Sideline that slouch with these five moves that target your upper posterior chain to help you stand taller and lift heavier.
Since the average American spends around 13 hours a day sitting, having a spine like a question mark punctuated by a concave chest and rounded shoulders is typical for the 9-to-5 desk jockey. Such habitually poor posture can actually alter the length of your muscles.
“The muscles in the front side of your body tend to get shortened and the muscles and tissues in the back side tend to get lengthened,” says C. Shante Cofield, DPT, and founder of TheMovementMaestro.com. This is especially true of the upper body, which is the primary culprit in the daily slouch-a-thon. Strengthening the upper part of your posterior chain — the erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids and levator scapulae — can help straighten you out, correcting imbalances and improving performance.
“Better alignment means a better length/tension relationship of the muscles on either side of the joint, which means you can produce more force,” says Cofield. More force means heavier weights lifted, faster development and increased overall calorie burn. It also does wonders for your posture, making it easier to hold what Cofield calls a “confident position”: shoulders back, chest up and ears in line with the shoulders.
Adopting proper posture elongates you, making your belly look flatter and your waistline appear trimmer. Ready to stand tall? Use these moves for perfect posture in the gym and out of it.
Why: Strengthens all the back muscles and rear delts, helping straighten you up from head to hips.
Performance Benefit: Helps train you to get the bar off the ground faster and more efficiently during moves such as snatches and cleans.
How: Take an overhand grip on the pull-up bar with your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Draw your shoulder blades together, then drive your elbows down and back to pull your chin up toward the bar. Pause briefly then lower slowly to the start.
Seated Cable Row
Why: Isolates the upper back and counteracts a rounded thoracic spine.
Performance Benefit: Strengthens the muscles that power a barbell clean from the floor to your shoulders, which means you’ll be able to get under the bar that much faster.
How: Sit in the machine with your knees slightly bent and hold a V-handle with your arms extended. Keeping your torso upright (don’t lean back), drive your elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades together to bring the handle in toward your abdomen. Slowly return to the start.
Why: Trains scapular retraction, opening and lifting the chest.
Performance Benefit: Promotes a straight-back posture, which is essential for proper deadlift form.
How: With palms facing down, grip a lightweight resistance band and hold it at chest height with your hands shoulder-width apart. Keeping your arms straight, retract your shoulder blades and open your arms to the sides, pulling the band apart as far as you can. Pause briefly then return slowly to the start.
Why: Strengthens the erector spinae, putting a jutting chin (caused by overstretched muscles in the back of the neck) back in place.
Performance Benefits: Strengthens the muscles that help you hold and stabilize a front rack position for squats and thrusters.
How: Lie facedown with your arms behind your back, resting the backs of your hands on your glutes. Lift your head and shoulders off the ground and keep them raised as you bring your arms forward, parallel with the ground. As they come overhead, turn your palms to face downward and touch your thumbs together. Return to the start to complete one rep.
Foam Roller Angel
Why: Stretches tight pectorals and encourages a neutral spine, counteracting question-mark posture.
Performance Benefits: Positions shoulders properly for correct set-up position of big barbell lifts and presses.
How: Lie faceup with a foam roller positioned lengthwise under your spine, neck and head. Extend your arms to the sides, palms facing upward, and allow your shoulders and chest to open. Slowly move your arms in a “snow angel” movement from your hips to overhead, then back to the starting position.
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When you push hard day after day, you risk being sidelined by injury. Here’s how to avoid overtraining to stay fit and healthy.
Once you’ve had the “No Pain, No Gain” mantra chiseled into your brain, it can be a bit tough to rewire your thought process and modify your workout. But there are a few tips and techniques that can help you learn the art of slowing down.
Opening yourself up to a new workout strategy is the most important barrier to overcome. Once your mind becomes free of workout ideologies of the past, there’s no limit to the new fitness levels you can reach. In order to reach this level of openness, try consulting with a counselor to discuss the reasons why you feel the need to push your body into an unsafe zone. Regular meditation or gentle yoga can also help with physical and mental relaxation.
