Alternative Exercises: Choosing the right exercises for your body

Today’s guest post comes from my friend, Matt Immerman. Matt is a recent graduate of The Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at Mercer University in Atlanta, GA. Matt has been in the health and fitness industry for ten years. He started out as a trainer helping people to get stronger, and more fit. Like many trainers, Matt had to work around his client’s various limitations. Knowing what exercise is appropriate for you (or your client) is vital to long term progress and injury prevention.


Picking the right exercise for your body

Who this article is for:

Those who are new to weight training or exercise.

Or those who have had a history of problems with their knees, back or shoulders and want to continue strength training without further aggravating old injuries.

So you have decided to pick up weight training! Right on! The benefits of lifting relatively heavy weight are too innumerable to list. However, the other side to this coin is that there are potential risks (like with any physical activity) when you engage in weight training. Fortunately, there are many ways to minimize this risk by picking the right exercise for YOUR body. With a little knowledge you can enjoy the many benefits of strength training while minimizing the potential risks that come with it.

In this article, I will offer alternative exercises to the “staples” of weight training which include barbell squats, deadlifts, and shoulder presses. Now, before you completely tune me out, please know that I am a HUGE fan of these exercises. When done correctly with proper form they can be extremely beneficial in building strength, improving bone density, helping with balance, and the list goes on. However, not everyone is able to perform all of these exercises for a myriad of reasons… whether it’s a previous injury, tight muscles and joints, bony anatomy, or even lack of space or proper equipment available at your gym. And that’s okay! Just because something may be preventing you from doing squats or deadlifts or presses doesn’t mean that you still can`t train hard!

What follows are a few of my favorite alternative exercises which I like to perform which target similar muscle groups and still provide an awesome bang for your buck much like the aforementioned “staples.”

Walking Lunges

These are great for working the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. You can also add plenty of resistance to this exercise simply by holding dumbbells in each hand. Unlike the back squat, your torso is vertical and the weight is down at your sides which means the lower back is not having to work as hard as it does in a back squat which means you can work the legs as hard as you want while `working around the back.` This is a great option for those whose backs don’t tolerate the back squat as well especially as the weight gets heavy.  As an added bonus, the walking lunge can also challenge your balance and ability to decelerate which is key for sports as well as just staying fit and healthy.

Sled Pushes

Sled Pushes

The sled push is an awesome exercise which also is fairly easy on the joints because it is purely concentric in nature. Furthermore, it is very easy to make sure your back remains nice and straight and that you are only using your legs to push the sled. This exercise is great for building lower body strength and as added bonus it gets you breathing pretty hard! Plus there is nothing more satisfying knowing you just pushed a ton of weight across the gym! Be careful on these though…get too good at these and all your friends will start calling you when their cars are stuck in the snow!

Landmine Press

Landmine Press

This exercise is great for hitting the same muscles that you would target with a traditional shoulder press but with the different angle, you are much less likely to impinge some of the smaller muscles in the shoulder. Furthermore, it is much easier to keep your back straight and abs tight with this exercise thereby ensuring you are working the shoulder and not putting undue stress on the back by over -arching.

Those were just a few examples of alternative exercises you can play around with and see what works best for you. Ultimately the best thing is to see a professional trainer who can help you along your path to fitness! Thanks for reading!

Matt Immerman  PT, DPT, CPT

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Proximal stability for distal mobility:

There are many times I can think of when a new client comes in and is complaining of stiffness in the hips or shoulders, or their calves are tight. When I ask them what they’ve been trying to do in order to correct this issue, I usually hear something like this…

“I stretch it occasionally. You know, just try to loosen it up so it doesn’t bother me”.

After assessing and screening these individuals, I often find that they lack core/spinal stability. Tissues may be “tight”, but it’s imperative to find out WHY they’re tight to begin with.

What these poor souls don’t realize is that aside from possibly having some true tissue stiffness, they also possess a lack of core stability. What needs to be understood is that a lack of stability in the core has an impact on the other joints (hip, shoulder, neck, ankle, ect).

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What happens over time is that these joints basically “pick up the slack” for the lack of core/spinal stability, and in turn the body creates an artificial stability by “locking down” the tissues at that joint. That joint becomes unable to proficiently transfer any sort of load or force back towards the core because the body realizes that the core can’t handle it. This can happen up and down the kinetic chain.

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…Nerd alert!

