Category Archives: Sports

Should You Exercise While You’re Sick?

Have you ever wondered why during the winter months, we battle more colds, flus and other illnesses? In the past couple of months, the common cold, flu and the infamous stomach bugs have surrounded me at work. Walking into my local grocer’s, I first notice the tired, sniffling and sneezing victims waiting to be seen at the clinic. So far, I have been able to avoid these little bugs and that is my goal each year. For one thing, I hate being sick and secondly I would have to miss my training session! I chalk my success up to the fact that I get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy diet most of the time and as a nurse, I excel at hand washing. All of these habits help keep my immune system running well which is my defense.


Our immune system is our defense system when we are exposed to bacteria, viruses and other nasty things. It is housed in our bone marrow and thymus. Contact points of entry for invaders are our mouths, noses, eyes and lungs. When we are exposed to a virus, like the common cold, our immune system responds through our lymph nodes, spleen and mucus membranes to protect us.


Our innate immune system is our first line of defense. It is made of physical barriers (ex: mucus lining of our noses), chemical barriers (ex: the acid in our stomachs) and “killer” cells (ex: our white blood cells) housed by our body. A quick side note-women have better innate immune systems than men-um-sorry guys! Then we have an acquired immune system. This develops as we are exposed to different viruses and bacteria in our lifetime. It takes over when our first line (innate) system is overcome. It prevents bugs from setting up home or colonizing in the body and destroys foreign invaders. This explains why children are sick more than adults since they have not been exposed to as much.


So back to the question-Do you exercise or rest with a minor illness? Everyone knows not to come to the gym if battling the stomach flu or you are contagious but what about those minor illnesses like a cold, sinus infection or a sore throat? Some might look for any reason to skip exercise and lay on the couch with a blanket and the remote but is that necessary?


First let’s understand that there is a difference between training, I like that word better than working out, and simply moving the body. Every training session does not have to cause us to breath heavy, sweat, raise our heart rate or cause us to work hard. “Moving” the body can help us to feel better and get better faster, I believe. Getting out for a walk in the fresh air, riding a bike at a low intensity or merely stretching are all great ways exercise when feeling a bit under the weather. I would like to also say that good nutrition can help when combating inflammation caused by illness. Limit any processed foods that are inflammatory to the body. Eat whole foods, especially a diverse mix of fruits and vegetables that contain the vitamins that support our immune system. And finally, drink plenty of water to flush out toxins and help keep you hydrated.


It’s clear that training or exercising with a fever or feeling like you can’t lift your head off the pillow is not the right thing to do. If you are coughing and short of breath just walking to the kitchen then exercise is out of the question. It’s okay that day to lie on the couch and rest. Just don’t let an illness be the excuse for you to fall off the exercise wagon. You can merely lower the intensity exercise if you aren’t feeling it that day. If you are use to running three miles a day, start by just walking. If you enjoy lifting weights then start lighter or even with body weight exercises. By keeping your good habits in place, you stay consistent and moving forward to your goal. Be careful not to fall victim to the illness trap!

Exercise of the Week: Kettlebell Swing

Power development is one of the most important aspect of physical fitness as we age, and also one the most underappreciated. We are taught to focus on cardio, cardio, cardio as we get older (not that we shouldn’t strive to increase our cardiovascular fitness) without any thought of muscle strength or power.


So what good does cardio do us if we’re not able to get up and down off of a chair without assistance? Even if we’re in the best cardiovascular shape we can be in at any age, what does that truly mean if aren’t able to perform in our lives in a vital way? Well, in short, not much. And here’s why…


Why Power Development is Important


When most of us think of power development exercise, our mind’s might automatically go to Olympic Lifting. In a typical Olympic Lifting routine, you’ll see exercises like the power clean, clean and jerk, and snatch, all of which are wonderful power development exercises. They also require very high technical skill and lots and lots of practice to truly master the movements (notice I said MASTER the movements…that’s where true effectiveness comes into play). At the same time they’re a bit intimidating to the average person. And since many people think this is the only way to create power, they avoid it like the plague.


