Cafe au feet?

There are some exercises I could say the same of to the same person for 6 weeks, and they wouldn’t remember what I’m talking about.

The deadbug however, is not one of those exercises. Although, I feel like it’s kind of a misnomer.

A client of mine decidedly re-named it the “dying bird” which I actually think is a much better name. A dead bug wouldn’t be doing much of anything except… be dead. The dying bird, however, is a play off of the bird-dog exercise. It’s essentially the same movement except you’re on your back instead of on all fours.

So now that you know that completely useless piece of information, let’s get to the meat and potatoes.

This topic came to light because one of my clients consistently “throws her back out” every couple months. This translates to a muscle spasm that causes soreness for a few days but no permanent damage or spinal issues. Frustrated, she sought out a PT who diagnosed her with a hyperflexible low back.

“Flexibility is good though!” you might say. Well maybe not…

There’s a fine balance between the perfect amount of mobility and stability, and your low back should be Stable Sally.

Any of your standard strength training regimes that include deadlifting, squatting (specifically front squats), and upper body pushes and pulls, will all stabilize the spine when done correctly. Secondly, direct anterior core work is a must. These two things I know. But, one question came to mind…

Seeking some answers myself, I sought out someone a lot smarter and a lot more experienced than me, Tony Gentilcore, asking… “is it ever appropriate to train the low back exclusively?”

His answer? Well, probably not (yet).

It’s more important to attain and maintain a neutral spine.

Tony also noted that this is important not just in the gym, but all day every day. If you’re hypermobile, you have to be cognizant of keeping things stable at all times. You can’t just jump all nimbly-bimbly from tree to tree.

Name That Movie!

Anyway, getting back to my spiel about the deadbug…

It’s an exercise that’s up there with planks and bird dogs as far as core stabilization goes. Arguably even better for 2 reasons:

1. Since you’re on your back instead of all 4’s, you have no chance to ‘hang’ on your lumbar spine. The floor gives you a built-in external feedback mechanism that forces you to do it correctly. One of the cues is to eliminate the space between the floor and your low back by pushing down and squeezing your abs.

2. It allows you to stabilize your lumbar while mobilizing your hips. It is very important to be able to disassociate the two. (Thank you Tony)

Plus, you can feel it in your abz almost immediately and people seem to enjoy that. No 6-pack guaranteed though.. sorry.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you don’t have core stability, you need to get it… if you already have it you need to keep it! And if you have a hypermobile low back, it’s absolutely vital to practice this daily. The deadbug exercise is not “too easy” for anybody. So make it part of your warm up, ok bro? There are also many variations but that’s a post for another day.

Now go get some anterior core!

-L

In the first part of this post, I talk about 7 common reasons why people get back pain.  In this post, I’m going to get a little more in depth for solutions to these problems.  Remember they come in two categories: exercise habits and movement dysfunction. Let’s talk good exercise habits.

How to build a good warm up in 3 easy steps

Step 1: Become best friends with your foam roller. In fact, make it your lover. Figure our where it hurts the most and spend most of your time there.

Step 2: Dynamic Stretch. Although everyone should be assessed to figure out their specific needs, MOST people are tight in the same places. Hamstrings, upper back, shoulders and hips. 4 Stretches Most People Can Benefit From

Step 3: Activate. Do this where you need stability, usually core and glutes. Things like glute bridges, bird dogs, and wall slides will all do the trick. Find examples of good warm ups here, here, and here.

Learn how to hip hinge

Fix your form

There’s no way I can possible cover good form in one paragraph. The good news is there are people who have covered this already. My go-to articles for the big 3 are written by a pretty smart guy named Mike Robertson. He covers in great detail the squat, deadlift,  and bench. I suggest you read up if you’re serious about preventing back pain, or any kind of pain for that matter.

The truth is, your exercise habits wont make much of a difference until you fix your movement dysfunction; the two go hand in hand.

How to belly breath- Enter the diaphragm

Gain mobility where you need it

Most people I train are just your average joe’s. As much as I can dream about it… I’m not training athletes with crazy mobility or congenital laxity. Although it’s very important to get evaluated, I can tell you most people are tight in the same areas: hips, shoulders, and t-spine.

If you want to get more in depth mobility drills, I highly suggest checking out mobilitywod.com. Kelly Starrett is a very smart guy who has hundreds of videos with in-depth mobility drills. You pretty much can’t put anything in his search bar that will go unanswered.  As much as he tries to dumb it down, I find myself having to watch some of his videos 2 or 3 times to completely understand it. So if you don’t understand some of his lingo, don’t worry about it; just try to emulate as best you can.  However for a quick reference, these are some mobility favorites:

Scapular Wall Slides

Thoracic Spine Extension on Foam Roller

Hip Mobility Combo

Gain some core stability

Core stability is a must… For everybody…. No exceptions! If you don’t have it, you need it; and if you have it, you need to keep it!

