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

Outdoor gym and walking path at Moorlands Park Toowong

Great Outdoor Gyms in Brisbane

In-home exercise physiology sessions are really popular thanks to their convenience and flexible scheduling, allowing clients to fit sessions in with the other things in life that matter. But that doesn’t mean people necessarily want to be stuck at home. And one of the great things about living in Brisbane is that we can take our in-home sessions outside, taking advantage of the parks, walking trails, bikeways, and outdoor gyms that the Brisbane City Council has installed throughout the city – plus the (almost always) beautiful weather. Some of our favourite spots for in-home sessions are actually outside!

Here are some of the outdoor exercise spots we love to put to use:

Moorlands Park, Toowong

A playground for kids is complemented by a playground for adults. This little park is tucked right off of Coronation Drive in Toowong and is complete with an outdoor gym including parallel bars, chin up bars, suspension training rings, and plyometric boxes, among other choices – definitely enough to give yourself a well-balanced full body workout. It’s also an easy spot to jump onto the Bicentennial Bikeway through a tunnel running underneath Coronation Drive.

Bicentennial Bikeway and Walking Path, Coronation Drive – Toowong/Auchenflower/Milton/Brisbane City

Ok, this one is not a gym, but it is great. The Bicentennial Bikeway (the Coronation Drive Bikeway to locals) was upgraded a few years ago into a pretty flash cycle and walking path. The upgrade saw the Bikeway split into dedicated cycle and pedestrian lanes, keeping the faster and slower moving objects separate so that you don’t have to worry about getting run over! The bikeway runs from Toowong to underneath the William Jolly Bridge, about 2.7km. This is an immensely popular stretch with well maintained paths and minimal hills. The biggest drawbacks: There’s not a lot of shade, and if you hit peak foot and cycle traffic, you’ll find it’s quite busy. There are plenty of water stops along the way, and some covered seated areas where you could do dips, step ups, and squats, if you wanted to do a combined bodyweight strength and cardio workout.

Robertson Park, Indooroopilly/Taringa

A nice little walking loop tucked between the St Lucia Golf Links on one side and Indooroopilly State High School on the other. There are several exercise stations interspersed along the path, including a climbing rope, chin up bars, step up steps, and others. You could get a great workout here by running or briskly walking a loop, and stopping at a different exercise station for each lap you do. You can also duck across the road and take a walk or run down the wide walking path that runs along Hillside Terrace in St Lucia.

Frew Park, Milton

New in 2014, Frew Park has an amazing playground complete with climbing and bouldering areas that are good enough for adults to play on when the kids aren’t around. If you’re looking for more traditional exercise equipment, there is also an outdoor gym area featuring cycle and elliptical type equipment, chin up and dip bars, and others. The gym area is edged with a concrete edge that is perfect for high squats or step ups. And there is a concrete walking path that rings the gym, allowing you to walk or run some laps if that’s your thing. An added bonus: As home to the Roy Emerson Tennis Centre, Frew Park also hosts their own coffee shop, open 7 days per week.


Woman walking dog in large field

What Counts As Exercise?

Working out: If you’re not in the habit, it’s not always fun to get started. Good news though! Lots of everyday activities, hobbies, and recreation can count as physical activity, which has a big impact on maintaining good cardiovascular and metabolic health, prevents and helps manage joint pains, and can help with weight loss or management, if that’s your goal. You might not get 100% of the physical benefits that a big gym session would provide, but as it turns out, it’s the small amounts of day-to-day movement that are really important, so get moving!

Incidental Exercise At Home

Vacuuming and mopping: Push, pull, push, pull – it’ll get your heart rate up. Bonus points: Swap arms halfway through to help maintain balance in left side-right side movement ability. If your back gets sore, stop, place your hands on the back of your hips, soften your knees and gently extend your back to bend backwards.

Window Washing: Will have you moving your shoulders and arms in a low-stress way you’re not used to, which is great for reducing injury risk and maintaining joint mobility. Aim to swap arms frequently to help maintain left side-right side balance (see above).

