Ankle flexibility for better balance and sports

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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

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.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru-ankle-flexibility-for-better-balance-and-sports/article_5451e3a4-ab01-11ec-b25d-f733ba813780.html

To sleep better, add Yoga Nidre to your nighttime routine

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Yoga Nidre, a meditation technique, is a proven antidote to help with anxiety and sleep

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.

Sleep, you deserve it.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_e605884e-3ccc-11ec-93f0-5f914f01f24d.html

Healthy brain aging and exercise

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Our health and longevity depend on the brain’s prowess.

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.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_7fe519d6-8da8-11eb-8207-0b413a8d5857.html

Health and perspective: From stairs to red wine

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Photo~ Hallie Kathyryn Photography

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

Printed in the Idaho Mountain Express December 25, 2020 https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_4c054db8-4567-11eb-a64a-9b9e4ccc3327.html

Build core power and stability with the Farmer’s Walk

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The Farmer’s Walk is a great whole-body exercise.

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 Farmer’s Walk

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.

Unilateral Waiter’s Walk

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/ski-fitness/article_9112101c-2db6-11eb-9a56-e30f89e1d500.html

Work ( out ) from home

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Try this new six-move fitness routine to break your pandemic rut

One way to feel better is to get back on a routine. The best approach to longevity, vitality and independence is through consistent exercise.

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

Can you really spot-reduce belly fat?

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Wouldn't it be nice if you simply get rid of belly-fat with a few crunches and ab work?
In reality, it takes a host of healthy habits to get a flat belly.

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.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_42769d42-ee2d-11ea-94b1-6bbf8d6f54cd.html


Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

Breath and awareness can help us cope

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Now is the time to connect to our humanity, take a nice big breath and not be so hard on ourselves.

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.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_ef34fdda-752e-11ea-839f-834530597363.html

Fitness Guru: The best way to get rid of neck pain

The ability to turn your head, or easily look up should be a movement you take for granted. Yet as we age, neck pain is common. Like the rest of the body, bones in the neck change, as surfaces of them become rougher, and discs that cushion the cervical spine deflate.

Your neck may feel stiff and sore as a result of arthritis and stiffness. A pair of facet joints run down the back of your cervical spine, each lined with cartilage, and surrounded by a capsule filled with synovial fluid. However, as cartilage thins and wears away, there is less fluid. The result is bone-on-bone friction occurring in your facet joints. As well, the discs that cushion the bones of the neck and head lose their plumpness and the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues are compromised.

The multiple muscles of the neck make for a very mobile structure, yet neck pain limits functional range of motion. The neck pain you feel is all too common, being that the neck muscles are hyper-alert to the many pain receptors in this area of the body. Take care of your neck with the following 5 stretches that you can do just about anywhere. 

 Child’s Pose with extended arms 

Child’s Pose -This move stretches the neck extensors and upper back

Kneeling, stretch your hands as far away from you as possible. Slowly lift your head to look up towards your hands. Hold for 20 seconds, 2-3 times. This move stretches the neck extensors located on the back of the neck and upper back: semispinalis capitis, semispinalis cervicis, and splenius capitis. Interestingly, the later muscle acts as a glue that holds the head firmly to the neck. The name comes from the Latin words spleniummeaning “plaster” and capitis meaning “ of the head.”

Neck Extensors Stretch   ( no photo, but don’t miss this one ! )

This stretch helps release tightness in the neck extensors. Place your hands on the crown of your head, keeping the elbows together.  Pull your shoulders down. Gently pull your chin to your chest to feel the stretch in the back of the neck and shoulders. Hold for 15-20 seconds; 2-3 cycles at least once a day.

Trapezius Stretch 

 

Trapezius stretch

1.Using a chair: Sit tall on a chair and firmly grip the seat. Slowly bend your neck away from your hand grasping the chair. Engage your lower traps and rhomboids (middle back ) to help pull the shoulder into correct alignment. 

Trapezius stretch using a band

2. Standing, drape a band across the top the shoulder, keeping tension on the band. Slowly bend your neck away from the banded shoulder, Hold for 15-20 seconds at least 1x day, preferably 2-3 a day.

