Open Scissors and Your Lifting

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This is a very common sight: a sweaty intense looking guy cranking out pushup after pushup on the floor. It looks impressive at first glance, but on second glance, you notice a big “C” shaped arch in his low back, so much in fact that his belly button almost touches the floor each rep! Then wait, you realize that only half of his body is moving – the top half. Is this really a pushup you might wonder? Does this position do our pushup friend any good? Today we answer these questions and more!

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The horrible open scissors position; notice the poor low back and head position here.

This excessively arched low back position has been referred to as “open scissor syndrome”. Low back position that is compressed like this may be linked with increased muscle activation in this area. Why would this be? Most likely, something else, often the glutes are weak, so the low back takes over the mobile role of the hip extensors. The low back is supposed to be a stable joint, so this can lead to injury, muscle imbalance and pain over time. Often times, those with low back pain exhibit excessive back muscle activation and low abdominal activation. The lats or the serratus anterior could also be inactive, and the muscles of the upper back can be overactive. This restricts the mobility up top and once again the low back is forced become hypermobile.

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Normal positioning is seen on the left; overarched “open scissors” is seen on the right.

Open scissors not just makes you look like you are weak and have no idea what you are doing, but it stalls your training results. Without proper closed scissor position, your ability to activate the right muscles at the right time and breathe under load is impaired. This means you will not progress to lift bigger weights or lift for longer sets very fast in any exercise! Training the midsection muscles and improving body awareness here is key.

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The dead bug exercise. Creative name aside, it is one of the best core training exercises out there.

Midsection training exercises should focus on keeping strong closed scissor position. You may notice that as you fatigue the scissors want to open up. Don’t let them. Either make the exercise a bit easier or take a break. The deadbug, the bird dog and the plank are the most basic of these exercises for improving lumbar stability and midsection strength. Take as long as it takes to get the low back flat and hold it there with normal breathing. Once mastered, progress to sitting exercises and hold the closed scissor position. Breathe. Once that is mastered, go on to standing and then full on dynamic exercises. By now, keeping the scissors shut should be second nature!

References:
Kolar, P., Kobesova, A., Valouchova, P., & Bitnar, P. (2014). Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization: assessment methods. Recognizing and Treating Breathing Disorders, 93.

O’Sullivan, P. B., Phyty, G. D. M., Twomey, L. T., & Allison, G. T. (1997). Evaluation of specific stabilizing exercise in the treatment of chronic low back pain with radiologic diagnosis of spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis. Spine, 22(24), 2959-2967.

Radebold, A., Cholewicki, J., Panjabi, M. M., & Patel, T. C. (2000). Muscle response pattern to sudden trunk loading in healthy individuals and in patients with chronic low back pain. Spine, 25(8), 947-954.

Protein & Your Kidneys

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Protein rich foods are one of the more basic ingredients in an athlete’s kitchen. Too often, people have been misinformed and misunderstand protein intake. How many times have others expressed concern for the amount of protein an athlete eats? In mainstream media, we are often told that a high protein diet will lead to kidney problems. As a strength athlete myself, I am used to hearing these claims, and was at first appalled by this. In the end, I decided to dig into the evidence and then bombard these concerned “health experts” with some cold hard research evidence.

Below we have part of the filtration system in a kidney. The kidneys are responsible for regulating fluid balance in the body. High protein intake, in this case 35% of total calories, increases the glomerular filtration rate. Supposedly, consuming excess amounts of protein increases filtration pressure in the kidneys, which is claimed to “strain” the kidneys and lead to renal damage.

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A simplified look at glomerular filtration in the kidney.

This is an adaptation that is exactly comparable to getting stronger muscles as you lift heavier weights in the gym. Once you eat less protein, your kidneys will adapt and again slow the filtration rate. In healthy people and athletes, there is no evidence to support a “straining” of the kidneys. Strength athletes in particular have higher protein needs, especially during short periods of weight loss. Consuming more protein in the diet gives the body the building blocks it needs to rebuild and as preserves lean muscle mass.

