Can you think of a time when your problems seemed insurmountable? In a world where our happiness is so crucial to our overall well-being, behavioral tools can be helpful. If you’re struggling with goals like eating better, sleeping or exercising more or reducing stress, how do you even start? How do you shrink your problems and jump through the hurdles that have been holding you back ?
Experts say that there are two key ways to take the first steps to create change to kick-start your goals.
Shrink the problem
The problem for some is that a plan of attack for fat loss might be a declaration of, for instance, to eat less, stop eating sugar, or eat clean.
This is a principle, a big word for the framework for our actions. All of our daily decisions, like helping a neighbor or spoiling our children and pets to no end, are principles we live by. When it comes to our overall health, like the goal of fat loss, we know that our lifestyle habits and behavior is determined by what we do, rather than a principle. In other words, you need an action. Eat less desert after dinner, or, set the alarm for 6:30 in order to brisk walk for 45 minutes. By eliminating a principle, such as eat clean, in which you may have no idea how to fit in, in the real world, you’ve relinquished any guilt you might have at blowing your promise over birthday cake, by taking an action, eat less desert after dinner.
When you’re struggling, yet desire to make a health change, experts suggest a temporal landmark. Temporal landmarks are big words for any distinct events that stands out from everyday stuff. The landmarks are a social timetable, like the first of the month, a 50th birthday, or wedding. It has been found, too, that a temporal landmark like a Monday, for example, can help you start or restart a new gym habit. This initiation opportunity promotes a focus on the big picture. Behavioral science shows that by psychologically separating you from your past failures, a temporal landmark, like going to the gym on Monday, promotes a clean slate. You’ll become more motivated to think about long term goals and their importance, and your new found priorities, however busy you may be. Here’s to a summer of health, armed with a new behavioral toolkit.
We all want to enjoy a healthy work-life balance and have more energy throughout the day. Regardless of your age, the habits of daily living become more important, whether you are in your 40s or 60s. The body, however, has an agenda of its own, and presents unforeseen challenges. You start to notice signs of arthritis; joint stiffness first thing in the morning, knee buckling, or clicking or popping sounds in your joints.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis; it often emerges slowly and affects everyone differently. Stiffness for a short period of time after a long road trip, too much sitting, or limited reach are indicators of the condition. Women are more likely to develop it, and there is a genetic component to the disease. Osteoporosis used to be thought of as simple wear and tear of tissue. The Arthritis Foundation opines that it is now known as a degenerative disease of the entire joint, including bone, cartilage, ligaments, and the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint.
Though it is more common in individuals over 50, much younger people can also develop osteoarthritis (OA), usually the result of a joint injury, like a torn ACL, cartilage or bone fracture. After such an injury, it can develop within just a few years. Other factors that can contribute to osteoarthritis are overuse, using the same joint over and over in a sport or job, or excess weight. But the good news is that osteoarthritis isn’t a normal process of aging, and some people never even develop it. If you are willing to include daily habits, like getting plenty of exercise, and stretching, you can stay ahead of arthritis and pain.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis, and anti-inflammatory and pain medications can help manage pain. A nondrug therapy, like moving and regular exercise is an imperative part of your treatment plan.
One of the best ways to manage OA is through moving more and regular stretching. Stretching not only feels good, but it will help increase limited range of motion. Here are four essential stretches to energize the entire body and increase your mobility, no matter your age.
Photo courtesy Connie Aronson
• Place your hands firmly on your lower back, fingers pointed downward.
• Gently arch the upper back by lifting your ribs. 8 repetitions
Figure 4 Stretch on wall
Figure 4 Stretch on wall.
Photo courtesy Connie Aronson
Benefits: Releases tension in the hips and groin
• Place one foot on a wall, head resting on the floor or a pillow
• Cross one ankle over the opposite leg
• Feel the stretch in your outer hip and inner thigh
• Hold for 1 minute each side
Side-lying quad stretch
Side-lying quad stretch.
Photo Courtesy Connie Aronson
Benefits: Stretches the hip flexors and quadriceps
• Start on your side
• Using your hand or a strap, pull your heel up toward the buttocks
• As you bring the knee back, gently rotate the pelvis under
• Hold for 1 minute each side
Photo courtesy Connie Aronson
Benefits: Stretches, rotates and relieves tension around the belly, chest, shoulders, hips and spine.
• Start on your back with your legs bent, feet together
• Bring the knees towards your chest. Flatten your sacrum, and lower back, and settle the shoulder blades under so your back is comfortable
• As you exhale, take your legs to the right
• Let them descend toward the floor
• Experiment with moving the knee closer to your head, or your feet, or turn your head to gaze toward the left hand.
Healing a sore back requires breaking some old habits and forming some new ones, says Dr. Stuart McGill. If you’re living with an achy back, getting your swagger back, as McGill, the most recognized spine researcher in the world, states, is different from a knee or shoulder problem. The knee and shoulder, particularly in the early stages of rehab, both do well with full range of motion exercises—think of arm circles. Fixing your low back pain is different and more nuanced, as your spine needs stability, not excess motion. This means that you don’t want excess curves in the spine. A goal for a healthy back is to maintain a neutral spine position during your prescribed program, as well as in daily activities.
The emphasis throughout the day and during workouts is to focus on proper spine stability, rather than more movement in the lower back. Do you slouch when you sit or have too much curve in your lower back while standing? Do you bend over to lift a large object, which is problematic for the posterior back disks? Poor movement habits, repeated throughout the day, can result in a sore back. Stretching and strengthening are important, but not the whole answer. A key to a healthy back is retraining how you position your back during activities, lessening excess spine curves.
Move mindfully with the abdominal brace
McGill likens the abdominal brace as a mild contraction of the abdominals as though you are preparing to get punched in the belly. But it’s not in extremes, like “sucking them in.” Like a dimmer switch gradually adjusts light levels in a room, the abdominal stiffness during your activities isn’t an on/off switch, but works in relationship to what you are doing. You would use less ab bracing during walking and more for lifting a heavy object, for example.
