Posts Tagged ‘Muscle’

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I am all about training the basic movement patterns that we use all day long:  Squatting, Pushing, and Pulling.  You want a fairly equal amount of each movement, and if your routine lacks any of these movements, you’re going to start seeing some major imbalances in your muscular system.

As you begin to make progress in your program, and start using heavier and heavier weights, it is extremely important to devote a little bit of time each workout to strengthening your smaller, stabilizing muscles around your joints.  In regards to the upper body, this is especially true for throwing athletes, as well as anyone in a racquet sport.  Maintaining strong stabilizing muscles around the elbow and shoulder is crucial to getting the most out of your training program as well as to stay healthy in your sport.  But strong stabilizing muscles aren’t just important for athletes.  Anyone who regularly does strength training should hit their stabilizing muscles. Today, I’d like to talk about the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder, specially the rotator cuff muscles.

Note: The exercises below are meant to be “pre-habilitation” exercises, to be done during the course of a normal resistance training program.  These exercises are to be done ONLY when your shoulder is presumably healthy.  If you already feel like you may have a shoulder injury, these exercises COULD exacerbate the problem so it is always best to check with your physician or physical therapist before trying these exercises, or any exercises you find on the internet for that matter.  

What is this mysterious “rotator cuff,” and where is it, and what does it do?

The term “rotator cuff” gets tossed around a lot in the world of sports.  Any time a baseball pitcher or football quarterback go down with a shoulder injury, everyone’s first worry is that it’s the rotator cuff.  The rotator cuff is actually a group of 4 muscles that surround the shoulder joint.  The rotator cuff muscles are responsible for assisting the abduction (moving away from the body) and rotation of the arm, and they are also responsible for providing stability to the shoulder joint, holding the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) into the shoulder socket.

The 4 muscles that make up the rotator cuff are the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis.  The infraspinatus and teres minor both externally rotate the arm, while the subscapularis internally rotates the arm and the supraspinatus abducts the arm.

How can I strengthen my rotator cuff muscles?

Since the goal of rotator cuff training is to produce a functional, healthy, structurally sound shoulder, it is important to develop all 4 muscles of the rotator cuff equally.  We have 3 movements that we must do to target the rotator cuff muscles: internal and external rotation of the arm and abduction of the arm.  For simplicity and because the infraspinatus and teres minor both externally rotate the arm, the two will be trained together.

Internal Rotation (video courtesy of Liveexercise.com):

External Rotation:

Dumbbells

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, I touched on the topic of testosterone and how it relates to muscle growth in response to resistance training.  I then provided reasoning as to why women should not fear the possibility of “getting too big” from resistance training: Women naturally have anywhere from 10 to 20 times LESS testosterone than men, and this is going to act as a big time limiting factor as far as muscle growth is concerned.

I’m sure my ever-compelling reasoning convinced you that you should NOT fear the weight room, but just because it’s not going to hurt you, is it really going to help?

There are two major reasons that women should seriously consider adding resistance training to their current (or future) workout routine:

1) Bone Health-  The incidence of osteoporosis is growing at alarming rate.  The International Osteoporosis Foundation finds that well over 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and approximately 85% of those people are women.  It’s believed that that figure could be as large as 15 million people by the year 2020.  According to “Resistance Training for Health,” published by the American College of Sports Medicine, “Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease that is characterized by a decrease in bone mineral density (BMD). This loss makes the bones more susceptible to fractures. These fractures can lead to decreased physical activity and possibly increased susceptibility to further health problems and mortality.”

Bone health should take on the up most importance to all of us, but with such a high incidence in the female population, women must be especially pro-active in slowing the onset of osteoporosis.

Resistance training, it has been shown, is one of the most effective ways to combat bone density issues such as osteoporosis.  Several studies have shown that the stress placed on the bones and joints during resistance training promotes bone repair and formation.  For example: “In a comparison of BMD between female weightlifters, cyclists, cross-country skiers, and orienteers, Heinonen et al. (1993) reported that the weightlifters had the highest weight adjusted BMD in the distal radius, lumbar spine, distal femur, and patella.”

There is reason to believe that the stress placed on the body due to lifting weights promotes greater bone health than doing cardio alone.

2) Body Composition- This is the one most people are already thinking about before they even think about an exercise routine: I want to lose fat, tone up, look and feel better.  When people say they want to “tone up” what they mean is that they want get leaner by reducing their body fat.  To do this, many women take the route of doing as much cardio as possible.  They will get on the elliptical or treadmill for extended periods of time and then head home without ever touching a weight.

Let me first say this- there is nothing wrong with doing cardio.  It’s great for your heart health, and you are burning calories.