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In some research, different diets have been tested on various clinical populations. It was found that only in those who already had kidney issues was high protein intake an issue. Those who saw detriments to their kidney function with high protein foods, already has kidney diseases.  Because a higher work rate is imposed on the kidneys, it makes sense that those with kidney pathologies do not do well on a high protein diet. The protein intake in research subjects did not cause the malfunction, rather diet in this population needs to match the lower work capacity of the kidneys. This does not leave athletes or those looking to lose weight in the clear to load up on protein. As always, quality sources are key and good lifestyle habits are also important. If you are not taking good care of your health and are training hard, you may be overloading your internal organs and putting yourself at risk for future pathologies.

References
Martin, W. F., Armstrong, L. E., & Rodriguez, N. R. (2005). Dietary protein intake and renal function. Nutrition & metabolism, 2(1), 25.

Mettler, S., Mitchell, N., & Tipton, K. D. (2010). Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 42(2), 326-37.

Electrolytes for Maximum Energy

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Electrolytes. They are known to help athletes push harder and recover faster and even help cure the occasional hangover. This week we look at how electrolyte supplements work, when to use them, and how to concoct your own electrolyte drink. Electrolytes are electrically charged molecules that moderate muscle contraction.

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Above are the 5 types of electrolytes present in the body.

There is ample evidence to support performance benefits with the use of electrolytes. Although the activities and electrolyte amounts vary between studies, it is clear that replacing electrolytes either with balanced food or a drink helps recovery. Electrolytes are most important for training sessions and events that are over 60 minutes. Prolonged activity creates imbalance by using up electrolytes in energy producing reactions and forming water. Take a portion of electrolytes during and after your workout.

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Electrolytes may be beneficial for treating muscle cramps and heat injury that are particularly common with high intensity, prolonged exercise as in a bootcamp or obstacle race. As a muscle contracts repeatedly, contraction factors are moved across cell barriers as energy is converted and released. This action can create an imbalance in the tissue and result in muscle spasm. If left, overworked  muscles become tight and less able to perform work. Clearly, this is bad news if you want to perform well.

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Electrolytes may also be effective for treating tension headaches. Often times, water intake can improve the achy pain of a headache. Adding electrolytes to water allows more water to be captured and stored in the tissues. The benefits have been variable and may depend on the cause of the headache.

Electrolyte supplements are available from some companies, but can also be made from basic ingredients in your kitchen. Equal parts of salt and potassium chloride can be mixed with three times the amount of sugar or honey to provide balanced hydration.

References
Armstrong, L. E. (2002). Caffeine, body fluid-electrolyte balance, and exercise performance. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 12, 189-206.

Stanton, A. A. (2015). Migraine Cause and Treatment. Available at SSRN 2690927.

Von Duvillard, S. P., Braun, W. A., Markofski, M., Beneke, R., & Leithäuser, R. (2004). Fluids and hydration in prolonged endurance performance.Nutrition, 20(7), 651-656.

Build with BCAA’s

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Branched chain amino acids or BCAAs are an amino acid that has a branched molecular structure. Amino acids are present throughout the body and are used for various energy producing functions. BCAAs have been found to be metabolized mainly in the muscle tissue.

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Because of this BCAAs have become a popular supplement for enhancing muscle recovery after strength training, sparing muscle mass during fasting and increasing overall protein intake. Overall supplementing with BCAAs can keep the body in an anabolic state and maintain lean mass.

BCAAs are the most basic units that are put together in different ways to make proteins. Many amino acids can be made in the body, while essential amino acids can only be acquired from food or supplements. In exercising populations BCAAs in the muscle are broken down at a faster rate. It has be postulated that replacing BCAAs in the muscle will have a good effect on performance. Aside from exercise training, BCAAs have a known benefit for treating liver disease.

BCAAs can be taken in powder or tablet form. Powder forms are commonly flavoured because on their own BCAAs has a very strong taste. Most supplements are a balance of three BCAAs and are taken in 20g doses.

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The structural form of the three essential BCAAs in muscle tissue.

BCAA intake is most beneficial before, during and after exercise for promoting muscle synthesis and reducing muscle soreness. Supplementation makes this more convenient. After a squat training session, the group that supplemented with BCAAs had less fatigue during the lifts and experienced less muscle soreness the next day. BCAA supplementation has also been observed to increase muscle power output in trained lifters.

