Back pain sucks. It affects your training, your mood and most importantly your daily life. Whilst there are several causes of low back pain, some beyond the scope of this document, we can commonly say it is caused by one or several of the points below:

  • Your Lumbar spine doesn’t have the stability or strength to support the exercise you were doing.
  • You didn’t have enough strength endurance to withstand what you were repeatedly doing
  • You lack the flexibility in the surrounding areas, most importantly the hips and thoracic spine.
  • You lack the necessary core stability to resist excessive spinal movement
  • Your posture sucks
  • You were being stupid with the weights

While I can’t address you going HAM on the weights we can address the other issues and build your back from the ground up.

When we look at Gray Cooks joint-by-joint approach we can see different joints have different requirements to function correctly. The lumbar spine (lower back) is meant to be a stable joint whilst the hips and thoracic spine (upper back) are meant to be mobile joints. Based on this approach, the first thing I would advocate is to stop stretching out the lower back! The surrounding musculature is supposed to have a degree of stiffness to stabilise during movement.

We must then look at your posture to help determine a potential intolerance to either low back extension or flexion (arched back or rounded back). Some people may just live in one of these and carry it over into their training, putting the lumbar spine under constant load. One way to help determine this is do you suffer with more pain whilst sitting or standing? If it’s sitting, chances are it’s a flexion intolerance and for standing an extension intolerance. What this means is if your flexion intolerant you should be aiming to restore a more neutral/flat low back so if you can’t achieve that in the bottom of a squat or deadlift then start pulling off blocks and using box squats until optimal function is restored as you are doing more harm in the long run. If it’s extension intolerance you should be looking at owning your rib cage position and not over-arching during your squats and deadlifts. The pvc pipe is your friend and you should aim to have 3 points of contact with the pipe and only a small degree of space between the pipe and your lumbar spine.

Now that you have stopped stretching your low back and are more conscious of your overall posture in training, we can start to address your pain through breathing and alignment. We want the rib cage stacked on top of the pelvis to give us a stable structure from which to move from. If the pelvis is out of whack, this can put the whole system out of alignment and thus cause compensations. I’ve already talked about breathing here but going further, if you live in extension you should carry out your breathing drills with a bit more of a flexion bias such as:

If we are in more of a flexed posture we want to flatten that back out a bit and we can start on the ground

You can simply add these in to the start of your warm-ups for 10 good belly breaths aiming for 360-degree expansion of the mid section and followed by a full exhale whilst driving the ribs down to the pelvis.

Next we can look at mobilising the hips and thoracic spine, which are supposed to have a degree of movement. This means you need adequate flexibility in each to get into the correct positions without compensation at areas such as the lower back. We also need adequate flexibility in these two areas to build the stability we want in our low back and core. If you scored a 1 on your Deep Squat, Inline Lunge, Hurdle Step in your FMS, chances are you need to address this first. Try some of the exercises below, always re-testing to note improvement and ensuring you are on the right track.

Now we’ve worked on breathing and flexibility of the surrounding areas, we can focus on stability of the core and the low back. Remember we need stiffness in these areas to correctly utilise them in stabilising the spine during movement.

To start with you should own the basics:

Once you can manage these without low back pain/tension we can progress onto stability exercises with movement. We want to start on the ground first to give us the most support.

While they may seem simple, you should look to control these as slowly as possible whilst maintaining the posture we have already mentioned. You can also use the banded dead bug if you don’t have access to KBs.

We can then move on to the quadruped stance to challenge stability even further with the following:

Once these feel good progress onto

Again we are looking to own these with control and no tension/pain in the lower back. Once this is achieved we can progress on to the kneeling stance whether it be half kneeling or tall kneeling. With an even smaller base of support we add new stability challenges and lower body flexibility.

Hopefully at this point you should feel comfortable and see a reduction in pain/discomfort. You can then utilise some or all of these exercises as part of your warm-ups in preparation for the big lifts and to re-enforce. Just to re-iterate though, these exercises are useless if correct posture/spinal position is ignored. These exercises are about skill and control not speed and load lifted. Own each exercise before moving on.

The final piece of the puzzle is to build some posterior chain (glutes, erectos and hamstrings) strength and re-enforce core strength with more advanced exercises.

Take things slow and build quality movement before load. Get used to dialling in posture with breathing and rib control when lifting big and keep ion top of flexibility/accessory work.

This is by no means an all encompassing solution to alleviating back pain and I would always recommend consulting with a physio/chiropractor first to ensure you are safe to carry out training of this nature.

I’ve tried to learn as much as possible over the last 10 years with regards to optimal training and longevity. Trends have been and gone, the way we look at athletes has vastly changed as well as our outlook on rest and recovery.

However it’s easy to jump down the rabbit hole and get overwhelmed by all the content out there telling you what you should and shouldn’t be doing. The type of training you do is irrelevant as long it meets your goals and requirements and you enjoy it. Obviously if you’re training for a specific sport or performance marker then of course, the type of training has to be a bit more focused but again there are many tools that will work in each situation, there is no right or wrong way to train.