Find The Right Teacher
If you feel that you’ve been overdoing it thanks to your trainer, then perhaps it’s time to have a talk and change up the game plan. If your trainer is adamant about sticking to a workout program that you feel isn’t right for you, then perhaps it’s time to part ways.
Learning anything new takes practice. And learning to take a few steps back from your normal workout routine can be incredibly daunting. The more often you integrate rest days or days of active recovery (walking the dog, taking a yoga class, etc.) into your exercise routine, the easier it will become.
How to Determine You’re Doing Too Much
Dr. Scott Weiss, a licensed physical therapist and board certified athletic trainer, knows a thing or two about overtraining and how it can impact the body. Here are his top warning signs that you’re pushing your body too hard.
- Sensation of heavy legs during your runs or throughout the day, even on non-exercising days
- Altered sleep patterns
- Mood disturbances, including irritability, lack of focus and concentration, and depression
- Insatiable thirst
- Excessive soreness
- Frequent injuries
- Decreased performance
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Weary of all the research that links stretching to injury? Follow the six rules below to make sure you’re doing it safely and effectively.
You don’t need to be able to break out into the splits on cue, but the first step to having a more limber body comes with understanding some general guidelines. The problem? Stretching is actually pretty controversial. Some studies have shown that stretching before a workout can be counterproductive and even dangerous. “Before a workout, a cold muscle is like a frozen elastic band, so if you go to stretch it, it may feel like it’s going to snap,” explains certified fitness personal trainer Sarah Robichaud.
The key to reaping the benefits of stretching is to do it safely. Here’s what you need to know about stretching – the right way, at the right time:
Don’t Stretch Cold Muscles
If you want to stretch before a workout (which you don’t have to do – the postworkout stretch is the important one) warm up first for about five minutes before performing your first stretch, says Robichaud. Jog, march on the spot or do jumping jacks. Then, lightly stretch the major muscle groups: the quads, hamstrings, back, chest and sides. (Lightly means holding each stretch for about 30 seconds.)
One of the main reasons working out before a stretching session is so important is because warm muscles are flexible muscles. “It’s best to stay warm when you’re stretching,” explains celebrity fitness trainer Terri Walsh. She recommends putting your sweats on at the end of your workout to maintain your body heat as you stretch.
“In order to change your flexibility and change it for good, you have to sit in uncomfortable positions for minutes on end,” says Walsh. To maximize your flexibility gains, hold your postworkout stretches for two minutes, suggests Walsh.
Push Yourself During Your Stretches
…but never to the point of injury or pain. When you’re performing an effective stretch, you’re going to feel it, and it’s not always going to be pleasant. But just because you’re stretching to the point of discomfort (never pain), especially as you first build your flexibility, doesn’t mean you should be going beyond what you can handle. If it feels wrong for you, that’s because it probably is. Listen to your body as you stretch.
During the 10 to 15 minutes that you spend stretching your muscles after each workout, remember to breathe deeply and consciously. This will help replenish oxygen, increase the effectiveness of your flexibility training, and contribute to a level of relaxation and mindfulness that may currently be missing from your workouts.
Although some dynamic movement may be required for certain stretches, bouncing into and out of stretches can cause injury and should be avoided.
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Untie the knots that are holding you back by releasing these five problem areas.
Though they’re not fully understood, trigger points are commonly believed to be mini muscle spasms caused by repetitive trauma to the tissue, either because of poor posture or repetitive movement patterns that, over time, cause a compensation to occur. That compensating muscle soon becomes overworked and consequently develops a trigger point to express its outrage.
And not only are trigger points painful, but they’re also sinister. “Trigger points prevent you from getting a full range of motion, either from pain or tightness or both, which increases your chance of injury during exercise,” says Kyle Stull, Ph.D., a licensed manual therapist and an educator for the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Some areas are more prone to trigger points than others and depend on things such as lifestyle, faulty movement patterns or even footwear (stilettos, anyone?). The most common culprits are the calves, upper back/shoulders, chest, glutes and hip flexors.
