Move

For ski season preparation, start training for maximum ski performance and minimum injuries. The best ski/snowboard conditioning regimens encompass much more than just strengthening the legs. Many of the recommended ski/snowboard workouts out there jump straight into training the muscles of the lower extremities (legs) along with agility drills and plyometric. While these things are indeed important, it all starts with the CORE. Regardless of the sport or activity you might be training for, the core is the fundamental piece that must not be overlooked. Think of the core as everything between the shoulders and hips on all sides (front, back, and both sides of your body). Increased stability, endurance, and strength in the core (in that order of importance) will increase your athletic performance on the hill and decrease the likelihood of injuries to the knees and other joints. Your core should act as your anchor (practicing stability) from which you develop and project force via the hips and shoulders. Endurance in the core is important because you need to maintain good posture as you go down (or up) the hill. Endurance is the ability to maintain contractions in the core muscles that hold you upright as you ski/snowboard.

To start building endurance in your core, practice these exercises daily a week or two before you move into lower extremity strengthening and plyometric and then keep them in your regular routine.

Side Planks: 5 reps, 10-20 second holds each rep

side plank

Planks: 5 reps, 10-20 seconds each rep

plank

Bird Dog: (opposite arm/leg extension): 10 reps, 10-20 second holds each rep

bird dog

Crunches: 10 reps, 10-20 second holds each rep

crunch

REPEAT ALL ONE MORE TIME. Even if you can hold these positions longer, it is safer and more effective to get a good contraction for 10 to 20 seconds for each rep rather than holding the rep for a full minute and relying on the joints and ligaments to sustain you after the muscles fatigue. I like to do these in the beginning of the workout to turn the core muscles on and remind myself to keep a stable spine.

From there, you can move on to the traditional ski/snowboard conditioning exercises such as squats, jump squats, box jumps, agility drills, etc. I also recommend incorporating high intensity interval training (HIIT) into your workouts to really boost your fitness level.

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Behind Lat Pulldown

I spend a lot of time talking about what is good to do in the gym for spine and overall health, so I thought I would say a quick word about a few things you should avoid. With some exceptions, such as training for a specific sport or certain rehab protocols, these exercises should be avoided when trying to achieve overall health.

Sit-ups: If you were to set out to design an exercise to ruin lumbar discs, the discs in your low back, you would be hard-pressed to design one more effective at that task than sit-ups. Why? Repetitive flexion aka forward bending and twisting damages the discs in your low back. Sit-ups and sit-ups with rotation reproduce these movements exactly. Instead, try crunches, like a sit up but your low back doesn’t bend, and planks with short isometric holds.

Don't: Sit-ups; Do: Planks

Upright Rows: This exercise places the shoulder into internal rotation, putting the supraspinatus and its tendon at serious risk of injury over time. It also places a lot of stress on the cervical spine. Instead, do “full can.”

Don't: Upright Row; Do: Full Can

Behind the Head Lat Pull-down: This one places the shoulder in a vulnerable position, which can lead to injury of the rotator cuff and shoulder joint. It also puts enormous strain on the cervical spine (neck) because of the forward head position. Instead try Lat pull-down to the chest or pull-ups if possible. Also, try alternating between standing Lat pulldowns and seated Lat pulldowns to activate more of the core and gluteal muscles.

Don't: Behind Lat Pulldown; Do: Lat Pulldown

Rotations from the Waist with Band, Cable, or Medicine Ball: As mentioned, sit-ups, rotation, or twisting of the lumbar spine can lead to disc degeneration and/or herniation over time, especially with load. Twisting from the waist will get your oblique ripped but at great expense to your low back. Instead, rotate from the hips. This strengthens the hips instead of the spine and is a great exercise. It also trains you how to move in your day-to-day life, avoiding low back injuries.

Don't: Twist from the Hips; Do: Turn from the Hips

Smith Squats: Smith machines were designed to help people squat with heavy load while minimizing the risk of the lifter collapsing due to a built-in catch mechanism. The problem with doing Smith Squats is that the machine guides the bar in one plane of motion, which won’t allow most people to do a functional squat on it. The squat is a very complicated and important exercise for back health. It is crucial that one masters squat mechanics before applying load. Most people need to work with a trainer in the beginning to master this move. Since all people’s bodies are different, the one size fits all approach of the Smith Machine doesn’t work and creates poor squat patterns, which can lead to knee, hip, and back problems down the road.