If we take a look at how each of us develops from an early age, you’ll see that we are born with mobility. It’s through exploring movement as infants, trial and error and a LOT of reppetition that we gain our stability. Gray Cook explains this very nicely in the video below. I especially like how he talks about kicking your kid so that he or she has to keep getting back up to truly gain the ability to stand and eventually, walk.

Here is an image of the progression of gross motor control. Remember the good ol’ days?

Started from the bottom, now we here.

Life has a funny way of changing this. As we age, we pick up bad movement habits, we sit more and we move less. The body is incredibly good at finding alternatives and adapting when something in the chain isn’t working properly. This brings me to my next point, which is… Stretching is NOT always the answer when stiffness/tightness is present.

You can stretch and foam roll all you want, but if that joint is unstable, or there’s an unstable joint in one of your myofascial lines (Thomas Myers anyone?), your body is going to b**** slap you right back to where you were before – TIGHT, WEAK & UNSTABLE.

For example. I routinely see people with “tight shoulders” who also present very poor scapular control/stability. I have them perform exercises that focus on joint centration and stability and the tension may subside. Of course this isn’t always the case, and things aren’t typically that simple. This is why it’s imperative that we look elsewhere for issues that may be contributing to the problem. The point is that stretching should not be your go-to whenever tension is present. Investigate, assess and correct.

Kettlebell training can be especially beneficial if executed correctly for shoulder stability. The turkish get-up is one of my absolute favorite exercises for this. Of course, whether or not they are safe for you or a client is subjective, but when learned correctly they are an invaluable tool for shoulder health and performance. Bottoms-up kettlebell variations are also a simpler alternative for working shoulder stability.

Turkish Get-Up:

Bottoms-up Kettlebell Carry:  Eric Cressey

“Failure of the rotator cuff and the scapular stabilizers to maintain the humeral head in the glenoid fossa can lead to excessive humeral head migration and either increased tensile stress on the tendons 10, 15 or compression of the tendons from abutment of the humeral head on the undersurface of the acromian.” (1)

External rotation much?!

 

Eric Cressey on anterior humeral glide in a common rowing motion:

So, to quickly recap:

  • If your core is weak/unstable, surrounding joints/tissues can & will pick up the slack and create tension at those joints/tissues
  • Unstable joints are sloppy joints. They under perform and can often cause discomfort or pain for the individual depending on the severity
  • Working on joint centration and stressing osteokinematics as well as arthrokinematics is vital to your joint health & overall performance

Osteokinematics:

  • Gross movements of bones at joints
  • Flexion / extension
  • Abduction / adduction
  • Internal rotation / external rotation

Arthrokinematics:

  • Small amplitude motions of bones at joint surface
  • Roll
  • Glide (or slide)
  • Spin

 


 

References:

(1)  Tovin BJ. Prevention and Treatment of Swimmer’s Shoulder. N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 2006;1(4):166-75.

 

Pick up something heavy.

The Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip Complex, Part 1:

Today I’m fortunate enough to have my very first guest post by someone who I respect and admire in this industry – my brother, Brandon McCary. Brandon is a Rehab Specialist who holds certifications with NASM (PES), Functional Movement Systems (Level-2 FMS Expert), and ISSA (SSN) – just to name a few.
If you’re a trainer, than this is a great post for you. So with that, enjoy!
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The Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip Complex, Part 1.
The core is comprised of two stabilization systems, the local and global core systems. The core is made up of muscles and connective tissues of the lumbar spine, pelvic girdle, and hip joint, which constitutes the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip Complex. The core is where the body’s center of gravity is located and where all movement originates. Active individuals with a stable core can prevent abdominal tears, by activating the local core prior to extremity movement, such as during a soccer strike.

 

 

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A neuromuscularly efficient core is needed in order to have optimal neuromuscular control of the human movement system. A stable, strong, and powerful firing core prevents injury and allows for acceleration, deceleration, and stabilization during dynamic movements.

 

 

File:Plank on a pair of medicine balls.jpg

 

 

The Local Stabilization System The primary muscles that make up the local stabilization system are the diaphragm, transverse abdominis, internal obliques, multifidus, and pelvic floor musculature. The local core muscles attachdirectly to the vertebrae. These deep muscles of the spine are primarily slow twitch muscle fibers, fibers with optimal endurance for maintaining posture and respiration. Muscle spindles are abundant among the local core muscles, muscle spindles are sensory receptors which detect the rate of change in muscle length.Inline image 5
Intervertebral Stability (deep stiffness) 

Intervertebral Stability (IVS) is only possible through training both types of intervertebral stiffness. The first type of stiffness is achieved by co-contraction of the transverse abdominus and multifidus by performing an exercise known as “Drawing-In”. Next up, performing exercises that increase intra-abdominal pressure, like “Belly Breathing” will also increase IVS. These exercises can be progressing through three different postures: Fundamental, Transitional, and Functional. A great example of transitional phase belly breathing is in the sphinx position (more on this cool stuff in part 2). By having both forms of core stiffness trained, you will have 100% local core stability achieved, which allows for optimal IVS, which then limits excessive compressive, shear, and rotational forces between spinal segments.

