Strength & Gardening

How many of you have gone into the garden full of hopes and dreams, excitement and desire only to come out with a sore back and tight hamstrings? A day in the garden doesn’t have to result in miserable pain when you take a few pre and post gardening steps. 

First, gardening actually requires quite a bit of flexibility and strength. We have to reach and twist and lunge and haul. So don’t ignore the importance of overall strength training.  Regular strength training helps ensure

that we’ll have enough core strength to reach for and pull those weeks while on our hands and knees. This move is actually a complicated move involving multiple muscles, joints, and our balance systems. Many folks would decline doing this move on their living room floor however don’t think twice about it in the garden only to wonder why it seems so difficult. Part of that is the mental component. It’s part of gardening so we don’t think it should be so hard, it’s what we’ve (or watched others) have done and it’s how we complete this task.

Second, don’t underestimate a good pre and post gardening stretch. Doing the activities in the garden may not feel like work to us – we love the smells, feel of the soil, the sense of accomplishment, etc. And … our body has worked out so treat it with a good post garden stretch session. It may even deserve a warm shower and good rub of lotion across those muscles. A regular flexibility program can help here, too. Stretch all the major muscles groups by going to the point of tension and holding. Take 3-5 long deep breaths and slowly release them as you melt into the stretch gently.

Lastly, be mindful. Enjoy the feel of the dirt, the hard work, the wonderful fruits as they excite your tastebuds when you get to eat them or your eyes as you gaze upon the brilliant colors your efforts have given.

Honor Our Troops With A BootCamp Workout

For those who’ve been in the military you know that not only are soldiers brave but they are tough! Part of their job is physically pushing their bodies to the limit. Here’s some ideas on how you can mimic boot camp in your workouts. Many military fitness moves are based on body weight. So try push-ups, pull ups, and squats for full body work with your body weight. All these exercises have many variations and can be overloaded with external weight (dumbbells, bars, rubber tubing) if needed.

Add intensity to your moves. We call this work plyometrics. Plyometrics are moves designed to increase power and speed. Take your basic squat and add a jump. As you reach the bottom of the movement you spring back up and off the floor, landing only to begin again. Adding power can be done to most movements. All it takes is adding explosive movements to your routine. Sprints, jumps, hops, etc will all add intensity to your workout.

Think about compound movements – soldiers have to do a lot of moving. They overload with external weight which doesn’t come off (think packs, belts, boots) when they have to run, jump, climb, squat, etc. Moving isn’t all straightforward work. Many of our regular activities require us to twist, bend, and move laterally (side to side) as well as up, down, reaching and more. Try adding some compound movements into your workout. Compound movements are those that may combine two or three different movements – a squat with a kick and rotation, a lunge with balance work included, or pushups with a squat jump (daisy pickers) included.

Here’s a link to a boot camp workout from about.com
Here’s a link to freeworkoutsguide.com
Disclaimer – I didn’t check out all these listings but they have quite a variety to choose from.

What is Functional Training

Ready to take your workout to a new level?  You’ve been building workouts you can do anywhere, now add an unstable surface and you’ve got functional training!  What is functional training? Well, functional training mimics activities you do in your daily life.  If the reason you avoid working out is because you think its rather boring to sit on a machine, lift weight ten times, rest as you stare off into space, lift again, and repeat on the next machine, I have news for you.  Functional training is fun, practical, applicable to your daily activities, develops your core strength so you have a stronger base to deliver power from, and a strong core helps keep you more injury free.

Think about what movement you would like to become better at. Is it playing with your children or grandchildren? What about a specific sport or skill in sport? Golf season is right around the corner. How about the ability to lift items out of your refrigerator without fear or moving from your couch to the bathroom? All of these items can be made better using functional training techniques.

We know that to get better at something we need to practice. Your mother was right when she made you sit at the piano for hours. You have to practice in order to create better neuromuscular efficiency. Basically put, the more you practice the better your brain gets at sending the signal to the muscle, “this is how I want you to move”. The more that pathway is repeated the more efficient you will be at the movement.

If you are trying get better at or to avoid injury during a movement or sport you must practice that particular movement. So I don’t know about you, but I know I don’t walk around doing crunch type movements all day, so why do a million during a workout? If I wanted to effectively train my abs I would look to more core aligned movements, which produce more power through strength development of the entire core. This would allow me to do the things I need to everyday. I have small children, I need to rotate, lift, move quickly in odd directions, and lift 30lbs of squirmy people at any given time. I do not need all my ab strength to allow me to crunch forward.

Try adding some functional training to your workout this week see what happens. First, pick a movement you would like to become better at. Start practicing that movement with no weight, then maybe with light weight, and finally on one foot. Next, begin creating an unstable surface with your basic strength training routine. Try lifting the heel of one foot while performing your lifts to create the unstable surface. If this is comfortable try to lift the whole foot off the ground for a one-legged more unstable surface. In yoga we concentrate heavily on foundation, or what is in contact with the floor during our movements. The same rule applies here, the smaller the foundation, the harder the core will work to stabilize you, therefore the more strong the core will become at adapting to slight movements of the body when put under stress (strength training), and the more you need to concentrate on alignment and proper form, keeping your mind more engaged. It is important, as always, to discuss your workouts with your health care provider and to make sure you are working within your own boundaries. Do not attempt to perform an exercise with bad form. You are better to do something small with good form rather than big with bad form.

Begin functional training and watch your abilities soar. You’ll become better adapted at moving in the patterns you do all day long. Maybe even make the greatest ESPN shot of the game ever recorded … No guarantees, though. Happy Training!

References:

Muscle That Matters – Paul Scott

The Functional Training Craze – Jesse Cannone

BodyBuilding.com

Exercises for Good Health

We can’t avoid messages about better heath however many people are asking what are exercises for good health? Just being told to exercise can lead to uncertainty about how to become more healthy and eventually lead back to less-healthy habits out of shear frustration.

