Woman running up stairs for exercise

Exercises To Avoid In Middle Age (And What You Should Actually Focus On)

What exercises should you avoid? The Short Answer: None of them.

Ok, like everything in health care, that comes with caveats and exceptions that depend on your personal situation. But broadly speaking, exercise is GOOD for you – no matter your age!

Prompted by a facebook post I saw, I did a quick Google of “should exercise hurt after 40” (what the post itself specifically referred to). I was surprised and disappointed with the search results…

Squats – bad.

Running – bad. (Especially sprinting.)

Overhead shoulder pressing – bad.

Jumping, hopping, and plyometric exercise – bad.

Heavy weights – bad.

This list goes on and on. While there were a few exercises included that I do actually agree with (crunches and behind-the-neck lat pulldowns), that’s true for any age group, not just middle age or older.

In the sample of article I looked at, the rationale behind the exercises “to avoid” is that you might hurt yourself. This is a valid concern. However, these articles vastly over emphasize the risk of injury associated with the listed exercises. In fact, at times the suggestions are exactly the opposite of the recommendations made by numerous exercise science associations like the ACSM in the US, ESSA here in Australia, or BASES in the UK – just to name a few.

Some of the most common exercises recommended to avoid, once in middle age and beyond:

 

Man in blue shirt doing box jump in gym

Plyometrics

Rationale behind avoiding this: Plyometrics are power-based exercises based on jumping, hopping, or throwing, all of which involve explosive power, high force production, and have the potential to be very high impact. It’s suggested that high impact could be damaging to your joints, especially if you don’t have a lot of muscle or strength, or are otherwise not used to training. Muscle mass and strength act as the joints shock absorbers and help the body absorb force, spreading it through the limbs and not just pounding it into the joints.

What’s the actual risk? It depends on how high or far you’re jumping or hopping, or otherwise how much “oomph” you’re putting into the exercise. Higher, farther, or faster requires more force, which in turn can lead to higher impact. Remember that impact itself is not a bad thing – higher levels of impact are in part what helps maintain and prevent loss of bone density.

How to do this – safely! Even though plyometrics are high intensity and high impact, they can be done safely with the right prep:

Warm up well with some lower intensity movement (could be on a bike or treadmill, or some easy strength work like body weight squats) so the muscles are best prepared to produce and absorb force.

If you’re new to plyometrics, you’ll still be able to safely do small movements like hopping from one foot to the other, or jumping up onto a small/short box, or jumping over a line drawn on the ground (think of playing hopscotch). Smaller movements help the muscles get better at the quick contractions needed for force production, while conditioning the joints and bones to better withstand impact. As you get stronger and feel better, you can work on going higher or farther.

Lastly, work on controlling the moment of impact – when you land, you’ll want to squat slightly once you make contact with the ground. This “sinking in” is what helps the body absorb and spread force, and is really the key to injury prevention with plyometrics – for any age.

Why you should do this kind of exercise: Developing muscular power helps maintain muscle mass, which naturally decreases with age (starting around the age of 30!). More importantly, plyometric exercise helps the nervous system stay sharp, maintaining agility and keeping your reflexes and reaction times quick. This becomes increasingly important with advancing age – good agility and fast reflexes make it easier to catch yourself if you trip or fall, significantly decreasing your injury risk.

 

Man loading bumper plate weight onto barbell in gym

Heavy Weights

Rationale behind avoiding this: Lifting heavy weights can create muscle strain and joint stress – presumably, anyway. Some of the articles I reviewed don’t even discuss why lifting heavy weights might be bad for you.

What’s the actual risk? The risk of lifting heavy weight is the potential for “too much (stress on your muscles/joints), too soon”. Your muscles and joints can be conditioned for heavy weight, but picking up something really heavy without preparing your body for it does create higher injury risk.

How to do this – safely! Heavy is all relative. In strength training terms, “heavy” usually refers to a weight you can lift five or six times, but not more (and sometimes fewer). For each person, and for each exercise, that weight will be different. What’s “heavy” to you might not be heavy to the person next to you.

For functional strength, a “heavy weights” workout means choosing a weight that you can lift 4-6 times in a set, and still feel like you could have done one or two reps more. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to increase that weight for the same number of reps. If you’re a strength-training beginner, you may want to take a few weeks or even a couple of months doing higher rep sets (i.e. 8-10 reps per set) to help condition your muscles and joints to handle the load.

Also important when lifting heavy weights: Warming up, in this case with trigger pointing or foam rolling, dynamic stretching (stretching with movement), and light weight sets of your chosen exercise(s). This helps prepare your muscles and joints for the heavier sets to come.

Why you should do this kind of exercise: Loss of strength is one of the major factors that limits quality of life and your ability to keep up with it. Heavier weight lifting helps you maintain strength as well as muscle mass. If you lift weights without challenging yourself, you miss out on the opportunity to keep yourself strong and capable.