But power development is probably one of the most, if not the most, important physical aspect we should focus on as we age. In fact, the average strength decline between those under the age of 40 and over the age of 40 is between 16.6% and 40.9%. And the weaker you get, the less mobile you become. And the less mobile you become, the more assistance you need to get around. So, needless to say, developing your strength and power as you age is a significant proposition.


Kettlebell Swings to the Rescue


So, even though many people think that the only way to effectively develop power is by utilizing the Olympic lifts, there is an exercise that anybody can use to increase power at any age with a significant decrease is the risk:reward ratio.


The kettlebell swing is a wonderful exercise for many reasons. First, it doesn’t require a bunch of heavy plates and barbells, it only requires a single kettlebell which can be purchased for less than $50 (for the average person). Second, although the technical skill for performing the movement is still high, the likely hood of injury if you perform the swing incorrectly is significantly lower than say a power clean. And finally, you can easily implement this exercise into any workout routine without over-stimulating your nervous system to an extreme extent.


The important thing to remember with a kettlebell swing is the angle of the knees and hips throughout the movement. Many people want to perform the swing as a squat (maximal knee bend and maximal hip bend). This is fine if that’s how you’d like to perform the movement. You have to understand, though, that swinging with a squat pattern will increase the pressure put on your lower back due to the angle forces.


To insure that you’re keeping as much pressure away from your lower back as possible, focus on doing the swing as a hinge (minimal knee bend and maximal hip bend). The hinge is simply a deadlift. When you deadlift, you move in your hips in a way that forms a “V” with your hips at the bottom of the movement, where as a squat will for an “L” at the bottom of the movement.


Keep this little tidbit in mind when you start to implement swings into your routine. Don’t be afraid to up the weight or the reps as you get comfortable.

Exercise of the Week: Farmer’s Carry

When you go into the gym to do your workout, odds are you stick the exercises that you see performed most often or that you’ve seen in magazines or other articles. Or maybe you just go through the machines because you’re not quite comfortable using free weights. At any rate, very often we stick the exercises we know best while possibly passing on exercises that may move us closer to our goal more effectively.


Loaded carries are one of those exercise groups that seem to be ignored. Part of the reason why is because they are not thought of as a general-population accepted exercise. They are generally thought of as strong-man exercises. And it is exactly this reason (because strongmen use them often) why everyone should do loaded carries. Let’s dig a little deeper


Why Loaded Carries Are Important


I’ve talked before about the benefits of the suitcase carry. This is one of the handful of quality carry exercises we utilize at TF. The suitcase is a wonderful uni-lateral exercise (meaning using one side of your body at a time). It’s great for core development, especially the obliques, as well as hip and shoulder stabilizer development.


And just like the suitcase carry, all of the other loaded carries have the same sort of benefits, just to different degrees. For instance, if you were looking to develop your obliques (the outer part of your midsection), I would tell you to do suitcase carries. Because of the position of the load, this exercise will directly target the opposite oblique of the hand you’re carrying with. On the other hand, if you were wanting to develop your shoulders a little more, I would tell you to utilize the waiter carry (we haven’t gone over this one yet). The waiter carry requires you to stabilize weight over your head using one arm at a time. This is a great exercise for overall shoulder development, especially for the shoulder stabilizers.


Now, I’m sure you’re thinking “Fine, Jerry. Those are all great for your core and your shoulders, but I just want to get strong. What carry can I use to help me build superhero strength?” And if you weren’t thinking that directly, I imagine you have a pretty strong visual in your head now of a superhero carrying insanely heavy weight. The answer to this question is simple, and it’s likely you perform this move every day to some extent.


Utilizing the Farmer’s Carry to Build Superhero Strength


Like I said, every exercise in the loaded carry family builds strength to some degree. So all of them can be used to get you stronger and move you closer to looking like Superman. However, the farmer’s carry is the mother of loaded carries when it comes to building superhero strength.