Gardening / Yard work: The most common heavy lifting of around-the-house exercise. May including lifting, carrying, and placing heavy objects, reaching or stepping in movements that are less common, and generally being on your feet all day. Like vacuuming, if you’re finding you’re stuck in a single position for a longer period, stop and give your body a break by doing the opposite of that movement.

Washing the car: Reaching, stretching, and squatting down. Keeps you moving!

Playing with the kids: Might involve running around after them – good cardio. Might involve getting down and up off the floor – good joint mobility. Might involve staying down on the floor – good opportunity to give the hips a little bit of a stretch.

Carrying kids around: Even small kids get heavy pretty quickly! Carrying the kids around adds to the cardio effect of walking and moving around, but it also create poor posture as you shift your torso and hips to carry more comfortably. Make sure you swap sides, because your body does best with equal stress and effort.

DIY home maintenance: The other heavy lifting you might do around the house, DIY work often has you moving into different positions that you might during the course of a normal day. Moving through different positions is great for maintaining flexibility and joint health, and can keep posture good and pain at bay.

Incidental Exercise At The Office

If you have an office job, you know how challenging it can be to maintain any amount of movement. Haven’t we all looked up from email to realize that we haven’t moved in three hours?

Getting coffee: Adds steps to your daily step count. Two bonuses on this: Coffee (or tea, or your beverage of choice) does actually count towards your daily hydration goals. (Even though it has a mild diuretic effect, you drink more liquid than you’ll excrete.) More hydration means more bathroom breaks, and therefore even more steps.

Fidgeting: The subconscious movement that your parents might have scolded you for actually burns calories. It will not amount to much extra, but it does count.

Taking the stairs: One of the most bang-for-buck activities you can do, as it gets your heart rate high and gives the big muscles in your legs a bit of a workout. Pro tip – Minimize knee pain risk by stepping with as much of your foot on the stair as you can.

Standing around, i.e. Serving customers, using a standing desk: Simply maintaining a standing position takes almost twice as much energy as sitting does, and can reduce stress and strain on through the front of the hips and the lower back. All standing, all the time has it’s own set of problems though, so your best bet is to alternate postures.

Get away from the desk, i.e. make your own copies, have face to face conversations: More steps, more steps, more steps. Plus, in-person conversations can be just as fast as email (and sometimes a lot clearer!).

Incidental Exercise Out and About

Going out and doing stuff makes a big difference to your levels of physical health and fitness. Why spend your free time sitting around?

Grocery shopping: Again, more steps. Walking is good! Bonus: If you’re not getting much, use a hand basket and carry your groceries for some added strength training. This goes for any sort of shopping, really.

Riding a bike: You don’t have to ride like you’re on the Tour de France to get some good for your body. Go for a cruise to help keep your legs strong and get some cardiovascular work in.

Hiking: A great way to gently challenge your joints and muscles, since the paths aren’t even and smooth. Being out in nature is an amazing way to boost your happiness quotient too.

Going for a walk: Doesn’t have to be fast, or far. There’s something about the rhythmic nature of aerobic exercise that makes it a meditation in movement, so you get some de-stress time as well as some gentle cardio work.

Playing in the pool: Fun! The pressure from the water gives your body something to work against, but it’s not so much resistance that it actually seems like work. Explains why you’re always more tired than you expect when you jump out.

Backyard games: Play with the kids. Set up teams for horseshoes or a beanbag toss. An easy game of touch football. Keep yourself on your feet and moving as much as you can. Your engagement will increase your enjoyment!

 

So, what can you plan into your day tomorrow to boost your movement time?


middle age woman doing yoga on rooftop

How do I become stronger physically without going to the gym?

I don’t have (or want) a gym membership. What can I do every day to get stronger?

Muscle mass naturally decreases with age, about 1% per year from your mid-30s onward. Strength decreases along with that loss. This is easy to ignore – when you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, it’s easy to not notice any losses, or feel like you’ve got plenty of time to make them up. And there’s no shortage of people that say they figure it’s just part of getting old.

