Back To Basics

Back To Basics

13th January 2019

The rewards of exercise can be found in simplicity. We've become too transfixed on complexity, trying to attain goals focused on outcomes largely dictated by numbers. The notion that obtaining a certain body fat percentage or accumulating more weight on a lift will bring us rewards of satisfaction and happiness is a flawed concept. It's time we fully embraced our bodies to reconnect with our minds, and ultimately to everything around us.

It’s August 2011, I’ve finished three years of university inadvertently ruining my health. I figured the music industry wasn’t for me – I’m an awful singer – and decide to revert to working in health and fitness. Time to find that fitness fanatic from within again. It proved to be difficult. After three years of limited exercise I mustered up the enthusiasm to hit the gym. I’d figured squatting was one of the best options to help me get back in shape. My first set back felt okay, if a tad awkward, as squatting always was for me. Second set I increased the weight slightly, or so I thought. Half way through the set as I got to the bottom of the squat I felt a sharp pain shoot down the right side of my back into my butt. I hobbled around with relentless pain for days. It was still crippling me several weeks later so I headed to the doctors who referred me to a physio. It turned out I’d herniated my L5 disc. Great, I’d done myself a right mischief! The idea of becoming a personal trainer was fading fast. It turned out to be one of the greatest mistake I’d ever made, but as I’ve grown, I realise there are no mistakes – they’re only opportunities to learn. After 18 months of pain, pills and religiously performing exercises to push my disc back in, I vowed never again to get into suck a pickle. What went wrong? I didn’t have the range of motion to squat with my spine loaded. The mobility and flexibility in my lower torso and spine was poor, my core was weak – the basics of movement and strength were missing. Physically I was redundant, mentally I struggled, emotionally I was all over the place – I wasn’t living life! Today it’s still a working progress, but on the whole the basics are good and getting better day-in-day-out. The correlation between my improvements in movement have also had profound effect on physical and mental performance. The aches and pains have faded, my power to weight ratio is far greater, and my general all round body strength has significantly improved. My mind has also become freer and clear of negativity. I believe by exploring my body deeper I’ve opened up my mind to the endless possibilities on all fronts.

Where to start

I’m doing this by breaking down how we move into individual patterns, trying to address each one accordingly. Some need more attention than others, but I’m trying to be as systematic as possible in my present scope of practice. These are the areas i look at;

  1. Locomotion – the core fundamental of human movement. The ability to move our limbs in a coordinated manner to create motion. Think walking, lunging, running, climbing and crawling.
  2. Squat – our natural resting position. Feet roughly shoulder width apart, toes turned out slightly, spine neutral, bum hovering a few inches from the floor. New born children do this with aplomb, then sitting at a school desk starts to reverse engineer mother natures handy work!
  3. Hip Hinge – being able to maintain a neutral spine whilst forward folding at the waist line. It’s a testament to your posterior chain (your spine all the way down to your heel) flexibility. It’s how you should lift a load from the floor, along with the appropriate knee bend.
  4. Anti-Rotation – this refers to a force being applied to either the hips or shoulders whilst keeping the spine stable. Evident when walking a dog that’s on a lead pulling you from side to side.
  5. Rotation – We can also apply a rotational force through our torso. A golfer swinging his club is a prime example of rotation.
  6. Push – applying a force to a load or movement to create space between two objects. This is performed in two ways. Vertically we can raise a load over our body in the fashion of an overhead press. Horizontally this can be performed in a press up.
  7. Pull – the ability to draw a load closer to an other object. Again we can use the vertical and horizontal planes of motion. Think pull ups as your vertical movement, and an inverted body weight row as your horizontal action.

I feel these movements should be performed on a regular basis, many of them daily in one shape or form. Locomotion is a given, for some more than others. But for many their sedentary lifestyles are causing numerous challenges which could be addressed by moving more. Issues at the shoulders, spine, hips and knees are inherently caused from a lack of movement, not because of movement. We all need to move more for both our physical and mental health. If your bodies restricted, you need to start with the basics.

Your squat feels awkward

A daily squat routine is great for your knees, hips and back. Accumulate some time in the squat, using an anchor such as a desk or door frame to counter any restrictions or weakness if needs be. Set a timer and perform 10 body weight squats every half an hour, holding the last squat at the end range of your depth for 10 seconds – keep adding time (It will acclimatise your muscles, tendons and ligaments to a better range of motion). Set up with your feet roughly shoulder width apart, toes turned out slightly. Make sure your maintain spinal integrity by drawing your shoulders back into their sockets whilst bracing your abdominals. Also keep an eye on your pelvis. We don’t want your pelvis tipping forward into an anterior pelvic tilt. Keep it tucked under so as not to cause any excess arching of the lower back. As you sink your bum towards the floor make a point of driving your knees out over your toes.

Struggling to touch your toes?

Try doing some body weight Jefferson curls first thing when you rise out of bed. These are great for your whole posterior chain and are a great way to lengthen your spine first thing in the morning. If you have tight hamstrings these maybe a challenge, but stick with it – they may help in unlocking their stiffness. Stand with your feet hip with apart and knees locked out. Slowly start to round the spine one vertebrae at a time – start by tucking your chin in towards your chest. Then little by little fold forwards towards the floor without compensating at the knees. Once you’ve hit your end range pause for two to three seconds then reverse the movement. Again look to move a vertebrae at a time. Repeat half a dozen times whilst holding the last rep for 30 seconds at your end range. Try two rounds for a couple of weeks, then add a third.

Reach for the stars

A lack of mobility in the shoulder is often impacted by the lack of flexibility in the muscles that attach to it. The muscles at the chest, upper back and arms can all restrict the shoulder. A simple exercise that can help restore some movement is the shoulder wall clock. Stand parallel to a wall with enough space so you can fully rotate your arm. Standing up right with your head looking forward, push your shoulders down and back into their sockets and brace your core. Place one of your shoulders in contact with the wall. With your arm fully extended and palm facing away from the wall start to raise your arm forward in a circular fashion towards an overhead position. Once your arm is fully overhead rotate your palm to face the wall as you start to bring it back down behind you. Try to keep all the movement at the shoulder by not letting your upper torso to twist. This is just your body trying to compensate for tightness in and around the shoulder – resist the urge to do so! Perform two sets of ten slow repetitions each day for two weeks, then add in a third set. Test your overhead position before you start, then retest at regular intervals to gage your gains. To test your overhead position stand with your feet hip width apart with a neutral spine. Brace your mid section and raise your fully extended arms as far overhead as you possibly can with arching at your lower lumber spine.

Fix the fundamentals

The truth is there are no rules when it comes to movement, only fundamentals. Neglecting these fundamental movements will eventually cause issues. Poor joint health, weak and imbalanced muscles, and impaired flexibility heightens the risk of injury. A limited capacity to move will also impact on your performance, bringing you average at best returns on your time invested in exercise. It’s a reason why so many people plateau with their training – their just not harnessing their full potential! The reasons as to why we should move more in accordance with our anatomical structure are clear and plentiful… Yours in health, Dave