The basics never go out of style with core training. In my opinion, the plank and any of it’s variations is king, and form is VITAL.

Here are some other great core stability drills:

Banded Bird dog

Notice how her core does not change at all as she moves, and her low back does not cave as she lifts her limbs.

Half Kneeling Chop

Improve your posture

This starts with how you’re sitting right now. Stop slouching!

Obviously, everyone’s posture is a little bit different, but let’s go over some common deviations:

1. Lordosis

Lot’s of anterior core work is needed to help correct this. This is where your planks, front squats, and reverse crunches come in. Some mild low back stretches will help too; something like child’s pose.

2) Kyphosis

A lot of people I see have some degree of a kyphotic curve. It’s very important to go some soft tissue work before strength training; all those muscles in the upper back become tight and weak. A foam roller is great but a tennis or lacrosse ball is better.

Once you loosen up those muscles, it’s very important to get them slightly tighter and stronger (note: ‘tight muscles’ are not always a bad thing). Rowing and pull ups are the go-to’s here. There are so many variations of rows, all you have to do is pick your favorite!

Conclusion

You don’t have to conquer all these points at one time, but that being said, I think they’re all equally important and should all be addressed.

All I can say is I hope that you learned something! If I learned anything, it’s to not film videos on days I wake up at 4:30. Woof.

-L

You’ve probably heard of the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen, but if you haven’t, you can check it out here. Basically, it’s a list of the most common produce products that have the least (clean) and most (dirty) amount of pesticides. It’s helpful when deciding which fruits and vegetables you should buy organic.

I thought it would be helpful to make a list of the cleanest packaged foods and compare them to some of their ‘dirty’ counterparts. When food shopping, it’s best to stay out of the center aisles as much as possible, but we all need some packaged food every now and then.

The use of the word ‘clean’ for this list will mean simply the least amount of ingredients in their most natural form. For my “research” I decided to stick to Stop ‘n Shop. I felt that using a more accessible store would pertain to more people than including somewhere like Whole Foods. So for those of you that do shop elsewhere just start to look at labels and be aware of what you might be putting in your body.

I tried to include foods from most categories including, meats, dairy, breakfast food, frozen food, drinks, snacks, sweets, and condiments.

Note that this list is not necessarily in order of “cleanliness.”

The Clean Fifteen

Clean Food # 1- Oatmeal

     

Oatmeal in it’s purest form. Only 1 ingredient! I’m a fan of mixing in my own cinnamon and pure vanilla extract.

Clean Food # 2- High Quality Maple Syrup

Another single ingredient champ. Obviously maple syrup should be used in moderation, but it’s better than processed sugar. It’s also a good source of manganese and zinc!

Clean Food #3 Lara Bars

Using dates as the base ingredient, these energy bars are the cleanest around. The ‘cashew cookie’ only has two ingredients!

Clean Food #4 Hint Water

Hint’s tag line is: Drink water, not sugar. These flavored waters have no sugar or artificial sweeteners. No way you can get bored with water now!

Clean Food # 5 Annie’s Natural Salad Dressing

 

Although the cleanest salad dressings are homemade, Annie’s is a close second. One of the only bottled brands I could find that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup. Most of their ingredients are also organic!

Clean Food #6 Plain Greek Yogurt (Chobani, Oikos or Fage)

Most of these yogurts are simply strained milk and probiotics. Bonus points for the protein! More ways to spice up your greek yogurt.

Clean Food # 7 Horizon Organic Half & Half

Two ingredients: organic milk and organic cream. Winning!

Clean Food # 7 Real Butter

Yes, real butter is good for you! Grass-fed butter is superior, but tough to find in regular grocery stores. Read more about the benefits of butter here.

Clean Food # 8 Salsa (many brands)

Most jarred salsa only contain vegetables and spices with no preservatives. Not to mention salsa is delicious.

Clean Food #9 Applegate packaged deli meat

In a world where deli meat can be a very mysterious thing, you can trust Applegate Natural’s; most meat is packaged with just honey and some spices.  Read more about deli meats here.

Clean Food # 10 Nature’s Promise cereal

Nature’s Promise was one of the only cereals I could find that was corn AND soy free. The only downfall is the added sugar (7 grams/serving).