 

Group of people getting ready to race on an outdoor track

Sprinting and High Intensity Cardio

Rationale behind avoiding this: Naysayers will tell you that sprinting, jumping jacks, and other high intensity and high impact cardio can cause joint damage and put your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues at risk for injury. As with heavy weights, this is said to be due to the powerful muscle contractions that create high intensity movement, as well as higher impact loads on the joints.

What’s the actual risk? Way lower than you think. Consider this: A study of 3000 masters athletes with an average age of 53 years, encompassing a wide range of track and field events, found that less than 2.5% of people presented with injuries related to high intensity efforts. That doesn’t automatically mean that you are free and clear to go as hard as you like. After all, this group was studied during competition, meaning that they had been in training for these types of efforts. But it also shows that you can safely train and compete with high effort.

How to do this – safely! Again, as with heavy weights, effort and intensity is all relative. One of the best ways to track your workout intensity is a 0-10 scale of effort (in exercise science, we talk about this as a Rating of Perceived Exertion, or RPE). If you aren’t used to high intensity exercise, ease into this sort of training with just a few short efforts (periods of time, i.e. 10 seconds). You might try include 10-20 seconds of faster walking, running, cycling, or whatever cardio you are doing, at a faster speed or higher intensity, so that you are feeling like it’s a 6 or 7 out of 10 effort. Make sure that you are well warmed up with the right sort of stretches and DIY massage for the muscles you’ll be using. Bonus: If you are planning on getting into high intensity exercise, treat yourself to a remedial or deep tissue massage to get your body better prepared.

Why you should do this kind of exercise: High intensity exercises are great bang for your buck.

You can burn the same amount of calories as a low intensity working in a much shorter time frame, which is great when you have a lot of other things in life going on and struggle to fit workouts in.

High intensity means higher heart rates during the workout as well. In turn, this leads to a phenomenon called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC. Basically, when your body is working super hard, it’s using up a lot of stored fuel in the form of glycogen (what carbohydrates are broken down into) and fat molecules. After a workout, your body will still be working hard – to replenish those fuel sources, so you’ll still be burning calories after your workout. The harder the work, the more you’ll burn afterwards.

You’ll do your bones a favor: High intensity exercise (either moderate to heavy weights, or higher impact exercises like sprinting, jumping, or plyometrics) will stimulate your bone to grow stronger, or at the very least limit bone loss. This is especially important if your calcium or vitamin D levels are low (both of these are necessary for good bone density), or if you have or are at risk of osteopenia or osteoporosis.

 

The Bottom Line

Any exercise can be bad for you, or have high risk of injury, depending on your personal circumstances. However, most exercises can also be safe for you, provided you use some common sense with your approach. Your rules of thumb:

  • Keep it pain free
  • Good joint alignment makes for good exercise technique
  • “Challenging” doesn’t mean “On the verge of passing out” – For weights, this means getting to the end of a set and thinking you could have done just one or two more with good technique.
  • Pay attention to your body – Difference between hard work and injury
  • Don’t slam yourself around – Whether you’re doing jumping, hopping, or other plyometric exercises, climbing up the stairs, or using a weight machine, control is the name of the game. If you can hear a thud when you make contact, try to slow down the movement slightly.

Use common sense and listen to your body, and you can have a lifetime of good workout and good health ahead of you, no matter what age you start.

Find this helpful? Join the HealthFit Coaching facebook page or follow on Instagram to be the first to see the next published post! 

 

 

Photo credits: Flickr and USAF

Do you really need to take 10,000 steps daily?

The idea of reaching 10,000 steps on a daily basis is daunting for many people. In the US, one count averaged daily steps at 4800, and in Australia the average hits around 7500 steps per day. That’s a bit of time on your feet – but still well below the 10,000 steps that gets tossed around a lot. It bears asking:

How much do you risk by not hitting your 10K target?

Less than the publicity would make you believe. As it turns out, there’s no real scientific basis for the recommendation of reaching 10,000 steps. Rather, this number likely originated in Japan in the mid-1960s, either as part of a marketing campaign for a pedometer, or based on the name of a pedometer brand. As an aside, it’s reallllly convenient for such a nice round number to be the magic number we need for health. Our bodies don’t often work on such easy numbers!

That said, the number of steps you take every day does have an impact on your overall health. Numerous studies show that the more steps you average on a daily basis, the healthier you’ll be. This tends to mean that you’ll enjoy a longer life span, with a higher quality of life, than if you average fewer steps on a daily basis. Somewhat frustratingly, there doesn’t seem to be a minimum number you do need in order to achieve health benefits; We just know that the more you do, the better your health will be. As for getting steps just walking around, rather than going for a walk to workout (or other exercise, for that matter)? Interestingly, health markers and life expectancy seem to be strongly linked with just being on your feet more, as a designated workout or not.

