December 29, 2010

More high risk exercises

Even riskier than a forward bend is the windmill (reaching a hand towards the opposite foot with the other arm straight in the air).  

 These take the risky unsupported spinal flexion and add a twist, which further compromises the spine.  There is really no safe way to do these, and I am not sure what the purpose is.  If you are trying to warm up there are much better ways (see post from Sept. 15), they are ineffective if your goal is to work your waist (try a side plank instead; post from Nov. 20).  Since they are virtually useless and there is no safe modification omit windmills from your workout.

December 18, 2010

NEAT to lose weight.

Here are some more tips to help you prevent those dreaded holiday pounds:
Make your workouts more intense: You can make up for working out less by working out harder for a shorter period of time.
Take the batteries out of your remote control.
Save yourself the aggravation of circling for a close parking spot, choose one far away.
Take the stairs.
Hold a walking meeting.
Wash dishes by hand.
Walk around while you are on the phone.
Chew gum.
Stand instead of sitting.
Pace while waiting at an airport or bus terminal.
Perform squats while you wash your hands or brush your teeth.

Most of these tips take advantage of Non-Exercise Thermogenesis (NEAT), which is the amount of calories you burn while NOT exercising.  For most of us, the calories we burn by actual exercise are negligible.  It is the calories we burn while not exercising that can make a long-term difference in weight.  Obese people may burn 350 fewer calories a day because they move less.  Therefore, while it may seem trivial, little extra movements all day really do add up.  I do not want to minimize the importance of exercise, but in the weight battle (especially during the holidays), every little bit helps.  Start fidgeting, and increase your NEAT.

December 12, 2010

High risk exercises

We used to call them “contraindicated exercises”, but the fitness industry has gone politically correct, and we now call them “high risk” exercises.  Whatever the name, these are exercises most people should avoid.  The one I see most often is the unsupported forward bend, also known as toe touches. 
This position places a great deal of stress on the spine, including compression and shear loads, which will eventually cause injury.  I believe this exercise remains popular because it feels good temporarily, but if done repetitively, you will end up with an injured back.
As you can see from the picture above this person is leaning forward with a very rounded back, so he is mostly hanging from his ligaments. 

You can perform forward bends in a much safer manner (as in Yoga or Pilates), by bending your knees, keeping a neutral spine and executing a hip hinge. This means you are going forward but keeping the normal arch of your back, the bend is in the hips, not the spine.  You can also limit the range of motion by placing a block or low table in front of you.  Notice how the woman in the first picture below has her hands on a yoga block; this is great for those who have less than flexible hamstrings.  In the second picture, she has her hands on the floor, but she is flexible enough to do so without overly rounding her back.

Another option in the picture below is to stand with one leg bent, bring the other forward slightly and straighten it.  Keep your spine neutral (maintain the normal arch of your back), and hinge forward from the hip, placing your hands on the bent leg for support.

If your goal is to stretch your hamstrings, the safest stretch is on your back with one leg straight in the air.  The other can be bent or straight on the ground, hold the straight leg with both hands, and pull it close until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg.  And of course, make sure the stretches are done after your workout (post from September 15)!

December 5, 2010

A Better Crunch

For those of you who simply cannot give up your ab crunches (see post from Nov. 7), here is a safer version that avoids compression of the spine:

Start on your back with one leg straight and the other bent on the ground.  Place your hands under your middle/lower back.  This is to help you maintain a neutral spine.  Notice how much your back presses into your hands; as you do the exercise the pressure should stay the same, the back should not press into the hands OR come away from them.  Perform an abdominal brace (activate the abdominal muscles by bracing for a punch, but do not allow the back to move), then simply raise the head and shoulders off the ground.  The movement is in the thoracic spine only, NOT in your neck or lower back region.  Try to keep the abdominal brace and hold for 5 or 6 seconds.  Do not hold your breath.   Once you can do two sets of 12 in perfect form you can make it more challenging by lifting your elbows off the ground. 

The pictures below are examples to avoid:

The picture above shows rounding of the cervical spine (the neck area) that you should avoid.  Her chin is almost on her chest.  For correct form imagine holding an orange under your chin; do not let it roll out, and do not make orange juice.

This picture shows the opposite incorrect neck position; his chin is pointed at the ceiling.

 This picture shows the rounding of the lumbar spine (the lower back) that you should also avoid.

December 2, 2010

Save your ears

What part of the body are you most likely to injure with aerobic exercise?  If you guessed hearing, you have probably taken a Spin or Zumba class recently.  Listening to loud music through ear buds or headphones can be equally damaging.  Loud noise, especially when prolonged, damages the delicate hair cells in the ear.  Once damaged, they cannot be repaired.  For some reason aerobic exercise seems to intensify the harm.
Hearing loss is insidious; you do not realize it until it is too late.  It may seem inconsequential now, but if you continually expose yourself to loud noise, you can look forward to a hearing aid or saying “what?” quite often in your future.
How can you tell if the music is too loud?  If you need to raise your voice, it is too loud.  If your ears hurt or ring it is too loud. If you are wearing ear buds and a friend can hear your music, it is too loud.  If you need to turn your car stereo louder after a class, it was too loud.
OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has set 85 decibels (about as loud as a lawn mower) as the level requiring hearing protection for factory workers.  The NIH (National Institute of Health) has estimated that the average overall noise level for an aerobics class is 87.1 decibels, with peaks ranging from 90.5-99.7!  So how can you protect your hearing and continue with your favorite class?
Try to talk to your instructor privately, though I must admit many are very defensive about volume levels.  You will probably hear that their students want the music loud, though in my twenty plus years of teaching I have never had a student ask me to turn the volume up!  You can try pointing out the risk of voice as well as hearing damage to the instructor, but if that does not work, speak to management.  Most states have laws regarding decibel levels in commercial facilities, so you certainly bring that up.  If you really want to get specific, you can download an app for your phone to prove that the music is at damaging volumes.
If you get no response from the instructor or management and really love the class, you can purchase cheap foam cylinder earplugs at most drugstores.  They can reduce the sound by up to 30 decibels.  It is sad that you can ruin your hearing while doing something healthy, but speaking up, or wearing earplugs can protect your ears while you strengthen the rest of your body.