Wall test for excess low back curve
The abdominal muscles connect your ribs to hips along the front and sides. When you use your abs, they pull the ribs and hips closer. When you stand up, for example, and don’t use your abs, you allow your ribs and hips to be too far apart, creating back sway. Over time, this can contribute to movement flaws, soft tissue stress, or disc problems.
If you can’t stand back with your back against a wall with your heels, hips, upper back and the back of your head lightly touching, without arching your back, you probably have weak abdominal muscles. Remember, our goal is to reduce the excess curves of the spine. Try this test at home.
• Stand with your back to a wall, with heels, butt, shoulders, and head comfortably touching the wall.
• Keep your feet in a neutral position and legs straight.
• Have a friend place a hand behind your low back, or use your hand.
Results: If you can put your whole hand behind the space in the lower back, you have too much back sway.
If you can only get the first knuckle in your hand behind the lower back, congratulations, you have excellent abdominal bracing skills!
All winter sports require strong leg muscles, good balance and core support—all benefits of doing regular squats. The squat is one of the most common and basic exercises performed in strength training and offers a tremendous bang for your buck.
There are many reasons you should be doing squats, if you aren’t already doing so. Getting out of a car, climbing stairs, skate or ski, all depend on strong legs. Squats strengthen your leg muscles, especially the quadriceps, glutes, and core, burn calories and help prevent injury. The inner thigh, hamstrings and calves are all challenged. Additionally, the erector spinae serve as stabilizing muscles in a squat. They help strengthen your core and promote good posture.
Form is so important in squats, and there are four common problems you often see; excessive forward lean, low back arching, low back rounding, or a lateral hip shift. Muscle imbalances, like tight hip flexors and calves, or weak core support, are often the culprits here. Lacking the mobility in your hips or ankles, forgetting to use your core muscles, or weak gluteal strength all contribute to problematic squats.
A fun and humbling test to improve your squat would look like this: Crawl on the floor for a few paces, rock forward, and without using your hands, stand up. This effectively demonstrates ankle and hip mobility, and core and lower body strength needed to transfer your weight up into standing. This drill exemplifies strength and mobility, important qualities in a squat.
Let’s look at two quick fixes to improve your squat technique.
Hip hinge with Dowel
The hip hinge is one of the most important cues to think of when you perform a squat. Hinging at your hips, in any type of squat, saves the spine stress and strain, as the motion is focused on the hips, not the back. The dowel teaches you to maintain a tall spine, without the head falling forward, a common mistake. The dowel exercise also helps correct excessive forward lean, or the lower back rounding.
• Place a dowel, or broom stick on the base of your skull, the thoracic spine –your upper back, and the sacrum.
• The dowel must remain in contact with these 3 points throughout your hip hinge range.
• Think of sinking your hips backwards, and return to start position.
• Your legs can be straight or a slight knee bend.
• Do 8 x, slowly.
Squat with heel lifts
If your calves are tight, or you lack ankle mobility, try placing gym plates or a wedge under you heels in a squat. This will help you bend at the ankles (ankle dorsiflexion) an action that brings the shin over the foot. Improving your ankle flexibility will also help you flex into your ski turn more dynamically!
Good habits contribute to optimum health. When it comes to your health, preventing injuries in any sport or activity you enjoy is crucial. No one likes being injured. With a New Year fast approaching, here are five injury-preventing moves to help you get fit without getting hurt. Whether you are a seasoned athlete, or just want to stay in shape, incorporate these moves into your day.
Activate the Core
Include daily core exercises! The core muscles help stabilize the spine and support movement. The following 2 core exercises activate the core in different ways to help initiate all movement, and contribute to strength capacity.
Side Lying Hip Lift
• Lying on your right side with knees bent (or straight for advanced variation), place right elbow under right shoulder. Push shoulder away from ear to engage shoulder girdle ) .
• Exhale and lift right hip off of floor, and hold for 3 counts.
• Slowly lower to start. 10-12 reps. Switch sides
• Begin with your legs straight, left heel on top of right foot.
• Bring left hand behind your head for support, and lift right arm straight up from shoulder.
• Curl up, raising head, neck and shoulders blades off mat, tightening abdominals.
• Slowly return to start position. 10 reps. Switch sides.
Stretch tight hamstrings
Tightness in the back of your legs may be a sign of instability in your core, causing the leg muscles to overwork and shorten. As well, hamstrings are an important muscle to stretch if you have back pain, as they attach to the pelvis, which attaches to the back. An excellent move to ease the tension and strengthen your torso is the inverted hamstring stretch. This move engages your core muscles to help keep you balanced.
• Stand on your left leg with your arms extended to the sides.
• Extend your right leg behind you while hinging your torso forward, keeping your back straight, and slowly return to standing.
• Do 5 reps each side
Foam Roller Alignment
We’re all guilty of bending forward while scrolling on our phones, resulting in a “forward head.” For every inch that your head is forward there’s 10 more pounds of pressure on the neck. Reset your alignment by lying on a foam roller. Lengthening the lumbar erector spinal muscles helps encourage neutral alignment.
• With your knees bent, lie on a roller, head supported and neck in a neutral position.
• Tighten the abdominals.
• Gently roll side to side for 20-30 seconds
The Sock Test
Losing your balance as you get older is no joke. Research has shown that the ability to stand on one foot drastically decreases after the age of 60, along with a rapid increase of falls and injury. The ability to stand on one leg is imperative for gait and function.
The sock test takes the move a step further, and is a fun challenge to build strength capacity and balance.
• Holding a sock, stand on one leg, knee slightly bent.
• Bring your leg up towards you as you put your sock on
• Lower the leg to the floor and repeat with your left foot.
Include these movements, everyday, if you can, to stay fit and supple. Happy healthy New Year!
Early fall, ski-teamers are working on quad strength for their upcoming competitive season. You should be, too, if you are planning to ski this winter. Even if you’re not doing any type of physical activity, you should at least train your legs to keep them strong. As an exercise, squats strengthen your leg muscles, especially the glutes and quadriceps, and your core, burn calories and help prevent injury. If you’ve been avoiding squats because of knee pain, you are not alone, as over 50% of people experience knee pain on a regular basis. It’s likely that you might not have sufficient ankle, foot or hip mobility to squat well. With specific massage, stretches and exercises you can fix this common muscle imbalance.