Clean Food # 11 Amy’s Organic Frozen Foods

Sonoma Veggie Burger

Some of Amy’s options are cleaner than others. But they’re pretty good on the frozen-foods list. I’m a big fan of the Sonoma Burger- quinoa and walnuts!

Clean Food #12 Garden Lites

Garden Lites makes a few products: souffles, veggie muffins, and zucchini pasta.  Although I’d probably stay away from the muffins, the souffles and pasta are relatively clean.

Clean Food #13 Unreal Candy

Unreal brand has managed to ‘unjunk’ common candy. Although its much less sugar, it is still candy and should be saved for special treats. Most of their candy has lower sugar, no corn syrup, no GMO’s, no hydrogenated oil, and no preservatives.

Clean Food #14 Food Should Taste Good Sweet potato chips

If you’re craving salty or crunchy, these sweet potato chips are better than conventional. Just 3 ingredients: sweet potato, oil, and salt.

Clean Food #15 French’s Mustard

Mustard is one of the cleanest condiments you’ll find with zero calories to boot. Ingredients in standard yellow are typically just vinegar, mustard seed and spices.

The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Counterpart #1 Fruit and Cream Instant Oatmeal

Better skip this breakfast option. Unlike it’s healthy counterpart, this variety of instant oatmeal is filled with sugar, artificial coloring, and hydrogenated oils. Woof!

The Dirty Counterpart #2 “Fake” maple syrup (many brands)

Most pancake syrups are actually just high fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring, and preservatives. Stick to the real stuff.

The Dirty Counterpart #3 Skinny Cow Candy Bars (and MANY other brands)

This product has hydrogenated palm oil on the ingredient list multiple times. Not sure how that happens, but steer clear if you’re trying to eat clean. This goes for many other “diet” treats and energy bars as well. Read the ingredients!

The Dirty Counterpart #4 Gatorade or Powerade

Unless you’re a professional athlete, there’s pretty much no need to consume sports drinks. It’s basically sugar water with electrolytes and fake coloring. (You mean to tell me that neon yellow does not occur in nature!?!)

The Dirty Counterpart #5 Most Bottled Salad dressings (especially lite or fat free)

Again, usually filled with sugar, HFCS, soybean oil and preservatives.

The Dirty Counterpart #6 Flavored Lite Yogurt (many brands)

Modified corn start and sugar tend to be high on the ingredient list for lite yogurt.

Dirty Counterpart #7 Fat Free Flavored Half & Half

Seems like an oxymoron to me. Cue the corn syrup and thickeners. You’re better off using the full-fat version, or plain skim milk.

Dirty Counterpart #8 I Dunno… Bologna!?

Who knows what goes in this mystery meat. Other things you want to look out for with deli meat are nitrates, modified food starch, gelatin and corn syrup.

Dirty Counterpart #9 Sugary Cereals (Most cereals, in fact)

I really hope these are not served daily for breakfast in your household. Frosted wheats and Fruit Loops are two of the worst contenders.

Dirty Counterpart #10 Hot Pockets

Some of these ‘meals’ have over 100 ingredients. Whaa? Close seconds in the frozen food department include Banquet and Hungry Man.

Dirty Counterpart #11 Traditional Candy

 

Enough said.

Dirty Counterpart #12 Fat Free Mayo

Mayo, in theory is just eggs, oil, vinegar, and spices. Pretty clean right? Nay, Nay, poo-poo. Once again, top ingredients include HFCS, modified food starch, soy bean oil, and artificial flavors.

Conclusion

As you can see, there is a common theme in the dirty foods. Corn and it’s derivatives,  soy, sugar, and artificial colors and flavors.

It was actually surprisingly difficult to find ingredients online for most of the ‘dirty’ foods. Funny how that happens, huh?

This is by no means an absolute or exhaustive list, as the ‘packaged foods’ category is exponential more abundant than produce. But it’s definitely a good start; and a warning to be aware of what you’re consuming and feeding your kids. The best rule of thumb when looking at food labels is to choose foods with the least amount of ingredients.

The “fat free” epic fail of the 80’s and 90’s has only gotten us fatter and sicker. Stick to real food– something you can grow or kill– 90% of the time, and you’re on the right track.

Who else has some clean, go-to packaged foods? I’m always looking to mix up my grocery list!

I hope you enjoyed!

-L

Related Readings:

Soy: Healthful or Harmful?

Scrutinizing Soy

Fructose, not HFCS

Is HFCS bad for you?