Don't: Smith Squat; Do: Squat

As always, feel free to send us a message with all your questions about spine health and fitness at backinstitute@aspenclub.com. Good luck!

Out of Pain. Into Possibility. Jeremy James.

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mobilityIt is very important to move correctly when exercising. Everything we do in the gym, squats, lunges, pushing, pulling, and rotating should become a reflection of what we do in everyday life, including our recreational sports. Longevity of our bodies, especially our joints, is largely dependent upon good movement patterns that are reproducible. If you want to spare your low back and save your knees from debilitating arthritis, you must take the time to move with purpose.

So, what does this take and how do you begin? Although there are many facets involved that I will eventually cover, the first aspect of moving well is mobility. I like to think of mobility as the ability to move freely and easily into and out of positions that are essential for everyday life. If you can’t squat into a balanced position where your thighs are parallel with the floor while keeping your upper body upright and your feet facing forward, then you lack mobility. The lack of mobility may be in your ankles or your hips and combined with a variety of short and tight muscles such as your hamstrings. The key point is that you can’t squat correctly because you lack mobility, and that must be addressed. It makes no sense to overload your squat patterns with weights or to perform heavy leg presses until you establish a good squat pattern, otherwise you just wear your joints down.

So, the question is how do you improve mobility. The first point to consider is that mobility is much more than muscular flexibility. Mobility also involves range of motion of our joints, extensibility of elastic membranes that surround our muscles referred to as fascia, among many other tissues including the skin. The traditional approach of simply static stretching the tight muscles such as our hamstrings or quadriceps will do very little by itself to improve the way you move. Static stretching does have a place, but it’s not enough. To move better, we must also enhance joint mobility and put that mobility into motion. Hence, a dynamic approach! In a dynamic approach, one moves into and out of positions and with each repetition, the joint being addressed is stretched a little more, and the muscles being stretched are under tension. This results in greater range of motion that is both supportive and controllable by muscular contractions. This is the key to moving better.  Don’t simply attempt to get greater range of motion, but rather, greater range of motion with control.

Here is a little insight for most of you. The areas of the body where most people begin to lose motion as they age is in the shoulders, the mid-back, the hips, and the ankle. Loss of motion in any of these areas will affect the overall quality of your movements in almost anything you do. If you need to lunge down to pick things off the floor, you need mobility in your ankles, hips, and mid-back. If you lack mobility in any of these areas, there will be compensation in the way you move and some type of abnormal stress on one or more of your joints.  Often it is the knees, which is why so many aging people have knee pain. The best way to prevent knee problems is to make sure you have good ankle and hip mobility and the muscular control to support your knees as you move into and out of positions.

So where do we go from here? The best thing I can suggest is to direct you to an informative resource to learn how to address mobility. I don’t want to sound like an infomercial, but I created the DVDs “Thinner This Year Preparation for Movement” and “The Sacred 25 and Beyond” exactly for this purpose. These DVDs serve as a guide to teach you how to perform the exercises that are essential to move with greater motion and control. Both are available on youngernextyear.com/DVDs. Give them a try and start moving in the right direction.

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gym

I spend a great deal of time in gyms all over the country. It is part of my job both as a physical therapist and trainer. Much of the time, I watch and observe in frustration as people lift weights with no thought at all about the alignment of their joints, particularly their very fragile spine. In the task-oriented world we live in, it does in fact seem to be all about completing the task without any thought of the consequences. Complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions of squats or leg presses with a hundred pounds, and you get a medal for finishing but no consideration is given to “how” you completed the exercise set. Did your knees buckle inward, did you round or hyper extend your back like a gymnast as you squatted down, did your head shoot forward like a turtle, and did your feet turn way out like a ballet dancer? I am here to tell you that other things matter a great deal more than completing the set. Before I get into these intricate details, let’s first discuss why they matter, and first and foremost, what the objective should be in putting your body through the strain and hardship of weight training exercises in the first place.

Make no mistake, the primary purpose for the typical exercises we do in the gym (whether at home or in a club) is to reinforce good patterns of movement that we need for everyday life. Think about it, squatting is simply sitting in a chair, lunging is what we often do to pick things off the floor, pushing and pulling relate to a wide arrange of daily tasks such as lifting objects over our head and opening doors. These movements are also common to sports whether it be golf (rotational movements) or skiing (lateral lunges). Everything we do in the gym becomes an expression of what we do outside the gym. If we do things in the gym with proper alignment and form, we train our bodies to minimize the loads on our joints, and then we are more likely to repeat the same patterns in daily life. Most of the ailments people suffer from, ailments such as low back pain, hip or knee arthritis, or tendonitis, are simply because they performed the movements I discussed above the wrong way repeatedly.

