You've probably read somewhere online that the squat is one of the best exercises that you could possibly do. True, and false.
Yes of course, it is an amazing exercise. It's one of just a handful of exercises that you can consider completely full body.
Yet, if squatting hurts your knees, it's definitely closer to the bottom of your list.
So how do you bring it up to the top? Here are a few simple suggestions to help you navigate your knee pain, and hopefully eliminate it.
The knee sits in between the hip and ankle joints. And while the hip is a very flexible ball and socket, and the ankle is also extremely flexible, the knee is meant to be a simple hinge joint.
Now, imagine this. Try to open and close a door while somebody else is hanging on it. You might be able to at first, but after years and years of hanging on the door those hinges are not going to hinge quite the same. The same is true of your knees.
Most people who have knee pain, are not using their knees as true hinges. There is a torsion similar to this hanging from the door analogy.
This postural deviation is called tibial torsion. The tibia is your shinbone, and in this case it is not lining up properly with the upper leg, the femur.
How do you know if your knees are not acting as a regular hinge? How do you know if you have tibial torsion?
Typically, the direction that the feet are pointing should match up with the direction of your kneecap. People with tibial torsion usually have feet that are external and knees that are caving internal.
Imagine this posture in the squat. Putting your entire body weight on this torqued knee can cause a lot of damage.
Why does this happen? Well, just as your bicep brings your elbow into flexion when it engages, you also have muscles that will externally rotate your upper leg so that the knee will line up with the foot.
Let's walk through a few exercises here that will assist you in correcting this.
I've spent over a decade looking at the human body in terms of function, form, and how to best optimize our own body and our daily life. Everybody is the athlete in a sense that they need their body to do the job of daily life.
The more I see people move, the more I'm absolutely convinced that this concept of compensation is one of the root concepts that will help you to do two things. First it will help you achieve your fitness goals, and second it will help you minimize injury in the process.
If you're able to minimize compensations you can target the right muscle and that means you will get results. If you can't do a bicep curl without compensating, you are not going to be able to hit the bicep, and therefore not going to be able to get results.
If you lift something that is too heavy for your ability, you're not going to be able to do it properly.
The problem is when we do something that is outside of our ability. If it's outside of our ability, then the only way we can pull it off is to compensate.
For example, the elderly woman who has to lift 40 pounds to put away her groceries might have to compensate. She can't do it correctly, so necessarily she needs to compensate in order to do this because her structure is not strong enough to do the motion correctly.
Don't go past your ability because then you will do it incorrectly. If you do it if you do it correctly and enough times, you actually get better and your ability will become bigger. So the answer is simple: do less weight.
“No pain no gain” is not the goal. What you're trying to do an exercise is really to stimulate your body to get better, not blast it into oblivion. You want to put yourself in a position of growth, similarly to the way children are growing. You want to stimulate the body not annihilate it.
One final thought to present pesky compensations. Don't get addicted to your workout. The workout is just the process. Stimulating the body to grow is the goal. Stimulation of the body without compensation is the ultimate way to achieve your fitness goals and prevent injuries at the same time.
I hope that made sense. Sometimes I'm not quite sure if I'm getting the point across accurately. If you have any specific questions about compensations or any other fitness questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ve likely heard the saying that “it’s easier to stay fit than it is to get fit in the first place.” Although this is true, getting started is easier than you might think. Let’s break down the 7 most important tips.
If this helped you, please consider sharing it with others who are just starting out. Thanks!
Do you ever wake up after a night of sleeping on your back, and your lower back is so tight that you don't even know what to do? You know it’s bad when SLEEPING causes pain.
It does sound kind of funny doesn't it? How can you sleep wrong? It's also very saddening, because usually the individual who finds sleeping painful it's pretty close to the end of their rope. I know the despair that person must feel when they can't even do something as basic as sleeping without lower back pain.
But be assured that there is a specific biomechanical reason why sleeping on your back produces pain or discomfort.
Also be assured that for most people there is a relatively easy fix.
The only muscle you need to know in this particular case, is the psoas. This muscle is so important, yet most people don't even know it exists.