That being said I thought I would go through some of my most important tips to help maximise your potential in whatever training regimen you subscribe to and improve health and performance.

1) Get Assessed: If you’re truly interested in health and performance then your first step is to get assessed. Any good coach should be offering some form of assessment to see your current level with regards to movement quality, mobility and fitness ability. If you’re not being assessed, then the rest is just guesswork.

2) Earn Your Positions: An assessment isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if you don’t follow through on improving where required. Struggle to get overhead without excessive rib flare? Can’t keep a neutral position during a deadlift or squat? Your coach should be directing you on how to improve these or refer you to someone who can. You should also accept that if you have less than optimal positioning then certain movements may not be suitable for you AT THAT TIME. You want to stay injury free right? Take the advice, work on the problem areas and earn your right to incorporate those movements into your training.

3) Don’t Skip The Warm-up: You don’t need to spend 30 mins foam rolling and another 30 mins stretching, but your warm-up should be focused and relevant. It’s your chance to prime the body for the session and un-do some of the nasty postures and positions from your working day. Check out my article on warm-ups here.

4) Breathe Correctly: A lot of us live in an extended posture, which can lead to poor overhead position, lack of contribution from the posterior chain during hinging patterns and lack of core strength. Learning how to use correct breathing patterns including full exhales can help you get back to a more neutral position over time. It ain’t sexy or fun, but it works. Check out my article on breathing here.

5) Build Solid Foundations: I’ve seen time and time again, people skipping the boring foundational work to get to the fun, exciting throw heavy shit around stuff. It catches up with you. In my opinion, every athlete should spend time building

– Solid aerobic base: The better your aerobic capacity, the more efficient the heart and lungs will become. This leads to less contribution from the anaerobic systems as well as improved endurance and recovery. Read more here.

– Basic bodyweight strength: Everyone should be able to do strict press-ups, pull-ups and dips. In my perfect world, I would also have you doing a 1-arm pull-up and 1 arm press-up but the basics will suffice. It sets the stage for more advanced movements such as muscle-ups and handstand press-ups. It teaches you body awareness and control as well as building great amounts of core strength, which most people lack. I understand if someone is carrying some excess bodyweight this may not be possible……. yet, but once bodyweight has been reduced, build the foundations.

6) Don’t Ignore Assistance/Accessory Work: Anyone who says isolation exercises are useless is telling you lies. Have a sticking point in a lift? Struggling with stability or co-ordination on a movement? Assistance work can develop those weaker muscles and could help improve performance on your weak lifts. Now that doesn’t mean you stop doing the lift itself as you still need to build that pattern to efficiently recruit all the right muscles, but strengthening a weak area alongside can give you some great gains. I’ve seen a woman get strict pull-ups just by adding bicep curls into her training. Every exercise has a value when used in the right context.

7) Grease The Groove: Stolen from Pavel Tsatsouline, he talks about regular practice to improve efficiency and quality. Use an empty bar/pvc pipe/light DBs or KBs and slow the movement down. Feel the muscles firing in the right areas and make the movement become as natural as possible. Apply this to your heavier efforts to improve neural efficiency and therefore performance. Do it regularly, even some press-ups at home or work can go a long way to achieving this mastery.

8) Use Weighted Carries Frequently: If you have read anything by Dan John then you know how much he puts stock into weighted carries and drags. Grip strength is hugely overlooked when it comes to progressing training. Add to that the postural and core benefits when done correctly and you have a highly valuable exercise. Use DBs, KBs, Farmers Handles; whatever you can get your hands on. I also like bottoms-ups KB carries for shoulder health as well as grip training.

9) Build A Strong Posterior Chain: Glutes and hamstrings are typically inhibited and weak in most athletes. Movements such as bridges, hip thrusts, hyperextensions, hamstring curls and single leg work can really bring these muscles back in line and help improve health and performance. Bret Contreras has done some great studies on the effects of hip thrusts on glute activation/hypertrophy.

10) Don’t Cherry Pick Your Sessions: Ignoring your weaknesses will always come back to get you. Whether it be having to scale a workout or creating imbalances such as pressing over pulling or squatting over deadlifting. Yes training should be enjoyable but if you want to be able to become a well-rounded athlete, you need to develop the less enjoyable skills too!

11) Don’t Train Through Pain: Just don’t. If something hurts, you’re either doing it wrong or there is pathology somewhere. Assessments and good coaching should help you sort it. However that doesn’t mean you have to stop training and wish your life away at home. Work around the issue whilst fixing the cause and come back even better.

12) On the flipside: Don’t get scared of every ache and pain you experience. Again, consult a coach if unsure. Training is tough work, you are literally breaking your body down so it adapts and rebuilds stronger and more robust. It’s not always going to feel comfortable and if you want performance, you need to accept this. Listen to your body and ask questions if required.