The squat is a movement that we do throughout the day, from sitting into a chair or car, to lifting up a child or parcel. It’s also a foundational movement where the feet, ankles and hips have to be working correctly. Leg machines such as the leg extension and leg curl machine are useful, but you could be missing out on building more dynamic, full-body exercises that burn more calories and are fun. A ground-based exercise, the single leg squat, puts high loads on the leg without the need for additional weight.
Consider that in walking or any ground-based activity, the ankle needs to roll in, bend, and absorb weight as you transfer your weight from the right foot to the left. Similarly, the hip should internally rotate as you step forward. Together, there is an accepting and transferring of weight through the entire lower kinetic chain. For example, if the hips aren’t internally rotating in a back swing, stresses may affect the knee, shoulder or back. The knee simply doesn’t have the same mobility that the ankles and hips are capable of, as the knee mostly bends forward and back, with limited movement side to side and in rotation. Without the feet, ankles and hips working correctly, the knee is compromised. It’s important to note that the knee and foot’s (and spine’s) primary function is stability.
The TRX Lunge (photo 3), a single leg exercise, will strengthen your leg muscles and is a great way to dynamically stretch the hip flexor muscles of the rear leg.
Corrective exercise sequence to target the hip flexors
1. Tennis ball rolling on the hip flexor. Justin Price, creator of the BioMechanics Method, likens tennis ball or foam rolling to blowing a big bubble. You first have to chew the gum to prepare it to be pliant enough to blow a bubble! You can use a baseball or any other ball you have during the self-myofascial release portion. Hold each sore spot for 20-30 seconds, for a total of two to three minutes on each side.
2. Kneeling hip flexor stretch. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side
3. Single leg lunge. Aim for about 90% of the weight on your front leg.
Printed in the Idaho Mountain Express October 12, 2022
The feet and ankles support and cushion the entire weight of the body and are crucial to keep your body balanced. Anyone that has to be on his or her feet all day knows that they bear a lot of pressure while standing. The foot includes 26 bones and 33 joints, all helping you simply stay upright. Added to that are 12 muscles involved in movement of the foot, plus to 19 intrinsic muscles, which support the arches and toes. One of the most important functions of your feet is that stress is distributed correctly though these structures and upwards throughout the entire body.
When it comes to better sports performance—and all weight-bearing activities such as walking and running—you can’t talk about the feet without including the ankles and lower legs. Two big muscles on the back of the leg, the gastrocnemius and soleus, provide movement, and are often tight or stiff. Both of these muscles attach to the heel via the Achilles tendon. These muscles play a big role when you flex your ankles. A limited range of motion in your ankles can affect your sports performance, balance and good squatting and lunge form.
The ankles have to bend. Dorsiflexion involves being able to bring the lower leg over the foot. It occurs anytime your foot hits the ground. If you were lucky enough to watch the Beijing Winter Olympics, consider a figure skater performing loops and axels or an alpine skier’s competing in the slalom or giant slalom events—all demonstrated stunning foot and ankle mobility and function.
Touch the wall test
A simple and objective way to see if you ankles aren’t tight is to do the “touch the wall” test.
Find a wall and place a ruler or measuring tape out from the baseboard. Place your foot at approximately 5 or 5.5 inches away from the wall. Be sure to have your foot straight. Keep your heel down as you try to touch the wall with your knee. If you can easily tap the wall, you have good ankle mobility. If you cannot, repeat this movement slowly for 15-20 times. Check your range after you include the following two stretches.
High-step ankle stretch
Place your foot on a high chair or gym box. Be sure to have the foot in neutral alignment. Slowly flex the knee forward to increase the stretch. You should feel it in your ankles and calf. (This is a more advanced stretch.) Repeat 10-12 reps.
BOSU Calf Stretch
This is an incredibly effective gastrocnemius and soleus stretch taught by Justin Price, one of the top musculoskeletal assessment and corrective exercise experts in the world. Stand on the round side on a BOSU ball with one leg in front of the other. (Place the BOSU against a wall for safety.) Push the heel of the back foot down into the BOSU, as you stand erect. Keep the heel down and rotate the back leg outward. Hold for a few seconds. Next, bend the knee of the back leg and rotate the leg inward (heel is still down). Perform 6–10 repetitions on both sides.
We need sleep and it’s best in moderation, like most things in life. According to studies recently published in the journal Brain, there is a middle range to keep the brain sharp over time, and most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night. The study shows that too little or too much sleep is associated with worse cognitive performance. Good sleep improves your brain function, immune system, mood, and health. Sleep is so important for our overall health that having just one night of sleep loss can significantly impair your daily functioning. More than one-third of U.S. adults sleep fewer than six hours per night. So what really keeps you up at night, and how can you make sleep a priority?
Sleep can be so elusive some nights. Worrying, tension, cluttered thoughts, family concerns, and work-life balance dilemmas can keep us up, although we crave sleep.
Caffeine, bright lights, and room temperature
• For most people, the sleep signal happens after 12-16 hours of being awake. A chemical called adenosine accumulates in the brain during the day. Caffeine, however, blocks and inactivates adenosine receptors, and tricks you into feeling alert. Coffee in foods such as dark chocolate and ice cream, as well as some medications, are also sources of caffeine.
• A laptop screen, smartphone or tablet has a very real impact on your melatonin release, interfering with your natural ability to wind down from a busy day.
• Try turning off half of the lights in your home in the last two hours before bed, and keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.
A colder bedroom helps the body’s core temperature drop by 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit, ensuring a better nights’ sleep.
Let tension go with Yoga Nidre
When you’re trying to sleep, our bodies can be holding tension that we are not even aware of. Yoga Nidre, a meditation technique, is a proven antidote to help with anxiety and sleep. The roots of Yoga Nidre go back thousands of years, but many of today’s yoga leaders have adapted the teachings to make them more accessible to Westerners.