Consider your goals when deciding what your best choices regarding exercises for good health are. Do you want to run longer, walk further, lose weight, or gain mass? These big picture questions about your future health will direct you toward right exercises for your good health.

The five basic components of exercise should be a focused on in any fitness routine: cardiovascular, strength, endurance, body composition, and flexibility. How much you’ll focus in one area verses another will depend on your goals, fitness level, and time you have to devote.

In a nut shell, cardiovascular exercise works large muscles groups, strengthens our heart and lungs, and is done over a period of time, say 20-60 minutes. Muscle strength and endurance creates muscles strong enough to accomplish desired tasks (strength) over a period of time (endurance). Body composition is a ratio between fat and lean mass and will change according to your fitness. Flexibility training is a fancy name for stretching, but is very important because it keeps our muscles moving through full range of motion ready to respond to tasks we ask of them – lifting grocery bags, catching us as we slip on ice, running to first base, hugging your kids, lifting your best one rep max ever, the list goes on. (See older blog posts for more specifics on the 5 components of fitness)

In the end the best exercises for good health are those you will do!

Train for Your Game – Softball Workouts.

Smell the summer air, what goes great with summer? Softball! No matter what your summer sport, it is better to train prior to your game to maximize your strength, endurance, and skills.
Softball, like golf draws much of its power from rotational force. As you swing the bat your core strength determines how powerful you hit the ball. Once the ball is in flight, your body must use explosive speed to get you on base, ok, for some we wouldn’t put explosive and speed in the same sentence, but that is the idea.

Any softball workout program is enhanced by basic strength training.When we begin training we need to develop conditioning strength before beginning more specific activity. Once you’ve cleared your plans with your health care provider, start with basic strength training. Choose one to two exercises per muscle group and lift weight heavy enough to fatigue your muscles in eight to ten repetitions. Once you’ve built a base of strength you can begin adding activities specific to softball.

Core is important in this sport. All your power comes from your middle. You want to train these muscle groups in tri-planar movement, with overload. Translation: Move in many different directions and use something to add weight to your movement. It is important to have significant strength through the core before you add external weight, which is why you want base strength. Try using something to create an unstable surface to work from. For example: Using your bat begin with both feet flat on the floor, legs a little further than hip distance apart, knees bent. Begin gently swinging your bat side to side to warm up rotational muscles Next, try the same movement on a BOSU ball (a piece of equipment used for training on an unstable surface.), Finally, take the same movement and add weight to the bat. Notice the difference between the different movements. What happens to the abdominal muscles when asked to work on an unstable surface? Remember, you must be able to maintain good form. Once you can no longer maintain good form you know you’ve reach your limit and you must begin to build strength and endurance in those muscle groups before going further into the movement pattern.

To train the core in multi-planar movement get creative. What types of movement mimics the skills you will need during your game? Begin with these movements and then build on them. Try doing the movements on one foot or while shifting your weight from side to side. Keep the abdominals tight to protect your back and notice how these muscle groups work together. Think of ways to engage these muscle groups as a unit to effectively build your power.

Most of us not only need to hit the ball but we need to be able to get on base. Running the bases takes explosive speed. We go from standing still to moving quickly and then we stop as quickly as we started. This type of movement requires some training to keep injury at bay. Once, again a baseline of strength is necessary before tackling too much, and talk with your health care professional before beginning any exercise program. Set up a sprint course during your workout. Begin by walking for one to two minutes, warm-up and move with purpose; get your heart rate going, then all out run for thirty to forty-five seconds, recover while walking and then repeat. Parking lots are good for sprint courses; find a parking lot with empty slots and use the lines as your markers. You can develop different workouts to keep you interested. It is also important to cross train. Using other types of cardiovascular workouts (i.e. Different cardio machines, movements, or workout formats) use the sprint model to challenge your explosive speed. Cross training will keep you from over-training and you’ll be less likely to get injured or develop your speed without balance to your body.

Flexibility is incredibly important in this sport. If you work to develop strength without training flexibility you’ll end up with increased strength, but limited movement patterns due to limited range of motion. This sets you up for injury and you will not maximize your new strength or skills.

When training for softball this summer, think about the movements you do during your game, then mimic those during your workouts while adding challenge, by increasing your speed or weight while performing the movement. After developing your base strength through general strength training, pay extra attention to your core and get creative with movements in many directions, on unstable surfaces,followed with stretching after every workout. Swing batter, batter, Swing!

How to Stretch Effectively

Photo Credit: www.Sunlighten.com   

Many people fail to stretch because they just don’t know how. The basics of flexibility are easy and once you get them down begin adding them into all your workouts for maximum benefits. Stretching may seem mild in comparison to your normal workout but don’t forget to stretch your muscles will thank you.

When you begin flexibility training start slow. Begin by holding stretches for 15-30 seconds at the point you feel tension in the muscle. Do not bounce as you hold these stretches, you’ll run the risk of hurting muscle tissue. We have a built in response system for muscle tension, and bouncing can damage muscle tissue by moving it beyond the threshold too quickly. Stretch all muscles you worked.

Try foam rollers to help you relieve soreness and deepen your stretches.

Many times stretching can help soreness. There are many theories surrounding muscle soreness, but stretching seems to relieve it. Begin by moving around or taking a hot shower or bath, allowing blood to reach muscle tissue, stretch muscles that are sore using the above guidelines, and feel better.

Remember: 

Warm Up Your Muscles
Start Slow
Move to the Point of Tension
Hold for 15-30 Seconds
Repeat Stretches 2-3 Times Per Muscle Group
AND Don’t Ignore Your Flexibility Training!