When you lay on your back, you are in a full extension position of the hips. This is a great position for the body, if it's ready for it.
The problem occurs because we spend most of our days in almost a full flexion position, whether we are sitting in the car, sitting at our desk, sitting at a movie, or sitting while we’re eating.
We spend a very large percentage of our time sitting. Because of this, the psoas gets shortened because we are constantly in a flexion position. Now we have a shortened, tightened psoas.
That tight hip tugs the lower back off of the bed and keeps it in a constant arch all night. Then when you wake up, your lower back hurts because it's basically been working all night.
So what do we do about this? What is the answer?
We need to do a few things. You might've guessed it, that we need to stretch the psoas. You would be right, at least partially. We don't necessarily want to stretch the psoas, but we rather would like to think about it as "releasing the tension” of the psoas. This might sound like a subtle difference, or simply semantics, but there is a distinction between stretching and releasing. Releasing a muscle involves no tension. Whereas stretching the muscle actually puts it under tension. Remember those Chinese finger traps? Stretching muscle is kind of like putting your fingers in a Chinese finger trap. There’s still tension, although the muscle is stretching.
So first we need to release the muscle, then we need to strengthen the opposite. Let's actually start by strengthening the opposite, which is the glute muscle. Now the glute muscle is a hip extensor which is the opposite of the hip flexor, or the psoas. But before I get into the glute strengthening exercises, there's one other exercise that there's one other body part that we need to strengthen, which is, in a way, opposite of the psoas as well.
Because the hip flexor or psoas also has another function, which is to extend the lumbar spine, which is what causes you pain while sleeping, we must also address the opposite muscle group of the hip flexor in this regard. The abdominals. So, we need to embark upon a glute and abdominal strengthening program, while releasing the hip flexors.
There are many ways to strengthen the abdominals, but if you are having pain while sleeping because of a hyperextended back, I want to offer this way to you, which is a straight legged pelvic tilt crunch.
Lie on the floor with your legs straight. Notice the arch in your lower back. Now press your lower back into the floor by engaging your abdominals. Hold of this contraction for a few seconds, and then slowly release. If your abs are strong enough, then you will also feel a stretch in the hip flexors. This is good.
So we have strengthened the abs, and by the way you want to do that exercise consistently until your body has started to pick up that pattern. The next exercise in your mini workout is glute bridges.
Glute bridges are fantastic to strengthen the glutes and also the hamstrings. However, the way that you have done glute bridges in the past, probably also includes strengthening or tightening your lower back. So we are going to do them slightly differently today. I want you to think of these glute bridges not so much as lift lifting your hips up to the ceiling, but more like glute contractions.
Lie your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. From here, simply begin to engage your glutes without engaging your lower back. You can engage your hamstrings, but whatever you do, do not engage your lower back. Think less about how high you are lifting, and more about how engaged you are making the glutes. If you engage the glutes enough you will lift up. But don't put the cart in front of the horse, so to speak. If you only think about how high you're lifting, then the only way you will lift that high is to also use your lower back, which we do not want to use in this particular case.
Remember, the back pain is coming from a habit of hyper extending your lower back, so we need to let the back relax and neutralize. We've already done that with the abs, and the glutes, so we have the strength portion taken care of in our little mini workout here. The last thing we want to do is release, remember not stretch, the hip flexor or psoas .
Next we are going to do supine groin stretch. And again, it's not so much a stretch as it is a complete release and relaxation of the hip flexor and lower back. Lie on your back with one leg draped up over a pillow, and the other leg out straight. Prop that straight leg up on the block or against the wall so that the foot stays pointed to the ceiling. From this position, you might notice that your lower back is arched, although not as much as when both legs were out straight. The goal here is to fall asleep, seriously. By falling asleep, and meditating, you are ensuring that your body is relaxed. Ideally, you want to stay in this position for 15 to 30 minutes. Yes, that seems like a lot of time, but you've been sitting a lot today and you need the meditation to relax.
That simple program that I just detailed will steadily begin to change the muscle tension in your hips and lower back so that you are able to lie on your back and sleep without any muscle tension or pain.