References
Crowe, M. J., Weatherson, J. N., & Bowden, B. F. (2006). Effects of dietary leucine supplementation on exercise performance. European journal of applied physiology, 97(6), 664-672.

Shimomura, Y., Yamamoto, Y., Bajotto, G., Sato, J., Murakami, T., Shimomura, N., … & Mawatari, K. (2006). Nutraceutical effects of branched-chain amino acids on skeletal muscle. The Journal of nutrition, 136(2), 529S-532S.

 

Strong & Explosive with Creatine

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Creatine is one of the few supplements that has a lot of cold hard evidence to back up what it does. Creatine is a naturally high energy molecule in the body that is used in the short duration high intensity phosphocreatine system. This system, also called the ATP-PC system fuels short bursts of energy with intracellular stores of creatine when the need can’t be met with oxygen. The creatine molecule is stored in the muscle and has high energy phosphate bonds. It it the detachment of the phosphate bonds that releases energy.

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High intensity intervals just got easier.

Meat, fish and eggs can provide some creatine in the food form, however real effects are best gained with creatine powder. Supplementing with creatine is most common among strength and power trainees. If your training demands short burst of all out intensity, taking creatine is proven to help you recover faster from each intense bout and go hard for the next one. Although some of the effect will lessen when you stop taking creatine many of the benefits are lasting. The biggest plus is that you can push harder, you can build more muscle and train more frequently.

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Creatine is water soluble and mixes easily with most protein powders.

Creatine can be taken in cycles or can be loaded to build up stores in the muscles. Cycling creatine refers to taking a set dose for a period of time and followed by stopping the dose. To load creatine, slightly higher doses are taken each day. When taking creatine, you must ensure you stay well hydrated. Creatine is stored with water in the muscle, so naturally you will need to consume more water. To prevent stomach issues, creatine is best taken with meal and dissolved in a glass of water.

One of the newer findings on creatine is that it has positive effects on mental clarity and decision making. This effect is especially prominent in older adults. Creatine is stored in all types of body cells and can provide energy during conditions of stress or low oxygen. It is by this mechanism that creatine supports all body cells, not just the muscle!

References
Greenwood, M., Farris, J., Kreider, R., Greenwood, L., & Byars, A. (2000). Creatine supplementation patterns and perceived effects in select division I collegiate athletes. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 10(3), 191-194.

Persky, A. M., Brazeau, G. A., & Hochhaus, G. (2003). Pharmacokinetics of the dietary supplement creatine. Clinical pharmacokinetics, 42(6), 557-574.

Rawson, E. S., & Venezia, A. C. (2011). Use of creatine in the elderly and evidence for effects on cognitive function in young and old. Amino Acids, 40(5), 1349-1362.

Working Out vs. Training

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This week, as New Edge begins at the new facility we look at the difference between working out and training. If you had a chance to join in one of the opening day bootcamps I hope you can feel your legs again. If not, you missed out, but there will be much more of that to come!

Training is here defined as structured exercise that is varied progressively with the intent of achieving a specific outcome. Training programs follow some type of periodization. This could be linear, undulating or non-linear periodization. The volume and intensity of the training change over the training cycle to bring up weak areas and maintain overall strength. Training begins with higher volume, low intensity work to reinforce technique. Once technique is improved to some level, the intensity of training increases. Finally the volume and technique can be increased together to peak the athlete for a max performance. This is what one of my coaches call “shock week”. Recovery is always a big consideration during the peaking phase of training.

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Working out is defined as physical movement that raises the heart rate and uses the skeletal muscles. Structure and progression are not emphasized and the activities tend to be chosen arbitrarily. High intensity tasks like flipping tires, battle ropes and tire slams come to mind. These exercises are fun, but doing this mix everyday will not make you better at much. Working out can achieve many great things and it’s worth doing just for the social element of hanging out with like minded people. Other benefits include mental clarity, stress reduction, cardiovascular fitness and strength and muscle gain in a complete beginner.