Neck Turn 

  

Neck turn- this will help maintain neck rotation

Place your first 2 fingers horizontally along your jaw. Using your hand to assist, turn your head to one side. Hold 15-20 seconds. Repeat 2-3 cycles. Repeat the stretch going the opposite direction. 

Check out my column in Idaho Mountain Express !

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru-the-best-way-to-get-rid-of-neck-pain/article_467c245a-ed2e-11ec-ae97-b3b068199910.html

Power breathing

When you breathe deeply, you refresh your mind and improve your lung function.

Think of a time when you felt anxious and stressed. Stress is impossible to avoid; bills, job demands or challenging relationships all contribute to taxing your nervous system. But the easiest and quickest way to calm your mind is to simply breathe in and out.

When you breathe deeply, you refresh your mind and improve your lung function. The simple act of inhaling and exhaling decreases the sympathetic nervous system response and leaves you feeling more relaxed.

Worry and stressful situations can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that make the heart pound and muscles tense, known as “fight or flight.” The National Cancer Institute describes it as a group of changes that occur in the body to help a person fight or take flight in stressful or dangerous situations. This is the body’s way of helping to protect itself from possible harm. During fight or flight, certain hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, are released into the blood. This causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. Other changes include an increase in blood sugar, alertness, muscle tension and sweating.

Fight or flight served us well on the savannah, but on a daily basis we can’t be continually running from tigers. The simple act of breathing with focused intent can help you relax and feel better.

At rest we only use about 20% of our lung capacity and barely utilize the muscles of our breathe. The American Lung Association indicates that when the diaphragm is not working at full capacity, the body starts to use other muscles in the back, neck and chest for breathing. This means that there is less reserve for exercise and activity, and lower available oxygen levels.

So, how do you take a deep breath?

Although many people feel a deep breath comes solely from expansion of the chest, chest breathing (in of itself) is not the best way to take a deep breath. To get a full deep breath, learn how to breathe from the diaphragm while simultaneously expanding the chest.

Yoga teaches that by breathing this way: a vertical extension, a horizontal expansion and a circumferential extension of the rib cage, chest and lungs shows that the lungs are being filed to their maximum capacity.

Breath is life. Yoga teaches that breathing is a prayer of gratitude we offer to life itself. B.K.S Iyengar, one of the most influential yoga teachers in America, compares leaves moving in the wind to how our mind moves with our breath. When your breath is regulated, there is a neutralizing effect on the mind. Activating the deep breath will decrease your parasympathetic nervous system and leave you feeling more relaxed and in control of your emotions.

It’s not only yogis who know the benefits of remaining calm and focused by practicing breathing. Navy SEALS use controlled breathing techniques in their military training programs as a valuable tool for their soldiers. Facing crisis, high pressure and uncertain circumstances, one of techniques the SEALS use is easy to learn and powerful, called box breathing.

Box Breathing

Sometimes referred to as square breathing, box breathing is a practical technique to start with. You can practice it anywhere and at any time; however, it’s best to sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the floor, or lying down, to learn. Try to tune out extraneous sounds, as you close your eyes and listen to your breath. Notice the natural rhythm of your breathing for a few cycles. Now you are ready to begin your box breathing.

  1. Breathe out slowly, releasing all the air from your lungs.
  2. Breathe in through your nose as you slowly count to four in your head. Be conscious of how the air fills your lungs and stomach.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  4. Exhale for another count of four.
  5. Repeat steps 1 to 4 for three to four rounds.

For visualization, while you are box breathing, imagine as though the box is being traced by a colored crayon or imaginary marker. For each of the four lines you draw, switch colors of the box’s outline. For meditation, you can add an affirmation, such as “I am relaxed,” as you breath by syncing it with your breath, rather than counting.

Continue practicing your breathing technique whenever you think of it. Your breath is always with you, as is life itself. 