Count on this taking several weeks to really make a lasting impact. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is the truth of any exercise program. It does not happen in one workout. But make a commitment to do these three exercises for 20 to 30 minutes per day for the next month, and you will definitely notice a difference in how easy it is to sleep on your back without back pain.
If you have anymore questions, please feel free to email me at Chris@mycorebalance.com. And if you have back pain in addition to only when you sleep on your back, consider purchasing my program Help! I Threw Out My Back for a full body exercise list with multiple workouts of progressive difficulty. The program is designed to help you achieve your goal of a pain-free back.
Don't let back pain stop you!
Hamstring Assessment. Are Your Hamstrings ACTUALLY Tight?
I was standing there in disbelief. I was watching this advanced yoga practitioner standing right in front of me and he showed me how he could touch his elbows to the floor without bending his knees. I have never in my life seen somebody with such flexible hamstrings.
After hearing his story, and how much yoga has helped him to calm down his mind, I asked him how I could help. It was his first appointment with me in my personal training studio.
His response sent my jaw to the floor. I couldn't believe it.
He wanted me to help him with his issue of…
Are you ready for this?
His number one complaint was that his hamstrings always felt tight.
Are you are surprised as I was? How can a man who is so obviously flexible have tight hamstrings?
Well, the answer is that he doesn't. His hamstrings are extremely flexible, in fact they are too flexible.
Upon further investigation, I determined that he has a very anteriorly tilted pelvis. This helps him with his hamstring flexibility, yet does not provide enough stability for his whole body.
His issue was very simple. Because his hips are tilted forward, or anterior, the hamstrings are always under a constant pull. So that feeling of hamstring tightness is actually the feeling that his hamstrings always at the end of the range of motion.
The solution for this particular client was to strengthen the hamstrings and abdominals. We also needed to elongate the hip flexors.
Within a few weeks he stopped complaining of his hamstring tightness. He also lost a few inches of hamstring flexibility. However, he could still touch his hands to the floor very easily.
The reason I tell the above story is that although this Yogi was extremely flexible, this pattern is very common. I've also seen it in an elderly woman who could fold her self and a half forward, but could not even grab her foot when doing a quad stretch.
The hamstrings can play tricks on you. So how do you know if they're too tight or too weak? I alluded to it earlier, with the tilt of that man's hips.
Here's the assessment.
From the side view locate the bone at the front of the hip which is called the ASIS, and then the bone at the back of the hip which is called the PSIS.
The angle should be directly horizontal or with just a very slight anterior tilt. If you have a very big anterior tilt, your hamstrings are already being pulled.
The second test.
Lie on your back with your legs going straight up a wall. Keep your legs straight, with your thighs tight and your sacrum on the floor. Also flex your ankles so that your toes are pulled back toward you.
Results of the test.
Possibility 1. Anterior tilt difficulty with the test. You have an anterior tilt which means that your hip flexors a tight. But the fact that the hamstring stretch was difficult, shows that your hamstrings are also tight. Start by stretching the hip flexors, and then once your hip flexors get lengthened then start stretching to hamstrings.
Possibility 2. Anterior tilt, test is easy. You are the Yogi. Your hamstrings are flexible enough. Leave them alone. You want to focus on hamstring strength. Do exercises like hamstring curls, hamstring lean, and the glute-ham machine. You also want to lengthen the hip flexors. So do things like the hanging leg drop. You also want to start doing things like a prone quad stretch.
Possibility 3. Neutral pelvis, test was hard. You actually might have tight and strings. Your hip flexors are not putting you into an anterior tilt. However, your hamstrings still are functionally tight. Your homework is simply to do the hamstring assessment test every day in your program.
Possibility 4. Neutral pelvis, test is easy. You do not need to do anything in regard to flexibility here. You may just want to do some preventative maintenance, so that you maintain your flexibility over time. But as of right now you are balanced.
Hopefully this helps you realize that you can't simply go based off of feeling tight. You need to remember that the feeling might be there because the hamstrings are weak. Regardless, you now have one more tool in your toolbox to assess your own strengths and limitations.
