Posture is Everything…Here is How to Correct It!

 

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

The other day I was having a conversation with an athlete.  This athlete was concerned that he was not getting the results he expected from the training, specifically regarding his posture.

He felt stronger, moved better, had more energy throughout the day and experienced a host of other positive results from training, but still walked around closely resembling one of my all-time favorite animated characters, Sid the Sloth (Yes, I am a fan of animated movies and I am not afraid to admit it!).

My first reaction was, “Great, this athlete actually cares about his posture!” Too often athletes just wanted to get after it, feel the “burn” and finish a session hunched over the trash can.

While I am all for getting after it, moving heavy stuff and ending a couple of sessions a month trying to fight back your upchuck reflex, if an athlete does not work to correct static posture, then an athlete is “starting the race behind the line.” Although I all for a challenge, if an athlete starts behind the line, my bet is they will not finish at the front of the pack (i.e. get the results they want and need).

But this athlete was working to correct his posture, and doing a damn good job at it…during training!

As we continued to talk about his concern and how he felt with the performance and understanding of his “corrective exercises” I couldn’t help but smirk as throughout the entire conversation this athlete was standing in the exact posture that we were trying to correct.

I let him finish his little rant (a rant that I was glad to hear) and then walked my way closer to him, placed him in the position/posture we wanted and asked, “How often do you stand like THIS during the day?”

“Umm…”

That’s all he had to say.

After I let him know that I had not done my job in making sure that he understood that this was what he had to do throughout the day in order for the training to “stick,” I asked him if he could try to achieve this posture throughout the day.

**A coaching/motivation side note; although I KNOW I had mentioned numerous times to him to try and be conscious of his posture, if I were to come at this athlete as if he were doing something wrong, his motivation would be shot and my position as a role model and authority would be compromised…so I took blame and responsibility.

After asking this athlete if he could be more aware and try to achieve the optimal posture more throughout the day, he replied, “Ya, I can try but it is almost impossible.”

I agreed with him that it would take a lot of effort to continuously find himself in a better posture, but I did not give in. Instead, I gave him a few tips on how to make it easier to remember.

Try the following tips to help you spend more of your day in a posture that will help lead to greater gains from training (strength, power, etc.) as well as a lower incidence of overuse injury from both training and “chilling” in a bad position.

Also, you will find yourself exuding more confidence as you walk around like you have an S on your chest rather than a shy, self-conscious school girl who wants nothing to do with anyone or anything.

Better Posture. Better Performance. Better Looks…But First…

In order to achieve a better posture, and make it stick, you must discover what your ideal posture is and how it feels. From there you must try to sustain that posture as often as possible and encourage adaptations of certain muscles to help you maintain that posture passively (meaning hypertrophy/stiffen certain muscles to help “hold” you in that posture). The passive maintenance will come from specific corrective exercises, that when performed correctly, will create the necessary changes.

Although everyone has specific needs when it comes to posture, some of the most common considerations include:

1)      Head and chin position: Many of us find ourselves with a forward head posture and jutting chin. To correct this think about “tucking your chin” or making the backside of your neck (cervical spine) “long.” Both of these cues will help you achieve a neutral cervical spine and make for a better chin position.

2)      Scapulae (shoulder blades): The majority of athletes/clients that I coach present with anteriorly tilted and depressed scapulae. For this reason, it is common that I cue the scapulae to come “up and back” which creates a proud/athletic chest.

3)      Lumbar spine (low back): Lumbar extension, or more accurately, excessive lumbar extension, is a common postural flaw. This causes unwanted compression of the spine as the “overarching” of the low back causes the vertebrae to become compressed. Cueing an athlete/client to “tuck their tale” or “bring your zipper to your ribcage” helps to reduce the excessive extension and bring the low back into a more neutral position.

While this is by no means an exhaustive, or in many cases a complete list, these 3 points are the most commonly found. Others include hip rotation issues, knee and foot positioning, etc.

One “exercise” I like to give to my athletes to help them achieve a better posture is to have them put their back against a wall with their feet 6 inches from the wall. I ask them to keep soft knees as they work to bring their low back, scapulae and head to the wall focusing on tucking the chin and keeping the neck long. I then ask them to come off of the wall while holding that position…this is a good start for an ideal posture.