While these losses are indeed part of the aging process, that doesn’t mean you just have to sit there and accept them. There’s lot that can be done to maintain strength and muscle mass regardless of age. And you definitely do not need a gym. Instead, get creative and find ways to move your body against resistance. Some of the examples commonly discussed with our personal training and exercise physiology clients include:

Do some pushups. For easier versions, choose an incline option, with hands on the wall, the kitchen table, counters or benchtops, back of the sofa etc. The lower you get to the ground, the harder the exercise gets. You’ll want to find the balance between the difficulty of the exercise and your ability to maintain good technique – if your back hurts or you can’t maintain a straight line while doing it, find something easier.

Carry your groceries in a shopping basket or bags, rather than a cart. This will help build upper body strength and perhaps surprisingly, core stretch – the core muscles will work hard to counterbalance the external weight and keep you in an upright position. It’s important to alternate which side you carry items on, only using one can actually create an imbalance in core strength and muscle tension. Bonus: If you park farther away, you’ll carry grocery bags for a longer period (building upper body and core strength) and get more steps.

Take the stairs. This may seem more like cardiovascular work, and climbing stairs does count as aerobic exercise, but it’s also a great strength builder for the lower body. Minimize your risk of knee pain by taking your bodyweight through the back of the foot, not just the toes. Bonus: Carry things while you’re doing it for increased resistance.

Squat down to pick things up. Instead of bending over from the waist to pick something up off the floor, squat down by reaching down and back through your hips and sitting on your heels. NOTE: This move is often stiff and uncomfortable for people who sit a lot, especially at first. Squat as low as you can and keep your chest lifted to minimize back strain. Even if it’s not a large movement, this will actually help you regain joint mobility and movement ability through the hips over time.

Do some sit-to-stand squats. Find a chair, sofa, stool, etc. that is slightly lower than what you normally sit on. Reach backwards with your hips and slowly lower yourself down to the seat, controlling your movement all the way. Push through your heels to stand back up. Repeat 10-15 times per set.

Daily activities can be safe strength builders as long as you keep two key points in mind. Anything you do need to be pain-free, both during and after the movement (noting that there is a difference between the muscle burn from 1000 crunches and the catching, stabbing, sharp pains that often go along with acute injuries). The first rule is always “Stay Pain Free”. The second point: Strength building still takes effort, regardless of where you do it. That means that whatever you’re lifting, moving, or carrying will still need to be heavy enough to feel like effort. There are many many ways to achieve this, so get creative. What can you come up with?


Walking along coronation drive in Brisbane

Client Question: Can Walking Uphill Take The Place of Lower Body Resistance Training?

Thanks to one of our exercise physiology clients in Indooroopilly for a great question!

Hill climbing can be a challenge to the muscles of the lower body, whether you walk outdoors or on a treadmill. As a result, uphill walking can help improve the strength and endurance of the lower body muscles. But it will not completely replace the need for lower body resistance training.

You may feel that walking uphill is a physical challenge, and you are not wrong! The major muscle groups in your legs have to work harder to keep you moving, and that can certainly lead to greater strength development than walking only on a flat surface. Walking will only stimulate strength development up to a point though, and relying on walking for strength will mean you’ll also miss out on other important elements of fitness.

Resistance Training Develops and Maintains Joint Mobility

Most strength or resistance training exercises require larger movements than walking does. These larger movements are the key to maintaining joint mobility (the freedom to move your joints through a normal, full range of motion). This keeps you moving well and can reduce wear and tear on the joints – one of the biggest causes of joint pain.

Resistance Training Develops and Maintains Muscle Strength

Strength is important, even if you don’t see yourself entering any future strongman competitions. You need a minimum, basic level of strength to meet the demands of daily life, whether that means lugging a heavy bag or briefcase around all day, carrying the groceries, or picking up the kids. While any activity that makes you work hard will develop muscular strength to some degree, resistance training is the best for this. A dedicated strength-building workout will promote far more strength than any you might build as a by-product of other exercise.

Resistance Training Helps Maintain Movement Abiliity

The combination of strength and joint mobility will help you maintain your overall movement ability, agility, balance, and gait well into your golden years. These two components of fitness and musculoskeletal health are what give you the ability to catch yourself if you trip, reach overhead to grab things down from shelves, and generally maintain your ability to walk, jog, and run well throughout your entire life.