On the Ball
Your best bet for optimal results is to release those trigger points before and after your workout, increasing range of motion and decreasing risk of injury. “Since trigger points are deep in the musculature, you need something more dense than a foam roller to address them,” says Stull, who suggests using a 5-inch massage ball (such as the MB5 Massage Ball, $25, tptherapy.com).
To use, place it between your muscle and a solid surface, and roll over an area slowly. When you find a tender spot, hold pressure for 30 to 90 seconds. “That decreases the blood flow to the area, hopefully inhibiting it and releasing it,” Stull says. Afterward, do some static stretching to increase the muscle’s length and help the tissue heal.
It could take several weeks of consistent rolling to release a trigger point, but it will most certainly come back if your form or posture is still out of whack. “You can rub a sore neck and it might feel better, but it’s not really going to change anything,” Stull says. “Figure out the reason and correct it; don’t simply release stuff that feels tight.” His suggestion: Have a professional assess your posture, and be conscious of repetitive movement patterns and lifestyle factors that might cause trigger points.
Roll over each muscle carefully, and once you find a trigger point, hold and apply pressure for 30 to 90 seconds. Do both before and after a workout.
If you wear heels or are an avid runner or jump-rope aficionado, trigger points can plague your calves.
Position the ball under the middle to lower calf and roll slowly up and down until you find a tender area. Note: If your feet turn outward, position the ball higher on the calf and perform.
Hips (rectus femoris, psoas,tensor fasciae latae)
Sitting and quad-dominant activities like cycling or running can cause tight hips.
Lie facedown on your elbows with one knee bent, and position the ball under your extended leg (top photo). Roll slowly up your quad toward the hip, stopping to hold wherever it feels tender.
To hit the tensor fasciae latae, position the ball at your hip, roll onto your side, cross the top leg over the bottom and tip your whole body forward slightly until you find the sore spot (bottom photo).
Overtraining and a weak core can cause a trigger point in your glutes.
Sit with the ball underneath the upper glutes of one leg and cross that ankle over your opposite knee. Focus your work on the top part of the gluteus medius near the hipbone.
Upper Back and Shoulders (levator scapulae/upper trapezius)
Technology and continual sitting can put a major knot in your neck.
Place the ball between your upper back and a wall, starting at the upper inner corner of your shoulder blade and rolling in until you find a tender spot. (Don’t roll over your vertebrae.)
Chest (pectoralis major/minor)
Slouched posture can cause a trigger point in your pecs.
Place the ball between a wall and your chest near your shoulder. Lean forward and roll inward toward the sternum until you find a trigger point.
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If you want to improve your lifting potential, prevent injury and tie together your physique, it’s time to accessorize.
An accessory movement is a lift that targets muscles that provide vital assistance during the larger lifts that get you the most bang for your buck. For example, the lats are the primary movers in a chin-up, but they can’t perform without the assistance of the traps. Adding a kettlebell angled press to your workout to strengthen the lower and middle traps will enhance the performance of the lats, enabling you to do more chin-ups with better form in the long term.
Accessory moves help promote muscular balance and overall strength, and when programmed properly, they also help prevent injury. Add these moves into your workouts, scheduling them after your big movement patterns, and seal up those weak links in your movement chains once and for all.
- Accessory muscles worked: Adductors, obliques, quadratus umborum
- Muscles assisted: Quads, glutes
- Exercises enhanced: Squat, deadlift
Stand with your feet double shoulder-width apart with your toes turned slightly outward. Bend your right knee and shift your weight to the right, tracking your knee over your toes until your left leg is completely straight with your heel on the ground, foot flexed, chest lifted. Pause, then return to the start and continue, alternating sides.
Note: You can either touch your fingers lightly to the floor for balance — making sure your chest stays lifted — or if you have good balance, hold your hands in front of your chest.
- Accessory muscles worked: Core (rectus abdominis, erector spinae, transverse abdominis, intercostals)
- Muscles assisted: Total body
- Exercises enhanced: Overhead press, squat, deadlift, bent-over row
Adjust the straps on a TRX or suspension system to midshin level. Get into a forearm plank with your feet in the loops, head, hips and heels aligned and elbows underneath your shoulders. Engage your glutes to prevent your lower back from sagging. Using your forearms as leverage, push your body backward, straightening your arms until your ears come over your elbows. Pause, then slowly return to the start.