Seated meditation isn’t for everybody, as it is difficult to try to clear your mind and bring your focus back to your breath. Because Yoga Nidre is always guided, it promotes deep rest and relaxation. It can be as short as 10 minutes, or as long as an hour. The focus is to cultivate multiple levels of well-being.
Use a meditation app such as Insight Timer or Calm. Once you find a sleep meditation that appeals to you, and because it is guided, you’ll need headphones. ( Be sure you don’t start scrolling ! ) Lie and rest comfortably in your bed. You are encouraged to move around and get as comfortable as you can as you begin.
While you practice Yoga Nidre, you’re often asked to choose a samskara. Yoga teaches that samskara is the sum total of all our actions that conditions us to believe in a certain way, a habit or thought that is ingrained in us. It can be something positive that you’d like to work on. Through your meditation, you can create this belief to help you live less out of habit and more out of a desire to grow as a person. Ultimately you’ll drift off to sleep.
The human brain is a magnificent three-pound organ. It is the seat of our intelligence, initiates all our body movement and controls our behavior. As we all age, the incidence of neurodegenerative diseases is expected to markedly increase. Our health and longevity depend on the brain’s prowess. Brain aging is a key precursor to declines in cognitive function, which increase the risk for dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. Some 100 million Americans will suffer from devastating brain disorders at some point in their lives. We need to take care of our noggins.
Healthy brain aging requires one powerful factor: exercise. Exercise reduces all major hallmarks of brain aging. Having greater cardio fitness in older adults is also associated with improved decision-making and may influence network functional connectivity in the hippocampus, the complex brain structure responsible for learning and memory.
Lying in its bony sheath and sheltered in protective fluid, the brain is the source of all the qualities that define our humanity. Within, the brain texture is like a firm jelly, housing about 86 billion neurons (nerve cells), the “grey matter,” along with billions of nerve fibers, the “white matter,” connected by trillions of synapses. Exercise is a giant metabolic switch. It switches on all these neurons and stimulates multiple key energy-sensing pathways in the brain.
Regular exercise is like miracle-grow for cellular function. If you aren’t already a regular aerobic exerciser, start using it as a first-line strategy for healthy brain aging.
The ability to clearly think, learn and remember is an important component of going about each day. It is one of the many aspects of brain health. Motor function—how you control movement and balance—is another. Brain health also involves emotional function, how well you interpret and respond to both pleasant and unpleasant feelings. Add to that tactile function of touch, pressure pain and temperature. When the brain is healthy, these essential functions are automatic and quick.
Exercise is one of the best strategies for slowing down all major hallmarks of brain aging, largely because it activates key cellular energy-sensing pathways. This enhanced energy metabolism with exercise is important because the proteins and cellular pathways involved can also directly influence other hallmarks. The cellular functions are vast; glucose transport (brain food) and enhanced glucose utilization, regulated glycolysis, respiration and energy-metabolizing enzymes. Also activated at the cellular level is the turnover of proteins and macromolecules that can be used for energy. These signaling proteins also impact gene expression, plasticity and memory formation. In fact, habitual aerobic exercise can lower levels of biomolecule damage in the brain. When you exercise, you literally repair DNA.
So the next time you decide to get up off the couch and out the door for some fresh air and exercise, remember that little brain of yours is well worth cherishing for a long, happy life.
The Covid -19 pandemic has impacted everyone across the globe. It has affected our lives on both a small and large scale, particularly having to let go, for a while, of a pre-Covid world. Remember, there is nothing wrong about allowing ourselves to grieve the lives we used to live, and that you wish this never happened. Some of us will suffer from post-traumatic stress. But there can also be tremendous growth, and we can come out of this experience better. It could be that you have discovered an inner strength and commitment to living your best life.
In the midst of this pandemic, people prioritized healthy living, and made an effort in trying to keep their routines as normal as possible, gravitating to at-home-exercises.
Yoga mats and resistance bands are still ranking high on Amazon’s best-selling products. Bike sales surged as well, as Americans turned to cycling for exercise when gyms first closed. In June alone, bike sales rose 63 % compared to the same time last year.
The virus has given us a new perspective, and we’ve learnt that exercise makes us feel better. It’s important to have a stress-release plan, as we live through a once in a century event, with Corona restrictions of daily life and social contacts. One easy way to reignite that feeling of bursting with energy is to climb stairs more often (or hills) or walk errands instead of driving.
These everyday activities may help us feel more alert, full of energy, and significantly enhance our well- being. Research recently published in Science Advances studied the brain regions that play a central role in what makes us happy and enhances our well-being. Their findings reveal that even everyday activities, like stair climbing, is good for us. Plus, stair climbing lowers your blood pressure and builds strength, especially in postmenopausal women.
Specific food can help us along our journey as well. The right food choices can help reduce cognitive decline. It turns out we can responsibly eat cheese and drink red wine for improvements in cognitive function, according to a large scale analysis that connects specific foods to later-in-life cognitive acuity.
Some of the most significant findings from the study, from Iowa State University and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease were that cheese, by far, was shown to be the most protective food, as well as lamb, but not other red meats.
Poet Maggie Smith wrote, “Let change-even traumatic upheaval-remind you that anything is possible. Keep moving. ” My hope is that this is a time of possibility. May we all come out of this year wiser, more grateful and happy, with our hearts open to a better future.
Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine Exercise Physiologist and Corrective Exercise Specialist (TBMM-CES) Visit her at www.conniearonson.com and Instagram @conniearon
Core stability is imperative for all facets of movement and performance, whether you’re a skier or skater.
As a new ski season kicks off, core strength can be a great asset to ski at a higher intensity, for a longer duration and with less fatigue. When you hit the terrain, you’ll want to have good core stability to not only turn well, but also handle different and varied snow conditions with ease. It’s not too late to add a great whole-body exercise called Farmer’s Walk—a walk with a weight—to your training program.
Walking or any lower body movement where you carry or “load” yourself with a weight for a predetermined distance or time challenges the entire kinetic chain of the body and targets the deep stabilizing muscles of the core.
What is core stability?
The definition of core stability is your ability to maintain your posture and balance while moving your extremities. Sound a lot like skiing?