Resistance Training Helps to Maintain Muscle Mass

Around about your mid-30s, you’ll start to lose about 1% of your muscle mass every year. Over time, this has a huge impact on your movement ability (muscle mass is directly related to physical strength) – if you don’t take action. Your body will keep the muscle it uses. Use resistance training to maintain muscle mass and your muscle mass will keep you moving.

Over time, muscle loss can also substantially slow your metabolism, one part of why many people gain weight with age. Remember that old saying “muscle burns more calories than fat”? It’s true! Resistance training keeps your metabolism revved up, helping you more easily lose weight and keep it off.

So you can’t rely on the treadmill to build lower body strength. Do you have to join a gym? Not at all. If the rise of in-home personal training options and other at-home workouts tell us anything, it’s that you can get a great workout at home with little to no set-up. Our in-home personal training, exercise physiology, and coaching options do recommend a few different training tools, but you can start resistance training at home using just your bodyweight and branch out as you need to. You’ll probably find that you actually have a few things already lying around the house that you can use to provide resistance. Get creative and enjoy the benefits!

For more information:
Plowman, S. A., & Smith, D. L. (2017). Exercise Physiology For Health, Fitness, and Performance (5th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Franz, J. R., & Kram, R. (2013). How does age affect leg muscle activity/coactivity during uphill and downhill walking? Gait & Posture, 37(3), 378-384. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2012.08.004

Lean middle age man trying to open a jar

What is Functional Training?

The short answer: Functional training is exercise that mimics and prepares you for the movements you make in everyday life.

The longer answer: Will depend on who you talk to! Functional training can have as many definitions as there are trainers.

In exercise science, functional training refers to an exercise or training program that will keep you physically capable of meeting the demands of daily life. Programs are designed around your day to day activities and include exercises that develop strength, endurance, and mobility in the same movement patterns that your daily activities use. As an exercise physiologist, I see functional training programs as those meeting your physical needs, whatever they are, which of course leaves a lot of room for variation. For instance, the program for an avid runner might include specific exercises to increase running speed, or to help the body better absorb impact. A program for a stay-at-home parent with young kids might be focused on maintaining good hip mobility to help with getting down and up off the floor, and on building upper back strength and core strength to help balance out the changes in posture that happen when you carry kids around. In other words, true functional training is really specific to YOU.

How does this mesh with functional training programs provided by different gyms and personal trainers?

Functional has been a fitness industry buzzword for a while now, but it’s often not clear what you might get in any given functional workout. Early functional training programs were focused on neuromuscular training exercises, generally involving moving with your eyes closed or balancing on a stability ball to challenge balance or reaction times. One might think of this training as developing the finer points of physical coordination and movement.

More recently, Crossfit and other fitness and training companies like F45 have grabbed onto the “functional” term, though these workouts have moved far away from challenging the finer points of movement. I’d argue that this current crop of functional training providers actually provide cross-training, as the workouts are changed on a daily basis with an emphasis on developing a broad base in strength, power, and cardiovascular endurance. These are all elements of fitness that are needed for high quality functional movement and for good health in general.

When I compare them to the movements of daily life though, I find them somewhat lacking – from a true functional perspective. Heavy squats, battle ropes, box jumps, chin-ups, sprints, and other exercises are common components of these workouts. But when in day to day life do you find yourself needing to jump up onto something as high as your knees?

How much do the differences between functional personal training or gym programs and other functional programs really matter?

They might not matter at all. It really depends on how much you feel like you need a specific, individualized exercise plan. Some people will be fine with the generalized, cross-training style “functional” training, namely those who already have a moderate level of fitness and good movement control. True functional training provided by an exercise physiologist or a personal trainer with significant additional training in movement assessment and movement quality is the right choice for you if you:

  • Are starting physical activity or exercise for the first time, or after a long period off
  • Have a history of joint pain or injury
  • Have a long-term health condition, especially if this impacts your movement ability and physical capacity
  • Want to refine your movement technique to prevent injury and maximize progress

You will always be the best judge of what will work best for your lifestyle and your body. If you want to focus on functional training that supports your everyday activities, think about what movements are required, and look for exercises (or professional guidance) that will help you replicate those movements with just a little more intensity.