Note: This move should be done with control; don’t just swing back and forth as if at a playground.
Kettlebell Angled Press
- Accessory muscles worked: Lower and middle trapezius
- Muscles assisted: Deltoids, rhomboids, lats
- Exercises enhanced: Chin-up, pulldown, bench press
Hold the handle of a kettlebell with both hands in front of you with your elbows bent 90 degrees. Bend forward from the hips until your torso is at about a 45-degree angle to the ground. Keeping your torso steady, smoothly slide the kettlebell outward along the same plane as your torso until your arms are fully extended in line with your ears. Hold for a half-second, then slowly return to the start.
Note: Do this with a light kettlebell so you can maintain the proper pressing angle.
- Accessory muscles worked: Vastus medialis oblique (“teardrop” quadriceps muscle)
- Muscles assisted: Remaining three quadriceps muscles
- Exercises enhanced: Squat, plyometric jump, deadlift
Stand on top of a small box with one foot off the edge, foot flexed, leg straight. Bend your standing knee slowly, lowering your flexed heel toward the floor until it touches down lightly. Pause, then push through the standing foot to extend back to the start. Do all reps on one side before switching.
Note: It’s OK if the heel of your standing leg comes off the box.
- Accessory muscles worked: Rear deltoids, middle traps, rhomboids
- Muscles assisted: Medial deltoids, lats
- Exercises enhanced: One-arm row, pulldown, overhead press
Secure a light- to moderate-weight resistance band around a stable object such as a squat rack. Stand a few feet away from the base of the machine and hold the band at shoulder height, arms straight, and pack your shoulder blades. Drive your elbows out and back to pull the band apart and toward your forehead, attempting to get as much distance between your hands as possible. Slowly return to the start.
Note: Make sure you’re opening your arms as you’re pulling to best engage the proper muscles, especially the rear delts.
- Accessory muscles worked: Glutes, hamstrings
- Muscles assisted: Lower back, abdominals
- Exercises enhanced: Romanian deadlift, squat, good morning
Secure a resistance band low on a stable object and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, facing away from the anchor with the band between your feet. Keeping your back flat, hinge at the hips and grasp the band with both hands, arms long, and allow the band to pull your hands between your legs toward the anchor. Keeping your back flat, drive forward with your glutes and hips, pulling the band up and through your legs until you’re standing up completely. Slowly return to the start and repeat right away.
Note: Your arms are only an anchor for the band as your glutes and hips work, similar to a kettlebell swing, so do not pull with them when performing this exercise.
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With all of the running, jumping, squatting and bending you do, it’s important to take care of your knees. Here’s how to avoid damaging this crucial joint.
Whether you’re reading this article sitting down, hovering over your kitchen island, or gliding on the elliptical trainer, your knees are hard at work. As with most parts of your body, you’re unlikely to give them much thought until they start giving you trouble. But experts say considering the well-being of your knees is something you should do every day if you want to stay fit, active, and out of the orthopedist’s office for many years to come.
“Your knees are incredibly important, but also very vulnerable joints,” says Scott Martin, MD, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School. “They allow you to walk, run, sit, stand, twist, turn, and do so much more. They’re greatly connected to the rest of your body, so you can’t think of your knees in isolation without considering what your feet, ankles and hips are doing, too.”
One of the reasons your knees suffer injury more so than any other joint in your body is their anatomy. Unlike your hips and shoulders, where the end of one bone fits neatly into a crevice within the other, your knees are hinge joints. “The femur and shin bones come together to form the joint, but don’t actually fit together,” says Christine Pollard, PhD, PT, an associate professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University. Instead, they’re connected by ligaments — soft tissues that give the joint lots of mobility, but also increase the likelihood of injury because the joint is inherently unstable, explains Pollard. Capping off the joint is the patella, or kneecap, which floats in the front of the joint and slides within a groove at the front of the femur.