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru-power-breathing/article_936765b2-d77c-11ec-bc26-ff6932a5d3ee.html

Drink more water for a strong heart

Drinking more water may reduce the risk of heart failure

If you forget to bring a water bottle to work, you are not alone. I have clients that always come to their workouts with water, and clients that never do. There’s no definitive answer as to how much water you need, but many of us aren’t drinking enough of it. While guidelines vary, generally women need between six to eight cups, and men need approximately eight to 12 cups. It depends on many factors, including your health, how active you are and where you live.

Water makes up approximately 50-70% of our body weight. It keeps our temperatures normal, cushions joints, protects our spinal cord, flushes bacteria from the bladder and carries nutrients and oxygen to our cells. Getting enough fluids also normalizes blood pressure and stabilizes the heart. It’s important to stay hydrated, as everyday we lose water through breathing, sweating and peeing.

New studies by researchers at the National Institute of Health suggest that staying well hydrated not only supports essential health, but may also reduce the risk of heart failure or long-term risks for heart disease. Heart failure is a chronic condition that happens when the heart does not pump enough blood for the body’s needs.

Approximately 11,814 healthy adults were in the final study. Of those, 11.56% later developed heart failure. To assess possible links with hydration, researchers analyzed levels of serum sodium. Serum sodium increases as the body’s fluid levels drop, and helped identify older adults with an increased risk of developing either heart failure or left ventricular hypertrophy, an enlargement and thickening of the heart. Higher serum-sodium levels at middle age showed a 102% increased risk for left ventricular hypertrophy and a 54% increased risk for heart failure.

All beverages, even coffee or alcohol, contribute to hydration. A Harvard Medical School Special Health Report notes that it is a myth that caffeinated drinks or alcohol are dehydrating because they make you urinate. They do, but over the course of a day, the water from these beverages still lead to a net positive contribution to total fluid intake.

Of course, water is still the best option, as sugary drinks can lead to weight gain and inflammation. Caffeine, for some, can give you the jitters or keep you from sleeping. And alcohol intake, research suggests, should be limited to one drink per day for women, and one-to-two drinks per day for men.

You can also get fluids from water-rich foods, such as salads and fruit. Aim to have water throughout the day and water at each meal, as well as socially.

Remember that thirst is not an indicator of hydration. Signs that you are dehydrated are less frequent urination, dark-colored pee, fatigue, confusion or dizziness. Drink for health.

Published April, 23, 2022 in the Idaho Mountain Express

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru-drink-more-water-for-a-strong-heart/article_21fb3812-c125-11ec-9bb7-8bc8b47bd18b.html

Fitness Guru: Stretch your hips like a pro

Warrior 1 involves leg strength and mobility.

By CONNIE ARONSON

Skiing, snowshoeing, yoga or walking requires strength and mobility. Consider the yoga pose Warrior 1, where you stand in a lunge position with your arms stretched straight up overhead, neck extended with the head back and eyes looking up. Doing this pose involves leg strength as you stretch your leg and hip muscles. Your spine extends, the chest opens, and the arms, shoulders, upper back and neck stretch! All in all, Warrior 1 strengthens and stretches you.

You need flexibility as much as cardio, as it enhances optimal movement and just plain old feels good.

If you feel stiff and tight lately, you might want to work on your flexibility for the health of your body. However, if you’re not quite ready for Warrior 1, let’s start with an essential hip flexor stretch.

Hips don’t lie

The hip flexors are a muscle group that can get chronically shortened from prolonged sitting at a computer.

If your hips are stiff and tight, it can lead to poor hip mobility and is associated with poor core and hip stability.

Tight hips also affect the health of the whole back, as they cause the pelvis to anteriorly tilt. If you picture your pelvis being a bowel of water, the water would spill out the front. When you stand in perfect alignment, the pelvis is naturally rotated about 10 degrees, meaning that the front of the pelvis is slightly lower than the back of the pelvis.

A & B: Tennis ball and hip flexor stretch

While it may sound technical, the technique referred to as self-myofascial release is easy to do, and is like self-massage. Self-myofascial release techniques are used to release and rejuvenate tight muscles and other soft tissues to prepare for later stretching and strengthening exercises.