 

Core Stabilization Mechanisms The core is also stabilized during functional movement by two core stabilization mechanisms, one being the fascial nextwork that acts as an auxiliary core stabilizer by dynamic engagement, the thoracolumbar fascia mechanism. The second auxiliary core stabilizing mechanism is the intra-abdominal pressure mechanism, which activates the diaphragm and pelvic floor.

Inspiration and Expiration

Inspiration and expiration is also achieved via local core activation. The muscles required for inspiration and elevation of the ribs are your “principal” and “accessory” muscles. The principal muscles are the diaphragm, external intercostals, and the accessory muscles are the scalene group, sternocleidomastoid and pectoralis minor. The muscles required for expiration and rib depression are your “active breathing” and “quiet breathing” muscles. The active breathing muscles are the internal intercostals, abdominals and quadratus lumborum. As for quiet breathing, the expiration results from passive, elastic recoil of the lungs, rib cage, and diaphragm.


 

Diaphragm, Intra-abdominal Pressure, Pelvo-
Ocular Reflex

 

 

 

The “roof” of the local core, is the diaphragm. Since the diaphragm is located between the thoracic and abdominal cavities, learning to build intra-abdominal pressure will cause diaphragmatic elevation and pelvic floor contraction, which allows for decreased compressive forces across spinal segments. Simply being able to contract your diaphragm can help you prevent injury, and produce optimal movement! Learning to breathe with the diaphragm/abdomen rather than the chest/accessory musculature is extremely useful in pain relief and performance. Chest breathing can actually alter your head position due to the hypertonic/tight accessory neck muscles. The “pelvo-ocular reflex” theorized that one’s head position can have an effect on one’s pelvic position. If your head migrates forward, the pelvis reflexively rotates anteriorly to readjust one’s center of gravity, which will cause even further problems with thoracolumbar fascia pain of the low back. In part 2, exercises for diaphragmatic breathing and both the local, and global core will be discussed.
Inline image 3File:Facet Joints.png

Thoracolumbar Fascia Mechanism 
The thoracolumbar fascia (TLF) is a fascial network of noncontractile tissue that is engaged dynamically by contractile tissues that attach to it, such as the erector spinae, multifidus, transverse abdominis, internal oblique, gluteus maximus, latissimus dorsi, and quadratus lumborum. Training the local core achieves increased spinal stiffness/stability which decreases translational and rotational stress at the spine. The multifidus is the local core’s multisegmental “spinal glue”, and from the cervical region all the way down to the sacral region, the multifidus runs deep within each spinal segment, stabilizing each facet joint from the neck to the tailbone.

 

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Pelvic Floor Mechanism, Stress Incontinence 

 

 

The pelvic floor is considered the “floor” of the local core, and is activated when intra-abdominal pressure is present. Having weak pelvic floor musculature is common among adults, unfortunately, if it goes unnoticed for too long, pelvic floor dysfunction can set in. Also, common among females is stress incontinence, but the good news is, it can be easily treated with core stability exercises and functional movements. The deep squat exercise is actually great for recruiting the pelvic floor, and should be part of ones rehab program once local core stability has been worked on.

 

 

 

  The Global Stabilization System

The global core muscles are the quadratus lumborum, psoas major, external/internal obliques, rectus abdominis, gluteus medius, and adductor musculature. These muscles transfer loads between the upper and lower extremity and provide stability between the pelvis and spine.

Lumbo-Pelvic Stability (superficial stiffness) 

 

 

By simultaneously activating the abdominals (rectus abdominis), lower back (quadratus lumborum), buttock (gluteus medius) at the same time, you achieve what is called co-contraction of superficial musculature of the spine, which is known as an exercise called, “bracing”. Just like with drawing-in and belly breathing, there are also three different postures for core bracing: Fundamental, Transitional, and Functional. When the muscles are contracting, they are increasing stiffness between the spine and pelvis. A great example of a functional brace is when you stand up from squatting, and simultaneously brace the abs, low back and glutes in effort to stabilize the lumbar spine (the thoracolumbar fascia mechanism also has a role in this).

