Don't Move!!! We want to make you stronger...
By: Meg Sharp, Fitness & Wellbeing Consultant, Cambridge Group of Clubs
“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”
We all have natural ranges of motion. Ranges where we are comfortable and strong. These ranges are extraordinary when we’re young. They decrease with age but more powerfully from lack of use. The positions we assume frequently throughout the day – like hunching over a keyboard or cellphone – are repeatedly reinforced and influence what becomes “natural”. Our posture shifts, and so does the ranges we can comfortably access. Moving into our end ranges including extending our spines, shoulders, elbows, and knees feels like a good stretch, but these are not positions where we feel strong, comfortable, or stable. We then visit those ranges less often and – consequently – we lose even more range, such that our mobility, strength, and day-to-day comfort become compromised.
Resistance training that facilitates accessing, strengthening, and even increasing those ranges is a vital addition to everyone’s routine. Can you imagine how it would feel to be strong and stable in even greater ranges than you currently access? Everything would be easier: Swinging a golf club, turning to speak to a loved one, bending down to pick up a little one, getting something from the backseat of the car, tying your shoes, running like the wind…
When you reach the end range of one of your joints, the tissues that support that joint are fully lengthened on one side and shortened on the other. Muscles are weakest when they are either fully shortened or lengthened – so this is a relatively weak position for that joint. This is, of course, in part why we typically don’t hang out in our end ranges. We are more vulnerable to injury here. So, it’s important we deliberately strengthen them.
If we don’t train and strengthen the last 1-2% of any given range, we ultimately lose that range. Imagine losing 1-2% of your range every year over the course of 20 years. Are you really okay with being able to move 20-40% less?!!
Have we convinced you yet?
Below are some initial thoughts on how to do this safely and effectively. You don’t need fancy equipment. Your brain and your body are, of course, required. A TheraBand is helpful. And if you’re already hitting the gym on a regular basis, just a few small modifications in terms of tempo and concentration ought to do the trick.
The most important part of carefully and effectively strengthening your end ranges, is incorporating isometric contractions. An isometric is an exercise that involves contraction of the muscles without any movement in the targeted joint or joints. A plank is a perfect example. You are contracting the muscles throughout the core – abdominals, hips, and other spinal stabilizers including hopefully your shoulder girdle – without moving. Quite specifically you are not allowing the spine to flex or extend nor the hips or shoulders or pelvis to rotate or tilt which is why this exercise is so powerful for strengthening the core. A dying bug is another brilliant example. Yes, the legs move – but the spine and pelvis do not. It’s not designed to strengthen the legs after all – the Bug is all about crazy core strength.
Isometric exercise can activate more muscle fibers, facilitate greater nervous system adaptations (you get stronger faster!) with lower risk of injury. The entire movement doesn’t have to be isometric. You can concentrically or eccentrically load the muscle, and then quite simply HOLD at the end range for 2, 3, or up to 10 seconds.
Here’s an example of a typical range we lose and how to start to regain it:
Our scapulae – or shoulder blades – are designed to do four movements: Elevate and Protract (think shrug up to your ears and round/slide forward) and Depress and Retract (lower away from your ears and slide back towards your spine). When we sit for long periods of time our shoulders do tons of the former movements (elevate and protract) and lose the ability to do the two later (depress and retract). The appropriate exercise routine MUST therefore challenge the shoulder blades at the extremes of depression and retraction.
Grab a band with both hands. Palms can be up or down, whichever feels more comfortable. Start with the hands out in front of you. Start moving the shoulder blades down (away from your ears) and back (towards your spine and each other). Consequently, the band will start and continue to stretch until your arms are extended almost to either side of you as if you are creating the letter “T”. If your end range is greater – that is if the front of your shoulder will open up enough to allow it – you may even get your hands a little bit behind you as you continue to move those shoulder blades together. HOLD THAT POSITION. Here the muscles that run across the front of your chest and shoulders as well as those over the top of your shoulder are lengthened. The muscles that pull your shoulders down and back are shortened. As you HOLD, both sets of muscles are being challenged where they are weakest. And your body is receiving a strong, clear signal that you want it to be STRONGER in that position. Perform 2 or 3 sets of 10 towards the beginning of your workout. And be mindful of trying to recreate that more open postural position throughout the rest of the workout and your day.
The other really simple strategy is to simply slow down and pause at the end ranges of your training. Tricep pull down? Don’t just reef down on the bar or rope and then spring right back up. Exhale as you extend your elbows and then PAUSE for 2-3 seconds before you return to your starting position. Try to keep your shoulders down and back as well. This may mean you have to lower the weight a little. Leave your ego at the door. Better posture is going to look gorgeous on you. Ditto with your glute bridges: Pause at the top. Hold tension in your glutes and abs to give both side of your core a good pump.
You may be uncertain what is a safe, appropriate end range and how specifically to target it. Please reach out to your Club’s Personal Training Director to learn more.
Adelaide Club – Lauren Neal
Cambridge Club – Sean O’Neil
Toronto Athletic Club – Rob Coates
Give us an hour of your time and we’ll help you develop the perfect routine for you. The Club would be more than happy to cover the cost of that hour.