In one recent study, the biggest decreases in risk of death occurred when inactive women became more active – even if it was nowhere near the 10,000 mark! Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the daily step count of about 16,000 older women over the course of a week, and found that in the 4 years following the study, those in the lowest step count group were also the most likely to die. This was found even at the relatively low end of the step count spectrum:  women who averaged approximately 4400 daily steps had lower mortality rates than those who took about 2700 steps a day. A higher number of daily steps saw an additional decrease in overall death rates, up through about 7500 steps daily.

So don’t sweat the 10K mark – just get up and get moving!

 


Man wearing track pants and black sneakers on an elliptical crosstrainer

Client Question: While using an elliptical crosstrainer, should my heels stay on the pedals?

Short answer: Nope!

Using an elliptical machine or cross-trainer is a close substitute for walking or jogging on a treadmill or outside. Your body should move in roughly the same way, whether you’re walking around during day to day life, cruising on the treadmill, or turning the pedals on an elliptical machine.

When you walk, jog, or run, your heel leaves the ground as your back leg powers you forward. This same movement is used with an elliptical trainer. The main difference (obviously) is that you don’t actually go anywhere. To get your workout in and heart rate up, you still have to move the pedals, which requires the same “push” from the back leg that you use to move yourself forward when walking or running. (If you’ve tried using the crosstrainer with your heels stuck flat, it’s probably felt kind of awkward, yeah? That’s why!)

Human gait walking pattern

That doesn’t mean that you should spend your whole workout without your heel on the pedal – that would be like walking around on your toes all the time. Your heel should lift at least slightly as you bring your back leg forward, and be in contact with the pedal as your leg moves from in front to behind. How much acutal “lift” you get will depend on the machine you use, as some have a more oval-shaped pedal track, which will require more heel lift, and some will have a more circular pedal track, which might have little lift, or even just a shift of your body weight onto your toes.

The heel lift is part of your normal stride or gait. But it’s just one piece of the puzzle in efficient walking, running, or crosstraining. Lifting your heel as your back leg prepares to swing forward helps connect your foot and ankle with the other muscles in the back of the leg, and through the back to the opposite arm (using an opposite arm-leg swing pattern helps us stay balanced and not falling over). The muscles of your calf contract to lift the heel and push the foot into the ground, working in a coordinated pattern with the other muscles used in your stride pattern. Changing the way you move one part of your body (or prevent movement) can greatly impact many other body parts, and may predispose you to higher stress and strain on your soft tissues and joints.

I’ve answered a similar question over at Quora if you want more info. But your best bet? Let your body move naturally. If you’re not in pain during or after your workout, you’re likely ok!

Have your own question about your health and fitness? Submit it to info@healthfitcoaching.com to get a clear answer on how you can move easily and feel great.


Posterior lumbar and pelvic skeletal and surface muscle anatomy with SI joint pain

SI Joint Pain – Help at Home

Do you have one small, painful spot on your back? Right where the blue arrow is pointing?

ICK.

Pain in this area is one of the main indicators of sacroiliac joint (SI joint, or SIJ) pain. This pain can occur when the joint between your sacrum (your tailbone) and your ilium (the big curved bone of your pelvis) gets pulled out of alignment, usually because of tight muscles around the hip.

Wait, I have a joint there?

You do! The pelvis isn’t one solid block of bone. It’s actually made up of five bones that fit together like puzzle pieces to form a more-or-less solid girdle. I say more or less because there can be some slight give in the joints between the bones. The three bones of the hip (the ilium, the ischium, and the pubis) are fused, and your SI joint is the connection between your sacrum and your ilium.

This joint functions a little like a zipper, with strong layers of ligaments holding the two pieces together while still allowing some small amount of movement. But it’s built for stability, and too much movement or pull in any one direction and you’ll know about it, often with a pain at the back of the hip, towards the top of the SI joint.

Posterior pelvis skeletal anatomy with SI joint pain

The Snowball Effect: The SIJ version

When we have pain or trauma (like slipping and falling, or jarring a joint) to joints, muscles, or other tissues, the body quickly tightens muscles around the area to help protect it from further damage or irritation. Great! Except that the protective tension can also lead to additional irritation via the misalignment discussed above.. And the ball rolls on until you put a stop to it.

Ok, so what should I do if my SI joint hurts?

Joint misalignment is often due to tight muscles, fascia, and other soft tissues; Your SI joint has a lot of muscles and fascia surrounding it. (If you want to dive deep into the muscles, ligaments, and bone related to the SIJ, go here. So loosen them up!

Trigger point self-therapy in the glute region, the adductor region (inner thigh), the outside of the hip, and even through the lower back can provide relief from SIJ pain. All you need is a tennis ball! Here’s how: sit or lay on the tennis ball, or lean into it by pinning it against a wall in the areas shown below.