 

 

HealthFit Coaching provides in-home personal training and exercise physiology in Brisbane. HealthFit Coaches specialize in providing individualised functional training for general fitness and long-term health conditions. Contact HealthFit now for an obligation-free phone call to find out how we can help you be healthy, fit, and happy.


Fit healthy middle age man swimming in an outdoor pool in Brisbane

What Are The Most Common Types Of Exercise?

Depending on your workout or the type of physical activity you do, you can gain muscle strength, cardiovascular and aerobic endurance, improve your flexibility and joint health, or help maintain other components of good physical function like balance and coordination. The most common components of exercise programs are resistance training, cardio or aerobic exercise, and flexibility. Since they all provide different benefits, it’s essential to include a balance of these different types:

Resistance training (also known as strength training or weight training): Resistance exercises are those that train your body to produce force against some sort of resistance, whether that is your own body weight, resistance bands, traditional dumbbells and barbells, or a multitude of other training equipment.

Moving against resistance stimulates your muscles to develop size, optimal length and muscle tone, and contraction ability, as well as the coordination to be able to complete daily tasks with ease. These characteristics can promote good posture, reducing the risk of injury and poor health, improve body composition (the ratio of body fat to lean body tissue), enhance movement abilities, and generally boost self-confidence and self-esteem.

Resistance training can be further broken down into training programs that are focused on developing maximal muscular strength and power, muscle size, or muscle endurance. For most people with non-athletic goals, development of muscle size will provide the greatest all-around benefit for lifelong muscle health. It’s important to consider that the training benefits are directly related to the amount of work you put in – regardless of the training focus, if you aren’t training with enough effort, no benefit will be seen.

Cardiovascular training (also known as aerobic training or endurance training): This is exercise or activity that is made up of repeated, often rhythmic movements that use the large muscle groups of the arms and legs. These types of exercise usually don’t require much or any special training or practice, and are often done for an extended period of time – though “extended” is all relative. (If you’re just starting out with aerobic exercise, extended might only mean five minutes.) Some of the most common examples include walking and running, cycling, and swimming, though many other activities also fall into this category.

Cardio exercise helps your heart to beat more efficiently, in turn using less energy to move oxygen and nutrients, and keeps the blood vessels healthy and able to respond to the demands that movement can place on your body. This decreases wear and tear on the heart and the blood vessels, lowering the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular conditions, as well as the risk of sudden conditions like a heart attack.

Flexibility or Stretching and Joint Mobility Training:  These exercises have two specific but closely related training goals. Flexibility exercises are designed to promote optimal length in the soft tissues surrounding a joint or a series of joint, which will allow the joint to move freely within its available range of motion. Flexibility training targets the muscles and connective tissues around the joint. Joint mobility refers to the ability of the joint itself to move freely. Joints can become stiff with lack of movement, which can stiffen the connective tissues within the joint, or can lose movement ability when the flexibility of surrounding muscles and connective tissues decrease. In order for a joint to be mobile, the soft tissues surrounding it must be flexible, and in order for the soft tissues to develop or maintain flexibility, the joint must be able to move freely. Both of these components are important in maintaining good posture and movement ability – key components to an active, pain-free lifestyle with low injury risk.

Flexibility can be developed by traditional static stretching exercises, which involves moving to the point of moderate stretch and holding that stretch for at least 30 seconds (the minimal amount of time required to create a lasting change in flexibility). Dynamic stretching is a better option for joint mobility training, as it’s performed by moving into a stretching position, holding it for a few seconds, and then backing off. By combining this stretch with a greater degree of joint movement, you can develop and maintain optimal joint mobility. Spending time on both static and dynamic stretching will give you the best results.

Resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, and flexibility are the three most commonly discussed components of a balanced exercise program. But there is another component that is often overlooked, yet is perhaps the most important component of exercise and activity, especially when it comes to maintaining good functional movement throughout your entire life. Be sure to check out our upcoming post on Neuromuscular training at the end of the week!

 

Looking for the best in-home personal training and exercise physiology program? Look no further. HealthFit coaching provides exercise programs that are real-life ready – flexible enough to work with your lifestyle without sacrificing your health and fitness goals. Take the first step to lifelong health and fitness – Contact HealthFit Now.


