Sunday, December 15, 2013

5 Magic Kool-Aid Exercises That Will Have You Feeling Your Best

Do you ever feel tightness in your low back? a pinch in your shoulder? a knot in your upper back? a shooting pain in the front of your shin?

The exercises here-in might just be your magic kool-aid. They are designed to "activate" muscles that may have "fallen asleep" over the course of the day (lifetime) you spend sitting hunched over at a desk. Best of all, you can do them anywhere, any time, no equipment necessary. In particular, try incorporating them into your warm-up before a session of resistance training. Or, as a way to save time, do them between sets of strength exercises.

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1. Glute Bridges

That tightness you feel in your low back could be you due to your spinal erectors working overtime to compensate for sleepy glutes.

To activate the glutes, lie on your back, face up, with knees bent. Squeeze your abs, dig your heels into the ground, and lift your hips to form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Imagine that you have a quarter between your butt cheeks and you don't want to let it out. Hold the top position for 2 seconds, and repeat for 12-15 reps. To be sure you're doing it right, simply poke your cheeks at the top. They should feel like rocks.

In the gym, pair glute bridges with squats or deadlifts.

2. Prone Y's

That pinch you feel in your shoulder when you try to raise your arm over your head could actually be due to a lack of movement at the scapula (shoulder blade). When the scapula fails to rotate, the space inside the shoulder is reduced, and boom! A couple of tiny muscles inside the shoulder get pinched.

Activate the upward rotators of the scapula by lying face down on the floor with arms overhead and thumbs up. Slow raise your arms a few inches off the floor, pulling your shoulder blades down and back. Try not to shrug. Hold for 2 seconds, and repeat for 12-15 reps. This is not a low back exercise; do not lift the chest off the ground. To make this movement easier, do it on an incline (bench or physioball).

In the gym, pair prone Y's with overhead movements like shoulder presses or snatches.

3. Plank Plus/Minus 

That knot in your upper back from sitting and staring at the computer could be due once again to a scapula that's frozen in place. Regaining the ability to protract and retract your shoulder blades could be the answer.

Assume a push-up position, making a straight line from head to toe. Moving from the shoulder blades only, slowly press yourself away from the floor a few inches (by protracting the scapulae). Then allow yourself to drop towards the floor a few inches (by retracting the scapulae). No movement should occur at the elbows, hips, or neck. Repeat 10-12 times.

If this doesn't make any sense, move to a wall and try it there. On the other hand, if the plank is too easy, incorporate a push-up. Perform the "minus" (retraction) at the bottom of the push-up by releasing your hands, and perform the "plus" (protraction) at the top, as above.

In the gym, pair plank plus/minus with pulling movements like rows or pull-ups.

4. Wall Slides

Upper back still jacked up? That hunchback sitting posture can also lead to an imbalance in internal versus external rotation at the shoulder.

To strengthen the external rotators of the shoulder, simply line yourself up against a wall with your fingertips, wrists, and elbows pressed firmly against the wall and your knees slightly bent. (You'll have to take your watch off for this.) Slowly slide your arms up and down as far as you can before any of your parts come off the wall. Your arms should form a 'Y' at the top and a 'W' at the bottom. Repeat 6-8 times. Do not let your low back arch off the wall.

This exercise has made many a grown man cry. It's especially difficult for folks who do lots of pushing and not a lot of pulling in the gym. If it's too difficult, simply turn and face the wall. Slide your pinkies up and down the wall.

In the gym, pair wall slides with pushing movements like shoulder presses or bench press.

5. Heel Walk

That shooting pain in your shins from going out for a jog for the first time in three years? That's your anterior tibialis muscle ripping off its attachment point on the interosseous membrane. Fear not, though; there's actually a simple fix.

For what can often be immediate relief, activate your ankle dorsiflexors by pointing your toes towards your shins and walking around on your heels. Continue walking like this until the fronts of your shins burn.

In the gym, pair heel walk with lower body plyometrics like jump rope or box jumps.

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