See Also Your ACL Woes Could Be Genetic
Living a fit lifestyle has a big impact on the health of your knees. That’s because maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk of knee pain compared to carrying around excess pounds. A study in the journal BMC Public Health found that obese individuals are three times more likely to suffer knee pain compared to those in a normal weight range. The reason is simple: the heavier you are, the greater the load your knees have to carry. “Each step you take on a flat surface puts about one and a half times your body weight on each knee, and walking up and down stairs puts two to three times your body weight across the knee joint,” says Martin. This means that if you weigh 130 pounds, your knees are loaded with up to 400 pounds of pressure – that’s already asking a lot. But if you weigh 200 pounds, for example, that amount shoots up to 600 pounds, and the stress that is placed on your knees during daily activities can lead to wear and tear much sooner.
But there’s also a downside that comes with being active: exercises like squats and lunges place stress on your knees that is the equivalent of three to five times your body weight, says Martin. “And if you’re adding weights, kettlebells or an incline on the treadmill, the pressure and potential for injury become even greater.”
Fortunately, with the right techniques and training, there’s plenty you can do to reduce your risk of exercise-related injury, so your knees can continue to shine as the unsung heroes of your health.
What’s Your (Q) Angle?
There’s a fact of life that cannot be ignored when it comes to your knees: simply being a woman boosts your risk of injury. According to a study appearing in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, women are two to five times more likely than men to rupture their ACL, a central stabilizing ligament within the knee. And female athletes are more than twice as likely as their male counterparts to experience patellofemoral pain syndrome (a.k.a. runner’s knee), which causes pain and inflammation in the front of the knee and around the kneecap.
“Ten years ago, we thought the difference in knee injuries between men and women had to do with weakness at the knee, but in the last five years, we’ve found a lot of this is driven by what’s happening at the hip,” explains Pollard. In general, women have a larger Q-angle — the angle that forms between the femur and the tibia, or shinbone — than men because we tend to have wider hips. And the wider your Q-angle, the more your quads tug at the kneecap. This can potentially pull it out of its groove, setting you up for patellofemoral pain syndrome and increased stress along your ACL, says Martin. This also means you’re more likely to be doing certain exercises with a knock-kneed stance, which yanks on the knee joint.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
This doesn’t mean that you need to cut exercises like squats, box jumps and lunges from your routine. But it does mean that your form should always be priority number one. To perform a check-up on your exercise form, do a few reps of single-legged squats while facing a mirror. If your standing knee caves inward, that’s bad news — you’re compromising its integrity with every single rep. If this is the case, Pollard advises to go back to basics and perform your squats and lunges slowly. Pay extra care that your knee tracks directly over your ankle every time you bend your knee while doing these exercises. Decrease your speed and range of motion, and remove any additional resistance until you’re able to perform the move with proper alignment.
Also, remember to pay close attention while performing jumping exercises: be sure to bend at your knees and hips when you land. “Kick your hips back on the landing, and make sure your torso is more upright rather than leaning forward,” instructs Pollard. Not only will you keep yourself safe from injury, performing these exercises with proper form will keep your entire kinetic chain, which supports your knees, strong.
Another reality about being an active woman is that your menstrual cycle may play a role in your risk of knee injuries. Surprising new research suggests that higher estrogen levels during ovulation make your ligaments more flexible, which may put extra stress on your joints and increase your risk of tearing your ACL. What’s more, a study found that the week before your period, when levels of the hormone progesterone rise, there is less activation in the vastus medialis oblique, a muscle of your quadriceps that controls the movement of your kneecap. “During this phase, you may be less capable of keeping the kneecap from sliding against the femur, which can set you up for injuries,” says study author Matthew Tenan, a PhD student of kinesiology at the University of Texas. “There’s not enough evidence to recommend changing your routine around your menstrual cycle,” he says, but it may be an added incentive to pay extra attention to your form during this time. “It’s also even more reason to focus on exercises that strengthen the muscles around your knee joint, such as lateral step-ups, lateral squats and hip abduction on the cable, in order to keep those muscles strong,” says Tenan. Balance training — such as squats on a BOSU — will also strengthen your hips and core. These stabilizing muscles help your knees track properly in other activities, too, such as biking and running, adds Tenan.