 

Trigger Point for Glute (Bum) Muscles

SIJ Line Glute Trigger Point for SI joint pain

Sit with the tennis ball pressing into the soft tissue to the side of the sacrum (tailbone). Roll it or move it up and down to find tight spots and hold it until the tension or soreness disappears. Use a moderate amount of pressure – it should feel like “good hurt”.

 

Trigger Point for Adductor (Inner Thigh) Muscles

Foam roller adductor trigger point for SI joint pain

Lay face down with one knee out to the side, hooked over the roller so the roller is pressing on the inner thigh, foot to the outside of the roller. Roll it or move it up and down to find tight spots and hold it until the tension or soreness disappears (it’s safe to apply pressure this way anywhere between just above the knee and the crease of the hip). Use a moderate amount of pressure – it should feel like “good hurt”.

 

Trigger Point for TFL and Glute Min (Outside Of Hip) Muscles

TFL and Glute min Trigger Point for SI joint pain

Lay on your side with a tennis ball in the fleshy part of the outside of your hip, or pin the ball against the wall in the same area. Hold pressure until the tension or soreness disappears, then move to find a new spot (move towards the front or back of the hip). Use a moderate amount of pressure – it should feel like “good hurt”.

Secondary causes can be tight muscles farther from the joint. Give them a stretch with one of the following stretches:

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneel on one knee and take a BIG step forward with the other side. Squeeze the glute on the back leg, and drop the hips forward to stretch the front of the hip on the back leg. Not feeling the kneeling? Here are other ways to stretch your hip flexors.

 

Pretzel Glute Stretch

Pretzel Glute Stretch for SI joint pain

Lay on your back and cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Draw the knee back towards your chest, bringing the ankle with it, and hold in place by wrapping your hands around your shin or the back of your thigh (between your thigh and calf).

 

Knee Hook Stretch for TFL and Glute Min

Knee Hook TFL and Glute stretch for SIJ pain

Lay on your back with both knees bent, then drop both knees to one side. Hook the ankle of the bottom leg over the knee of the top leg to pull the knee slightly towards the floor.

Important Safety Reminder!

The trigger points and stretches above are great for SI joint pain, but that doesn’t mean they are right for every single person. If you feel pain with any of these, please stop immediately and seek treatment with a remedial massage therapist, an osteopath, or a physiotherapist (or physical therapist). They’ll be able to give you a better idea of what’s going on, and to treat you appropriately.

 


two medicine balls for at home strength training exercise and fitness

Cardio Workouts For Apartment Complex Gyms

Live in an apartment that has a gym in the building? It’s so convenient… for you and everyone else! 

Most apartment complexes with gym facilities have a treadmill, a stationary bike, and sometimes an elliptical or crosstrainer machine. There’s usually one of everything and that one is frequently in use, especially if you’re working out before work or after hours. But why tie yourself to the same old gym equipment? Here are some fresh workouts that you can use for cardio or aerobic exercise, without slaving away on the treadmill… In fact, you can stay away from the cardio machines entirely. 

These workouts are travel friendly as well, allowing you to keep on top of training even when you’re away from home. Perfect for hotel gyms or even your hotel room if you’re happy to travel with an exercise band (the superband referred to below). And of course, great for home workouts too!

 

Body Weight Circuit 

  • Jumping jacks/Star jumps
  • Shadow boxing
  • Side to side hops
  • Clap pushups
  • Jump squats
  • Plank shoulder taps or Plank shift

Complete 2-5 rounds of 10-15 reps per exercises. See it in action here!

 

 

Super Band Workout

  • Superband front squats
  • Superband shoulder press
  • Superband bent over row
  • Superband monster walk (side-to-side and front-to-back)

Complete 2-5 rounds of 8-12 reps per exercise. See it in action here!

 

Dumbbell Circuit

  • Front squats
  • Shoulder press
  • Split squat
  • Bent over row
  • Lateral squat

Complete 2-5 rounds of 8-12 reps per exercise. See it in action here!

With any and all of these exercises, remember that:

Only perform exercises that you can do safely and pain-free. If you aren’t used to moderate or high intensity exercise, chat with your doctor before starting an exercise program. You can test your Exercise Readiness with this quick questionnaire.

All of these workouts are flexible. If you like or dislike certain exercises, you can swap them out, or just add others in to create more variety. Choose your own adventure!

 

If you’re keen to workout on your own? Keep yourself going with this additional recommended reading: 

Three Top Tips for Injury Prevention

What Gym Equipment Will Give Me The Best Cardio Workout

How Do I Become Stronger Without Going To The Gym


two medicine balls for at home strength training exercise and fitness

Client Question: What is functional exercise?

This is a great question!!

“Functional” has been a buzzword in the fitness industry for years now. It likely conjures up images of someone exercising while standing on one foot, doing much of their workout sitting (or standing – though please don’t!) on a big rubber fit ball to switch on their core. Spoiler: This isn’t actually what it means!**

In reality, most exercise can be functional exercises: Functional exercises are those that have a direct benefit to the movements you make in real life, whether that’s going about your day to day activities, going to the gym to get stronger, starting a beginners running program, or even training to compete in a big race. There is no particular group of exercises that are “functional”.