13) Enter a Competition: It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sport, fitness comp or endurance event. The buzz, the butterflies and the adrenaline of a competition environment can really teach you some lessons about your body and mental toughness. This stuff is invaluable and can really help you take the next step on the performance ladder. Even if you only do it once, compete.

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This list is by no means exhaustive but I’ve covered some in gym tips with regards to training. Lets look at some tips for outside the gym.

14) Water: Again, overlooked when it comes to implications for training especially in the age of addiction to coffee and all that jazz. Aim to drink 2-3 litres per day. Simples.

15) Sleep: Hormonal balance is a delicate thing and one of the biggest disruptors to that balance is lack of quality sleep. Not to mention its effects on recovery after training. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night in a dark, cool room. Stop using screens at least 30 mins before bed to start to unwind or at least use an app like f.lux to alter the background colours of the screen.

16) Recovery Plan: Adaptation and therefore improved performance takes place out of the gym. Training is the stimulus; rest is where the magic happens. You should be incorporating rest/active recovery days each week. From there, every 6-8 weeks you should use a de-load/recovery week where you reduce volume or have it as rest/active recovery. Your body will thank you and the gains will continue.

Also think about getting a massage once a month or during your de-load phase. Salt baths, contrast showers, meditation and yoga all have their place on your recovery protocols. Utilising HRV can be another way to auto-regulate your training and keep on top of recovery/training intensity. Check out my articles on HRV here and here.

17) Nutrition: I’m by no means a nutritional expert, but the basics seem to work well with most. Manage your calories in and out, have some good pre-workout nutrition in place and you’re good to go. No restrictions, no ‘diets’, just wholesome food the majority of the time and the rest in moderation. Drop me an email for our free nutritional guide.

18) Supplements: Various supplements are useful for different people and are not always required. However, fish oil, zinc, magnesium ands vitamin D seem to work well. Examine.com are doing some great studies on the effectiveness of the majority of supplements out there.

19) Get Involved!: Get involved with the community at your gym whether it be socials, competitions, events or taking part! It adds so much more value to your training and helps the gym feel less of a chore.

20) Motivate Others: Encourage fellow athletes, congratulate them, and give them a high five or a fist bump. It sounds cheesy but again it builds a more positive atmosphere and makes it that little bit easier to get there when you have close friends training with you.

21) Take Responsibility: You might have a coach or trainer who sees you an hour once a day. Do you really think that’s enough time to get everything done that you may need? Yes they will make the programme as effective as possible in the time they spend with you, but chances are you may need more. More mobility training, extra skills work developing things like your bodyweight exercises, more aerobic work using zone 2 heart rate zones.

I’m sure you don’t want to pay someone to watch you foam roll or spend 30 mins on a treadmill do you? Take responsibility and put in the extra work to help take you to the next level. Not sure what you need to do? ASK! The coach/trainer is a resource to tap into. I love it when athletes ask me for help as it shows a dedication to their training beyond showing up for an hour and going home to forget about it all. However we can’t help you if you don’t ask us.

22) Consistency: All of the above don’t mean a thing if you don’t show up. Consistency is king when it comes to results. You could have the world’s best programme, nutrition and recovery plan – but this means nothing if you’re not consistent. You should be aiming to train at least 3x per week if you’re serious about progress/performance and at least 2x per week for more general health. Just get through the door and the rest will take care of itself.

Training isn’t about suffering through the grind and hating your life every session. Training should be a lifestyle choice and something you want to do rather than something you feel you have to. With so many ways to get fit and strong available the first step is finding something you are excited about doing then start to implement some of the strategies outlined above.

Here at Warrior we offer comprehensive assessments and fitness testing for members and non-members alike. We can also help you direct your training in the right direction to unlock your true potential. Interested? Email info@warriorstrength.co.uk to find out more.

If you missed part 1 of this series then check it out by clicking here. As a quick re-cap we spoke about how heart rate variability (HRV) is your way of testing the robustness of your nervous system and in terms of training and fitness, when you should push hard or back off.

I touched on how your HRV usually comes in the form of a score of 0-100 and usually the higher the better. This is pretty much where part 1 ended and part 2 kicks in. Your HRV score isn’t as straight forward as the higher the better; there are also frequency markers that need to be correlated to that HRV score. If you remember we talked about how the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems need to work together to deal with stressors such as exercise. This nervous system balance can be shown through monitoring the low frequency (LF) and high frequency (HF) values when taking your daily reading. Ideally, you want these two numbers to be as close together as possible and the higher the better. What you may find though is you have a super high LF number meaning you are sympathetic dominant i.e. in a stressed state. So even though your HRV may be ok, if your LF is high and way higher then your HF, you could be doing more harm than good if you train.