Think about it, how many times have you squatted in your life? If you are around my age of 48 or older and think a few hundred times, a few thousand times perhaps, think again. How about a few hundred thousand times to possibly over a million times. Same goes with lunging, and these numbers probably only factor into daily life. If you go to the gym and workout with weights or machines, add onto that the strain of performing these movements under loads and stresses that accelerate the wear and tear on your joints. That is why the blue print matters.

Have you ever picked up a hobby such as dancing, golf, or even something as simple typing? Imagine if you were taught the wrong steps in the tango, grip for the golf swing, or the hand position on the keyboard. Now imagine you rehearsed these skills the wrong way for several years. How much harder would it be then to correct these dysfunctional patterns? It would probably be better if you started from scratch all over again because the original blueprint is faulted. That is just the way our brains work.

Remember when you first learned to walk. If you don’t, simply watch a one year old going through the process. Every step is a conscious effort – the step length and width and the arm position. Thousands and thousands of steps are analyzed by our main computer framework, the brain. Then over time, the process of walking no longer becomes a conscious effort but rather automatic. I would hope that none of us really must think about walking anymore and that it is an ingrained software pattern in our brain.

So where am I going with all of this? Squatting, lunging, rotating, pushing, and pulling should be ingrained software patterns in our brains. The problem is that for many people, the software is flawed because for years, we have been doing it the wrong way. Not only that, but those who exercise reinforce these poor patterns under loads and stresses. No wonder their bodies eventually break down. It’s time to learn how to walk all over again and to move away from task completion mentality to one of conscious effort of how we move. It should not simply be about going to the gym to lose weight or to lift weights to make our muscles bigger and stronger. On the contrary, it should be all about performing purposeful movements that transfer over into everything we do in life. Of course, we can still get fit along the way and develop muscle mass in a proportionate manner. However, these are the byproducts of performing movements with correct alignment and form especially when under the loads of weights.

It takes a little bit of work and some open mindedness, but the benefits far outweigh the ease of repeating the same old stagnant program that will only break your body down. I think you will the find the information precious to your longevity.

When was the last time you learned a new sport? High school? Maybe you took up yoga in your 20s. Maybe you swam competitively in college and haven’t swum a lap since. Maybe you started skinning uphill when you moved to Aspen 10 years ago. Maybe you ride the same route every day.

According to Dr. Christina Miller, MD Integrative Medicine, “As you age, neurons in your brain and spinal cord begin to degenerate, and even die off, if not being used. Think of activities that you used to do that you no longer do now. You’re likely losing, or have already lost, those neurons. This can range from complicated math problems or playing an instrument, to playing a sport or activity and have given up. The good news is that you can learn or relearn activities at any age, and promote growth of those, or nearby neurons, and regain function. This is the concept of neuroplasticity – regenerating parts of your brain and body that have gone latent with inactivity.

Learning a new sport is a great way to fire up some neurons, especially in the areas of balance, movement, focus, and complex motor coordination. Neurons that fire together wire together and will keep your brain and body functioning at a higher level.”

With Dr. Miller’s info in mind, I would like to issue a challenge to make a month this year “Learn A New Sport Month.” Find something that you’ve never done and give it a try. Or, how about that high school or college sport that you competed in and loved? What about a class at your gym that you’ve always said you would join?

Rekindle that fire. Regenerate those neurons!

mountain biking

An average cyclist can spin their wheels 4,000 to 7,000 times per hour. That’s an average of 22,000 revolutions on a four-hour ride. With this amount of repetition, proper cycling biomechanics is crucial for injury maintenance and performance. Proper fit and mechanics can greatly influence the rider and their injury potential. Custom orthotics are a powerful piece of the puzzle when attempting to improve any of these factors.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Energy must be delivered from the legs, core, and upper body down through the foot and ankle to the pedal. If the foot is over-pronated or collapses, a significant share of that energy will go into flattening the arch of the foot. This is a large “mush” factor that creates inefficient pedal power.

The goal of cycling is to deliver as much force as you can efficiently and effectively from the body to the pedal to turn the rear wheel. To do this, your body must work together with the bike to deliver power to the pedals with as little “energy leaks” as possible. The body does everything it can to produce a consistent and efficient force to the pedals. Poor bike fit, as well as body imbalances, can drastically affect this.

