Bicep curls! Only joking. Here are five exercises you should do that won’t just get you buff, but help you move better, too
Whether it’s an injury or it’s an area of your fitness you’d like to improve, we all have something we should be working on fixing.
Instead of reaching for that barbell or those kettlebells on autopilot next time you enter the gym, we suggest working to resolve those niggles that have been holding you back, be that runner’s knee or your less than impressive grip strength.
It just so happens our expert PTs have some advice to help you fix up, and lift sharp.
Suffer from a bad back? Join the club. “The main cause of a bad lower back pain is usually a muscle or ligament strain, having excess weight, or lack of exercise with symptoms being muscle ache or shooting pains. And it might get worse with bending, lifting, walking or standing,” says Chris Antoni, founder of Tailor Made Fitness.
Antoni points out that the deadlift is a great way of building a strong back, but there’s a risk it might make things worse if it’s your first time. Instead, he suggests the cat stretch.
“Begin on your hands and knees, with a straight back. As you inhale lift your hip bones upward, press your chest forward and allow your belly to sink. Lift your head, relax your shoulders away from your ears, and gaze straight ahead. As you exhale, come into cat pose, rounding your spine outward, tucking in your tailbone, and drawing your pubic bone forward so that your back makes an upside down ‘U’ shape. Release your head toward the floor — just don’t force your chin to your chest. Most importantly, just relax.”
A tricky one this, especially as you get older but if you want to stay mobile (and why wouldn’t you) it’s vital you nip knee pain in the bud. Mike James, endurance physio, advisor at INCUS Performance agrees it’s time to do something about it.
“Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), is when pain occurs from tissues within and around the joint between the kneecap and femur at the front of the knee and can be exasserbated by running,” he says.
“Even when aggravated, we often don’t need to stop running, rather we modify accordingly to find the amount of running that we can tolerate whilst undertaking rehab or building general strength,” James advises. “I often find success with a sideways single leg step down.”
Try it at home on the first step of the stairs. Standing straight with your shoulders pointing up and down the stairs – i.e. facing sideways, step down as deep as you can control, aiming to stop the knee falling inwards. Go as slowly as possible, aiming for three sets of six to 12 reps two or three times a week.
The pull-up looks simple but it’s deceptively difficult. Being able to manage double figure attempts as you age will keep you mobile and is a great marker of strength. To up your game, Farren Morgan, head coach at The Tactical Athlete has some tips.
“Form is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to pull-up,” he says. “Instead of gaining the full benefits of the workout by fully extending their arms into a dead hang after the pull up people tend to stop halfway with their elbows still bent to go for another pull-up.”
So how do we get better? “If you lack the strength to conduct pull-up exercises you'll need to strengthen the muscles on your upper body. In this case, it's best to take things one step at a time by starting with a Dead Hang. Through them, you'll grow accustomed to carrying your own bodyweight while simultaneously developing your upper back, core, forearms, shoulders, and hand and wrist flexors,” Morgan advises.
Grab the overhead bar with your palms facing away from you, shoulder-width apart, then hang from the bar, keeping your arms elongated. Aim for one minute or as near as you can.Do this a few times a week and you’ll up you pull-up quota in no time.
Sit-ups are boring. There, we said it. With the debate about them being bad for your back still raging it might be time to look elsewhere for that essential ab stimulation. Whether you’re trying to build a strong core for postural reasons or looking to unearth some abs for summer, Robert Utley, an expert PT at realbodyperformance.co.uk has your back. And your front.
“Man, I hate sit up” he says. “Sit ups tend to move you through to a weird and unnatural movement which rounds your spine and often causes injury. I advocate only crunches. With your hands behind your head, engage the core to lift your chin, feeling the burn along the front of your stomach. Don’t lift your whole back off the ground, that’s a sit-up. Couple that with some laying leg raises and you have a full ab workout.”
Whether you’re struggling to up your deadlift PB or having trouble carrying the shopping bags in, grip strength is important. When it comes to picking heavy things up, the actual act of gripping informs the rest of the movement, too. “To create adequate tension before lifting our first neurological cue to brace and prepare to lift comes from our grip,” explains Ollie Weguelin, director of Sustain Performance. “Clenching your fists has a reaction further up the chain, this is called an irradiation technique, if our grip is loose, the already there is a weak link in the chain and can have a cascading effect throughout the body.”
The key is to gradually build up strength in your wrists, building higher tolerance to load and greater capacity. Instead of going straight in with a farmer’s carry, Weguelin recommends the suitcase carry, carrying a 1kb weight on one side as you walk back and forth across the gym floor. “This uneven load will not only help enhance your grip and forearm strength, but has huge benefits when it comes to core, hip and pelvis stability,” says Weguelin. “As you hold that weight on one side, your obliques, opposing hip muscles and deeper core muscles will have to work overtime to keep your spine straight and supported.” In time, you’ll *ahem*get to grips with the exercise, so you can move up to the farmer’s carry and heavier weights. Before you know it, you’ll be carrying everyone’s shopping home.
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