’ve probably heard the saying, “S/he’s got a lot of heart.”  Usually it’s being used in reference to some sort of gutsy performance.  That “heart” is emotion that is carrying that individual or team beyond what they can normally achieve because in that moment they believe that they need to achieve the goal in front of them as it represents something even greater.  Imagine what you could achieve with that kind of motivation?  It might sound a little bit cheesy but ask yourself the following questions and see what type of emotions your answers stir.

  1. What is the SINGLE most important reason that this change or goal is a must?
  2. What will be different?  How will I feel?
  3. If I don’t change what will be different?  How will I feel?
  4. On a scale of 1-10 how important is this change?  Why is it not a 2 or 3?

Eric Thomas does a powerful speech that you can find on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/GLcJHC9J7l4 where he asks, “How bad do you want it?”  He tells tale that concludes with, “When you want it as bad as you want to breathe, then you will be successful.”

These questions will help you decide if the goal you have chosen is really something you wish to pursue or just another nice thought.  Hopefully they will help you decide if your goal is something that you will put your heart into.  Once you’ve established whether or not you are truly ready to change, you can begin to work on a plan of action.

I wish you all the best on your journey and finding your driving force!