Monitoring those 3 values is your first step into analysing and improving training, however they are just numbers if you don’t start to correlate them to training sessions, stressful events, sleep, hydration etc. The reason is that your HRV can be sensitive to all the above and more, even breathing, so if you test one day and have seen a drop in your score, it may be something as simple as not drinking enough water the day before. If this were the case then I would argue that normal training should go ahead. So its not always as cut and dry as low HRV = don’t train and high HRV = go ahead and train. Add to that a high score combined with a chronic sense of low energy or fatigue could mean you are in a state of overtraining (very unlikely for most).

In short HRV~ is a simple way to measure readiness for training providing its taken in context and applied intuitively. Now that we have looked a bit deeper in to HRV and how to use it, we obviously want to know if there are ways to increase our score right? These suggestions aren’t all backed by research and may just cause acute (short term) increase in HRV, but they have been shown to increase it nonetheless. Most methods also have many other benefits to health and performances so are great for anyone who trains.

1 – Rest. Obviously. If you find you have as low HRV then you are in a higher state of stress and inflammation within the body. We want the parasympathetic nervous system to begin the recovery process so if you start piling on more stress i.e. exercise, then you won’t fully recover. This will also lead to a low HRV score over the long term.

2 – Green Tea. In studies conducted on the effects of green tea on diabetes, it was shown to increase HRV and reduce hyperglycaemia. Granted the study was conducted on rats, but we already know about the restorative qualities of green tea so it can’t harm to try. If you don’t like green tea, L-Theanine , one of the compounds can be bought in supplement form.

3 – Fish Oil. As mentioned before, stress can lead to an inflammatory response in the body. Chronic inflammation has been associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer and other nasty issues. Fish oil has already been touted as being great at reducing this inflammation along with other benefits. In some studies it has also been shown to increase HRV providing the dose was high enough (3.4g/day).

4- Yoga/Meditation/Relaxation/Controlled Breathing. Now I’m not grouping them all together because I think they are the same, I’ve grouped them merely because they look to achieve something similar – mindfulness. Clearing your mind, relaxing your breathing and living in the now. All methods have been shown to improve HRV as these exercises are great at activating the parasympathetic (rest and digest) response. I personally like to use box breathing as prescribed by Mark Divine (creator of SealFit) as a way to relax or even as recovery after a tough workout.

5 – Foam Rolling. Not only does self myofascial release (SMR) give acute increases in flexibility, it has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels (inflammatory stressor) and increase HRV. Click here for our article on SMR.

I’m sure by now you are seeing a key trend in how to increase your HRV. It mainly revolves around de-stressing and rest. I know that this is easier said than done, but even a few minutes a day doing some foam rolling and breathing exercises can make a big difference. If you don’t want to subscribe to the idea of breathing, rest, meditation etc. then at least take on board this final way to increase your HRV. Take a de-load week every 6-8 weeks. De-load means a reduction in total volume i.e. sets, reps and length of session decrease for a whole week. Intensity can remain the same, you just do less. A good time to recover, work on skills and efficiency of movement and feel ready to hit the next cycle hard.

In summary, there is a reason why more and more professional athletes and teams are using HRV and with todays the you can get the same benefits providing its utilised correctly. Add to that the health markers that can be gained from HRV and you potentially have one number to monitor your health and performance. While a piece of electronic equipment will never replace an athletes own instincts and experiences of their own body, it’s a great way to help you make an informed decision on your recovery status as well as those objective factors.

As always if you need help or advice on products, monitoring or analysing don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

Movement of the Week

Again, looking at shoulder stability and overall shoulder girdle health we have the Half Get-up with Screwdriver.

We all know that the Turkish Get-up is a great exercise for full body stability, proprioception and strength. While we aren’t going through the full movement during this exercise, we can still elicit some of those benefits. From there we add in the screwdriver, taking the shoulder through internal and external rotation and enabling the athlete to feel a good shoulder position. 

To begin with, start the movement unloaded with a clenched fist. Really try to feel the ball of the shoulder (humeral head) sitting right into the socket (glenoid) and avoid any humeral glide. The easy way to know if you’re doing it incorrect is that you’ll feel all the tension in the front of your shoulder or bicep meaning you’re out of position. Sit the shoulder back and down to a point where it feels stable and the tension is felt around the back of the shoulder/scapula (shoulder blade) area.

Finally once you have become proficient in keeping the correct position unloaded, start to utilise some weight through bottoms-up kettlebells (video). Bottoms-up means you won’t go crazy with the weight as it will punish you for being over-eager/stupid.

As always feel free to drop me an email, or send me a video of you doing the movement to check over. info@warriorstrength.co.uk

We’ve all been there. The day after a tough session you expect to be a cripple as you get out of bed and are surprised when you don’t feel too bad. However the next day you roll out of bed and feel that your legs have been replaced by lead weights s you tentatively try to sit down on the toilet. That my friends, is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs).

 

What is it?