** As people (personal trainers, coaches, clients, and athletes) have seen how little the above types of exercise help in daily life and performance, the industry has moved away from the balance and instability elements that are the hallmark of the early “functional” trend. In fact, these exercises can lead to poor exercise technique, increased compensation patterns, and minimal additional benefit. They aren’t terrible across the board, but you can make better choices with your time!

Writing A Functional Exercise Program

When I see a client who’s interested in getting into functional movement or exercise, I get really excited, since it lets me stretch my creative juices a bit (and also because these clients have the highest chance of long term success – winning!). The process starts with a good chat about what real life looks like for you, what kind of movements you might struggle with, what kind of movements you get pain with, and what you would like to be able to do more easily. We’ll do a brief movement screen to let your body tell it’s side of the story, since most of us have movement compensations we are not aware of, and then we’ll get started on creating a balanced exercise program to match your needs and goals.

Here’s where the art comes in. When I think about what exercises should go in this program, I think about the movements you make in daily life and/or training. I’ll pick exercises that are similar to those movements to help strengthen the muscles that keep you going day to day. I’ll also pick exercises that will turn on any muscles that aren’t quite pulling their weight in your normal movements (under-active muscles play a key role in injury rates) and exercises that provide a balance to your main working muscle groups, which will further decrease injury risk. You should be able to recognize your in your workout exercises that mimic the movements of your job, or that help you improve strength or cardiovascular fitness levels so that the activities of everyday life become easier.

Common Examples of Functional Exercises

Functional Exercise

Similar Real Life Movement

Squats Sitting down and standing up, as from a chair
Step Ups Walking up stairs
Bicep Curls Picking up a small child
Farmers Carry Carrying the grocery bags

Is Your Program Functional For You?

Whether it’s called functional or not, the best program will evaluate your daily movements, energy needs, and lifestyle goals, and focus on exercises that will improve or maintain your abilities in these areas. Not every exercise will seem like something a movement you make every day, since creating strength for movement can require different muscles and joint angles than you might expect. Your body is a complex machine, and it’s rare that you’ll ever sit down, stand up, walk, carry, or lift things in the same perfectly straight line every time! Overall though, you should be able to see the similarities to your daily life, and within a few weeks should be able to feel the benefits.

If you’re not sure that your program is ticking these boxes, HealthFit can help. Your exercise physiology program is designed to be done in-home, at your gym, or anywhere else you feel the most comfortable and likely to do it, and if that’s not functional, I don’t know what is!

HealthFit looks after residents of inner city Brisbane and the western suburbs, including Spring Hill, Paddington, Bardon, Rosalie, Milton, Auchenflower, Toowong, Taringa, St Lucia, Indooroopilly, Chapel Hill, Kenmore, Graceville, and Chelmer. 

Want more info about how HealthFit can help you? Get In Touch

 


Hypermobile woman doing the splits

Improving Hypermobility

Joint hypermobility is a condition where the ligaments surrounding a joint aren’t as tight as they would normally be, which gives that joint greater movement ability than someone without hypermobility would have. Many people call this condition being “double jointed” or having “loose joints”; clinically we talk about having various degrees of joint laxity.

Joint hypermobility isn’t a black-and-white diagnosis. It actually occurs on a spectrum – everyone has more or less laxity in every joint. Hypermobility is seen more commonly in younger people, since your joints will naturally stiffen as you age. And interestingly, your level of hypermobility can greatly vary between your joints. You may be hypermobile in your elbows and shoulders, and much more stiff in yours wrists and knuckles. You’ll generally be diagnosed as hypermobile when you have extreme ranges of motion in several joints. The most common test for hypermobility is the Beighton Score. You can read more about that test at this link.

There’s a small percentage of the population that stays hypermobile throughout their lives. This can be a positive for some sports and activities, like gymnastics, dance, and martial arts, but for many people, hypermobility can lead to moderate to significant muscle and joint problems: When we look at normal physical structure and function (anatomy and physiology), we see that the role of ligaments are to hold the bones in a joint together in a way that allows smooth, pain-free function. When these ligaments are loose (increased joint laxity), the bones won’t be held together as securely. This can lead to increased wear and tear on the bones and cartilage in the joint. Muscle tension around the joint will also increase as the nervous system tries to create substitute support for the joint.

As such, hypermobility can lead to several annoying or painful symptoms:

  • Pain and tension in muscles and joints
  • Joints that click or pop
  • Joints that dislocate or sublux (come out of correct position) easily
  • Tiredness or fatigue, thanks to your muscles working hard
  • Increased joint injury risk for things like twisted and sprained ankles, or for joint overuse injuries

The most common complaints that my hypermobile clients have are muscular tension, sometimes leading to muscular aches, referred pain, or headaches (when the joints of the neck are affected). Many people don’t actually realise that hypermobility is the fundamental cause of this, instead thinking that it’s stress, or something they are doing in their daily lives that’s creating these aches and pains.