Once you understand and achieve a better posture (neutral positioning), it is your job to try and keep this posture throughout the day, which is hard because it takes conscious awareness and focus. When your attention is elsewhere (work tasks, on the teacher, Facebook, etc.), posture is often the first thing to become compromised.

To help increase conscious awareness of posture, I encourage athletes to do the following.

1)      Set an alarm: Whether it is on your phone or a watch, set a timer to go off every 20-30 minutes so that when it goes off it reminds you to check posture. You can set it for a standard beep or make it so it vibrates (the phone anyway).

2)      Use sticky notes: Wherever you find yourself most of the day (in front of the computer, at a desk in school, on a beach chair in Hawaii…I’m shooting for the last option someday!) place a sticky note so you will see it often. Write anything such as “posture / proud chest / tuck tail / cut the S*&T”…whatever it is that will help remind you to check your posture.

3)      Object in your pocket: If you are on your feet and constantly moving most of the day (performance coach anyone?!), using a well-placed sticky note may be difficult. Instead, place an object in your pocket (the smaller the better) that when you touch will remind you to check your posture. Try a paper clip, rubber band, marble, etc.

4)      Enlist the help of a friend: Most of us spend much of our day around the same people every day…whether we like it or not! Take advantage of this and ask one or more of your friends/family/colleagues/teammates to remind you about your posture when they see you falling out of it…just remember, you asked them to help you so when they remind you, you cannot get annoyed or upset.

The Wrap Up    

Many athletes/clients find themselves training 2-4 times per week. While this is sufficient for many positive adaptations, when it comes to fixing posture it takes much more.

Performing corrective exercises each day will help, but if you spend 23 out of 24 hours in a posture that is creating pain, limiting performance outcomes or having people wonder how the hell you survived the Ice Age, it is going to be extremely difficult to make postural changes and have them stick.

Most of the time you just need a little reminder. Try the tips above and enjoy a body that feels better, performs better and looks a whole lot more confident and attractive.

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5 Ways To Make Your Session “Easier”

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS

Before we start, I have to clarify one thing.

A training session needs to be stressful and challenging enough to promote adaptation and growth. If the session is in fact “easy” then the body has no reason to grow stronger and healthier.

But that does not mean that you cannot make a session seem easier, and still train at high intensity, by incorporating a few “tricks.” The tricks that I am going to cover are quick ways to take the mental game of training and tip the scale more in your favor.

Many times we will psych ourselves out of a rep, set or entire training session with negative self-talk, or an overall negative approach to training.

“I still have 5 sets left!”“This sucks, I have to go train.”

“Damn it, I still have 3 more exercises.”

“Holy hell, 6 more reps!”

If any of these statements have ever crossed your mind, or have actually found yourself crying out like an unhappy infant, you probably experienced a training session that was not only miserable, but less than productive when trying to achieve your goals…but what if you could change this with a few simple tricks? Wouldn’t you like to know how?

Well you’re in luck as right here, right now, you are about to learn 5 simple tricks that you can utilize to take what is usually a “let’s just make it through this workout,” to a “hell ya, let’s crush this training session!”

This will make for more enjoyable training sessions and greater results. It is all about “tricking” the most powerful organ in the body; your MIND! Your mind is the only organ that is involved in every action the body produces and is many times the determining factor between success and failure (but after this failure will no longer even be a part of your vocabulary thanks to point 5!).

So here are 5 easy ways to “trick” the mind into thinking a training session is “easier” which will allow you to continue to work harder for longer and achieve greater results.

1.       No more “I have to…”

If these are the words that enter you mind before a session even begins, you may be better off taking a day off. If this is a consistent internal dialogue, I am sorry, but I can’t help you other than saying that those of us who train are healthier, stronger, more confident, less likely to fall ill and generally enjoy life more…but who cares about that stuff?!

The easiest way to fix this is to simply replace “have to” with “get to.” The next time you are about to begin a training session, tell yourself “I get to train!” rather than “I have to train.”

Easy and extremely effective!

And not only does this work with training, but every other situation in life!

“I have to get up early.”  “I get to get up early and enjoy my morning!”

“I have to go to work/school.”  “I get to go to work/school!”