All About Hydrogenated Oil

Whether it be acute or chronic, chances are that you’ve experienced back pain at some point in your adult life . In my opinion it’s one of the poopiest things of all time ’cause it affects just about everything you do.

Too many people either push through the pain and cause more damage, keep their resistance too light, or avoid important exercises completely because of back pain.

There are literally probably a million different causes of back pain, and to be honest, us practitioners (PT’s and docs included) sometimes will never to be able to point out exactly what it is from one person to the next. But we have some pretty good educated guesses. In my opinion, they can be broken down into two categories: personal exercise habits and movement dysfunction. In part 1 of this post, I’ll give a general overview of what I think is most important; in part 2, I’ll discuss what to do about it. Let’s talk about habits first.

You don’t do a proper warm up

When I was in college, I used to walk on the treadmill for 10 minutes as a ‘warm up’ before I’d go embarrass all the boys in the weight room (joke). Little did I know, that doesn’t really cut it. We recently started to coin a phrase here at Fitcorp: RDA. This stands for Rolling or Release, Dynamic stretch, and Activation. There are a few different methods to warming up, but we’ve found this outline to be the most successful in preventing injuries. You release where you’re tight, reinforce with dynamic stretches, and active the muscles that need help turning on. An example for the hips/glutes would be 1) release hip flexors with lax ball or foam roller, 2) 3D hip flexor stretch or spiderman stretch, 3) Supine hip bridges for glute activation. If you’re not properly warmed up, the muscles that should be working aren’t ready, and your back can take the fall.

You flex at the spine instead of hinging at the hips

This is a tough concept to understand if you lift without a trainer or a buddy. Here’s a pictorial representation

This is a particularly common mistake when deadlifting or rowing. The reality is, any exercise you do to strengthen your legs (ie squats and deadlifts) is also going to strengthen your back. However, your glutes and hamstrings are very strong and when you load them correctly, they should do most of the work. I will go over some drills to learn how to hip hinge in part 2.

For whatever reason, your form is just poopy

Alright I need to be a little harsh for a second.

It never ceases to amaze me some of the asinine things I see people doing in the gym. I understand that most people are just under or ill-informed when it comes to this…

But like…. Really!? Do you really think your floor-hump-of-a-pushup is helping you look sexy??? ‘Cause it’s not. In fact, it looks like you’re humping the floor.


My favorite comment: “How would one even get that idea?”

My sentiments exactly.

Okay now that I got that off my chest, I understand that there are many issues why form can slack, some of which I’ll cover in more detail below. You might be using too much weight, you might be missing some mobility or stability, or you simply just might not know what proper form should look like. Whatever it is, I recommend figuring it out to avoid issues down the road.

Let’s look a little deeper into the second category: movement dysfunction.

You have dysfunctional breathing patterns.

I’ve written a little bit about this before, and it’s important to reiterate. As a result of chronic stress and inactivity, breathing patterns shift from belly breathing to chest breathing. This can cause all sorts of issues, one of them including back pain. Quick self assessment: Take a deep breath. Did your chest and shoulders go up immediately? Then chances are you’re breathing incorrectly. Part 2 will entail some breathing drills so you can reconnect with that old flame we like to call our diaphragm.

She’s a beauty eh?

You’re lacking some mobility

The two most common culprits are hips and shoulders. Since these two joints have the most range of motion, by the same token they’re the most complicated and prone to dysfunction. The good news about mobility is that it’s usually just a matter of knowing what you need to work on, and doing it consistently.

You’re lacking some stability

If I were to pick one area of the body that’s most important to be stable, it’s your core. I know… shocker.

A lack of stability can often be the real issue in a lot of movement dysfunction, but it often will disguise itself as a lack of mobility! Tricky, that human body… very tricky. The best example is a squat. In the next post I’ll have a video for you to prove my point… But for now just take my word for it.

Shoulders, hips and extremities also require stability, but I’d argue starting with your core will give you the most bang for your buck.

Your posture is less than ideal

I’d be hard pressed to find someone with perfect posture. That’s because I think we are innately imbalanced. By god giving us a dominant hand/brain/whatever, we are automatically uneven. So for me to say that everyone needs to have perfect posture and no asymmetries to be found is completely ignorant.  However, if your walking around with a pigeon towed-pronated-bow legged-hyperextended-lordotic-kyphotic posture… that could cause some problems.

I’m talking to you smeagol

 Fortunately, there are a lot of posture problems that exercise and good habits can fix. Stay tuned for the best exercises to improve posture.