The reason that the farmer’s carry is superior to the carries in building strength is simple. It allows you to hold more weight while performing the exercise. Since you are carrying a weight in each hand, as opposed to a single weight in one hand, you have the ability to push your body further and further towards its strength limit (Okay, limit is not the right word to use here. I don’t believe in limits. Having limits only builds scarcity in your mind. And having scarcity in your mind holds you back from achieving the things you may be able to achieve. So maybe a better phrase to use in this instance is moving you higher within your strength set…Step down from soapbox.).


Where a lot of people go wrong in the farmer’s carry is not pushing themselves. Maybe you already use this exercise and haven’t seen much results. I’ll challenge you to double the amount of weight you’re carrying and double the distance or time in which you’re walking. If you are using this exercise and not getting results, there’s a wonderfully high chance that you are not even close to your weight or distance capacity.


The goal in the farmer’s carry is to carry heavy weights. And understand the heavy weights are relative. So don’t go picking up 100lbs in each hand if you have trouble carrying a couple bags of groceries. Find your starting point and move up from there. You can walk for distance or time, whichever is more convenient for you. A standard to shoot for is carrying your total body weight (so if you weigh 120lbs, that’s 60lbs in each hand) for 30 seconds or about 40yds. Most of you will start at about half this capacity, but you’ll move up quick. Remember, don’t be afraid to push yourself!

Exercise of the Week: Dumbbell Row

In our last iteration of Exercise of the Week, I talked about cable rows. This is an important to step to mastering the next progression in this movement sequence, which is dumbbell rows.


Dumbbell rows are a great exercise when performed correctly. Pulling strength is important to overall body function, and this exercise develops that strength during the movement. However, many people struggle with the proper technique when performing dumbbell rows, and as such may not be getting the most bang for their buck when utilizing this fantastic exercise.


Some Common Mistakes When Performing Dumbbell Rows


Like I said, this is one of the best rowing exercises you can put into your program for overall functional development. Not only is it great for improving lat, posterior deltoid and rhomboid strength (all necessary for optimal upper body health), it also develops anti-rotational stability in your obliques and hips as well as scapular stability for shoulder health and posture. Needless to say, this is a fantastic exercise!


There are, however, some common struggle points with this movement that take away from its effectiveness. I want to review them one at a time so you can break your technique down and rebuild it for maximal use.


#1) Pulling the Weight Too Close to the Armpit


Having strong traps is important to the function of your upper body. And most of us probably incorporate shrugs into our programs to build big Goldberg traps. And this isn’t a bad thing, as long your balancing out your posterior upper body with lower trap/rhomboid work as well.


See, as a society we tend to hold our shoulder’s up and forward. This is simply a product of our every day life and development of stress. And holding your shoulder’s in this way develops tension in your upper traps. When you perform a dumbbell row and pull the weight close to your armpit, your adding on to the tension that is already there. At TF, we tell our members to pull the weight to their pockets (or more towards the hip). By doing this you’re putting more emphasis on lower trap/rhomboid development, which then supports better shoulder health.


#2) Too Much Hip, Not Enough Pull


Another problem that I see often is hip movement. The dumbbell row is meant to be a pull with the arm. And a lot of people transition from a pull with the arm to a thrust with the hips.


As you’re performing the movement, it should be a nice steady transition from the arm-extended position to the weight-in-the-pocket position. When you put too much emphasis in thrusting your hips to get the weight up, you’re not allowing the proper muscles to perform the movement. This, in turn, keeps those muscles from being developed properly overall. Keep the hips still and pull with your arm.


#3) Not Using Enough Weight


This one may seem counter intuitive, especially after my last point. When you are first getting started with the dumbbell row, it is important to start light to allow your core musculature to develop. This way your lower back isn’t taking the brunt of the pressure. Many people, though, don’t take the next step. They sort of hover around that comfort zone and don’t push themselves forward once they’ve adapted properly.