The core musculature has a unique function. Throughout the day, if you’re active, the core muscles act to stiffen the torso and function primarily to prevent motion. A strong core allows the strength to radiate out peripherally to the rest of the body.
Core stability is imperative for all facets of movement and performance, whether you’re a skier or skater. The Farmer’s Walk is a great whole-body exercise. The exercise targets the abdominals, and provides peak activation of all the muscles that support the spine, the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus and cervical spine muscles during the walk. You’ll hit all the core muscles of the trunk and pelvic stability muscles, as well as the hips.
Together, these numerous and multi-jointed muscles are known as the lumbo-pelvic hip complex.
You can think of Farmer’s Walk as a vertical plank, a move that challenges the lumbo-pelvic hip complex. There are several variations of loaded carries, and here are two variations that will strengthen your core as well as challenge the body’s stabilizing system.
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk
Unilateral training exposes any asymmetries in the body. Noticeably, walking with a single weight provides a greater spine load than if the load were split between two hands. (For beginners, you might want to experiment with carrying a weight in each hand.) Carrying one weight targets the lateral spine muscles, called quadratus lumborum, and the lateral abdominal wall, which have an important role in that they stiffen the pelvis to prevent it from bending to the side of the leg swing. The unilateral Farmer’s Walk also enhances the rotational demand to the core as the body now has to control the added stress in order to maintain dynamic balance.
Choose weights that are challenging yet appropriate for your fitness level.
• Squat down and grasp a weight in one hand. Maintain a braced core, and return to a stand-tall position.
• Take slow and controlled steps forward for 30 seconds. Alternate sides.
Unilateral Waiter’s Walk
An added benefit to this move is that it helps strengthen the muscles around the shoulder, referred to as glenohumeral stability, a term used to describe how the arm bone sits well into the shoulder and upper back muscles. Here’s how it’s done.
• Grab a weight in one hand and return to a stand-tall position.
• Extend arm up overhead.
• Keep a tight grip on the weight and take slow controlled steps forward for 30 seconds. Alternate sides.
Try this new six-move fitness routine to break your pandemic rut
Did you ever imagine living through a pan- demic? More than ever, we’re all chal- lenged to be resilient. For many of us, our routines are shot and the new normal is still unfolding. One way to feel better is to get back on a routine. The best approach to longevity, vitality and independence is through consistent exercise.W
The human body has more than 635 muscles, 206 bones and 360 joints—an incredible wonder. Now is a good day to start taking good care of that wonder.
Here’s your arsenal, a creative, effective home program to help you get started or relight your pas- sion for a routine. Keep it short and sweet by pick- ing a few key muscle strengthening and flexibility/ mobility exercises. The following six moves use simple home exercise equipment: free weights or a milk jug, a golf ball and resistance bands. You can do the routine while catching up with the news or a show. Try to do each exercise for one minute and repeat the circuit twice.
1. Golf ball roll
Massage your feet with the golf ball roll to reju- venate the plantar fascia on the underside of your foot. All the muscles of the lower leg attach on the bottom of your foot. This connective tissue can get irritated and sore if you tend to continually stand with your feet falling inward, or after a summer of wearing flip-flops. Also, if your ankles don’t bend easily in a squat, this self-myofascial release exercise will help.
Place a golf ball under each foot and roll it back and forth until you hit a sore spot. Don’t overdo it, but increase pressure on that particular spot until it feels better. If a golf ball is too uncomfortable, use a tennis ball instead.
One minute each foot, preferably daily.
2. Step back with arm reach
Stretching your calf right after golf ball rolling helps immensely, as you’ll feel this stretch all the way up the back of your leg. This big bang-for-your- buck stretch targets the calf muscles, the hip flexors and the whole front body.
Start with your feet hip width apart and take a normal-size step back with the right leg. Simulta- neously fully extend the right arm up. Be sure the feet are placed straight forward. Keep your inner arches lifted and press down through your heel. Do three to four times and repeat on the left side.
Strengthen all your leg muscles with this move. Lean back against a wall, knees slightly bent. Pick up your left leg and cross it over your right knee. Try not to laterally shift your hips more than an inch or two. Slide down until your knees are level with your hips. Extend your arms and hold posi- tion for as long as you can. Build up to one minute. Switch legs.
4. One-minute clamshell
This is a time-tested favorite of clients who want the best butt exercises. The one-minute clamshell focuses on the gluteus maximus, an external rota- tor of the hips. This big muscle also pushes the hip forward. The glute maximus attaches to your lower leg via the IT band. When working properly, these muscles help to slow down pronation and internal leg rotation. In other words, if your butt muscles are weak, your knees will typically fall inward.
Place a mini-band above your knees. Lie down on your side, with knees bent and feet stacked on each other. Lift the top knee up, like an open clamshell, until there is tension on the band. Keep tension on the band for one minute. Repeat on the other side.
Tip: Minimize any spine or pelvic motion through strong abdominal bracing.
5. Single leg bridge with extension
This is an important exercise for the lumbo-pel- vic hip area, the core. There are 29 muscles attached to this area and keeping your core strong is essen- tial for a strong and stable spine.
Lie face up on the floor with your knees bent. Feet are flat on the floor. Relax your arms by your side. O
Simultaneously tighten the glutes and brace the core. Smoothly raise the hips off the floor until you form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Extend one leg out at knee height. Lift and lower the extended leg up towards the ceiling and back to knee height 10 times.
Tips: Focus on a powerful glute contraction. Keep the load on your shoulders, not your neck. Try not to rotate through the hips.
If you can’t fully extend in the bridge position, it could mean the hip flexors are tight. (Go back to move No. 2.)
6. Half kneeling halo
You can make a standing core exercise more effective by dropping to a kneeling position. When you kneel, you have to engage your core to keep balanced, as your knees can’t grip the ground in the same way your feet can when standing. Plus, by driving the back foot into the ground, you recruit more glute muscles. The half kneeling halo also allows for another great hip flexor stretch, interwoven into a great core and shoulder move.