There are 2 parts to this stretch:

Tennis ball roll on the hip flexor

Tennis ball roll on the hip flexor

Lie facedown, and place a tennis ball beside your belly button. This targets the psoas major muscle, which lies under the abdominals. Turn your foot in slightly, and scoot your body to move the ball to any sore spot all the way down to the top of the hip.

Try to relax on any tight areas for 20-30 seconds, for a total of 2-3 minutes on both sides.

Right after rolling, go into the hip flexor stretch as follows:

Kneeling hip flexor stretch.

Kneel down on one knee, and tuck the pelvis under using the glutes and abdominals. Raise your arm over your head on the same side as the kneeling leg, and reach over your head, toward the opposite side of the body.

Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds, and repeat 2-3 cycles on each side once a day.

Kneeling hip flexor stretch with arm reach

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru-stretch-your-hip-flexors-like-a-pro/article_674f0d2e-7f28-11ec-9b9d-639bf6f49d52.html

Add power to your workouts

Consider plyometrics for improved performance

  • Even if you visit your gym frequently, plyometric moves might be new to you. If you want to improve your overall fitness and burn calories, look to plyometric exercises for improved performance and power.

Power is the ability to produce large amounts of force quickly.

For every sport, unless you’re an equestrian athlete, or kayaker, your skill starts by your feet pushing into the ground or firm object that returns force back through you.

Plyometric is a quick powerful movement involving pre-stretching that activates the stretch shortening cycle. Plyometric exercises are also referred to as reactive training. The ultimate goal of reactive training is to increase the reaction time of the rate of force production. An explosive tennis serve, better basketball, golf swing, or a faster running gait are all examples of sports in which you could benefit from this type of training. It can also enhance how you react to ground surfaces throughout the day in simple daily activities. Quickly responding to an unexpected change, like ice, when stepping off a curb or rapidly changing direction when walking your dog on a leash are both examples of daily encounters when you’ll want to have better reaction time.

We all need vigorous levels of physical activity to maximize bone mass throughout our lives. Incorporating plyometric exercises is also extremely valuable in post-rehab and for a safe return to play.

Plyometrics, in its purest form, are meant to be all-out, quality efforts in each repetition of an exercise. Although commonly thought of as only muscular activity, the nervous system is intrinsically linked. The exercises heighten the excitability of the nervous system for improved reactive ability of the neuromuscular system, a benefit for both pro athletes and the rest of us.

Before incorporating plyometric exercises into your training, it is important to have good flexibility, motor control, core strength, and balance capabilities. If you can’t do it slowly, you can’t do it fast!

Be proficient in exercises such as step-ups and different kinds of squats before practicing, and start with plyometric exercises that are low intensity. Bounding or footwork patterns are a good place to start. Like hopscotch, they are fun and challenging.

Before any kind of jump, know that landing strategies are crucial. You should land in a partial squat. A partial squat is a position with feet shoulder-width apart and the bodyweight centered over a stable base of support. Bearing weight symmetrically, a stable base of support means that the trunk is relatively upright over the legs (or leg) with slight flexion of the ankle, knee, and hips.

The exercise selection is vast, as you would start with moves that are easy to complex, stable to unstable, body weight to loaded, to activity specific.

Plyometric training isn’t only limited to lower body training. Moves such as wall throws plyometric push-ups, or jump-squat with a chest pass are other examples.

Photos in article below~

As published in The Idaho Mountain Express- Fitness Guru

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru-add-power-to-your-workouts/article_5f9b3a20-52b5-11ec-b485-87eadcee070c.html

Fitness Guru- How to build muscle and lose fat at the same time

The best way to keep your fat cells a healthy normal size is to do a resistance training program at least three times a week.

Like it not, we’re stuck with 25-35 billion fat cells, for life. Our immune system breaks down around 10% of fat cells every year, but otherwise all our fat cells are busy expanding and shrinking in size during weight gain and loss. We need fat, as without it, we would freeze. Fat cells are also our fuel tanks, holding on to fatty molecules called lipids, and releasing them as a source of energy for the body. Fat also cushions our vital organs, stores crucial supplies of certain vitamins, and helps us have a functioning immune system. 