The dumbbell is a tiring movement that takes effort, especially when you are using a decent amount of weight relative to your strength level. Don’t be afraid to try a new weight for a set or 2 to see where your comfort level is.


Upper back and mid-back strength is important. And one great way to make those areas stronger is performing the dumbbell row. Just make sure you’re pushing yourself upward and not staying stagnant. After all, if you’re not progression, you’re regressing…because the rest of the world is moving forward.

High Intensity Interval Training for Fat Loss, Performance and…Cardiovascular Disease?

Over the past decade or so there has been a significant shift in the science behind optimal fat loss and performance protocols when it comes to types of training to perform. Many people believed (and still do believe) that low intensity, steady-state activity is best for overall cardiovascular endurance as well as efficient fat loss. This is where the shift has changed the most.


High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT from now on) has taken the country by storm. You can see in the group class offerings at your local fitness center as well as the emergence of studio-like fitness franchise like Orange Theory that base their programming around HIIT. And although HIIT has become so popular because of its’ fantastic ability to melt fat off of you and increase overall performance, there is one particular aspect of development that isn’t talked about as much but holds a much higher importance (at least in the long-run) to our overall health.


But before we get to that, let’s talk about what HIIT really is and get a general understanding of how it effects the body.


What is HIIT, exactly?!


The use of HIIT has been around for ages, but really wasn’t brought into popularity under a formal name until the mid-20th century. The basic idea behind in HIIT is intermittent bursts of work, coupled with a recovery period. The bursts of work can be about any duration you would like, from 10 seconds to 10 minutes, while the rest is typically related to the work interval in some way. For instance, maybe you want to do a work to rest ratio of 1:2. You decide you want to do 30 seconds of work. In order to get 2x the rest, you would have to rest 60 seconds. So you would work hard for 30 seconds and rest for 60 seconds.


As you might guess, the options are endless when it comes to what intervals to do and what rest to take. A simple approach to choosing a HIIT protocol might be:


#1) How Cardiovascularly fit are you?


Meaning, how in shape do you believe you really are. This answer is going to help you decide how intense you will make your intervals. The less fit you believe you are, the lower intensity at which you will perform your intervals. For instance, if you’re in poor cardiovascular shape, you might perform your intervals at 60% intensity.


#2) How long do you want your interval to be?


Some people like longer intervals and some like shorter intervals. Maybe you only want to do 30 seconds of work, or maybe you’re more long distance oriented person and want to do 3 minutes of work. This is mostly up to you.


#3) What work to rest ratio do you want to use?


Work to rest ratio tells us how much rest we will get per unit of work. For instance, if we want a work to rest ratio of 1:4 and are doing 20 seconds of work, our rest would be 4x our work, or 80 seconds. There are 2 rules to follow when choosing your work to rest ration: #1. Consider your answer to “How Cardiovascularly fit are you?”. The less fit you are, the bigger your work to rest ratio should be. #2. Generally speaking, the shorter duration the work period, the longer the rest you want to take.


Finally, figure out a way to fit your protocol into 20 minutes or less. There is a point of diminishing returns with everything, and HIIT is no exception. 20-30 minutes of HIIT will suffice to get you to where you want to go.


How Does HIIT Effect Your Body?


Like I mentioned before, HIIT has exploded on the scene lately due to its’ effectiveness as a fat loss protocol as well as a performance enhancing protocol. And there is little doubt at this point that HIIT is one of the most effective ways to get you moving in either of these directions.


When it comes to fat loss, there have been many studies that have shown how HIIT helps increase your insulin sensitivity (your body will not release insulin as quickly), decrease fasting insulin (the level of insulin in your body in a fasted state) and increase fat oxidation (how efficiently your body burns fat). If you want to read the geeky stuff, THIS RESEARCH REVIEW is a good place to start.


Performance is another aspect of development that is effected when it comes to HIIT. There are a number of ways to performance increases because of HIIT, some of which include increased aerobic and anaerobic fitness as well as skeletal muscle adaptation. Again, read THIS REVIEW if you want to get to the nitty-gritty.