Fit and healthy middle age woman doing a snatch barbell exercise for stretch and power training

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Strength Training Workout

We’ve previously written about the physical benefits of strength training. Make sure you get the most from your strength training program and every single workout by following these guidelines:

Warm Up Right – While five minutes on a treadmill and some stretching is better than no warm-up, using a dynamic mobility warmup is a much better use of your time. Dynamic mobility, or dynamic stretching, combines easy movement to warm the tissues with greater ranges of motion, better preparing the muscles and joints for the movements that are included in your training program.

Choose the right resistance – Pick a weight or resistance level that allows you to do your target number of reps with good technique, and that’s challenging enough that you think you could have done maybe one or two more

Give your body a solid foundation to work from – Your body can create movement, or it can create movement well. To get the most out of every exercise, you want your joints and big muscles to have the support of your small stabilizer muscles. Keep yourself at your strongest by:

  • Keep your core tight: Brace your tummy and lower abdominals – that is, squeeze them tight without pulling them in. One way to automatically create this activation is by pretending someone is going to punch you in the stomach. Your reaction will automatically tighten the right muscles.
  • Keep your pelvic floor on: Ever needed to pee, with no restroom nearby? That squeeze is activating your pelvic floor, and is exactly what you want to be doing throughout all movements, though you shouldn’t need to keep it 100% “on”. A gentle squeeze is enough to provide support. Note that it can be difficult to maintain this activation throughout movements, so if you find that you lose the squeeze, reset and turn it back on when you get to a comfortable stopping point in the movement.
  • Keep your shoulder blades squeezed: This doesn’t mean pulling your shoulder blades together as hard as you can. A gentle squeeze towards the spine and slightly down is all you need.
  • Keep your chin tucked: The idea of this movement is to help maintain a neutral spine from top to bottom. Many people jut their chins forward when they are working hard, which creates misalignment throughout the spine and torso. Keep your chin tucked slightly by drawing your head back, like you are trying to touch the back of it towards a wall behind you. This should also be gentle. If you feel tension through the front of your neck, you’re trying too hard.

Stay controlled – Keep your movements slow enough to maintain control, especially if using external resistance (anything other than your bodyweight). This will keep you safe, and will allow all the right muscles to activate at the right times, maximizing the benefit

Pay attention to your body – One of the best ways to maximize progress is to think about the muscles that are working while you do an exercise. Paying attention to how they feel as you complete the movement can create stronger muscle contractions, and can also help keep you safe, as you’ll more likely be aware of something that might not be working or feeling great.

Follow the number one rule: No pain. If something hurts – and not the muscular burn of 1000 reps – stop doing it and take the steps to figure out why. It might be as simple as adjusting your positioning or resistance, or you may need to refine your exercise technique in order to create less stress on your body. If you find a specific exercise or type of movement consistently causes pain, it should be checked out by a physiotherapist/physical therapist, or an orthopedic doctor. Your GP or primary care doc is unlike to have as much insight into what might be causing the problem, though you may need to start with them if you need a referral.

HealthFit Coaching offers health coaching, nutrition advice, and in-home personal training and exercise physiology in Brisbane, Australia. Ready to take the first step towards feeling great? Contact us now!

Fit and healthy lean woman in a crop top standing at a barbell rack at a gym

What does strength training do for your body?

Strength training – also called weight training or resistance training – is the type of exercise that increases muscle size, strength, and power. Strength training workouts normally consist of multiple sets of up to 15-20 reps of the same exercise, broken up by periods of rest.