If you struggle with fat, turning to “gut-busting” diets and fat-burning supplements won’t “burn” fat. Fat cells don’t go away, as they are stored properly in fat cell layers under the skin. Where they are not intended to be is around organs, like the kidneys or heart, or even inside organs.

The best way to keep your fat cells a healthy normal size, and your body weight under control, is to do a resistance training program at least three times a week. Building more skeletal muscle mass and losing fat mass is one of the main reasons athletes and avid exercisers lift weights.

Within a resistance-training program, intensities, volume, and exercise selection all stimulate muscle growth. Your baseline body composition also factors in to the rate of muscle gain and fat loss.

In the first few weeks of training, newcomers to weight lifting see changes and definition in their biceps and butts. New research shows that trained individuals, not just beginners, can continue to build muscle and lose fat at the same time with two key factors: progressive resistance training and evidence-based nutrition strategies.

Mix it up

Recent studies published in the Strength & Conditioning Journal show that trained individuals can get stronger whether you train two days a week or four. In another study, there was no difference in training frequency of three times a week versus six times a week. Using a volume matched power-lifting program, both groups similarly gained a significant amount of fat-free mass and lost fat mass. It was noted that participants didn’t alter their normal nutrition habits for these particular studies.

A little more protein

Typically, to improve athletic performance it’s common practice to eat less for fat loss, and eat more to maximize muscle mass. But studies show that your post workout snack could be key to improve body composition. The authors of the resistance training studies found that approximately 70% of the subjects improved their body composition with a high-protein diet.

In one study, female collegiate volleyball players, all receiving guidance from a sports nutrition/registered dietician, added 25 grams of whey protein immediately after each power-oriented, full-body workout or a strength workout. Whether working to maximize power output, or participating in workouts specifically for strength, all athletes in each group gained muscle and lost fat. Although approaches to diet can vary with each person, the authors noted that a moderate protein intake and a more balanced nutritional approach came out at the top of the list to keep those fat cells where they need to be, no more, no less.


Connie Aronson is an ACSM Exercise Physiologist and Corrective Exercise Specialist (TBBM-CES) Follow her at www.conniearonosn.com and Instagram@conniearon

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru-how-to-build-muscle-and-lose-fat-at-the-same-time/article_bf38694e-27a4-11ec-8266-b7268e71e762.html

The magic of muscle and bone mass and brain health

Lifting weights is key to retaining lean muscle mass and keeping your weight down.
Photo-Metro Creative Connection

Hands down, the biggest reason people hire a personal trainer is that they want to be stronger and healthier. To achieve that goal, throughout a lifetime, it is essential that we maintain a vigorous level of physical activity to not only age well and be healthy, but also to keep our bones strong.

Lifting weights, or resistance training, is the key to retaining lean muscle mass and keeping your weight down. Around the time you turn 30, you start to lose as much as 3% to 5% of muscle mass per decade. The rate of decline of an inactive 80-year-old could be as much as 30%.

In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend two or more days per week of moderate-to high-intensity resistance training, using all major muscle groups. Use it or lose is correct, as keeping your muscles strong and flexible after 30 prevents scarpenia, a condition characterized by loss of skeletal muscle mass and function. Scarpenia is a natural part of aging, but muscle loss is largely accelerated by inactivity. For many, as we get older, we tend to move less.

The ACSM’s Physical Activity & Bone Health position stand is a recommendation that adults maintain a relatively high level of weight-bearing physical activity, with no upper age limit. Activities like plyometrics—jumping jacks, for example—and high-intensity resistance training are beneficial ways to increase bone mass, as well as to preserve skeletal integrity and improving balance to prevent falls. Kids that are involved in gymnastics and sports that involve jumping, like soccer and basketball, have a great strength advantage in later life, as their bone mass is maintained into adulthood, the report notes.

The main concept of resistance training is to produce changes that result in various strength adaptations. The 80-year-old mentioned? One set of arm curls, to overload his or her biceps, can result in strength gains in the arm muscles lasting as long as a month! While my job as a trainer is to set up great programs for individuals, consider ways you can start to train, if you haven’t already, with a simple home setup, including weights, elastic bands, medicine balls, or a TRX.