If you have any additional questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Do you remember when you were a kid how you could do a backbend with absolutely no back pain? Now you wouldn't even attempt to think about that movement because your back starts to seize up on you. Is there a way to restore that motion that you used to enjoy his kid?
The full backbend is definitely a very healthy movement, if you are ready for it. If you're not ready for it, it could be a recipe for disaster.
Let's look at what needs to open and strengthen in order for you to be able to pull off this amazing movement.
First your hips, specifically your hip flexors, your psoas and quads. Check out the article or blog post that I wrote specifically about opening up the psoas. Generally, when one muscle group is tight, the opposite muscle group is too weak. So in order to get your hip flexors "open” we need to also think about engaging your glutes. In this particular example, I love the Bilateral Donkey Kick exercise for this. It's a great active exercise that will force the glutes and hamstrings to engage.
Situate yourself so that you are lying with your abdomen on a countertop or a high table. Grab onto something if you can, and then engage your glutes to lift up your legs towards the ceiling. Lower back down and repeat.
Another exercise that is a great hip flexor stretch bite self is the hanging leg drop. This exercise will passively elongate the hip flexor so that you can open it more fully when you're doing it for a backbend. Lie on the edge of a table, and interlace your fingers behind your knee. Let the other leg drop straight down, relaxed.
Next, let's start opening up the shoulders. Let's work on specifically isolating the scapular movement. For this I love Sitting Floor Wall Glides. This is a great movement to force your shoulder blades together and get a good range of motion in your shoulders and upper back. Sit on the floor with your back against the wall. Make sure your legs are straight out in front of you. If your hamstrings are not very flexible, feel free to bring your legs wide which tends to help with that. If hamstring tightness is an issue of yours check out my blog post about how to get rid of tight hamstrings. Post link link link link link.
The next thing you're going to do here in the Sitting Floor position is work on what is called “incremental extension.” The lower part of your spine should touch the wall first. Next, go one vertebrae at a time up the spine and gradually let each of those touch the wall. Eventually, you should be able to get your upper back to the wall all the way up to your collar. Once you're in this position, you're going to do wall glides. Bring your elbows up to shoulder level, and bend your elbows 90° so that your hands are up and your and and wrist is touching the wall. If you can't get them to the wall, then you're going to make that your exercise, going from hand straight ahead to hand touching the wall. If you can touch the wall you're going to glide up the wall and then back down. Repeat this for a minute or two. You should feel a lot of work in your upper back.
Now that we've opened up the hips on the shoulders, let's work on some ranges of motion that are very similar to the Full Back Bridge and that is the Assisted Back Bridge. On a stability ball, sit near wall, and then let it roll up so that it supports your head and neck. Reach up over your head so that your hands touch the wall. Then bridge your hips up, as you try to walk your hands down the wall. What's important here is that you stay in what's called a Hollow Body position, which means that you're bracing with your abs. The reason you're doing that is because you don't want your lower back to arch too much. You want to maintain just a normal, natural arch. You want most of the opening to come from the upper back and shoulder blade area.
Try this exercise sequence, and as you get better and better at the Assisted Back Bridge, you will soon be able to walk your hand closer to the floor, and also begin to press down into your hands and feet so that you get your body above the ball. Eventually, you won't need the ball anymore.
A word of caution: do not force this movement. Your body has years forward slouching posture that cannot be undone in one training session, and probably not even in one month. Progress is key. Do not think about the fact that you're not at your final goal yet. Think about how you were taking this tiny little improvement from where you were last week. Improvement might mean that your range of motion looks better, or it might mean that you're able to do the same range of motion but it feels a lot better. Either way, you are progressing and should pat yourself on the back for that progression. Enough small progressions will eventually lead to the larger result.
How often should you do these exercises? That's a great question that really depends on a lot of factors. First, your general fitness level, strength and flexibility levels should be taken into account. How much stress are you under? How much are you sleeping? Also, what other workouts are you doing in addition to this? All of these variables will inform you on your decision about how frequently to do this particular sequence of exercises.
I hope this post helped you and gave you some practical exercises that you can do in order to strengthen your Back Bridge, which I believe is a very important exercise, especially as we age and gravity begins to pull us down. Let me know how else I can help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.