“I have to visit my in-laws.”  “I get to visit my in-laws!”

Give it a try, change your mental approach and enjoy a better training session (and life!)

2.       No more “sets” but “opportunities”

Piggybacking the point above, if we go into an exercise, especially one that is appropriately programmed for maximal strength or power development, we may find ourselves complaining, “Damn, I’ve got 5 sets of this crap?!”

Instead of using the word “set,” try replacing it with “opportunities.”

So now you have “5 opportunities” to get stronger, more powerful and become a downright sexy piece of human flesh.

And when you get to that second to last set (it is always the hardest set!), think of it, or shout out loud, “Second to last opportunity”…believe me, it works!

3.       Countdown your reps, not up!

The first time we were taught how to count, we started at 1 and worked our way up. This is typically how most of us count our reps during what we formally knew as a set (now an opportunity, but I will use set to finish this post).

Instead of working from 1 to whatever your target rep number is, try counting down. This simple method tricks your mind into thinking “I’ve only got 3 reps left” instead of “Damn, I’ve done 3 reps and have to make it to 6,” for example.

This method works with any rep scheme, but especially well when rep targets are more than 3-4 and no more than 8-10

4.       Chunk your reps

 Along with the last point, “chunking” your reps into smaller “mini-sets” (mini-opportunities) helps to trick the mind to make the set easier, especially when reps exceed 8.

For example, say you were doing a set of lunges with a target of 10 reps per side, instead of counting to 10, or counting down from 10, try counting in groups of 2 with a target of 5. This would go like this for each leg…

“1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5”

Although you are still hitting 10 reps per leg, by grouping the reps in 2s you trick yourself as you are only actually counting to 5.

5.       Failure is no longer an option

If we miss a lift or had a less than stellar set by not achieving the rep number we set out to or using less weight than the previous session, it is typical that we let that set determine the fate of the entire session.

The set is viewed as a failure, and this failure causes mental negativity that often manifests itself into a session lost.

Instead of viewing it as a failure, think of it as a “temporary defeat.” Evaluate what the factors are that caused the miss rep or set, change your plan of attack and try again.

Possibly the best quote ever by one of the most badass, and intelligent dudes to ever live!

It may be that you simply didn’t get a good set up and it is something you can fix on the next set. Or it may be that today is just not your day as a result of other compounding factors (lack of sleep, dehydration, a little slow from a night out with your buddies, etc.). In either case, approach it as a temporary defeat that can, and will be overcome…but only if you change whatever it is that caused it.

“Failure” is a strong word that often results a cascade of negative emotions that only leads to further deterioration. By simply changing your mental dialogue from “I failed” to “I was only temporarily defeated,” you provide yourself a better platform to address the cause rather than dwell on it and allow it to influence the remainder of your session (or life).

This is also typically when we have an unexpected cheat meal or slip up with our nutrition. Rather than saying, “Well I already failed so let’s just keep going,” consider it as a temporary defeat, or slip up. Then you can address it with your very next meal.

Get Your Mind Right

Use the above tactics to make a training session seem easier, which will allow you to continuously get after it and better enjoy training.

After all, it is should not be about the outcome, but rather the process.

If you can make the process more enjoyable you will set yourself up for long term gains, health and performance, as well as life.

If you have any other tricks you use share them with us in the comments! And don’t forget to share this on FACEBOOK so your friends and family can also benefit from a more conducive mental dialogue for training and life!

The Best Time to Train Core

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS 

You may have heard something like this before…

“You shouldn’t train core before your main lifts because it will fatigue your system and you won’t be able to train as intensely.”

Or maybe you have been told the opposite.

“You should train core before your main lifts to activate the system and encourage more stability.”

Or maybe you’ve heard both but don’t give a damn about core training and still spend all of your time hopping from machine to machine and finishing up with 30-60 minutes of “cardio” on the treadmill or bike…if this sounds like you, you have bigger issues to address where your core training should fall in your program!

But for many of us, we have heard conflicting information as to where core training should fall within a training sess. It’s time to figure it out.

Core Training Principles

For an easy anatomical definition, we can think of the core as the musculature of, and between, the hips and ribcage (as well as other structures such as fascia, tendons, etc.).