Now, the important part: What do to about hypermobility

There’s no “cure” for hypermobility (short of having surgery to shorten your ligaments, and you’d be hard pressed to find a surgeon who would do that!). It’s also not something that you should think is “wrong” with you. It’s just how your own body works. There are lots of ways that you can help manage hypermobility symptoms though, if you’re finding it to be unpleasant.

DON’T StretchFor Hypermobility

This might seem counter-intuitive, since tight muscles often feel like they need a good stretch. However, if you’re hypermobile, your joint laxity means you’re already “stretched” longer than your body wants you to be. Since stretching may further decrease your joint stability, it can actually backfire and increase muscular tension.

What to do instead?

Get A Remedial Massage

Remedial or deep tissue massage can decrease muscular tension without increasing muscle and connective tissue length. This tension often occurs in both the small stabilizer muscles and the larger muscles that power movement. It’s important to note that the body is using this tension to create joint stability and protect the joints, so by decreasing tension, you’ll have a small drop in joint stability. A good remedial massage therapist will be able to gauge how much tension to relieve. (Great remedial massage choices in Brisbane are Just Knead It and No More Knots.) This is still the number one way to decrease the feelings of tension though, so don’t skip out on it. Instead, think of it as one half of managing the symptoms.

What’s the other half?

Build Strength In The Muscles Surrounding Hypermobile Joints

Strength training builds muscle tension. This might sound bad (and too much of it can make you feel uncomfortably tight), but with hypermobility, this tension is actually a good thing. Stronger muscles hold a slight contraction at all times, even at rest, which can provide the joint stability that your body is looking for. As such, your nervous system won’t be pushing your body so hard to protect your joints, so you end up feeling less fatigued, feeling less muscular aches and pains, and may see a decrease in joint popping, clicking, or otherwise doing weird things. Plus you get all the other benefits of strength training too!

A strength training program for hypermobility should have a large focus on building activation ability and strength in your stabilizer muscles, since these are what the joint rely on for support and integrity. You can follow a program that address that alone, or that incorporates stabilizer training into a well-rounded fitness program.

Hypermobility is one of the more common complaints that HealthFit Coaching provides sessions for. If you’re in Brisbane and are interested in finding out how exercise physiology can help you manage your hypermobility, get in touch today!

 

Want more info? Check out these links:
Gazit, Y., Jacob, G., & Grahame, R. (2016). Ehlers–Danlos Syndrome—Hypermobility Type: A Much Neglected Multisystemic Disorder. Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal7(4), e0034. doi: 10.5041/rmmj.10261 Read it here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5101008/
Joint hypermobility symptoms and treatments. (2019). Read it here: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/muscle-bone-and-joints/conditions/joint-hypermobility 
Featured Image Sourced From: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yoga_Split_2.jpg?fbclid=IwAR1mgs9wappmEXULt8ZfSYoD9zCuduyozzEwukYqWI_qFrETlyeGYOAjpHU

Three Top Tips for Injury Prevention

So you want to prevent injuries? If you’re in one of the three following groups, injury prevention should be on your mind, because you’re at higher risk of muscle strains, joint sprains, and overuse or repetitive stress injuries. High(er) risk groups include:

  • Aging bodies (disappointingly, physically this means over the age of 35-ish)
  • People who train hard, often, or both, especially without appropriate physical recovery
  • Weekend warriors, or those who go longer periods of time between workouts or physical activity

Kickstart Things With Hands-On Massage Therapy

Daily life is hard on your body. The normal activities of daily life frequently create tension in muscles and connective tissues, either shortening them or overstretching them. Changed tension and length can create joint stress through misalignment and instability. In turn, this can increase injury risk for both joints and muscles.

What to do? Get some help! Remedial massage therapy, also called deep tissue massage or manual therapy, is the best way to kickstart your injury prevention efforts. While there are many things that you can do at home to mimic hands-on treatment, the fact is that you probably won’t make the at-home effort for the same length of time as a standard remedial treatment. Even if you do, you probably won’t be able to target the soft tissues (muscles and connective tissues) in the same way. You just won’t get the right angle on it!

A good remedial therapist will be able to target the muscles and connective tissues putting you at highest injury risk. They do this by asking you about your injury and exercise history, and by finding out what you would like to be able to do moving forward, whether that’s simply staying pain free or being able to keep up with the kids on the mountain bike. The long term goal for any hands-on therapy should be to get you feeling good so that you can maintain it with just a tune-up every now and then.

For Brisbane’s best remedial massage, check out Just Knead It or No More Knots.

Keep Things Moving Well – At Home

There are many, many different approaches to home-based injury prevention programs. The hallmarks of any good program: Exercises to maintain good muscle and connective tissue tension, and exercises to build and maintain joint mobility. (Joint mobility is the ability to actively move a joint through its full range of motion – similar to flexibility, but with additional contributing physical factors.)