However, you are really taking a long and often unsuccessful route if you want look your best.  There are a few things to understand here.  First, if you perform resistance training, you are promoting the development of lean muscle tissue.  Muscle is a very tight and compact tissue when compared to fat, which is much “flabbier.”  In fact, if you had one pound of muscle sitting next to one pound of fat, the fat would take up about 3 times as much space.  Now imagine that we’re talking about around your mid-section or your hips.  If you can replace a pound of fat with a pound of muscle in that area, you’re going to look noticeably more lean.  In order to develop that mean muscle, however, you CAN’T just run until you’re blue in the face.  You have to overload, or really challenge the muscle to elicit the response of muscle development, and that just doesn’t happen when you’re doing long-duration, steady-state cardio.

The next thing to consider is that muscle actually burns calories!  If you increase the amount of lean muscle on your body, you will burn more calories throughout your day without even lifting a finger.  Compared to fat, muscle is a very active tissue and requires more energy to maintain.  A greater energy requirement means a greater caloric burn throughout the day.

There are many other obvious benefits to strength training that are not gender-specific, such as improving strength, improving posture, etc.  But the two reasons listed above should be reason enough for any woman reading to at least consider adding some resistance training to their exercise program.  Read On….

Check back soon for some great new exercise videos, and be sure to check out the brand new Functional Athletic Training Store!

Adam Reeder, cPT
Adam@GetFunctionalTraining.com
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I cannot not even estimate how many times I’ve heard some form of the phrase “I don’t want to lift weights because I don’t want to bulk up,” from females who are either interested in starting an exercise program, or who have an exercise program but aren’t liking the results they’re seeing.  So is it true?  Are you really going to bulk up when you do resistance training?  Girls this article is for you, and I’d like to take some time today to explain why you shouldn’t worry about “getting too big.”  Tomorrow I will give you some incredibly important reasons to use resistance training in your work outs.

If I could give you a one word reason as to why women will not bulk up like guys do it would be: Testosterone

What is testosterone? 
Testosterone is  hormone that promotes muscle growth.   The brain sends a signal for testosterone to get released from the testes (men) or the ovaries (females).  When this happens, the released testosterone travels through the blood stream and into the surrounding tissues, including the muscles.  When the testosterone reaches the muscles it has an “anabolic” or muscle-building effect.  Without getting too scientific about it, your testosterone levels have a very direct effect on the growth of your muscles.

Resistance Training and Testosterone:
One of the reasons that people associate working out in the gym with muscle growth is that resistance training causes an increase in testosterone levels, which in turn leads to the aforementioned anabolic effect on the body’s muscles.  According to The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, men experienced a significant rise in blood-testosterone concentrations following a high-intensity resistance training bout.  NSCA also found that the heavier the resistance, the more testosterone produced.  After 2+ years of resistance training with very heavy weights, men saw a noticeable change in their testosterone levels.

Why women shouldn’t be afraid use resistance training:
The next time you walk into your local health club or rec center, take notice of where all the women are at.  For the most part, you’re going to see a lot of women doing cardio and a lot of women doing some kind of mat exercises like abdominal work or stretching.  There will be some exceptions of course, but you will see only a very small percentage of women in the weight room.  One common reason for this is what I referenced earlier, a fear of getting bulky when their goal is to lose weight and lose inches.  The reason women SHOULD NOT worry about this:  According to Bill Kreamer in Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, women have about 15 to 20 times less testosterone than men.  15 to 20 times LESS testosterone is a HUGE difference.  If you are also careful to keep your sets in a normal 8-12 rep range, you will ensure that resistance training does not greatly spike your testosterone levels.

That’s all for tonight.  Check back tomorrow as I will give you some important reasons to start doing resistance training as soon as possible if you want to reach your goals.

Thanks for reading!

Adam Reeder, cPT
Adam@GetFunctionalTraining.com
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Yesterday, I explained the core muscles’ general responsibility to stabilize the spine in all directions. I then showed you one of the most basic core stabilization exercises, the forearm plank.

By all means, you can improve your core strength by a great deal by performing forearm planks.  However, there is a way to take your core training to a whole new level, and the results are not only rock hard abs, but an improved posture, enhanced athletic performance, and a reduced risk of injury.  The first thing you must understand in order to develop a dynamic core is what the phrase “dynamic core” actually means.  In this case, the word dynamic refers to the ability of the core to react to varying levels of force at any given time.  Take for example a football lineman.  When a defensive tackle rushes for the quarterback, he gets usually gets blocked by an offensive lineman:

The defensive player’s core muscles, more than any other muscles in his body, must react EXTREMELY quickly to the offensive player hitting him.  His muscles do not have time to contract in a slow and controlled motion like you see in a sit-up or crunch.  The core musculature must react in a flash to whatever varying degree of force is placed on them.  For this reason, traditional abdominal exercises such as sit-ups or crunches are extremely ineffective at developing a sports-specfic core.