Start in a kneeling position with a weight or milk jug in front of your chest, elbows pointed to the floor. Brace the core, and “trace” or halo the weight around the head. Keep the weight very close to your head. The weight makes a full revolution and ends directly in front of the chest, elbows pointing to the floor. Immediately repeat in the oppo- site direction.
Tip: A common mistake is for the weight to complete the halo, but not the elbows. Make sure the arms and elbows return to the start position. Keep the chin tucked. R
Connie Aronson is an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Cor- rective Exercise Specialist. Follow her at www.conniearonson.com and on Instagram @conniearon.
Published in the Idaho Mountain Express- Remote Living: A guide to the new normal October 7, 2020
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply get rid of your belly fat with a few crunches and ab work? After all, wouldn’t all that hard work melt the fat away if you really put your heart into it?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting a quick fix, but in reality, it takes a host of healthy habits to successfully manage outcomes like a flat belly. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research investigating the effect of six weeks of abdominal exercises on abdominal fat showed that exercise alone didn’t change waistline stubborn fat, or other measures of body composition. Nevertheless, core-conditioning exercises build important strength and endurance of these muscles.
It’s well known that obesity has significantly increased in most industrialized nations over the past 20 years, and abdominal fat is linked to various diseases such as heart disease and type two diabetes. The increased levels of deep visceral fat can lead to metabolic complications such as insulin resistance, glucose intolerance and high cholesterol levels.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study questioned whether or not abdominal exercises alone support the notion of “spot reduction.” Do they affect abdominal fat, waist circumference and abdominal strength? Twenty-four sedentary young, majority male (58 percent) participants were randomly assigned to an abdominal exercise group or a control group. The exercise group performed seven abdominal exercises, each with two sets of 10 repetitions, five days a week, for six weeks. For these participants, including a five-minute warm-up on a treadmill, the total exercise session time was approximately 15 minutes.
The control group maintained their normal activities and diet.
During the first week, all participants were monitored so that proper exercise form could be taught and subsequently logged. The exercises were Bent Knee Sit-Up, Lateral Trunk Flexion, Leg Lifts, Oblique Crunch, Stability Ball Crunch, and Abdominal Crunch.
The exercise group had significant improvements in abdominal muscle endurance, proving that strength increases with resistance training exercise. However, from an energy balance perspective, it’s not likely that a 15-minute exercise protocol for the ab muscles would create a sufficient energy deficit to change body fat percentage and abdominal fat percentage. Though this study was small, it is a good reminder that infomercials claiming flat abs in five or 15 minutes a day is wishful thinking.
What can help is regular exercise and progressive resistance training to reduce not only belly fat, but overall health as well. A 2016 study found that losing as little as 5 percent of body weight improved fat tissue, liver and muscle insulin sensitivity. Research shows that this approach—a moderate one, up to a 10 percent weight loss—can lead to better long-term outcomes. While societal pressure to be thin unfortunately overemphasizes weight loss, a realistic goal should focus on habits you can control, including physical activity, nutrition, sleep and stress management, as opposed to a magical spot reducing program.
Fear and uncertainty are real right now, as each week brings even more uncertainty fighting COVID-19. Many of us are scared and lonely. But please don’t be so hard on yourself right now, because you already are doing something very brave and compassionate, staying home to flatten the curve. This extremely important measure is a global act of unity. By doing so, you are protecting others, especially our dedicated health workers, who are on the front lines, personifying service.
To feel anxious is natural. Right now, you don’t have to be a hero as you confront all the uncertainty of life. Like the earthquake we all just felt here in Idaho! Right now you want to put as little pressure on yourself as possible. Of course, volunteer to help those in need, get out for a long walk or start a new project. But there is one important thing that you can do to boost your spiritual immune system. Try to stop for a moment, and take a deep breath. This one new habit is one that is based in love, not fear. When you calm your mind down and pause, you connect to something bigger than yourself. Your breath and awareness become a tool to quiet the external fears and worries.
Peel an orange
In just over two weeks’ time, running to the store for one thing or another has come to seem like such a luxury. Today, if you are lucky enough to have fresh fruit in your house, peel an orange. As you peel it, think about how this piece of fruit grew on a tree, in an orchard, tended by a farmer. Think, for a moment of the sun needed for it to grow until it was ripe enough to pick. Take another few breaths to appreciate the trucks and drivers needed for this very orange to travel all the way to your supermarket. This small simple act of gratitude is meditation, connecting you to something much bigger than yourself.
Walk with purpose
Walking outdoors is good for you, and one of the healthiest things you can do for your fitness. You certainly have the time now. On your walks, think about how the arches of your feet absorb the impact of the ground for propulsion. The very act of walking, the human gait system, uses almost all of the 635 muscles in your body. Think, for a moment, of how lucky you are for your feet to be hitting solid ground, propelling you forward. Breathe out compassion for all the doctors, nurses and care givers who aren’t as lucky as you to be doing so. Breathe in love and compassion for all of those who have succumbed to the coronavirus, or who are struggling with the disease right now. As you continue to walk, envision your health and good fortune.
* * *
Use this tool in as many ways as possible during the day. You might not realize it, but your courage comes from generations of people who survived wars, plagues and crisis, yet humanity finds a way to move forward. What is here and is coming is difficult, but now is the time to connect to our humanity, take a nice big breath and not be so hard on ourselves.
Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.
Watch children play outside on a lawn and you can be sure they are crawling, rolling or somersaulting. From the time we kick and crawl as infants, our motor skills continue to evolve, leading to higher physical activity over a life span. There’s a new trend in fitness programs that focuses on ground-based fundamental or “primal” movements, like crawling. Some of these programs, like Animal Flow, are exercises performed in the quadruped position, linked together in continuous sequences called flows.
If you enjoy yoga flow, Animal Flow is quite similar, though not necessary performed completely on the hands and feet, in a quadruped stance. The later promotes reconnecting with your body’s natural movement abilities, or “primitive movement patterns,” ones of our four-egged friends, to improve function of the “human animal.” Studies show that an eight-week, twice-per-week Animal Flow program, in addition to regular exercise, increased trunk stability scores, range of motion and motor competence.