Cardiovascular Disease and HIIT


And even though fat loss and performance are important, they are generally only important in the short-run. Most of us will only be truly concerned about optimal sports performance through high school and, when it comes to fat loss, once you’ve lost the weight…well, you’ve lost the weight. So althought HIIT training should be incorporated into everybody’s programs on a regular basis, these shouldn’t be the prime reasons for long-term results.


The underlying factor that is often overlooked when it comes to HIIT is the impact it has on fighting cardiovascular diseases. These are diseases such as heart valve issues, arrhythmias, heart attack and stroke which are the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.


The link between HIIT and cardiovascular disease comes in the form of V02-Max. Your V02-Max is the your body’s maximal oxygen consumption. You know that feeling you get towards the end of a long sprint or long set of squats when you’re huffing and puffing and can’t seem to catch you breath? That means you are close to the maximal amount of oxygen that your body can consume.


There is significant evidence in the correlation between cardiovascular disease and V02-Max. Essentially, the lower your V02-Max, the higher the risk for cardiovascular disease. Now, obviously this is a simplified explanation (and, again, if you’d like to read more into this, you can read THIS RESEARCH ARTICLE by the American Heart Association), but the point is, the less cardiovascular shape you’re in, the more likely you are to encounter cardiovascular disease at some level.


HIIT is the most effective and efficient way for you to improve your cardiovascular fitness. And, like we talked about before, you can adjust your protocol based on your level of fitness. Research shows that both HIGH intensity and MODERATE intensity interval training has been effective in improving V02-Max. So be sure to assess where you are on the fitness continuum before you implement your protocol.


So, implementing a HIIT protocol into you training program will certainly get you leaner, lighter and fitter. And all of these things are important for a healthy, vital life. However, don’t overlook the bigger picture. Your heart is a muscle, too. And keeping it in shape should be your #1 priority. Because your heart is the path to your ultimate life.

Exercise of the Week: Half-Kneeling Cable Rows

We’ve talked previously about horizontal pulling verse vertical pulling movements and why horizontal pulling movements can be more beneficial for you based on the average person’s movement (or lack there-of) during the day.


With our first horizontal pulling movement we talked about, you were using bodyweight to perform the movement. Understanding how to control your body in a basic movement pattern like that is important as it will translate well into the real world. Now, we want to start to teach ourselves how to control external weight in this horizontal pulling fashion. Like anything else, we like to start with the basic at TF to make sure you get it down.


A Basic Horizontal Pulling Movement That Offers Great Bang-For -Your-Buck


At TF, we like to start by teaching certain exercises with as few joints as possible. What I mean is, the joints you have to stabilize through, the less difficult it is for you to “get” the exercise. A good example would be side planks. We talked about these last week. If you are unable to side plank from your feet, it makes sense to side plank from your knees. When you are side planking from your knees, you eliminate a joint (from the knees down in this case) that you have to stabilize through.


Cable rows are a great way to start using external weight in a rowing exercise. When we start people with cable row, we start in the what we call the half-kneeling position. The half kneeling position is great because it allows you to incorporate a couple of things that are beneficial to your body:


#1. It requires you to stabilize through your hips.

#2. It eliminates most of the body half of the body, so you don’t have to worry about controlling yourself from head to toe while learning.

#3. It allows you to work your body in a unilateral fashion (one side at a time) so that you can start to bring up the weaker side of your body.


When you put the half kneeling position and cable rows together, you have a great way to start implementing horizontal rowing into your program.


Don’t be afraid to do these a couple of times a week. Start light to begin with and try to move up every other week. A good repetition progression may look like this:


Week 1 – 3 sets of 8 repetitions

Week 2 – 3 sets of 10 repetitions

Week 3 – 3 sets of 12 repetitions

Week 4 – 3 sets of 8 repetitions with a higher weight


Then just repeat this cycle. This is pretty basic when it comes to getting stronger. None the less, it is a great way to progress yourself forward.