So, if you can’t use crunches or sit-ups or other traditional ab exercises, what can you do to make your core reactive and dynamic?

The perfect solution to this problem: Resistance bands.

As a band gets stretched, it’s resistance gets progressively harder.  This is different from almost all other types of resistance, such as free weights, body weights, machines, etc.  By using a band as resistance, we are altering the force placed on the body based on how far the band is stretched.  Lately, I have been experimenting with a TON of different exercises that use bands to get the core dynamically reacting to the resistance placed on it. There are a few things I love about these exercises:

-They’re all extremely sport-specific

-They’re performed standing, which is specific to sports and life in general

-They allow for strengthening of other areas of the body while strengthening the core

Here is the first video in the “Developing a Dynamic Core” series- Let me know what you think!

Rectus abdominis muscle

Image via Wikipedia

I have talked about training the abdominals before and how inefficient it is to do crunch after crunch and sit-up after sit-up in order to strengthen the abdominal region.  For more information on functional ab training, check out my blog post.

Today, I want to go a little bit further into what’s called core stability.  Core stability refers to the ability of your core musculature (abdominals, obliques, spinal erectors, etc.) to keep your spine in a neutral position.    Essentially, your core acts as a shock-absorber, reacting by tensing up whenever impact or force is applied above the waist.  Your abdominal musculature is largely responsible for preventing the spine from bending backwards, while the postural and erector muscles of the back prevent the spine from bending forwards and the oblique muscles prevent lateral movement.  This is incredibly important not only for sports, but to improve everyday quality of life.

One of the most basic yet most effective exercises used to train core stability is the forearm plank.  In the video below you will see two versions of the forearm plank.  The first is a beginner’s level plank, followed by a small adjustment that makes the exercise much more challenging for the core:

The plank is a fantastic exercise, but you can’t stop there if you want to fully develop rock hard abs and a functional, dynamic core.  Try the planks out, and build your strength up to the point where you can perform the beginner’s level plank for 1-2 minutes before progressing to the advanced version of the plank.

Tomorrow, I will go one step further in Developing A Dynamic Core by showing you a basic chest press exercise modified to really target the abdominal region of the core.

Adam Reeder, cPT
Adam@GetFunctionalTraining.com
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As  all of my clients and regular readers know, I am a huge fan of exercises that involve multiple muscle groups.  If you’re a new reader, here’s why these multi-joint movements are so effective:

-Almost all sport-related and everyday activities involve more than one muscle group.  We rarely find true isolation of specific muscles outside of the weight room.  Multi-joint exercises are much more functional to sports and life.

-Mutli-joint movements force your body to work harder than isolation exercises.  This means that you’re going to kick up your heart rate and respiratory rate, so you’re improving your cardiovascular fitness at the same time that you’re improving your muscular fitness.

-For reasons mentioned above, a multi-joint exercise is going to elicit a much greater metabolic effect on the body that exercises that require less energy.  For instance, a chin-up, which requires movement in both the elbow joint and the shoulder joint as well stabilization throughout the core region, is going to have a much greater metabolic effect than a bicep curl, which only requires movement in the elbow joint.  This means you’ll burn more calories in a shorter period of time.

With all this in mind, one of my all-time favorite free weight exercises is the Zercher Squat:

Zerchers are a great exercise.  The exercise is clearly targeting the legs, hips and glutes, and by coming all the way down to at least a parallel position in your knees, your quadriceps go through a very long range of motion.  This is great for explosion in sports as well as overall leg strength. In addition to targeting the legs, Zerchers also require a great deal of work to be done by the core stabilizing muslces as well many stabilizing muscles in the upper, middle, and lower back.

With pre-season hockey training really heating up, I’m always looking for good single-leg exercises due to hockey being a very single-leg dominated sport.  My athletes do a lot of lateral movement, single-leg squats, and many variations of lunges.  One great single-leg exercise is the stationary split squat:

Once this exercise becomes easy, a common progression would be to move from the stationary split squat to a reverse lunge.  The reverse lunge on it’s own is a good exercise, but as soon as I put myself into a Zercher position on the bar, the reverse lunge got that much better:

A few things to note:

-My back stays completely vertical, perpendicular to the ground.  With the weight in my elbows pulling me forward, my core muscles were forced to tighten up in order to keep my back straight.

-My shoulder blades stay pulled together in my back, this challenges the stabilizing muscles of my upper back.

-I’m creating an active stretch in the leg that is stepping back while greatly challenging my single-leg strength.

Give this exercise a try.  I suggest mastering the stationary split squat before moving into any type of lunge, and you should also master Zercher Squats before you try adding a dynamic movement to the exercise.

Have a great day!

Adam Reeder, cPT
Adam@GetFunctionalTraining.com