Finally, the footwear you sport outside of the gym may be just as important to your knee health as what you wear during exercise. A study in the journal Gait & Posture found that women who wore nearly four-inch high heels experienced 39% more stress on the front of their knee than those trekking in 2.5-inch heels. Downsize your heel height as much as you can to protect your knees.
As for your workout kicks? “Everyone has different footwear needs, so it’s important to have someone knowledgeable outfit you with appropriate shoes for exercise,” says Pollard. “Sometimes, knee pain can originate from an injury in your foot or ankle that causes you to change your mechanics during exercise, putting additional stress on your knee.” Pollard also suggests replacing your running shoes about every 500 miles or every six months. As the midsole breaks down, it absorbs less shock, which transfers that pressure to your ankles and knees, putting the health of your joints on the line when wearing your favorite kicks past their prime.
Use Your Head, Protect Your Knees
ldquo;The reality is that many knee problems can be prevented with common sense,” says Martin. “For example, if you have pain in your knee or any joint, stop what you’re doing.” Make an appointment with your doctor to get it checked out so you can treat the condition, or work with a physical therapist to get back to your active life, pain-free.
You also need to play it smart while progressing through your fitness routines. Before increasing the intensity of your workout, take five to 10 minutes to stretch the muscles around your knee joint, including your calves, hamstrings and quads. A study appearing in the journal Dynamic Medicine found that tightness in those muscles may increase the stress on your knees and contribute to injuries. Ease into new exercises, allowing your knees a chance to adapt and get comfortable. For instance, practice exercises using only your body weight, and gradually increase resistance.
Martin also encourages developing a regular cross-training program that combines high- and low-impact activities, often within a single workout. “Your knees can handle high-impact sports like running — as long as you mix it up with lower-impact activities like cycling, using the elliptical trainer and swimming,” he says. “But even 45 to 60 minutes of high-impact activity is too much stress on your knees, and eventually they will let you know.”
Give your knobs the proper care, however, and you will be unstoppable in the gym – and in all aspects of your life. Remember: your fitness hinges on them.
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Try these six moves to release — and relieve — your lower back.
The world sits. A lot. And according to the National Institutes of Health, eight out of 10 people experience back pain at some point in their lives. Though sedentary living is the No. 1 reason people experience back pain, gym-goers are not exempt: Heavy lifting without adequate stretching can do a number on your lower back, causing chronically tight muscles that can inhibit your range of motion and prevent you from reaching your lifting potential.
Tight hip flexors cause your pelvis to tilt anteriorly, allowing your glutes to slack off and making your low-back muscles work double time to support your spine. Tight hamstrings only exacerbate this issue, pulling the pelvis more out of place and adding even more load to the lumbar spine.
Release your lower back from active duty with these two stretching techniques that target those troublesome hamstrings and hip flexors while also relieving your lumbar musculature.
Perform the active stretches preworkout or postworkout to warm up your lower back and hip complex, and do the passive stretches postworkout or even before bed to increase your range of motion while gently stretching chronically tight areas.
Active Stretches Toe Touch to Extension
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Fold forward and touch your toes, then stand up and reach and look overhead, even reach backward a little if flexibility allows. Continue, alternating toe touch and extension, moving at an even, moderate pace and trying to increase range of motion in both directions for a total of 10 reps.
Get on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tuck your tailbone and chin and round your back like a Halloween cat, exhaling as you rise. Then slowly reverse the move, arching your back and lifting your tail and chin toward the sky as you inhale.
Return to neutral, then look over your left shoulder toward your glutes, contracting that side of your body to pull your left hip toward your shoulder. Repeat in the other direction to conclude one rep. Do 10 total reps.
Lie facedown with your arms extended outward to form a T, palms down, head neutral. Stretch one heel toward the opposite hand, trying to bring it as close as you can, allowing your hips to lift as you turn to the side. Hold for three counts, return to the start and repeat on the opposite side.