Exercise of the Week: Side Plank

Last week we talked about the Suitcase Carry, which is a wonderful locomotive exercise that works your obliques and makes you tired. The obliques are a muscle group that very often get overlooked. Many of you can probably plank until the cows come home (I never understood that saying. But, if I asked you to side plank, you would struggle to hold it for even 20 seconds (at least hold it correctly.


So we want to continue to attack the obliques now that we’ve developed a base with our suitcase carry. And a great way to do with is with…you guessed it…side planks.


Using Side Plank Progressions to Get The Form Right


We’ve talked before about the important of form. Without correct form, you may not be utilizing the correct muscles groups or, worse, may end up hurting yourself. And even though it would be tough to hurt yourself doing a side plank, you want to be able to get that most out of the exercise that you can.


When it comes to doing a regular side plank, you should be able to hold yourself straight from your head to your feet. Visualize yourself shooting out of a cannon, but sideways. If you struggle to hold this line, which we see more often than not at TF, you best thing to do is shorten the lever that you’re working with.


By shortening the lever, I mean instead of planking from your feet, plank from your knees. Now you don’t have to hold as much of your weight in the air and you can utilize the muscles you’re supposed to. At TF, we call these side planks from the knees (technical, I know).



How to Make Side Planks Harder


On the other end of the spectrum, or as you work yourself up, is the people who actually can side plank for at least 30 seconds in a nice straight line. Like I’ve mentioned before, these people are few and far between, so if it’s not you, don’t feel bad.


For those people who need a little more difficulty, or you’ve worked your way to the point of mastering the side plank, you need to add an external force that will force you to maintain your stability. A great way to do this is by doing side plan rows (another fancy name).



With side plank rows, you’re adding external weight that you have to counter-balance as you row it towards you. Remember, don’t try this unless you’ve mastered the side plank, holding your line for at least 30 seconds on each side.


Utilize these progressions and regressions to help build up your oblique strength. This muscle group is important for overall core stability and also for back health. Progress correctly and, remember, visualize yourself shooting out of a cannon.

Exercise of the Week: Suitcase Carry

I often get asked what the best ab exercises are for developing a 6-pack. If you’ve ever been a teenager (which I’m assuming most of us have…or are), you’ve probably asked this question yourself. Maybe you’ve even asked it recently to someone you saw at the gym with a set themselves.


While the question itself is much deeper than a simple list of exercises (hint: you can’t spot train), it brings up another common issue that many people have. Training your abs for the sake of having a 6-Pack can lead many people to having issues because of the type and volume of exercises that are used. Training the core in a more functional way, on the other hand, will not only move you more efficiently towards a 6-Pack, it will also help with proper back function and overall body development.


Training Your Abs is More Than Getting a 6-Pack


When most people think of ab exercises, they think of things like crunches, situps and Russian Twists. And although these are, in fact, exercises that work the abdominal area, they won’t actually develop your core to work in the way it is meant to work.


You see the core musculature is made up of more than for your abs. It also includes your obliques (side abs), lats (outer back muscles), multifidus (inner back muscles) and glutes (butt muscles), as well as a few others. Crunches, situps and Russian twists don’t incorporate most of these muscle groups. They are focused predominantly on the rectus abdominis (6-pack) and secondarily on the obliques (side abs)


The second problem we run into with normal ab exercises is the actual function of the abdominal musculature itself. The core muscles listed above help connect the upper body to the lower body. It is literally the canister that holds your body together and allows you to walk, run, jump, bend and squat. The function of the core muscles if very simple. If you look at 99% of the movements that humans perform on a regular basis, our core muscles are there to help brace or stabilize. What does that mean? It means that, when you pick something up off of the floor, your core muscles have to stabilize your mid-section in order for you to pick the object up without drooping to the ground. Common abdominal exercises don’t incorporate stability and therefore aren’t properly training the muscles to function the way they should.