Foam rolling and trigger pointing are two of the most common “exercises” to help maintain good soft tissue tension. They aren’t exercise in the traditional sense, though they can take some work! Instead, they are essentially a DIY remedial massage. These are usually completed by sitting, laying, or leaning on a foam roller or a spikey trigger point ball (or a tennis ball, which works just as well). Holding the pressure on a muscle-y area will trigger a nervous system response that causes the muscle to relax. How long to hold? There’s no single answer to this. It depends on a number of factors including positioning and how long the tissue has been building tension, but I always ask my clients to aim for a minimum of 30 seconds per spot. The wonderful thing about your body is that no matter how tight you might feel, if you do this consistently, you’ll be much looser, very quickly – especially if you’re starting this process after having remedial massage treatment. Once you’re feeling good, aim to maintain this by checking in with your body once or twice a week.

Joint mobility exercises are similar to flexibility exercises, in that they’ll challenge your body to move beyond its normal muscle lengths. As with static stretching, you’ll feel… stretching. The big difference is that with most joint mobility exercises, there’s a movement element as well as the stretch. Paying attention to your body alignment, you’ll move into a stretch in a controlled manner then move back out of it. This lengthens short muscles and connective tissues, provides some slack to overstretched areas, and teaches your brain to control movement through the entire range of motion available the joint(s) you’re working on.

Pro tip: Always do your soft tissue work before doing your joint mobility work. The decreased tension from the foam rolling or trigger pointing will give you more range of motion.

Get Strong

Being able to move your muscles and joints easily is vital to staying injury and pain-free – but only if you’re strong enough to control them! This doesn’t mean that you need to go to the gym and lift heavy weights every day. Rather, it means sticking with a plan for gradually challenging your muscles to get stronger, which can happen at a gym, at home, at the park, or in a group fitness class. A strength training program for injury prevention should, generally speaking, provide the following:

  • Exercises for all major muscle groups of the body
  • More “pulling” exercises than pushing (think moving a weight or resistance toward your centre of gravity rather than pushing it away)
  • Exercises that require large joint movement, preferably through multiple joints

Individualised injury prevention programs will take into account what movements and postures are most common for you on a day to day basis, any injury or exercise history you have, any current injuries or niggles you’re dealing with, and most importantly, what being injury-free (and worry-free) will let you do with your life! For most people without major sporting goals, an injury prevention program can be done in 20-30 minutes a few times per week. A small investment for lifelong peace of mind!

 

Have questions about what exercise physiology can help you with? Get in touch! 

HealthFit Coaching looks after inner city Brisbane and the western suburbs, including Spring Hill, Paddington, Bardon, Rosalie, Milton, Auchenflower, Toowong, Taringa, St Lucia, Indooroopilly, Chapel Hill, Kenmore, Graceville, and Chelmer.


Blue theraband being stretched between hands

A New Approach To Stretching Tight Hamstrings

Feel like your hamstrings are always tight?

Tension along the back of the thighs is one of the most common complaints I hear as both an exercise physiologist and a remedial massage therapist. And when I ask people what they focus on when they stretch, the answer almost inevitably includes hamstrings. Why are these buggers always so tight?

There are many reasons your hamstrings could be tight, having to do with your normal activities, posture, or how you generally use your body. Let’s focus on one of the most common reasons your hamstrings feel tight, and more importantly, what you can do about it!

Tight Hamstrings Often Come From Your Hips

As cliche as it sounds, everything in the body is connected. Your hamstrings run along the back of your thigh, and attach to the bottom back of your pelvis, on bony areas often referred to as your “sit bones”. Your hip flexors are shorter muscles that run from various spots on the front of the pelvis to the top of the thigh bone (your femur). They may be small, but they pack a punch!

Side view of pelvis with hip flexor and hamstring attachment points highlighted

Hip Flexor attachment and direction of pull in blue
Hamstring attachment and direction of pull in green

When you sit a lot, and most of us do, your hip flexors rest in a shortened position. Stay in a shortened position long enough, and the body will adapt to that, essentially resetting to a “new normal” – a short one. This tilts your pelvis forward slightly during sitting, standing, and movement, a lower back, pelvic, and hip posture we call anterior pelvic tilt.

This has a flow-on effect on your hamstrings. When the pelvis tips forward, it pulls the top of the hamstring muscles up towards your head. Because the bottom of the hamstrings don’t move upwards, the muscles become stretched out. Much like stretching a rubber band, this stretching leads to increased hamstring tension, and you’ll feel like you need to stretch your hamstrings.

Since you now know that they’re already stretched, what can you do to get rid of the tension feeling?