The contact point between the deliveries of the body’s force to the bike is at the pedal/shoe interface. Everything the body does amounts to force produced on this one point of contact. Energy can easily be lost at this link in the chain if force is being delivered through an unlocked, too-flexible foot. Due to compensations for poor biomechanics, tissues can be overstretched or stressed, creating injury and pain anywhere along the chain – foot, ankle knee, hip, and low back. A fully supportive and corrective orthotic in the shoe translates into a more rigid foot and transfer of power from the foot to the pedal. This equals potential for you to ride faster longer and stronger.

Cycling-specific custom orthotics have been found to reduce pain and improve economy, postural stability, and pressure distribution while on the bike. Cycling should not elicit joint pain. If you experience foot, ankle, knee, hip, or low back pain while on the bike, have your bike fit and body mechanics evaluated. Custom orthotics can play a significant role in improving full foot stability for efficient pedaling and lower extremity alignment, minimizing injury potential and optimizing performance.

Note: Ideas in this blog are borrowed heavily with permission from the concepts laid out by Bill Fabrocini and Chris Crowley in the book “Thinner This Year,” the follow-up to the New York Times bestseller “Younger Next Year.”

A warmup is extremely important before beginning your workout, sport, or even just your day at the office. Most people’s warmup consists of a few minutes on a cardio machine and maybe some static stretching. I want you to change your way of thinking about the warmup. I want you to think of the warmup as one of the most important things you will do in a day for your body.

My good friend and master trainer/therapist Bill Fabrocini likes to call this idea “preparation for movement,” and I think that is a perfect way to think about it. Preparation for movement wakes up all the important muscle groups in your body and enhances and strengthens the connection from your brain to those muscle groups. These are the muscle groups that we deactivate or put to sleep every day via our modern lifestyle of sitting and inactivity. The routine that we use here at the Aspen Club is a very efficient, safe, and effective way to accomplish this goal in about 15 to 20 minutes. I do some variation of this myself every day and incorporate it into my patients’ daily training regimens. I highly recommend you do this before your workout or sport. I also recommend you do this if it is the only form of physical activity you do all day. When done properly, this routine will train your body to use the right muscles, improve mobility in the hips and shoulders, and avoid wear and tear on the joints.

As I have said before, the clear majority of conditions I see in our clinic are the result of thousands of cycles of bad movement, causing degenerative changes. Practicing these movement patterns every morning helps you avoid this process. This routine will also strengthen those important muscles in the glutes and core and make you more in tune with your body, enhancing performance.

The important thing here is to do these exercises and movements correctly. The overriding concept is to keep the back still and move from the hips and shoulders. This routine seeks to promote spinal stability, while achieving maximum mobility in the shoulders and hips. Think about each movement you are doing and try to engage the right muscles. The very first thing you do is engage your core by lightly tensing your abdominal muscles while maintaining normal respiration. Maintain a slightly stiff core throughout these movements, which will keep the spine still. You only need to do 4 to 6 repetitions of each movement. Just make sure they are good ones. I recommend doing this daily if possible.

For a more in-depth discussion, read the books “Younger Next Year” and “Thinner This Year.” They are both filled with life-changing, simple concepts that everyone should put into practice as they age. As always, feel free to write or call with questions. Good luck!

pull-up

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is all the rage these days. My clients frequently ask me if this type of training is safe and effective. The short answer is, it can be. There are many HIIT programs going on around the country with one well-known program becoming extremely popular over the last few years. Many of these programs offer substantial benefits but have some potentially serious risks.

My biggest concern with most of these programs is that they encourage participants to do extremely difficult, technical moves to fatigue in a competitive environment. Many of these exercises, especially some of the Olympic weight lifting moves, require a lot of instruction and practice to master. Experts spend years developing their technique with many of these moves. For the average person to go into a class and do these moves as many times as they can, with heavy weight, in a competitive environment, can be a recipe for disaster.

However, there are many benefits to High Intensity Interval Training. It is a very quick and extremely efficient workout and is very beneficial for overall health, weight loss, and training purposes. The American College of Sports Medicine presented a 2011 study indicating that two weeks of HIIT could boost the body’s aerobic capacity as much as almost two months of endurance training. HIIT is highly effective for weight loss and has been shown to burn more fat and calories than other forms of exercise. Unlike weight loss exercises like cycling and running, HIIT maintains muscle mass while losing fat.