Crawling lights up your muscles
If we take away the 100-mile-an-hour lawn crawl that children love to show-off, the crawl itself is a body weight exercise that improves motor control mechanisms for better balance and coordination. Adam Eckhart, assistant professor at Kean University has studied how when we are upright, either walking or running, built in motor programs generated in the spinal cord play an important role in the rhythmic coupling of our arms and legs. When you step over an obstacle, he says, the central pattern generators adapt the timing and counterbalancing limb movements to adapt to changes in stability.
Studies show that patients with Parkinson’s disease have higher sensory signals in the arms when anticipating a step obstacle, concluding that a robust arm-leg coupling awareness is very helpful. Stroke patients conversely, rely on the same motor muscle activity in their arms to counterbalance difficulty lifting a leg over a step obstacle.
Compared to walking, hand-foot crawling lights all your muscles up, especially with added speed. Loads on the shoulders, triceps, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves change, depending on the whether the hips are high or low.
Four-point kneeling dogs
If animal flow feels too intimidating, another quadruped exercise called Bird Dog, (with variations) is an important go-to. Evidence shows that these simple but important exercises aid in balance and coordination when we’re upright, on two legs. Bird Dog, (also known as the quadruped limb lift) is one of the most important exercises used in low-back stabilization programs as it targets the back as well as the hip extensors. It also teaches the discipline of using proper hip and shoulder motion while maintaining a stable spine, says Stuart McGill.
Bird Dog starts in a four-point kneeling position, with a contralateral arm and leg lift. The act of raising opposing limbs changes the types of stress on the body and impels the body in the redistribution of forces in an unfamiliar way, forcing the body to adapt. By alternating the base of support, such as using an unstable upper body support, like a foam pad, research shows that you’ll improve total body joint stability, joint proprioception, and range of motion.
The goal of any fitness program is to train your body for the sports and activities you enjoy and to prevent injury. Overall, quadruped movements are simple, fun, and important fundamental movement patterns.
We take our balance for granted—until we have an embarrassing fall.
For youngsters, they typically shake off a fall. A young person has no problem slipping a sock on standing up. That’s a demonstration of balance and strength. Those past a certain age, however, usually sit down to pull on socks or sneakers. The fear of falling is a real concern. One of three older adults suffer a fall each year. Falls claimed 60,000 lives in 2012 and 2013. Falls are a serious health concern for older adults, alongside the cascade of other debilitating factors and a loss of independence.
Balance training is the mainstay of a fall prevention program, as well as strength and coordination. Lower body weakness increases the odds of falling fourfold. Unfortunately, there are other risk factors that contribute to falls. This includes foot problems, improper footwear like sneakers or slippers without traction and tight ankles. A limited range of motion in your ankles can affect balance and the simple ability to step up. Vision and environmental hazards in the house, like loose rugs or clutter, can contribute to falls as well.
One of the best things you can do as an adult is to make sure your gluteal medius and gluteal maximus muscles are strong. These posterior muscles are prime movers and important for stability. Making sure your glutes are working well, in conjunction with ankle mobility and stability, will help you move around with grace and confidence, and not fall.
Try to the following exercises every day.
Heel rise rocker
• Rise upward onto your toes and immediately rock back onto your heels as you lift your toes up towards your shins. Aim for 10-15 reps daily. Use a wall for support if needed.
• Stand on your right leg with your opposite foot off the ground close to your right foot.
• Push your hips back slightly, into a quarter squat. Keep your torso engaged, and the weight balanced on the whole foot.
• With your foot in the air, write the letters of the alphabet with your foot using small movements.
• Repeat on the left leg.
• Lie face-up with your arms by your side, knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
• Squeeze your glutes and lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips and shoulders are in a straight line.
• Extend one leg, foot flexed, and keep it extended.
• Lower and lift your hips 12 times. Repeat on the other side.
• In a side-lying position, hips slightly flexed and the knees bent, raise your top knee off the bottom knee by contracting the hip muscles. This exercise mimics the opening of a clamshell.
• Avoid rolling or rotating your torso as you lift your knee.
Tree pose develops balance, stability and poise. It strengthens the muscles of the supporting leg and foot.
• Stand firm on the right leg. Use a wall for support if needed.
• Bend the left leg out to the side, hold the foot and press the sole of your right foot into the top of your right inner thigh.
• Straighten the right knee and press the left knee back, in line with the left hip.
• Try to balance for 20 seconds before repeating on the left leg.
Published in the Idaho Mountain Express June 16, 2023
Recently, I walked by a packed evening kettlebell class, a room full of participants doing a terrific plank variation—slowly sliding a heavy weight in front of them from left to right, and vice versa. A plank is one of the gold standards for working the core in which you assume and hold a position. Sit-ups and crunches are no longer the norm for a great set of abs. Traditional core training sought to isolate a single area, such as the six-pack, which is problematic.
All movement originates through the core. The core is an integral part of the protective mechanism that relieves the spine of harmful forces during activities. Deep stabilizing muscles allow a protective mechanism for posture control and athletic performance.
The main reason sit-ups don’t help you is that they can damage the spine. The traditional sit-up, writes Dr. Stuart McGill in “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance,” imposes about 730 pounds of compression on the spine. Those participants in the evening workout were shown ways to retire old concepts and learn from a great coach, in her presentation of fresher research: plank variations.
Secondly, planks recruit a balance of muscle from the front, sides and back of the body, as the core goes far beyond a six-pack. Even though Cher boasts about holding a three-minute plank, you don’t need to hold a plank that long. There are better ways to get strong. Once you can perform a 20-, 30- or 60-second plank, you can advance from a stability level to light loads and additional stimulus in a plank.
Here are two simple stability tests to determine your core strength before you add additional stimulus, as in that kettlebell class.
Forearm plank, 20 seconds
Lie on the floor, with the feet flexed, toes towards the shins, and the elbows and forearms under the chest area. To begin, lift the body off the floor in a position in which the arms are perpendicular to the floor, and the elbows directly under your shoulders, hands under your face.