Do 10 reps each side, trying to go a little farther with each rep.
Passive Stretches Legs Up the Wall
Lie faceup with your glutes close to a wall. Extend your legs straight up, so your hips make a 90-degree angle to the wall, feet flexed. Work to get your knees straight as you hold and breathe for up to five minutes.
Get on all fours with your toes close together, knees spread a little wider than your hips. Sit back on your heels, reaching your arms in front of you, dropping your tailbone toward your heels and lowering your head toward the floor. Hold and breathe for a minute or more.
Foam Roller Extension
Lie on top of a foam roller that is positioned under your lower back and relax all your muscles. Hug one knee into your chest, hold and breathe. Do 60 seconds on each side.
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Strengthen the muscles surrounding your knee and hip joints to train harder, run better and lift more efficiently.
No matter where you land on the fitness spectrum, there is always risk of a knee injury that will derail your progress. Unfortunately, knee injuries can plague just about anyone — from beginners to seasoned gym-goers and elite runners.
Physically active people are at risk for knee injuries mainly resulting from overuse and improper running or lifting techniques, as well as direct trauma to the joint.
Overuse injuries are often seen in runners who fail to cross-train or who have biomechanical problems. Improper lifting techniques can put uneven forces on your knees, making you susceptible to injuries. And direct trauma to the joint is most likely the result of a work-related incident, a vehicular collision or an accident while playing a sport that requires quick and sudden changes in direction, like basketball, football or hockey.
Although sporting accidents causing trauma to the knee joint can be unavoidable, overuse injuries are preventable. At the very least, there are exercises you can do that will mitigate your risk. The longer you can remain injury-free, the better results you will achieve.
Strengthening your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps will help prevent knee injuries. The gluteus medius plays a very important role in stabilizing your hips and preventing unnecessary internal rotation of the knee, especially during weight-bearing activities. And if your hamstrings are too weak relative to your quads, you are also more likely to get injured because this causes imbalanced forces to act upon your knee.
The good news: There are five simple moves that will help strengthen the muscles surrounding your knee and hip joints, allowing you to train harder, run better and lift more efficiently.
The clamshell helps strengthen your gluteus medius.
To perform the clamshell, lie down on your side. Then bend both your legs at the knees. While keeping your legs bent and your feet together, activate your gluteus medius as you lift up your top leg. It’s important to do the same number of repetitions on each side. In order to make the move more challenging, add an elastic band around your knees.
2. Side Leg Lift
This move is performed almost like the clamshell, except your top leg is straight while your bottom leg is slightly bent. Lie down on your side and make sure that both your hips and both shoulders are directly underneath each other. While engaging your gluteus medius, lift your top leg up toward the sky. Lift it high enough to be able to engage your glutes while maintaining proper form. However, there is no need to lift it super high.
If you would like to challenge yourself, hold your top leg for three to five seconds in the “up” position before bringing it down to start your next repetition. Again, you should do the same number of repetitions on each side.
3. Glute Bridge
The glute bridge works your glutes, hamstrings and core.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Place your feet firmly on the floor. Engage your glutes and core as you lift your hips up off the floor. Hold the “up” position for a few seconds before bringing your hips back down to start another repetition. If you would like to further challenge yourself, place a barbell on top of your hips to add resistance.
4. Resistance-Band Squat
Resistance-band squats primarily target your glutes, as well as your quads.
Place a band around both your legs, just above your knees. You should feel resistance from the elastic band as you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Descend into a squat position while pushing your legs outward to keep your knees from going inward as you squat. As you come down, make sure that your knees don’t go too far forward over your toes.
5. Ball Hamstring Curl
Ball hamstring curls target your hamstrings, core and glutes.
Lie on your back with your heels on an exercise ball. Using your arms at your sides for balance, engage your core and glutes as you lift your hips off the floor. While your hips are in the air, contract your hamstrings as you pull the ball toward you with your feet. In order to make this exercise more challenging, try doing single-legged ball hamstring curls. If you are doing single-legged repetitions, be sure to do the same number for each leg.