Conclusion

So there are the 7 most important factors of back pain. Of course, they’re all intertwined issues and if you have one, you probably have a couple. The good news is it’s fixable! Call me old-school, but I like to fix things organically. Proper exercise is solution #1 to back pain, before drugs, injections, ultra sounds, or surgery.

Part 2 coming soon!

-L

First and foremost, happy new year! I hope everyone celebrated the holidays safely and rung in the new year with friends and family.

I had a fantastic week off of work. Christmas was relaxing, and I caught up on family time, laundry, shopping, cleaning and miscellaneous get-my-ish-together errands. Here’s a shot of my two brothers and I on Christmas Eve… we joked that our gifts were very symbolic 🙂

Photo: So symbolic

My Family Knows Me Too Well

Needless to say- I am not above the holiday eating shenanigans and I’m looking forward to being on a normal eating plan again. I actually had a lot of free time the past week so I got some great training sessions in. Although it seemed like every time I went I ended up giving deadlifting lessons… but I don’t mind that 🙂

Anyway, I wanted to share my new years resolutions with you guys, and maybe give you some ideas. For some reason, I keep seeing things like “don’t make resolutions make GOALS.” I don’t understand what the big deal is with the word resolution. By definition it means “a firm decision to do or not do something.” In other words, to make a commitment. Goals are great, but without commitment they’re useless. So I stand by my statements of ‘New Years Resolutions’. Boo-yeah!

Health/Fitness Goals

1) Remember to take my fish oil every day. 

The benefits of fish oil are too long to list, and unless you’ve been living under a rock you know what they are. I’m not big on supplements but I think fish oil is one everyone can benefit from.  I keep a gigantic bottle right next to my computer and somehow manage to forget to take it sometimes. So my commitment is to remember to take it every day!

2) Drink a big glass of water WITH every meal. 

“Vodka water hold the Vodka”

I’m usually pretty good with drinking enough water, so hydration is not really my intention with this resolution. A lot of nutrition advice tells you to stop eating when you’re mostly full… My issue is I rarely feel full. If I listened to that advice I’d grossly overeat at every meal. So I’m hoping by slowing down and filling up with some H2O I will feel more satiated at meal time. However if you feel like you don’t drink enough water to begin with, this is a good solid goal to start with… it’s concrete and certainly doable. The idea is to make this a habit so you won’t even have to think twice about it.

3. Eat 2 bites less of every meal/snack

This is easier said than done people! I’ve practice this before and it really does work for shedding a few pounds over time. If you’re like me, you were raised to finish your plate (before you could have dessert that is). This is an easy version of portion control; again it’s concrete and doable. It’s just a matter of getting into the habit.

4. Deadlift 225lbs!

You didn’t think I could get through this whole category with out some sort of show-off goal did you!?!

 

Work Goals:

1. Start giving presentations

Luckily I’ll have an opportunity to do this thanks to a good friend of mine in the UMass Lowell department of Physical Therapy. I get to pick any topic I want to present to doctorate students, PTs, OTs, and MD’s! Prrreeetty excited about that. The hard part will be picking a topic!

2. Find a PT to volunteer for

The field of physical fitness is constantly changing. Which is awesome because that’s what makes it challenging and fun. I’m a firm believer of continuing education, and I’d like to get another mode of learning besides books, blogs and personal trial and error. That’s why I’d like to find a physical therapist to volunteer for. Of course, the ultimate goal is to gain more tools to better serve my clients 😉

Life/Happiness

1. Try something awesome that I’ve never done before

Sky diving? Swim with dolphins? Volunteer in Africa? The gallon challenge?? Decisions, decisions…..

2. Do something completely by myself and appreciate it. 

I’m the type of person that likes to be surrounded with people. The more the merrier in any situation. When I’m by myself I get pretty bad FOMO (fear of missing out), and I can never just relax and appreciate my solitude. I haven’t quite decided what this will be yet; but I’m thinking a long hike, a road trip, or maybe I’ll just try some meditation.

3. Get back in the habit of reading on the train

For the first year or so of my commute to Boston, I flew through books on the train. It was great; it makes the time fly and I can learn a thing or two. Then for some reason I got into the sleep/listen to music habit which is not as helpful in life. So I’m aiming for 1 work related and 1 non-work related book per month. Aggressive but doable.

 

Channing Tatum says “You can do it, Laura”

Welp, that’s all I got! I hope you’ve got some good goals to reach for in 2013. Just remember… you can’t go down the same road expecting different scenery. Whether you’re striving for a better physique, better job, more happiness… choices must change in order to improve!

 

Good talk see ya out there-

L