DOMs is a condition associated with pain or soreness around the muscles and joints. It typically peaks around 48 hours after training and can last as long as 72 hours.

What causes it?

Research is still underway as to the exact causes, but it was once thought that DOMs was caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the body. It’s now thought that DOMs is caused by micro tears in the connective tissue thus causing inflammation as part of the natural healing process and in turn soreness/pain. Training experience, age and session intensity can also have an effect on the severity of DOMs with it occurring in those new to exercise or returning from a prolonged break more frequently.

Treating DOMs

As mentioned, DOMs is a natural part of the training process to an extent. However ways to alleviate symptoms include:

  • Foam Rolling
  • Contrast Showers (bouts of cold water followed by hot water)
  • Omega 3 Supplements
  • Adequate Sleep

Unfortunately stretching hasn’t been shown to reduce or prevent DOMs so should be used for flexibility purposes as part of your normal cool down.

While you will suffer from DOMs from time to time, you shouldn’t be chasing after it. DOMs is not a precursor to a good workout or building more muscle and should start to ease off as training experience increases. The key take home message is some muscle soreness is not a bad thing, debilitating pain is. Start to learn the difference and always ask advice if unsure.

Well it’s nearly that time of year again where we put down that half eaten chocolate Santa, turn down an offer of going to the boozer and say ‘I’m going to the gym!’ That’s right, operation New Year, New You is a go. You’ve had your fill of food comas and now it’s time to get back on the wagon and sweat out all that turkey.

 

So many people start out with such high motivation whether it be body composition goals or they just want to get fitter. However most people barely last 2-3 months before the wheels of the wagon have well and truly come off. Why is that? Having realistic goals and an actual thought out plan are two of the main stumbling blocks. So here are some tips to ensure your 2016 challenge doesn’t lose momentum.

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1 – Setting Clear and Realistic Goals

Seeing some top celebrity on tv and shouting ‘I want that body!’ then signing up to the gym for a year is not a clear and realistic goal. Even as a novice you should think long and hard about what you want to achieve and how you are going to get there. Remember that you can’t get ‘shredded abs’ in 4 days like some claim, progress takes time and patience and you must factor that into your goals.

2016 also means that work comes back with a vengeance, meaning potential late finishes, tiredness and stress. Think about these when plotting out your strategy to reach your goals. Overall the more specific your plan the more chance of success!

2 – Carry Out Some Basic Measurements and Monitor/Track Progress

What’s your goal? Body transformation or performance? How will you know if you’re making progress? Most people lose motivation when they think they aren’t making progress towards their goal. However many people don’t track results in the first place or rely on things like the scales to determine success. If your goal is body composition, take some ‘before’ photos and measurements such as waist and hips and then re-test every 6-8 weeks (not every day!). Progress takes time but if you are monitoring it and tracking it you will have it there in black and white to spur you on to continue.

3 – Aim For Long-Term Change

Too many people make a big push to get to their goal and then go back to old habits once achieved. What happens then? You all know the answer. Why were you on this big change journey in the first place? Because your old ways didn’t work. So why go back to them after all that hard work and come un-done?

Think about long lasting lifestyle change whether it be exercise, nutrition or even things like sleep and hydration. It could even be cutting something out like fizzy drinks. However, slow and steady changes will be easier to sustain than just diving in head first and going cold turkey.

4 – Think About Nutrition

You can lean out and improve health from nutrition alone but that doesn’t mean starving yourself! Just following some basic guidelines will ensure you get the best out of your food and also build long-term habits.

– Eat mostly real, whole, minimally processed food.

– Eat slowly and only until satisfied.

– Eat protein with every meal.

– Eat vegetable with every meal.

– Eat healthy fats with most meals.

– Drink beverages with few calories and few ingredients most of the time.

– Drink lots of water!

I know things like work and play can throw hurdles into the mix but again if you’re fully serious about your goals then plan ahead! Make up a weekly meal plan so that when you go shopping you buy only what you need for those meals. In our house my wife has a 4 week meal plan to keep things interesting on the fridge. We know what we are eating and when, and don’t repeat meals so we don’t get bored. It also means that we have no bad temptations in house, only what we need.

Finish work late? Start making up extra portions so that you can freeze them so you don’t have to cook when you get home but still get a healthy meal instead of take-away or microwave meals from the supermarket. It just takes a little foresight and a little extra effort and you can stay on track!

These are just some simple ideas to get you started. If you are really struggling then just ask! I will be more than happy to help.

If you really want to start your 2016 the right way, then sign up to our beginners programme Basic Training. We will teach you all the basic movements as well as building up the intensity of your workouts to prepare you for our group classes. We have a 50% off sale until the 4th Jan. Email info@warriorstrength.co.uk for more details.

Have a great New Year and look forward to a healthy 2016!

I’m sure most of you have seen by now someone in a gym with a big piece of foam. You then watch as they begin to roll around on it with some questionable facial expressions, not sure whether they are in immense pain or deriving some kind of weird pleasure from it. To be honest, it could easily be both.