The third and final reason that the most commonly used ab exercises won’t move you towards your 6-pack quickly is energy expenditure. How tired you, really, after doing a set up crunches? Go ahead, drop down to the floor, do 10 crunches, then tell me how tired you are. Actually, do 20. Are you out of breath? If you are, you need to get up and down off the floor more often. If you’re not (which most won’t be), it’s because crunches don’t require much energy to perform. And if you’re not expending a lot of energy, then you’re not burning a lot of calories. And if you’re not burning a lot of calories, your likelihood of burning fat decreases.


Enter the Suitcase Carry


So now that we know that, in order to efficiently move towards having a 6-pack, we need to utilize ab exercises that use all of our core muscles, help our abdominal musculature function the way it’s supposed to, and actually burn calories, we need to figure out exactly what we can do to make this happen.


I’m a big fan of loaded carries. This is a group of exercises that is truly underappreciated and underutilized. It’s also a group of exercises that will literally take your strength, muscle gain or fat loss to the next level. The loaded carry the we use the most at TF, and also where we start everybody, is the suitcase carry.


When used right, the suitcase carry knocks all 3 of our problems above out of the park. This is the ultimate in functional ab exercises. It uses every core muscle that you have in order to keep you stable and upright, it teaches your abdominal area to function the way that it’s supposed to, and, when loaded correctly, it burns tons of calories, especially when grouped with other exercises.


Use the suitcase carry liberally in your workouts. A couple times a week won’t hurt anything. You want to shoot to walk for about 100 feet on each arm. Start with a weight that is about 25-30% of your current body weight in pounds. For some of you, this will be too light. For most of you, this will be just right. Maintain your posture and act like you’re walking down a right rope (this is key). And don’t be afraid to move up in weight as things get light.

Exercise of the Week: Cat/Camel

I talk a lot about how our physiological and anatomically issues stem from the way we live out modern lives. The way that we move (or not move, more accurately) in everyday life is a precursor to many of the ailments that we encounter as we age.


The biggest example of this is sitting. Sitting for long periods of time has become a staple in many of our daily activities. And considering our bodies have evolved to be movement machines, figuring out ways to counteract this sitting epidemic is essential to maintaining vitality and achieving longevity.


How Our Bodies Tighten Up Over Time


Your body, in every sense of the term, is the product of what you feed it or how you move it on a regular basis. What you feed your mind, for instance, will determine your perception of life. What you feed your body will determine how your genes express themselves. And how you move (or don’t move) will determine…well, how you move.


So when I talk about sitting being as bad as smoking for your body (maybe a slight exaggeration, but not by much), I’m referring to how it affects your body in a physiological way. Physiology, for those who aren’t sure, is how an organism or body part functions. When we sit for long periods of time on a regular basis, our bodies adapt to it and it affects how we function mechanically. Certain muscle groups stiffen up, impeding the movement of joints, which limits our range of motion and ultimately puts us in our grave.


Why Thoracic Mobility is Important


One of the specific areas of our bodies that is impacted by sitting is the thoracic spine. This is the middle area of the spine. Ironically, a lot of lower back pain is caused by limitations in this area of the spinal column.


Last week we talked about the importance of rotation of the thoracic spine and how to counteract that by utilizing the spiderman lunge with thoracic spine rotation. Another direction of movement that should be worked on in this spinal area is thoracic extension.


Thoracic extension happens when you pull your shoulder girdle backwards. Think of the movement that happens when you’re sitting at your desk and lean back to stretch your arms in your chair. This is thoracic extension. Most of us can go into thoracic flexion (think hunched forward) without any problem. This is because, since most of us either sit or stand all day in a hunched over position, we’re naturally staying in flexion anyway. So working on extension is paramount to keeping your body functioning optimally over time.