For an easy functional anatomy definition, we can think of the core as the musculature and structures that work to stabilize the joints of, and between, the hips and ribcage and work to transmit force from the lower extremities to the upper extremities and vice versa.

For this reason you can see that training the core effectively would be to train the musculature and other structures to efficiently stabilize the joints of, and between, the hips and ribcage. This is essential so that when movement is produced, or when outside forces are being exerted upon the body, force can be transmitted with minimal loss of that force, and subsequently, with as little motion as possible about the joints.

If the joints that are supposed to be stable/centrated/stacked (in proper position) during movement and transmission of force are instead unstable/de-centrated/not stacked (out of proper alignment) then force is loss, joints are compromised and injury is much more likely to occur…all unwanted scenarios when we are trying to enhance athletic performance, stay healthy and sport body like King Leonidas (or his Queen for the ladies).

And with that in mind, below is not one, but three different times where core training can, and should be incorporated into your program to help you maximize strength, avoid injury and put a whoopin’ on some Persian punks (I’m a big fan of 300 if you couldn’t tell).

Where Core Training Should be in Your Program

1)      Activation (pre dynamic warm up)

In order to effectively stabilize the trunk, the core musculature has to work in unison with appropriate timing. By activating the core in an efficient pattern with exercises such as supine leg marches, quadruped reaches (birddog) and back to wall overhead reaches, you are encouraging the core to fire/work in an efficient and proper manner.

The goal with each of these exercises is to keep the lower back from moving (no arch or rotation) and the ribcage from “flaring” from a neutral position as the arms and/or legs move.

2)      Your “1a” Exercises

 In my programming I use my “1a” exercises (or 2a, 3a, etc.) to get my athletes ready for their “1b” exercises, and this usually includes a core component. During these exercises I do not want to fatigue the athlete’s core to a point that it will negatively affect the subsequent exercise, but instead I want the core to “activate” in a more specific pattern.

For example, if I want my athlete to crush a Reverse Lunge as their “1b” exercise, I will likely have them complete a “1a” exercise from a static lunge (split stance) or half kneeling position where they are focusing on perfect form while trying to prevent motion at the trunk.

A Split Stance Medicine Ball Chop works well to engage the core and pattern the lunge before trying to crush some weight on a Reverse Lunge, for example. Other examples would include a plank variation before a bilateral squat or an overhead anti-extension (such as an overhead medicine ball tap, overhead RIP Trainer reach, etc.) before a deadlift.

These “1a” exercises can also be another opportunity to incorporate some of the lower level exercises from point #1 if the athlete is not yet capable of performing the higher level core exercises described.

 

3)      Post Training or Energy System Work

Once the bulk of your program is complete, you can, and in many cases should, challenge your core stability in a fatigued state. When fatigue enters the equation, appropriate activation and timing, specifically core stability, is compromised which promotes faulty movement, loss of strength / power and overall performance and injury potential.

By adding higher level core stability exercises (to YOUR capabilities of course) at the end of your training session can help to challenge and strengthen the core when it is most likely to fail. Try adding higher level plank variations such as fallouts, slideboard bodysaws or weighted plank rows (renegade rows) at the end of your session.

For more of a rotational challenge try incorporating higher level anti-rotation presses such as the anti-rotation walkout, wide stance cable chops or split stance lifts or chops.

And one of my favorite ways to challenge core stability, as well as enhance an athlete’s work capacity and conditioning, is to finish a session off with some energy system work that includes weighted carries (especially uni-lateral carries), battle rope variations and bear crawl variations.

The focus is to complete as much work as possible while maintaining a stable trunk through core stability. Try putting together a finishing circuit or some density work with one or more of these exercises.

When is the Best Time to Train Core?

As you can see there are varying degrees of core training that should be used for different purposes throughout your training session.

The goal of core training, no matter where it falls in your session, is to challenge the core to stabilize the trunk, reduce excess motion at the trunk, and transmit force effectively.

I encourage you to first activate and understand what it feels like to maintain a stable trunk, next strengthen the core in specific patterns to promote better performance of a subsequent exercise, and lastly challenge your core stability and strength when you are fatigued.

Try implementing these principles throughout your training session and enjoy a stronger and higher performing core (and yes, a more chiseled one as well).

 

 

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