Foam rolling or self-myofascial release (SMR) has become a main staple of many peoples training which in my opinion is great. However having some basic understanding of what you are doing may help you grasp the importance of such maintenance or ‘prehab’ work.

Your body is made up of a system known as the kinetic chain – this system incorporates the soft tissue system (muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia), neural system (nerves and CNS), and the articular system (joints). As the name implies the kinetic chain is a system which is responsible for producing movement and force, requiring all the elements of the system to work together to function correctly. If one element isn’t functioning efficiently, then other components must compensate, leading to tissue overload, fatigue, faulty movement patterns and potential injury.

Going into more depth, if we look at the cumulative injury cycle, along this cycle we can see how adhesions to the soft tissue can lead to altered neuromuscular control which in turn leads to poor movement and potential muscle imbalances.

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What this means is that if we have a muscle that is tight due to adhesions, muscle length or neural hyperactivity it will affect the range of motion available at a particular joint. If the joint motion is altered then the neural feedback to the central nervous system (CNS) will be compromised resulting in poor movement patterns. These poor movement patterns will result in your body compensating through other joints or muscles leading to imbalances and potential injury. For example if you squat and have tight hamstrings, it could restrict the ROM and thus alter the joint motion of the knee and send the wrong signals to the CNS. Do this repetitively and it could result in the above issues.

This is where SMR comes in. Its primary focus is to alleviate such adhesions that can alter soft tissue structure also known as trigger points. It achieves this through a principle known as autogenic inhibition. The golgi tendon organ (GTO) is a mechanoreceptor which is sensitive to change in tension within a muscle/tendon group. Its main responsibility is to avoid high levels of tension within muscles through inhibiting the muscle spindles activity and causing the relevant muscles to relax (autogenic inhibition). With foam rolling the pressure you apply to the roller can simulate this high level of muscle tension causing the GTO to relax the muscles, allowing you to remove adhesions and improve ROM. So in a nutshell SMR can:

– Improve mobility and ROM
– Can help correct muscle imbalances
– Relieve muscle soreness and joint stress
– Reduce scar tissue and adhesions
– Decrease tone of over active muscles
– Improve quality of movement

So now we know how SMR works and how it can benefit us, let’s look at a few other tips to consider when carrying out SMR and a few basic techniques.

– Foam rolling can be used anytime, but as it has been shown to improve short term flexibility for over 10 mins it’s worthwhile using it in your warm-ups. This means you can build on your new found flexibility with strength and stability work.
– Try and avoid rolling directly onto injured areas. Think about the muscles up and down from the injured area and focus on those first.
– While we are trying to roll out adhesions and activate autogenic inhibition which can feel uncomfortable, we don’t want to be in excruciating pain. Rolling though high levels of pain can have the opposite effect and cause your muscles to tighten up even more.
– Roll slowly and smoothly for best results. Fascia is a thick, fibrous web of tissue and as such needs slow and deliberate pressure to release.
– If you find any really tender spots or trigger points then hold the roller in place on that spot and relax for 20-30 seconds. Ensure you take full deep breaths and avoid high levels of pain.
– Finally, ensure you adopt good posture when rolling. For example when rolling the quadriceps, try and ensure you maintain a neutral spine rather than allowing the hips to ‘sag’ towards the floor.

SMR can be a great tool for mobility, recovery and injury prevention. However to truly get the benefits, it needs to form a regular part of your training and done correctly. Once in a while just won’t cut it. See below for a video on some of the basic techniques.

I don’t like to recommend a stack of supplements to my clients as I like them to get as much as they can from whole foods and a balanced diet. Not to mention saving them a small fortune.

There is however one supplement I will recommend to the majority of my clients and that’s fish oil.

What is Fish Oil?
Fish oil is a form of fatty acid that contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), these fatty acids fall under the sub heading omega-3 and as the name suggests we get these fatty acids from fish. Fish oil has a whole host of benefits to health and performance and here is a list of 6 of them.

• Fish oil has been shown to turn on the lipolytic genes which are responsible for utilising fat stores. On top of this it has also been shown to turn off the lipogenic genes which are responsible for fat storage.
• It has been shown to reduce inflammation within the body which will not only improve heart health but reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases such as diabetes and CHD.
• Fish oil has also been shown to improve mood and decrease the incidence of depression and even carbohydrate cravings by increasing the levels of serotonin (the feel good hormone) within the body.
• Fish oil has been shown to support the function of white blood cells which are key cells in your immune system. This improved immune function means you should minimise chances of getting sick.
• Improved brain health and function is another benefit of fish oil as it regulates blood supply to the brain allowing you to maintain focus and improve memory and cognitive function.
• Finally fish oil has been shown to increase protein synthesis which is crucial for muscle building. The effects occur when fish oil is combined with protein or amino acid consumption.