Enter the Cat/Camel


One great way to train yourself to go into extension is by using the cat/camel exercise. This is a move utilized in yoga. It’s extremely simple and can be performed by anybody, anywhere. If you notice in the video, Sharon has incredible extension (she’s done yoga once or twice in her day). This may not be the benchmark you shoot for, but it will give you a good idea on how stiff you actually are in this movement.


If you want to put some added benefit into this exercise, use it work on breathing. Yes, I realize that you know how to breath, otherwise you wouldn’t be alive. But most of us don’t really know how to breath. While you’re performing your cat/camel exercise, breath in as you look up to the sky for 4 seconds and breath as you sink your hips under and look down for 8 seconds (or until you’re completely out of air)


This is a great exercise to help fill the dead space in your training. Like I talked about last week, instead of standing around and talking during your rest period, do some mobility work or stretching to help counteract the impact of your day.

Exercise of the Week: Spiderman Lunge with Thoracic Spine Rotation

Mobility is something every single one of us needs to work on. No matter if you’re on your feet all day is sitting on your bum for 8 hours at a time, becoming more mobile is essential to maintaining vitality as we age.


But most of us struggle with working flexibility and mobility work into our routines. Sometimes it’s because we think we don’t have time and other times is simply because we can’t think of anything that might make us better.


Before we find out what can be done to help get you more flexible and mobile, let’s break down our options when it comes to types of stretching/mobility exercise.


Static VS Dynamic Stretching


I’m actually using the words flexibility and mobility incorrectly when it comes to the physical therapy world, so let me straighten that out first. Flexibility is the ability to get a muscle into a specific length. Mobility, on the other hand, is the ability to take a joint into a full range of motion. The end result overall is pretty much the same…to move better. But, technically flexibility and mobility are different things.


Now that we have that cleared up, there are 2 different types of exercises that you can do in order to improve you flexibility or mobility. The first type of exercise is static stretching. Static stretching is what you would do if I told you to stretch. You would probably bend over to touch your toes or put your leg up on a box and reach for your foot. Static means holding in place for an amount of time. The other type of exercise you can do is dynamic stretching. With dynamic stretching, you are moving while you stretching. There are even a couple different types of dynamic stretching, but we’re going to keep it simple. A dynamic stretch can be anything from a bodyweight lunges to high knees.


Typically, static stretching can be placed in the “get more flexible” category, while dynamic stretching can be placed in the “get more mobile” category. Again, although you’re technically trying to accomplish different things, the end goal is the same.


How to Work Stretching into Your Routine


Life I said before, many people have trouble getting stretching/mobility work into their routines. Luckily enough for you, there is a perfect solution for you that doesn’t require any more time than you spend in the gym already.


What do you do between sets during your workout? Are you talking? Are you just standing and waiting? Be honest with yourself. If you’re like most people I’ve seen, most likely you’re spending your rest periods talking. Remember, you’re at the gym to get better. And although socializing is a basic human need, it has to fit within the context.


So instead of standing and talking at your next gym session, spend your rest periods doing mobility work. Not only does this eliminate the “I don’t have time” excuse, it will actually help you burn more calories and keep your heart rate up.


A Perfect Mobility Exercise for Your Rest Periods


A great exercise that you can do during your rest periods is the spiderman lunge with thoracic spine rotation. Sounds fun, I know. This exercise is great because it accomplishes a whole bunch of things at once:


#1. Thoracic spine stiffness – Because we live in a sitting world, we get bound up in our thoracic (mid-back) area over time. This is not good for longevity. This exercise will help keep your t-spine moving.


#2. Hip mobility – Hip mobility is another issue that arises due to lots and lots of sitting. This is a great way to maintain movement in your hips.


#3. Getting off the ground – This one may take a little more convincing. How often do you get up and down off the ground during your workout? If your answer is any less than 5 times, it’s not enough. Getting off the ground is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL when it comes to longevity. So get up and down as often as you can!


Use this spiderman move a couple of times a week. Rotate sides as you’re performing the exercise. Shoot for 3-5 rotations on each side for one set. Happy Spidermanning!