We've all been to the gym and seen those big guys pumping up their guns in front of the mirror as though their life depended on it. This is all well and good if you want rippling muscles to show off at the beach but if you want a healthy and balanced body you need to start with stability.
Generally when people begin lifting weights at the gym they bypass stability and jump straight to strength. Everyone wants to be strong and muscly, so it makes sense. But this lack of stability is what leads to many injuries. Without stability the body tightens up to protect joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. You can stretch and strengthen til the cows come home but without activating and strengthen the stabilising muscles you will always be prone to injury.
A good example of this is the core. Without core strength the muscles of the pelvis have to tighten up to provide pelvic stability. These muscles can then tighten up limiting pelvic movement. You will then feel tightness in your hamstrings and lower back, maybe even your hip flexors. Instinct says to stretch the muscles out which can provide some relief to the tightness but it just keeps coming back. The reason for this is that the core is still weak and therefore the pelvis is unstable.
So stop doing your sit-ups and start doing some core activation exercises. The benefits of this will reduce the likelihood of lower back pain, hip problems, knee injuries and much more.
Core activation - Let's start at the start. If you can't activate your core without moving or without weights then you really shouldn't be adding extra load or weight until you can activate it.
First the anatomy - You really need to understand the core muscles if you are going to activate them. So scrub up on your latin and lets go....
Transversus Abdominis (TVA) - This muscle is basically like a corset that wraps around from one side of the spine, all the way around the front and then attaches to the other side of the spine. It lives underneath the Rectus Abdominis (six pack) and oblique muscles.
How to find and activate them?
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Tuck your fingers around your hip bones and press in gently but deep. Try to pull in your belly button but only with around a quarter of your strength. You should feel the contraction deep and not on the top surface which will be your abdominals.
Multifidus - These muscles basically stabilise the spine and are involved in rotational movement of the spine. They stop the vertebrae from slipping forward and keep them aligned. They traverse the whole spine from the lumbar spine right up into the neck (cervical).
There is a lot of controversy as to how to activate and strengthen multifidus.
The hardest part with these muscles is actually activating them. Here are a few different ways you can try:
Pelvic Floor muscles - if you have ever been pregnant, done Yoga or Pilates then you will be familiar with the pelvic floor. Even so, I generally find most people are baffled by these muscles and only have a very limited understanding of what they actually do. There are differing views as to what muscles make up the pelvic floor. For the case of simplicity we will say that they are made up of the Levator Ani group of muscles (Pubococcygeus, Ileococcygeus and Puborectalis) and the Coccygeus muscle.
How to strengthen them?
1) Lying comfortably on your back or seated comfortably. Imagine you are stopping the flow of urine. Contract this muscle and then relax. Repeat this 10 times and build up to 30 times. Once you can comfortably do this 30 times build up to holding the muscle contracted for 1 minute.
2) Now do the same but now contract the anal sphincter. Contract and relax up to 30 times. Once you build up to this then try to hold for up to a minute.
When you can do these individually try and do them together by contracting both areas at the same time.
When you have mastered these exercises you should always incorporate them into any exercise regime, especially core work.. For instance if you are doing a plank pull on the pelvic floor muscles but squeezing the anal sphincter and also stopping the flow of urine by doing exercise 1 and 2.
It is generally said that if you can switch on the transversus abdomens and the pelvic floor then the multifidus will fire as well. The multifidus are by far the hardest muscles to visualise contracting or feel as though they are doing anything.
Common general core exercises
B: lift one knee and foot a few inches, then alternate (knee raises)
C: slide one heel out until your leg is straight, then alternate (knee slides)
The Plank: lying face down on the floor. Elbows tucked in and hands together at the front forming a triangle. Tuck your toes under and then press down with your elbows coming up onto elbows and toes. Pull on core using the techniques described above. The Transversus Abdominis, Multifidus and Pelvic floor. Hold until you can't hold any longer. You should build up to holding for at least 2 mins. Any signs of back pain you should cease immediately.
Self massage is an important part of any injury prevention or rehab program. I often get asked about what are the best tools for self massage. So here are the tools I use and recommend. If you have any questions about these tools or where to get them then please feel free to contact me.
1. Foam rollers
There are lots of foam rollers on the market ranging from El Cheapo soft ones that wouldn't hurt a fly and therefore won't have any impact on your steel rod for an ITB. Generally they range from around $15-$50 for a short 30com one. The long metre long ones cost around $30-$100. I would go mid range and try to get it from a Physio supplier if possible. The main key here is that it is really firm. Is aslo prefer the short ones as they are easier to store and take places.
Another version of the foam roller is the Rumble Roller. It is the 3rd picture below. They come in 2 lengths and also 2 firmness levels, pain or more pain. These rollers take the foam roller to the next level by adding ridges that stick out of the roller and can give you more point pressure than a standard roller. They range from around $69 for the short ones and $99 for the long ones. They are well worth the money and I think are superior to the standard roller if you can take it.
2. Massage Balls
These can be likened to torture devices and in some ways they are. They will torture the pain out of your muscles.
Use these guys for self release of Glutes, TFL, posterior rotator cuff, erectors and pretty much any superficial muscle.