Big changes

Strength training is a fundamental component of a balanced exercise plan, and is crucial to maintaining good physical health as you age, since it can counterbalance the physical decline of our bodies that begins in our mid-30s. For maximal health and fitness benefits, use a strength training program targeting all the major muscles of the body. Many (but not all) strength training benefits are specific and localized to the muscles performing the movement, such as:

    • Strength training builds and maintains muscle mass. Muscle mass (the amount of muscle you have) allows you to produce good quality movement with ease, and can help minimize risk of overuse injury and promote good posture. Low levels of muscle, or imbalances in muscle mass from left to right, or front to back, can lead to poor movement abilities and painful joints. Your overall muscle mass is also one of the most important factors in long-term health. It’s easy to not think about old age when it’s a long time away, but your level of muscle mass can greatly impact the quality of your later years, again due to its influence on movement ability, balance, and posture.
    • Strength training builds and maintains muscle strength and neurological connections. The connection between muscle size and strength is strong. The contraction force of a muscle is limited by its overall size, so muscles that are relatively small will also be relatively weak. This can limit how well your body responds to the physical demands of everyday life – things like carrying bags of groceries, picking up the kids or grandkids, or climbing a set of stairs all rely on muscular strength. Strength training also helps maintain a strong neurological signal from your brain to your muscles, so that when they are needed, they’ll produce strong contractions and support good quality movement. In fact, weak muscles and poor muscle activation are some key reasons for common musculoskeletal conditions like chronic lower back pain, knee pain, and even some types of headaches.
    • Strength training can improve the visual appearance of muscle. Even if your main goal is to improve your health and physical fitness, it’s definitely nice to like how you look. Strength training exercises are an excellent way of achieving a toned muscular appearance (if that’s what you’re after). If you use a muscle frequently – whether during daily activities or frequent strength training – your nervous system prepares your muscles to work more efficiently by maintaining a very low level contraction in frequently used muscles. This shortens the time and activation needed to fully contract the muscle, and creates the look of “toned” muscles.
    • Strength training helps prevent or stop progression of osteoporosis. Each muscle and bone is covered by a fine layer of connective tissue, helping each piece of your body connect to the others. The tension and pull of muscle contraction, and the impact forces of some exercises, stimulate the bone to either increase bone density or decrease bone mineral loss, which occurs as a natural part of aging.
Hidden changes

Benefits that are localized to the working muscles also have a flow-on effect, providing an element of benefit and protection for the entire body:

  • Strength training improves body composition. Muscle mass requires energy to maintain, so more muscle will increase your resting energy expenditure. This means your body will need to use more of its fuel stores simply to exist. Provided you are taking in the same amount and quality of food and drink, strength training will shift your body composition so that your body fat percentage will decrease while your muscle mass increases.
  • Strength training can decrease risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. This benefits stem from improvements in the way your body releases and uses stored fat and carbohydrates.
    • Long-term insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, or diabetes risks and severity can be decreased via strength training. As working muscles require more energy, the muscles become more efficient at responding to insulin levels and absorbing and using blood glucose (what you may know as blood sugar). Physical exercise and muscle contraction can also have an immediate, short-term effect on blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity.
    • High cholesterol and triglycerides levels can also be decreased via strength training. Just as working muscles become more efficient at insulin response and blood glucose use, muscles also become more efficient in using cholesterol and triglycerides for fuel. This includes and enhanced use of muscular fat stores, and an increase in use of whole body fat stores. Also of benefit, strength training has been shown to increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which help clear excess fats from the bloodstream.
    • Blood pressure can be improved via strength training too. It is thought that the positive impact comes from maintaining the health of blood vessels in your arms and legs. Blood vessels are naturally elastic and all exercise helps them maintain this characteristic, meaning they are better able to respond to changes in pressure and blood flow that occur with exercise or stress. Blood pressure decreases from strength training are small, but often significant enough to decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. And strength training can be safe even if you have higher levels of blood pressure, provided exercises are performed under control and with steady breathing.

    Including some type of strength training in your exercise program or daily movement is immensely helpful in maintaining good health and quality of life, no matter your age or current health status. Different sets, reps, and exercise choices can significantly impact the results you get from your training program; speak with a professional qualified in strength coaching or exercise physiology to maximize benefit. Programs can be safely done at gyms or as an in-home workout, and you can use all sorts of exercises ranging from bodyweight to resistance bands to free weights. Give it a try – your body will thank you!