So, what is a person to do? How do you know what’s safe and what’s not? The first and most important rule is: form comes first. Never achieve a greater number of reps or a heavier weight at the expense of good form. What is good form? Here at the Aspen Club’s program, “HI2T,” Dirk Schultz and Bill Fabrocini call it “Set, Brace, Align.”

  • Set: This refers to posture. Keep it simple. Shoulders back stand tall – don’t round your low back or slouch-especially when bending over.
  • Brace: This refers to stabilization. Lightly tense your abdominal muscles and squeeze the shoulder blades back and down.
  • Align: Align your body. The ears, shoulders, and hips should form a rough line down to the ground when standing.

That’s the foundation — Set, Brace, Align. When you begin to move, you must practice the movement patterns: hip hinging, rotating from the hips, squatting properly, lunging properly, etc. If you must sacrifice any of these foundations of posture and movement to get in that extra rep or go up a few pounds in weight, you do it at great risk. Listen to your body. Make your gains safely. Failure to adhere to this philosophy can lead to a long list of ailments that nobody wants to hear their doctor say: disc herniation, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, rotator cuff tears, tendinitis, ACL tear, meniscus tear, etc. Remember: most spinal problems are the result of thousands of cycles of movement, not just one bad move. So just because you got away with it today doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing long-term damage to your body. Done correctly, HIIT is a very efficient, safe, and fun way to get fit.

Weightlifting has been part of the Olympics for over a century. While the formatting has changed significantly over the years, modern weightlifting consists of two competitive lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk.

In competition, lifters compete in weight classes and are given three attempts at both the snatch and the clean and jerk. The best of each lift is added to give a total. The lifter with the highest total wins the competition.

Though the competition sounds relatively simple, getting good is not! To be successful at weightlifting, an athlete must be strong, fast, stable, and flexible, not to mention, technically proficient. See the video of world record holder Lu Xiaojun putting almost 400 pounds over his head!

How many hours a day do you think you spend sitting? The average American person sits for 13 hours day, which is roughly 80% of your waking hours. Sitting for prolonged periods has been shown to produce a wide array of health problems, including low back pain and neck pain. While sitting, you cause more force to be directed through specific parts of the lumbar spine (low back), primarily the discs and posterior ligaments, many times causing pain. In particular, sitting with a rounded back or slumped posture greatly increases the forces through these structures that can lead to degenerative disc disease, disc herniation, and other painful spinal conditions.

Many of us are required to sit for our occupation. Here are some helpful tips to counteract the harmful effects caused by prolonged sitting:

  • If you must sit, do it properly: Sit with an elongated spine, with your buttocks slightly behind you, instead of under your spine. Your shoulders should be relaxed, back, and down. Your head should sit over your spine with your chin slightly retracted, not jutting. If you are working at a computer, try to have your elbows bent at 90 degrees and the screen positioned so that you don’t have to look up or down. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but don’t worry, you will get the hang of after a couple of tries! You don’t have to do this all day. It’s okay to move around a little such as cross a leg or lean back a bit for a few minutes. In fact, it’s good to change the tissues that are bearing the load by moving around.
  • Move often: Studies have shown that just 20 minutes of sitting in a slouched posture can cause significant laxity in the ligaments of the low back. Get up and move every 20 or 30 minutes, even if it’s just to walk across the office to get that donut you’ve been thinking about all day. Wait, put down the donut.
  • Sit on an exercise ball: Sitting on an exercise ball can help keep your muscles engaged and minimize some of the negative impacts of sitting. Just remember, it’s still possible to slouch on an exercise ball, so make sure you are engaging your core.
  • Get a standing desk: Standing desks are becoming more and more popular and for good reason. Standing has many positive health benefits over sitting, including less stress to the back for most people (some conditions can be aggravated by standing). If you and your healthcare provider decide that a standing desk is a good idea, be sure to make the switch gradually, as new parts of your body are going to bear loads throughout the day and need time to adjust.
  • Exercise throughout the day: If you work in a place where this is possible, set an alarm to do 5 minutes of exercise and stretches every 30 minutes. There are many simple exercises that are very effective for back health that can be done with minimal to no equipment or space needed such as squats over your office chair. These will be covered in detail in my next blog.

Remember that most spinal conditions do not occur overnight, they are the result of years of poor posture and/or thousands of repetitions of poor movement. These small corrective improvements in your daily routines can save you costly and painful back and neck problems in the future.