You can get these for between $10-30. Also you can use any ball that suits from a tennis ball, cricket ball or even a lacross ball. Whatever causes "good" pain is key here. You need to be able to get into the muscles to release them.
Bakballs are another massage ball that is just like the good old 2 tennis balls in a sock that you can use to massage up and down the muscles either side of the spine. It can also be used on other areas as a normal massage ball.
This bizarre looking device is one of the best self massage tools you can get. It is very unique in shape and size so it can get to nearly all the hard to reach places. The major advantage of this tool is that you use your hands so the fine control is there. You can really pin point the problem area. This tool really shines when it comes to the upper trapezius muscles and upper back as no other tool can get downward pressure like the theracane. They retail for around $35 plus $20 shipping. Theracane.com.au
4. The Stick Roller
There are a few different types of these tools but basically the principle is the same. It is basically a long plastic stick with a handle at each end. The middle then rolls as you move it up and down a muscle. Kind of like a thin rolling pin. These are great for Quads, ITB, Calves, Tibialis Anterior and if you have a friend you trust they can use it on your shoulders and pretty much anywhere. The image to the left is the Tiger roller which is a bit more comfortable on the muscles. The stick roller is the one on the right. They retail from $30. A great tool for keeping those niggles away.
Firstly Happy New Year, may this year bring joy, peace, happiness and prosperity. I hope that you had a great night on New years filled with friends and family. I had an amazing few days and nights over New Years by going up to Satyananda Yoga Mangrove Yoga retreat. There were around 300 people who came to celebrate and ring in the new year with singing, music, dancing and a midnight fire ceremony. What better way to start the new year.
New years is a great time to reflect on our life and make changes that can further enhance our lives. I have found some useful questions to ask at this time are:
- What can I let go of this year?
- What do I want more of for this year?
- What do I have gratitude for in my life?
- What can I do for my health? Mental, physical and emotional.
As far as health goes new years is a great time to begin a fresh. Exercising more, eating healthy food, regular massage, talking to people, meditation, Yoga are all things that will enhance your life and make 2014 a year to remember. It is never too late to change.
Around two years ago I had the pleasure to study with fascia guru and creator of Anatomy Trains, Thomas W Myers. Anatomy trains is a unique map of the way muscles and fascia (myo fascia - myo meaning muscle in Latin and fascia is the connective tissue that binds the whole body) connect together.
Often when you study musculoskeletal skeletal anatomy you only learn how the muscles attach to bones via tendons. No one tells you how they attach to each other and the influence this has on the whole body. Step in Tom Myers and you have a systematic way of reading the body and treatment?
Toms background and claim to fame is that he studied Rolfing (not a great name for a modality - sounds a bit like the sound you make when you throw up) with Ida Rolf, the creator of Rolfing which is a well respected form of myo facial release that involves structural balancing of the body.
His workshops are filled with invaluable info for body workers. His anatomy is second to none. But even other this level of information he keeps the workshops light and has a great sense of humour for all of us massage nerds. Be warned though he can be controversial and let's all practitioners have it at some point. The greatest thing I took out of the workshops was to always question what you're doing and realise you're only working within a model of current thinking. To stay evidence based we need to be able to drop all of our held beliefs and stay open to change and evolution. Amen to that!
If you would like more info on Toms visit then go to http://www.anatomytrains.com.au/ you an also check out his books and DVDs which are very enlightening.
Interesting info on the possibility of bacteria from your mouth causing inflammation in your lower back leading to lower back pain. I have heard of this happening in synovial joints especially the knees where bacteria is attracted to areas of inflammation such as osteoarthritic joints. It is a bit controversial at this stage from some reading that I have done on this topic. As with all studies and research you have to take an unbiased and open approach that it may not be correct and just be the current thinking.
Check it out and decide for yourself.
I just spent the last 2 days in intensive training with Australian Massage Guru Jeff Murray learning Onsen Technique. It is a very precise assessment and treatment technique that involves very gentle Muscle Energy Techniques (M.E.T's) that help with the realignment of joints such as rotated pelvis, Sacro-Iliac Dysfunction, Functional Scoliosis, Pelvic upslip, locked facet joints and many more.
The technique has been around for over 30 years and was developed by an American massage therapist name Rich Phaigh.
It is great for chronic injuries that have been misdiagnosed and wont get better.
If you are interested in learning more then contact me or book in for a session. Also check out www.onsentherapy.com
Just back from a relaxing weekend at the Satyananda Yoga retreat in Mangrove mountain. Had a blissful couple of days surrounded by beautiful people, great weather and of course Yoga and meditation. Check out the retreat centre at www.satyananda.net
Fathers day is coming up on Sunday September 1st. If you are stuck for ideas and your Dad loves massage then a gift voucher for a mobile massage would be ideal. If you order now it will arrive by Fathers Day and Dad can choose a time that suits him for the massage. Click here for more info.
Well done to everyone who competed in today's city to surf. All the hard work has paid off and now you can celebrate. Post run massage is helpful in reducing muscle soreness and also those niggling little injuries that can linger about. Don't forget to look after your body, the marathon season is not far away.