Sometimes the best way to “get back” to your healthy lifestyle is going back to the simple, beginner steps. It never hurts to start over with a clean slate–that includes your exercise. In fact, a lot of people get injured rushing into an exercise program that they’re body isn’t ready for. Let’s rewind and re-teach ourselves good form and technique. You may be surprised to find that there are new studies supporting different posture do’s and dont’s!
Squats: You’ve heard this one a million times, yet most people don’t keep a close eye on it: knees behind the toes. So, why does it matter so much? Originally, research from Duke University had supported theory that keeping your leg vertical (as much as possible) when you squat reduced the “shearing forces on the knee.” Surprisingly, new research from Memphis University has found that although that fact is true, it is secondary to your hip position in a squat–the true culprit for injured backs. Hip stress increases 1,000 percent when your knees aren’t allowed to move forward (because you are leaning your torso forward), even though going past your toes increases the stress on your knee.
Solve the dilemma by paying the most attention to your hip and back alignment, which should be upright. A simple way to increase the difficulty of a squat is to use a bed pillow. Make it even harder by going single legged and stand on the pillow. A report from the Mayo Clinic stated that men who had attempted the single leg squat while standing on the cushy surface worked their leg and hip muscles up to 13 percent harder. How’s that for an at-home gym? Really step it up with a balance board which immediately activates your core stabilizers as well! We love using Valeo’s Tri-Level Balance Board.
Push Ups and Planks: Let’s start from the top of the issue: your head. Don’t strain your neck in a push up. It shouldn’t be craning up. Your eyes should comfortably rest below and in front of you. Your arms should be underneath your shoulders, not in front of your head. Protect your wrists by keeping the weight on the outside of the palms–they were not built to support your entire body weight! From the upper back to the toes, your body should be in a straight line. And, it should move as such. Do not sag your hips or point them upwards (where you resemble a mountain peak). Plus, it helps engage that core!
Abdominal Work: Okay, so what’s the deal with this term, “pull your belly button to your spine?” Do not take this movement literally. You shouldn’t be sucking in. Brace your abs rather than sucking them in. You will really notice the difference when you tilt your pelvic floor muscles upward.
In a Men’s Health article debunking common muscle myths, Stuart McGill, Ph.D., author of Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, said this about the “new standard”: “If you want to give your back a supporting hand, simply “brace” your abs as if you were about to be punched in the gut, but don’t draw them in. “This activates all three layers of the abdominal wall, improving both stability and performance.” Read the whole article here.
Challenge your abdominal wall with a core ball–it also feels great on your back. These little guys rest right under your lower back and allow you a full range of motion that the floor prohibits when you crunch. Again, we love Valeo and their Core Training Ball (pictured below). Feel how your abs engage and try to mimic that contraction in all your exercises, no matter what muscle group you are targeting! (photo credit)