So these are just a few of the benefits of fish oil and there are many more. However not all fish oil supplements are created equal, some have better quality fatty acids than others. Here are a few tips when looking for the right product.

– Most fish oils have more EPA than DHA within them however research suggest that ideally you want an EPA to DHA ratio of 1:1. Failing that try and get a product with at least 200-300mg of DHA per capsule.
– Try and find a fish oil from small fish based formulations such as herring or mackerel as they will have less environmental toxins, if unsure ask for a certificate of analysis to confirm they meet international standards. Do your homework as some fish oils can do more harm than good.
– Ideally your fish oil should be packaged with anti-oxidants such as astaxanthin and vitamin E to stop the fish oil from going rancid as again this will have a negative effect on the body. An easy way to check is to break open a capsule and smell it. If it smells like rotting fish then steer clear, it should smell like the ocean. Also be aware of any strong lemon or lime scents as sometimes these are sued to cover up the rancidity of the product.

Follow these steps and you should have a quality product that gives you all the benefits mentioned earlier. As always if you want more information, get in touch!

Breathing, one of the simplest, most natural things we can do. Anyone can breathe and breathe correctly, right? When we think of breathing we think of simply breathing in and out with no consideration for what muscles are being utilised or how it affects our posture, training and stress levels. So let’s take a broader look at breathing and its practical applications.

 

 

–          Breathing can help increase intra-abdominal pressure and thus provide stability of the spine when lifting heavy things.

–          Correct breathing patterns can facilitate faster recovery through correct utilisation of the autonomic nervous system. This can apply to recovery between sets and recovery between workouts.

–          By utilising correct breathing patterns we can aid postural correction which in turn could reduce asymmetries and thus reduce injury risk.

–          Finally breathing can help improve performance!

Now when we refer to breathing techniques within exercise, we are talking about using the core to stabilise the spine. However to truly get the core stability we need, we have to utilise the diaphragm. If we have poor diaphragm function (most do) then we cannot fully contract these muscles and therefore unable to fully utilise lumbar extensor muscles for spinal stability which is where we need it most.  Put simply, if you can’t utilise your diaphragm correctly, you have a higher chance of developing lower back pain.

So what is the diaphragm and how does it work? It’s a dome shaped muscle at the bottom of the rib cage and as we breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and pushes down into the abdominal cavity. This decreases the pressure in the thoracic cavity and the lungs fill with air. When we breathe out the diaphragm relaxes allowing air out. SO what does this look like? When you breathe in the lower part of your abdomen (belly) should rise or expand as the diaphragm pushes down into the abdominal cavity, then the ribs should push down as we exhale to ensure we clear all the air out. What does it actually look like for most? Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly and relax and breathe normally. Which part of your body rises and falls? For most it will be the chest. This means that instead of using the diaphragm fully we are using accessory muscles such as the neck, lats an even hip flexors to help us breathe. As mentioned this could lead to anterior pelvic tilt, increased lumbar lordosis, back pain, neck pain and shoulder issues.

So how can we learn/improve diaphragmatic breathing? We can utilise the following progressions. In all cases the aim is to breathe not just into the belly, but incorporating a 360 expansion of the core. This means that when you breathe in correctly, your belly should expand as well as the lateral (side) and lower back muscles too. This is why we start on the floor so you can feel if your lower back is expanding as it will push into the floor. This is where most people struggle so own these progressions before moving on.

Crocodile breathing poses more of a challenge as people will try to exclusively push their belly into the floor. Remember we want 360 degree expansion of the core so lower back and lateral muscles should expand as well making you look like a crocodile. Get someone to check if unsure. If you can master these drills, you are on the right track!!

So in terms of core stability ensuring the diaphragm moves down into the abdominal cavity correctly will mean that the pelvic floor and then the abdominal wall will contract and thus forcing the lumbar extensor muscles to contract. This means that when you breathe correctly you will feel a 360 degree expansion of tension and true spinal stability. This brings us nicely into its practical applications through abdominal bracing.

Once we’ve nailed down our breathing techniques we want to be able to apply that to core stability and abdominal bracing to move heavy things. From here we’ve done the hardest part of getting our entire core to expand when we breathe and now we just need to maintain that position/tension through bracing. Think of bracing as trying to deflect a punch to the stomach, you have that 360 expansion, but now its solid to touch, that’s bracing. However we should still be able to breathe while holding that position so if the diaphragm is working correctly you should have a solid core all the way to the bottom of the abdomen and still be able to breathe. That is true core stability!

A great way to practice this is through the use of a lifting belt or resistance band tied around the waist. The belt or band provides feedback in terms of that 360 degree brace, then you can practice breathing while still maintaining that tension against the belt or band. Remember though you really need to focus on that full expansion and not just pushing your belly into the floor as again you’ll compensate somewhere else along the body.