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Both working out and training are important for lifters and athletes. If you have a specific outcome in mind, then training will be the biggest part of what you do in the gym. Sure, it will not look impressive day to day, but over time the foundation you build by working progressively will be indestructible. If you want to stay healthy and don’t have a something to train for, working out is a good way to maintain your fitness, however good results don’t happen by accident. Choosing a few exercises to do each day at random will not get improvements a fast as a well designed training program. Try something new and decide what type of training is best for getting to where you want to get. See you all in the gym!

References
Brown, J. (2002). Training needs assessment: A must for developing an effective training program. Public Personnel Management, 31(4), 569-578.

Izquierdo, M., Häkkinen, K., Ibanez, J., Garrues, M., Anton, A., Zuniga, A., … & Gorostiaga, E. M. (2001). Effects of strength training on muscle power and serum hormones in middle-aged and older men. Journal of applied physiology, 90(4), 1497-1507.

Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity.Current opinion in psychiatry, 18(2), 189-193.

 

Overhead Squats for Shoulder Stability

 

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Nothing is better than overhead squats to keep you honest about your shoulder stability. New lifters first trying this exercise are often seen struggling with a light bar trying their utmost to stay upright. One of the benefits of overhead squatting is shoulder stability. This week New Edge shows you why and how to make your shoulders stable and sturdy for lifting.

Many lifters focus entirely on shoulder size and strength and neglect movements that train fine control at this joint. Without training shoulder stability overhead lifts feel shaky and difficult to control. If however, going overhead is painful or feels tight, getting a mobility assessment and soft tissue treatment is recommended. If you currently have shoulder pain or feel pinching in the shoulder when moving overhead, get this checked out by a professional before training overhead movements.

Grab a light bar and hold it with your hands spaced wide so that the bar touches your hip when you hold it. Press the bar overhead and think about stretching the bar like it’s a rubber band. Point your arm pits forward. Elbows should be pointed backwards. Now perform a squat!

Once the basic movement is easy to do with the light bar you can progress on.

Make the overhead squat more challenging:

1) Add more weight to the bar. This challenges the body’s structures by adding more downward force.

2) Narrowing your grip width. This isolates more of the shoulder muscles and forces them to work at the limit of their range of motion.

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Elbows back, armpits forward and midsection aligned. Beautiful.

Shoulder stability is important if you want to train for as many years as possible and perform to your highest potential. In most cases a lifter faced with this instability overhead must go back to a lighter working weight. Be patient and keep up with post- workout recovery! Next week New Edge looks at hip external rotation in the squat.

References
Jaggi, A., & Lambert, S. (2010). Rehabilitation for shoulder instability. British journal of sports medicine, 44(5), 333-340.

Ronai, P. (2005). Exercise Modifications and Strategies to Enhance Shoulder Function. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 27(4), 36-45.

Overhead Squats

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Overhead squats are one of my favorite lifts. I love the feeling of locking out under and heavy weight and then driving it up with my legs. I also love using them to teach correct squat form. The overhead squat is great at keeping a lifter honest about their midsection strength, hip flexibility and shoulder stability. Much can be learned about how someone moves by watching how they tackle the overhead squat. Today we look at midsection stability in the overhead squat!

The overhead squat is excellent for training pelvic position and control in the back and abdominal muscles. As can be seen in the figure below the muscles of the back, abs, hips and legs create opposing forces in the pelvis and spine. Effective squatting must train you how to balance these forces and keep the pelvis and spine in a neutral position.

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A simplified version of the muscular forces that contribute to anterior and posterior pelvic tilt.

To train the overhead squat begin with a dowel. Use weight by progressing slowly, once you have the technique mastered with the dowel. It is completely normal if it feels difficult at first to reach the depth you are used to squatting to. Most importantly, have a coach or other experienced lifter watch and make sure you spine position is neutral when you begin and that it doesn’t change from this position as you squat.

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A beautiful example of neutral spine and pelvis position with the bar overhead.

Think of staying tight under the bar. Lock your midsection in place and control it by not letting anything go loose until you have put the bar down. Next week we dig deeper into overhead squats and look at hip flexibility and shoulder stability in this lift. Happy squatting!

References
Anderson, K., & Behm, D. G. (2005). Trunk muscle activity increases with unstable squat movements. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 30(1), 33-45.