The number of repetitions you perform for each of the above exercises will depend on your fitness level. Beginners should attempt to do three sets of 10 repetitions. As you get more advanced, you will be able to do more repetitions as well as gradually increase the difficulty of each exercise.
When you strengthen your posterior chain, you will decrease your risk for injury, which will make you a better lifter and runner. The longer you remain injury-free, the better your results will be.
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Properly identifying the pain and symptoms can help you assess the next steps with your workout routine.
If you’ve spent enough time in a gym, you’ve probably heard many pain-centric mottos from trainers and fellow gym-goers: “No pain, no gain.” “If it’s not hurting, it’s not working.” “Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.”
But what if that pain you’re suffering from is more than just a nagging soreness or discomfort? What if it’s actually an injury?
“While exercising strengthens and tones the body and allows for the muscles to get stronger and firmer, it also applies an immense pressure that can easily lead to injury,” says Dr. Armin Tehrany, founder of Manhattan Orthopedic Care and honorary surgeon for the New York Police Department. “It’s important to understand your body’s limitations in order to prevent injury and grow stronger.”
Signs and Symptoms
Start the process by discerning what constitutes “good” versus “bad” pain. Tehrany says good pain can be described as a general level of discomfort during your workout and 24 to 48 hours postworkout, so long as you are putting in the effort. However, if you are feeling pain or soreness while resting or an overwhelming level of soreness after 72 hours, to the point that you are questioning whether you should work out again, you should see your doctor.
Your experience undoubtedly will vary depending on the part of the body in question, but it could look something like this:
Knees: The knee is one of the largest joints in the body and faces near-constant activity, which means it can easily be at risk for injury without the proper precautionary methods. Some signs you need an expert to evaluate your knee, according to Tehrany, include significant localized pain on the top or bottom of the knee that is causing you discomfort and/or preventing you from walking or standing as part of your daily routine.
Shoulders: Common, repetitive motions, like overhead lifting or throwing, can lead to shoulder issues. If you feel your shoulder area “popping” during certain workouts and/or if you find that you can’t lift your arm above your head without pain, Tehrany advises seeing a doctor.
Muscles: When it comes to muscle strains in the back, arms and legs, it’s important to notice whether you are feeling overwhelming pain in any of these areas during your workout. If your muscle pain is slowing you down during a workout, you may have strained the muscle or even suffered a muscle overuse injury. Ensuring you are properly warmed up before exercising can help prevent certain strains, Tehrany says. Though it is also important to keep in mind many other factors like workout intensity, your body’s limitations and making sure you have the correct form.
Depending on your specific level of soreness or injury, Tehrany recommends the following self-care:
Active rest. Don’t just sit on the couch and pout — yoga may provide the relief you’re looking for. “Yoga helps the body achieve active recovery from soreness or muscle pain by helping stretch the areas where you feel discomfort, releasing tension and providing you with relief from aches and pains,” he says. “As a result, your body will feel energized and you will feel increased mobility overall.” Yoga is also known to help your body achieve an improved balance, which can, in turn, help improve your workout technique to avoid future muscle strain or injury.
Actual rest. While this may include some downtime catching up on Netflix, make sure you aren’t binging all night long — getting a good night’s sleep is essential for restoring the body. “When your body enters the non-REM or deep sleep stage, your body is working on stimulating tissue growth and muscle repair,” he says. “If someone’s sleep patterns frequently change or if their quality of sleep is hindered, their body may not recover from muscle pain or injury as well as someone who has a regulated sleep pattern.” Lack of sleep also can lead to the loss of muscle mass in general, which can ultimately affect how you perform in the gym.
Hydration. Postworkout recovery is as important as the workout itself. Proper postworkout hydration helps your body digest the nutrients it needs to repair muscle damage. If you are dehydrated after a workout, your muscles will not break down and rebuild (or get stronger) as successfully as someone who is properly hydrated. Also, dehydration causes fatigue, which will make you work harder in the gym and can lead to an overuse injury in the long run.
First aid. Finally, you must protect the strained or injured part of your body from further injury. This can mean icing, compressing and even elevating the injured part of your body during your rest period.
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