Stretch Your Hip Flexors

Lengthening the hip flexor muscles at the front of your pelvis and hips can decrease the pull on the hamstrings muscles, which in turn can decrease the feeling of tension along the back of the thigh. Try these three stretches:

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

How To: 

  • Kneel on one knee and take a big step out front with the opposite foot.
  • Keep the hip, knee, ankle, and foot on your back leg aligned (most of us tend to twist the hip so the foot twists inward.) Front leg can be aligned, or can move slightly out to the side.
  • Tighten the glute muscles (the muscles of your bum) – this is key to the hip flexor stretch. Drop your hips forward and down. Keep your torso more or less vertical. Your front shin should stay vertical or knee slightly extended, and your weight should stay through your front heel to protect your knee.
  • Extra credit: Lengthen along the entire front of the body by reaching up and slightly backward with the arm on the same side as the stretching leg.

Hold your stretch for: At least 30 seconds, at an intensity of around 4 or 5 out of 10. Don’t bounce, and breathe easily. If you can’t breathe easily, decrease the intensity of the stretch.

You should feel: A stretch through the front of the hip and/or thigh. You may only feel it stretching one area or the other – that’s ok. All the muscles are being stretched. Your brain just pays attention to the one that is stretching the most.

Not ok with kneeling? Try this version:

Standing Hip Flexor Stretch

How To: 

  • Take a big step backward with one foot, and a big step forward with the other foot.
  • Keep the hip, knee, ankle, and foot on your back leg aligned (most of us tend to twist the hip so the foot twists inward.) Front leg can be aligned, or can move slightly out to the side.
  • Tighten the glute muscles (the muscles of your bum) – this is key to the hip flexor stretch. Drop your back knee halfway to the ground, pushing your hips forward. Keep your torso more or less vertical. Your front shin should stay vertical or knee slightly extended, and your weight should stay through your front heel to protect your knee.
  • If needed, take a slightly larger step forward, or drop the back knee down towards the floor more, which will help keep the back thigh and torso vertical.
  • Extra credit: Lengthen along the entire front of the body by reaching up and slightly backward with the arm on the same side as the stretching leg.

Hold your stretch for: At least 30 seconds, at an intensity of around 4 or 5 out of 10. Don’t bounce, and breathe easily. If you can’t breathe easily, decrease the intensity of the stretch.

You should feel: A stretch through the front of the hip and/or thigh. This standing version tends to feel like more of a quad stretch (front of thigh), but the hip flexors are lengthening too, especially with the glute squeeze.

If you want even better results, add this next stretch in. It targets the quads, which are the muscles at the front of your thigh. One of these muscles also acts as a hip flexor due to it’s attachment point on the pelvis. Most of us don’t spend nearly enough time on stretching the muscles at the front of the body anyway.

Standing Quad Stretch

How To:

  • Stand upright with feet together. Without bending or rotating your pelvis or hips, or shifting your weight too much (some shift will occur), bring one foot up behind your hips and hold it there.
  • Keep your knees together and torso upright, and squeeze your glutes.

Hold your stretch for: At least 30 seconds, at an intensity of around 4 or 5 out of 10. Don’t bounce, and breathe easily. If you can’t breathe easily, decrease the intensity of the stretch.

You should feel: A stretch through the front of the hip and/or thigh. This standing version tends to feel like more of a quad stretch (front of thigh), but the hip flexors are lengthening too, especially with the glute squeeze.

Do these stretches daily for two weeks, then drop back to doing them 3 to 4 times per week to help keep your hips and hamstrings feeling good. As an added bonus, you’ll also be helping your lower back stay healthy and pain-free, and will make your workouts more effective. You can also substitute your own preferred hip flexor stretches. If you’d like, tell us about your favorite in the comments 🙂


Middle age woman walking for fitness

Private Health Insurance Needs To Support Exercise

Want your private health insurance to help you cover your exercise costs?

Getting and staying fit and healthy takes time, effort, and often your hard earned money. I’m clearly biased, but I believe these investments are worth it. Most private health insurance companies agree – at least in statement. Unfortunately, they agree less when it comes to putting their money where their mouths are.

Many private health insurance companies do offer exercise physiology coverage through their extras programs, which is a great first step. Frustratingly for both exercise physiologists and our clients – that is, for you – the coverage is often limited, with large gap payments and relatively low limits on what your private health might pay annually. As exercise physiologist, we are also limited in what services we can provide when you are claiming with private health. General fitness sessions are not covered under exercise physiology. Rather, your EP session should be designed to address a specific health condition(s). Given the amount of science telling us how much exercise helps keep us all healthy, preventing disease and chronic conditions, it would be nice to see some support for regular exercise in a preventative capacity.

You can do something about this! Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA), the governing body for exercise physiology and exercise science, has released a statement encouraging private health insurance customers to get involved. A petition is available, and they’ve provided a template letter for contacting your insurance company directly to support an increase in exercise physiology benefits. If you want better coverage and better support for exercise for health and fitness, head over the read the statement – petition links and letter template at at the end.