Staugaard-Jones, J.A. (2012). The Vital Psoas Muscle: Connecting Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Well-Being. North Atlantic Books

SI Joint Pain

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SI joint pain is one of the most common forms of back pain in lifter. It is also a difficult problem to solve unless you know how to deal with it. Resolving pain in this area will not only rebalance your training, and prevent further pain in the back and hip area, but will also improve your posture.

The sacroiliac joint refers to the area where the sacrum meets the ilium bone. The primary function of this joint is to transfer upper body loads to the lower body. With this in mind it is easy to see how critical it is to being able to weight train.

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SI joint pain referral zones

The SI joint is stabilized by the cross shaped muscle and fascia connections that are made up of links from under the foot, the lower leg, the IT band, the glutes and the lats. Any weakness in these muscles on either side of the body will alter the balance of pull at the SI joint and cause irritation in the area.

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Cross shaped muscle and fascia connections that stabilize the SI joint

Internal compression forces on the joint can cause other low back muscles to compensate and develop other imbalances. Exercises for this area need to focus on external rotation and abduction at the hip. Next week we look at several exercises to train that are excellent for strengthening the SI joint.

References
Brolinson, P. G., Kozar, A. J., & Cibor, G. (2003). Sacroiliac joint dysfunction in athletes. Curr Sports Med Rep, 2(1), 47-56.

Laslett, M. (2008). Evidence-based diagnosis and treatment of the painful sacroiliac joint. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 16(3), 142-152.

Richardson, C. A., Snijders, C. J., Hides, J. A., Damen, L., Pas, M. S., & Storm, J. (2002). The relation between the transversus abdominis muscles, sacroiliac joint mechanics, and low back pain. Spine, 27(4), 399-405.

Explaining Low Back Pain

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Low back pain is so common that most know how debilitating it can be. There is nothing more frustrating for an athlete, lifter or fitness enthusiast than being injured. Today we look at why low back pain occurs.

Many times clients bring in MRI scans to show me their herniated discs so they can prove how little they can do because of how much pain they are in. I believe them, but also realise the difference between structure and function. More often than not when ask where the pain is they point to a different area of their back than the level of the discs herniation. That’s weird. But consider that the low back is a delicate balance of pressure gradients that modulate the neurological inputs. Clearly pain is more complicated than something we can see with medical imaging.

Analyses of MRI scans have revealed that scans have very little to do with whether or not back pain is present. Structurally normal low backs can have pain and abnormal backs can be pain free. Even when healing has occurred and or no structural damage occurred, neural activation of the back and hips has likely been altered by the injury and pain.

There are several causes of low back pain. Back pain can be classified as either acute or chronic. Think of acute trauma as being hit by someone or something. Acute trauma to the body shuts off neural pathways to the back muscles and results on temporary weakness in the injured area. Chronic pain on the other hand can develop from unresolved acute injury or from long term misuse.

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Not all back pain is a cause for concern. Dull achy pain in the muscles of the back after training deadlifts or back extensions indicates that the muscles have been loaded eccentrically. This is means the muscles were made to contract as they lengthened. This is one of the most effective ways of strengthening a muscle. Although it may produce some discomfort at first, in many cases strengthening the back and hip muscles resolves back pain.

Chronic poor positioning of the muscles of the back alters neural activation and can lead to atrophy and weakness. The muscles may not be in a position to work optimally. With chronic pain lasting inhibition of the muscles of the hip and back can cause sciatica, sacroiliac joint pain and other problems in the area. In order for strength to return maximally, the back should be aligned and trained so the muscles pull evenly on the vertebrae. For this aligning to be effective, other areas of imbalance in the hips, shoulders and ankles for example, also need to be resolved.

References
Deyo, R. A., Rainville, J., & Kent, D. L. (1992). What can the history and physical examination tell us about low back pain?. Jama, 268(6), 760-765.

Jensen, M. C., Brant-Zawadzki, M. N., Obuchowski, N., Modic, M. T., Malkasian, D., & Ross, J. S. (1994). Magnetic resonance imaging of the lumbar spine in people without back pain. New England Journal of Medicine,331(2), 69-73.