 

Optimal Movement Optimal neuromuscular control of movement is made up of several factors. We are already learned the local and global core systems role in movement, now it’s time to learn what other factors need to be considered for optimal movement.

 

 

 File:Muybridge disk step walk.jpg1. Length-Tension Relationships

Having an optimal gamma efferent system, which is achieved by having optimal force generation in relation to a muscles “tone”. Neurologically, normal muscles aren’t hypertonic (overactive/tight) or hypotonic (underactive/weak+tight). For ex. When running, having the ability to generate force/tension in the hamstrings without spasticity (muscle spasm) occuring!

 

 

 

 File:Lion stretching at Ouwehands 2010.JPG2. Force-Couple Relationships

Another necessary factor for having optimal neuromuscular control is having normal force-coupling relationships, or the ability to activate groups of muscles at once. A great example would be during a baseball pitcher’s throw, the upper and lower trapezius muscles have to activate together in order to stabilize scapular upward rotation.

 

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3. Joint Arthokinematics (Joint Centration) Lastly, having normal joint arthokinematics is the ability to maintain joint position through all planes of motion, for ex. as seen in the photo below, the ball and socket joint-the shoulder joint should be able to move from flexion to extension without the humeral head gliding anteriorly.

 

 

 

 4. Buttressing Your Truss (Spinal Stability)

 

As the eminent Biomechanist, Dr. Stuart McGill once said, “Create a truss”. Think of your core as a stable bridge, the deeper the truss, the more stable the bridge! How do we make our core “deep” in effort to become more stable? We train not only the global/superficial core, but also the local/deep core! When both core systems are stabilized, we then have….optimal Spinal Stability! Intervertebral Stability + Lumbo-Pelvic Stability = Spinal Stability
Inline image 1Inline image 2Finally…Optimal Neuromuscular Control!

All of these factors: spinal stability, length-tension relationships, force-couple relationships, and joint arthokinematics have to be normal in order for there to be symmetrical, powerful, and optimal movement!

 

 

 

 File:Eadweard Muybridge 2.gifNext up!  

In part 2, the local core, “drawing-in/belly breathing” exercise progressions, and static/dynamic global core “bracing” exercise progressions will be discussed, and demonstrated.

Post-Workout Nutrition: Does the “Anabolic Window” really exist?

Anyone who’s tried to gain any appreciable amount of muscle mass is most likely familiar with the concept of the “anabolic window”. You know, the first 30-or-so minutes following your workout where you sprint to the locker room and inhale that tasty protein shake (tasty being subjective of course).

Why do you do this?
– It’s all about the gains, man! Right?…

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Batman was most likely just under-caffeinated that day…

Well, what’s been observed from the collection of studies covering this very subject is somewhat conflicting.

While its been widely accepted that in order to gain muscle mass, a protein/carbohydrate supplement should be consumed within the first 30-60minutes following a workout; it turns out it’s not quite that simple…

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Public service announcement from supplement companies

Current research is conflicting, but shows that rather than focusing primarily on post-workout nutrition/nutrient timing that the duration between pre and post workout nutrition may play much more of a significant role than post-workout nutrition alone. A recent article (1) written by Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld shows us that the timing of your meals surrounding your workout has a much greater impact on gains in muscle mass/protein synthesis. There are some exceptions though.

Here’s what you need to know:

– Consuming a pre-exercise meal/amino acid or protein supplement can be enough if it is ingested within 1-2 hours prior to training

– Minimal-moderate pre-exercise supplementation has been shown to be effective in elevating blood amino acid levels (6g of Essential Amino Acids taken immediately pre-workout elevated blood and muscle amino acid levels by 130% for 2 hours)

– If there is a 3-4 hour gap between your last meal and your workout/training, then consuming a protein supplement before training is recommended to create an anabolic environment

– If you train first thing in the morning/in an overnight fasted state – then consuming a protein/carbohydrate supplement before training is beneficial to create an anabolic environment in the body

– Glycogen replenishment is necessary for athletes who train the same muscle groups twice a day within an 8 hour period

– Consuming a post-workout meal 1-2 hours after training is sufficient as long as the previous meal was consumed 1-2 hours prior to training. There is overlap!

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So what’s the take home message from all of this? In a nutshell, as long as you’re eating well and getting enough protein throughout the day, you should be fine. The point here is that you don’t need to obsess over your post workout shake. Instead, pay attention to what really matters – YOUR DIET!

References:

(1) Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):5.

Pick up something heavy.