Brace the core, lock the knees and tighten the glutes.
Have a friend or partner place a long stick or broomstick in line with your spine.
Start the clock only when you are in straight body alignment.
Hold for 20 seconds.
Fail is any part of the body sagging away from the stick.
Pass is if your torso remains in full contact with the stick for 20 seconds without any noticeable quivering.
Anti-rotation Bird Dog
In a kneeling position with hands on the floor, have a friend or partner place a stick or broomstick in line with your spine.
To begin, raise the right arm up and extend it parallel to the floor.
Simultaneously raise the left leg up and extend it backward, also parallel to the floor.
Touch both the arm and foot back under the body to touch left elbow to right knee.
Return to the fully extended position for six repetitions. Repeat on the other side.
Fail is if at any point during the test, the body sags away from the stick, or it rolls off the back.
Pass is if you the body is in contact with the stick, and control is maintained throughout the test.
Straight arm plank with feet elevated
Example of an advanced plank, with increased involvement of the stabilizing muscles of the core.
All movement at the hip joint involves powerful muscles in the thighs. The hips are a ball and socket joint that allow us to flex and extend our legs in the forward swing of walking. Most of us train the quads, the most powerful of the thigh muscles, and the massive hamstrings muscles of the back of the thigh But the muscles of the inner thigh, the hip adductors, are often overlooked in training, or at best, managed at a machine like the Thigh Master or Pilates Ring. To develop strong muscles that function well, the adductors need exercises that are even better than ones done on a machine. That means performing exercises that lengthen the muscle, in the way that happens when lunging or with side-to-side moves.
The longest muscle in the human body runs across the front thigh and crosses both hip and knee joints. This long, slim muscle is called the sartorius. It originates in the upper leg at the iliac spine, and wraps like a sash across the front of the thigh, attaching below the knee. The name originates from the Latin word sartor, meaning tailor, and is often referred to as the way in which early tailor’s sat. If you sit in a cross-legged position, it’s easy to see or feel the muscle. If the muscle is tight, you probably are unable to lateral rotate the thigh properly to sit comfortably cross-legged. Though not part of the inner thigh group, it flexes and outwardly rotates the leg and flexes the knee.
Just inside the sartorius is a group of inner thigh, or adductor muscles. These muscles all work together to bring the hip and leg towards the midline, outwardly rotate the leg and also help to flex the hip and leg. The adductors also play an important role in preventing a tendency towards being knock-knee.
Inner thigh anatomy
The adductor group includes a small flat muscle called pectineus, the important adductor magnus , adductor brevis and longus, and the gracilis that crosses the knee joint and attaches just below the knee. Straining or overstretching this muscle group is called a “pulled groin”.
To avoid straining the adductors, here is a great daily hip adductor stretch.
Kneeling Side Lunge stretch
Kneel on the floor with one hip externally rotated so that the foot is pointed toward the side. Lean your body weight toward the supporting foot.
Here are 5 examples and variations of lunges and squats that strengthen the adductors:
Side lunge with weight
Side lunge with arm swing
Four o’clock sumo lunge
Stand at 12 o’clock, with or without a weight.
Rotate into a sumo squat at Four o’clock. Keep both knees directly over second toes in your landing squat.
Along with regular physical activity and resistance training, adults whose goal is to improve fitness and health shouldn’t overlook stretching. No matter how stiff or old you are, you can improve your flexibility by starting a stretching program. The American Heart Association, the American College of Sports Medicine and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans all recommend including a flexibility program to your week. A deliberate, planned regular program of stretching practiced 2-3 times per week can increase range of motion in approximately 3-4 weeks. Your flexibility may improve in as few as ten sessions with an intensive program.
The benefits of flexibility are vast and determined by your goals. Your objectives may be biological, psychological or philosophical, such as a yoga practice. Stretching feels good, whatever your objective is.
When you stretch, you take soft tissue structures beyond their available length to increase range of motion. Flexibility isn’t a general characteristic, but is specific to a particular joint and joint action. For example, you might have full range of motion in the hip, but not in the foot or ankle.
Here are a few things to consider when embarking on a stretching program.
1.Which types of stretching improve flexibility?
Several types of flexibility exercises can improve your range of motion.
When performed properly, ballistic flexibility—like the “bouncing” or rebounding typically seen in basketball—increases flexibility similar to static stretching.
Dynamic, or functional, flexibility is akin to a ballet dancer slowly raising and holding her leg at a 60-degree angle, and progressively increasing her range of motion as the movement is repeated several times.
Active static stretching involves holding the stretched position using the strength of the agonist muscle, as in yoga.
Also consider PNF and static stretching. Both elicit greater gains in joint range of motion than dynamic or slow-movement stretching.
2. Rolling is time well-spent
Self-myofascial release is another stretching technique that focuses on the muscles and the fascia that surrounds them. It is a massage technique of applying sustained pressure to a knot, adhesion or area that is tight or stiff. Muscle fibers are altered from a bundled position into straighter alignment within the fascia. The goal is to find a tender spot and , with a tennis ball or foam roller, and sustain pressure on that spot for 20-30 seconds.
4. Muscular relaxation of stress and tension
One of the most important benefits of a stretching program is that it can alleviate stress and promote relaxation. A contracted muscle requires more energy than a relaxed one. Tight muscles tend to cut off their own circulation, creating reduced blood supply and waste products accumulating in the cells, potentially causing aches and pains. Stretching helps maintain the normal functional length of all muscles.
5. Poise and posture
Inflexibility in some muscle groups contributes to poor posture. Posture is the position of body parts in relation to each other where minimum stress is applied to each other. Rounded shoulders, for example, can weaken and shorten the pectoral muscles. Stretching the pecs, as well as strengthening the scapular girdle, will improve posture.
6. How long should a stretch be held?
Hold a stretch for 10-30 seconds at the point of tightness or slight discomfort to enhance joint range of motion. Research shows there is little benefit resulting from longer durations. Instead, repeat the stretch three to four times, resulting in 60 seconds of total stretching time per flexibility exercise. Older people will achieve greater improvements with longer holds, between 30-60 seconds.