Remember when?

There is good reason to stick with your routine. Physical activity is a powerful intervention to reduce anxiety and depression during a pandemic. Those of us who stayed or became active during pandemic lockdowns were less likely to experience subjective memory decline. A recent study in Preventative Medicine looked at the effect of physical activity on subjective memory decline before and during social distancing. One in three participants experienced feelings of memory decline when socially distanced, however the active participants did not.

Muscles knock back inflammation

Besides brain health, regular exercise promotes a healthy immune system. Muscles that you use doing squats, arm curls or running down a trail have an innate ability to reduce inflammation. Lately, scientists studied lab-grown engineered human muscles to examine the role of a pro-inflammatory molecule, interferon gamma, which breaks down muscle. Typically, chronic inflammatory diseases break down muscle. The lead author of the study, Zhaowei Chen, a postdoctoral researcher in biomedical engineering, found that when exercising, the muscle cells themselves are a powerful shield and can directly counter interferon gamma, the pro-inflammatory molecule, as well as protecting other tissues and cells.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_b2d26462-11af-11ec-b04a-23ef35ce0778.html

How to use the lat-pull machine for a stronger back

There’s one stellar piece of equipment in almost every gym, hotel, or community center that you don’t want to miss, and that is the lat pull-down machine. Often overlooked or misused, the lat pull-down—used correctly—can make your back stronger, build arm and shoulder strength, improve posture and stabilize the spine.

The latissimus dorsi, commonly known as “lats,” is the large muscle that extends across your back, shaped like a triangle: wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. Marvel at the wide shoulders of Tokyo 2021 Olympic champions Lydia Jacoby and Caelib Dressel, and you’ll know why they are sometimes called the swimmer’s muscle.

The lats attach to the spine and pelvis and insert into the top of the arm. The lats work together with the pectoral muscles to control the movement of the arms, as they swing forward when walking, running, throwing or swimming.

The strength and structure of the lats allow you to pull or reach: casting a fishing line, pulling a rope, hoisting the body on parallel bars or placing a big vase on a top shelf.

Additionally, the broad lat muscles depress the shoulder girdle, and stabilize the lower thoracic and low back, important pillars of good posture. If you always slouch, the lats can become chronically shortened, limiting arm and shoulder movement. Typically, this results in internally rotated arms, evident when the thumbs are turned inward, rather than facing forward, when your arms are by your sides. No wonder you were always told to keep your shoulders back!

Traditional pull-ups, chin-ups, and bent-over rows are all great back exercises, but don’t miss out on a highly effective tool, the lat pull-down machine.

      Good Practices

  • Once you check your seat height, grasp the bar with both hands, shoulder-width apart.
  • Slowly sit back down and keep your feet on the floor.
  • Brace the core and lean back slightly as you pull the bar to chest level, contracting your shoulder blades down.
  • Keep your chest up, neck in a neutral position, and pull your elbows towards the floor.

      Common mistakes

  • Lifting up off the seat because the weight’s too heavy. Unless you are a power lifter, needing that extra effort, a good rule of thumb is that the limbs should never be stronger than the core.
  • Not bringing the elbows down far enough, missing out on hitting the entire back musculature.
  • Returning the bar too quickly, and not maintaining shoulder and lat contraction. The lengthening phase of an exercise, called eccentric, is where you can gain strength. Make sure you keep tension on the bar going all the way back up until your arms are fully lengthened.
  • Pulling the bar behind your neck. Jutting your head forward to pull the bar behind your head can be damaging to the anterior capsule of the glenohumeral joint. Along with wearing your shoulders out, excessive stress is placed on the cervical spine. In addition, pulling the bar down to the base of your neck can cause muscular tightness in several large neck muscles. The levator scapulae, for example, assists in extension of the neck, and heavy loads places strain on this important neck muscle. Equally important, protruding the head forward is a common musculoskeletal imbalance, as it promotes forward head posture. Instead, practice good body mechanics with a neutral cervical spine posture.

https://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_442ece8c-fbad-11eb-8ada-7f7bd322ee30.html