    For more detailed information, read these…
    Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics.
    Lira, F. S., Yamashita, A. S., Uchida, M. C., Zanchi, N. E., Gualano, B., Martins, E., . . . Seelaender, M. (2010). Low and moderate, rather than high intensity strength exercise induces benefit regarding plasma lipid profile. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, 2(1), 31. doi:10.1186/1758-5996-2-31
    Mann, S., Beedie, C., & Jimenez, A. (2013). Differential Effects of Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training and Combined Exercise Modalities on Cholesterol and the Lipid Profile: Review, Synthesis and Recommendations. Sports Medicine, 44(2), 211-221. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0110-5
    Nikander, R., Sievänen, H., Heinonen, A., Daly, R. M., Uusi-Rasi, K., & Kannus, P. (2010). Targeted exercise against osteoporosis: A systematic review and meta-analysis for optimising bone strength throughout life. BMC Medicine, 8(1). doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-47
    Sillanpää, E., Laaksonen, D. E., Häkkinen, A., Karavirta, L., Jensen, B., Kraemer, W. J., . . . Häkkinen, K. (2009). Body composition, fitness, and metabolic health during strength and endurance training and their combination in middle-aged and older women. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 106(2), 285-296. doi:10.1007/s00421-009-1013-x
    If you are Brisbane based and would like to start strength training in-home with personalized guidance and accountability, HealthFit can help! Contact us now to take your first step towards better health and fitness.

Dumbbell hand weights for strength training and muscle building at home

Do I need to do weights to lose weight?

You don’t have to – it may not do much to boost your calorie burn. But there are still some excellent reasons to include strength training in your weight loss plan.

Weight loss (and maintaining your new body weight) is a complex process. Exercise doesn’t actually have a huge impact on weight loss, regardless of what type you do. Food choices and your normal diet are far more impactful, but it’s more complicated than needing to eat fewer calories than you burn. And what your body is doing when you aren’t working out or eating plays a significant role that is often overlooked.

Strength training will help you maintain muscle mass over the long term. If you lift on a regular basis, your body will recognize that it needs to keep that muscle around for something. This is to your benefit during weight loss, weight maintenance, and aging in general. Bear in mind the following when you’re deciding whether you want to add some weights to your routine:

  • Weight loss from a combination of calorie restriction (changed diet) and increased exercise or daily movement will actually decrease your metabolism and daily energy use, since this is directly linked to total body weight. Strength training will help you maintain or increase your muscle mass and therefore your metabolism, which means that you can maintain higher energy use while still losing body fat.
  • Weight training can help the appearance of fat loss in certain areas of the body by giving underlying muscle more definition or size. It’s not possible to preferentially burn fat in certain areas (often called spot toning or spot reduction) – when fat loss happens, it happens all over the body.
  • While cardio exercise will burn the most calories in a given workout, because it’s relatively low intensity, your body quickly recovers. Weight-based exercise will create more of a challenge for your body, and you’ll use more energy in recovering from this. (Bear in mind that exercise intensity rather than type will ultimately determine how much energy the body will use for physical recovery.)

Strength training is also good for your health, in a variety of ways:

  • Regular resistance training will keep the cells involved in energy production and use working smoothly and your body systems functioning well. For example, muscles that are regularly exposed to high intensity exercises will be better at absorbing and using blood glucose, requiring less insulin production and decreasing diabetes risk.
  • Maintaining or even increasing muscle mass can help prevent frailty in old age.  Muscle mass and movement ability are linked, and movement ability means good mobility, agility, balance, and catching yourself if you trip and fall.
  • Strength training can prevent and help treat osteopenia and osteoporosis, two types of decreasing bone density. Bone loss can be due to the aging process, or can be brought about by calorie restriction or dieting. Lifting weights can help stimulate bone growth, especially when you also have adequate calcium intake.

One last note about strength training and weight loss: Because weights will stimulate at least a small increase in muscle mass, using weights in your weight loss program may actually lead to less change in scale weight. For most people, this is a tradeoff they’re happy to make – looking great makes the number on the scale matter a lot less!

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References
Elia M. (1992). Organ and tissue contribution to metabolic rate. In: Kinney JM, Tucker HN, editors. Energy Metabolism: Tissue Determinants and Cellular Corollaries. New York: Raven Press.
Plowman, S. A., & Smith, D. L. (2017). Exercise physiology for health, fitness, and performance (5th ed.). Sydney: Wolters Kluwer.