What next? Well once you have mastered the breathing and the bracing, you want to add more challenge by utilising these techniques with movement. Having good breathing techniques and bracing ability is useless if you can’t maintain it while moving as that is the main reason you are using it! So we can begin to practice through unloaded exercises such as the Dead Bug, Bird Dog or even as simple as single leg lowering!

If you can apply the principles above whilst carrying out these movements then it’s time to apply those techniques under load. Get squatting, deadlifting and pressing and see how these new techniques change the way the movement feels. Now please don’t mistake this article as some sort of Holy Grail, yes these techniques can improve efficiency and therefore performance and they can definitely help improve posture and minimise injury risk. However once you learn to breathe and brace correctly you won’t suddenly put 50lbs on your lifts, this application is for the long term health, performance and recovery of your body. You have still got to put in the work, perform correct technique and follow a structured programme. This is just another tool to help on the journey to greatness and with so many people reporting the benefits of improving breathing technique, it’s one that can’t be ignored.

Warm-ups are one of THE most overlooked elements of training. Even those that know they should warm-up either do some random arm swings and stretches or skip it all together. Not only have you increased your injury risk by 1000% (ok, maybe not quite that much), you are also doing yourself a huge dis-service. Your performance won’t be anywhere near the level it should be if the muscles aren’t primed, the nervous system readied and ROM prepped. So even if you scoff at the thought of warming up to protect you from injury, what about its implications in making you a better athlete? Let’s take a look at the benefits of a warm-up.

–          A warm-up can increase the speed in which muscles contract and relax, this means more efficient performance.

–          A warm-up can reduce muscle stiffness through dynamic exercises thus increasing ROM and reducing injury risk.

–          It can facilitate nerve transmission and muscle metabolism therefore increasing motor unit recruitment. Put simply the more motor units recruited, the more force generated, the more force generated, the more weight you can move!

–          Warming up improves blood circulation and prioritises this circulation to the working muscles which means they receive more oxygen assisting with all of the above.

–          It’s also a good opportunity to develop any mobility, postural or activation deficits. Again reducing injury risk and improving performance.

–          Finally a warm-up can help you focus mentally on the task at hand and lead to a better workout.

So the warm-up has a whole host of benefits and implications and should be just as much a focus as the training session itself. However where do we start when planning a warm-up? I think the easiest way to start is ensuring the activities meet one or more of these criteria.

Focused – A warm-up routine should have a specific focus, whether it be addressing a specific mobility/stability issue, grooving a relevant movement pattern or preparing you for your main session in terms of the most challenging movement(s). This also means the warm-up should be structured into sets and reps which feed nicely into the next criteria.

Efficient – By having a focused approach and having sets and reps determined beforehand means that you get a quality warm-up without spending 20 minutes rolling your left quad. A warm-up should be completed within 10-15 mins max.

Relevant – To ensure our sessions are efficient we should only use movements that are relevant to the task at hand which you have already identified with your warm-up focus. So let’s say you have good thoracic mobility, using side lying windmills would still be a good warm-up exercise to prep thoracic spine for many movements but if you have good range, do you really need it in there? Will mobilising your ankle joints be relevant for shoulder press? If you have poor ankle range then maybe you’ve decided to address that until it’s improved so even though it’s not concentrated towards pressing it’s still relevant to your task of getting better ankle mobility. Take the time to think your warm-up through and stick with what is relevant for that session or overall mobility/stability goals.

So once you have an idea of what your warm-up should achieve through the 3 above criteria, we then need to start compiling the movements contained within it. Eric Cressey lays out some fantastic principles to help develop your structure and selection of movements, which I’ve outlined below.

Self-Myofascial Release – This involves foam rolling the soft tissue around the body. It’s a great tool for improving ROM and raising muscle temperature. Again if time is short focus on relevant muscle groups for that session.

Start with the largest base of support before placing more and more demand on balance and stability – This means start with ground based movements first such as quadruped rotations or bridges. This will gradually prep you nervous system and motor unit recruitment.

Start with single joint movements and then progress onto multi joint ones – This means we can address specific mobility/stability at a joint or muscle before incorporating it all into one system through full body exercises such as lunges w/overhead reach.

Address hips, ankles and thoracic spine – Due to todays technology rich lifestyle and sitting for long periods of time, these 3 areas take the brunt of bad positioning. Obviously if you are mobile and stable in these areas then they don’t need as much focus, use the 3 criteria and some basic ROM/stability tests to see where you are at.

There you have it, some basic principles and criteria to help you structure your warm-ups. Obviously these can be adapted over time when you start to improve in certain areas and one exercise may work well for one person and not so much for another. This is why there is no list on here of the best warm-up exercises as one doesn’t exist.

Finally have a look at the videos below for some inspiration and an idea of what my warm-ups look like. Again its simple an example, not gospel. Some trial and error may be required in the beginning as whatever movements you do use you should see immediate change when using them. So test and re-test, if there’s no change look for another movement.


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