As physiotherapists we see exercises performed in all types of ways. This month we want to highlight a few common exercises that can be quickly improved with a bit of direction. As we turn the corner to a new year, we know a lot of people set fitness and rehabilitation goals and we want you to get off on the right foot, with the right technique. Follow along with our five selected exercises and learn how to perfect your form.
The Chest Press
The Chest Press is a great exercise to improve chest and overall upper body strength. The Chest Press targets the pectoralis (chest) muscles, deltoid (shoulder) muscles, biceps, and triceps if done correctly. Targeting these muscles can improve your push strength and is a common exercise in the gym. However, if done poorly, the Chest Press can leave your shoulders sore and painful, especially if you have a history of rotator cuff issues.
Below we have a few simple tips to help you gain strength, push more weight, and keep your shoulders happy.
Try a tucked elbow position at 45-60 degrees. This position has much better leverage for a push exercise. Think, how would you push a heavy piece of furniture or throw a basketball… elbows tucked right?
A tucked elbow position can reduce stress and strain on shoulder muscles and tendons. If you suffer with rotator cuff pain, this position could be for you.
Don’t hold your breath, your diaphragm is a huge muscle and if used properly can help build a strong foundation. Inhale while preparing or lowering weight, exhale on exertion.
With these simple tips you can have better leverage, and a stronger foundation, setting you up to lift more weight safely and keep those shoulders happy!
2. The Hip Flexor Stretch
The Hip Flexor Stretch is a great exercise that helps lengthen and decrease tension in your hip flexor muscles - psoas, illiacus, and rectus femoris. It is a great stretch for many athletes, particularly runners and cyclists, but can be very beneficial for office workers as well. Since this exercise is a great staple in a wide variety of fitness routines, we often see it done with poor technique. The hip flexor muscles can be tricky to target, but with some guidance you can avoid some common mistakes. Read below to follow our tips.
Tuck your pelvis. Now what does that mean right? Picture your pelvis as a bowl, keep the bowl level and not tilted forward. When your pelvis is level your hip flexor can be put on stretch. If your hip flexors are really tight, you should feel a stretch almost immediately.
Engage your core. You don’t need to force this contraction. You should be able to breathe easily. If you feel stuck, try placing one hand on your chest and one on your stomach, if you engage your abdominal muscles you should see your two hands come closer together.
If your pelvis is tucked and your core engaged, your back should be flat. This isn’t a back stretch, so no arching here.
With these tips you should feel a targeted stretch at the top of your hip. If your muscles are really tight, you might feel a stretch down your thigh to the top of your knee, this is totally fine... and BAM you are now a Hip Flexor Stretch pro!
3. The Step Up
The Step Up is a great lower body strengthening exercise that should focus on your glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quads. But if done poorly you may not feel much at all.
These tips will help you target the proper muscles and maximize the strength benefits from your Step Up!
Keep your weight over the working leg. Now this is where we can get some confusion, which leg is the working leg in a step up? It will always be the leg on the bench, box, or stair, the font leg if you will. Your weight should be slightly forward with the working leg ready to push.
Your back leg, or straight leg should act like a kickstand. It’s there to keep you balanced, not to do the work.
Keep your movement slow and controlled. Step ups are not supposed to be done fast, unless you are in a Jazzercise Class. Try counting to 3 as you push up and 3 as you lower yourself back down.
Keep your chest up. Posture is important here, you want to maintain an upright posture to help engage all your stabilizing muscles.
With these helpful tips, you should feel your glutes, hamstrings, calves, and quads working through your step up. If you implement these strategies but are still struggling, pop by the clinic, any of our knowledgeable physiotherapists would be happy to help you.
4. The Plank
Do you feel like your shoulders work too hard during a Plank? Sore shoulders are a common complaint when holding a plank for long periods of time. If your weight isn't distributed properly, your shoulders can become sore fast, making the Plank position tricky to master. Read our tips to learn how to target the right muscles, take the focus off your shoulders, and perfect your position!
Posture is important. You want a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Keep your chin tucked, looking down at a 30-45 degree angle. This will keep your neck and back flat, causing less stress and strain on your upper body. It’s tempting to look up, but this can cause you to sink through your shoulders, making your arms the primary focus.
Engage your core muscles and squeeze your glutes. This will create a strong foundation and take the focus off your arms. You want your abdominals, glutes, quads, and stabilizing muscles to be the prime workers in a Plank.
When all else fails, tuck your pelvis. If you’ve read our previous posts you may have already picked up on this. Picture your pelvis as a bowl, you want to keep that bowl level and inline with your trunk, not tilted forward. A tucked pelvis, helps to engage your core and glutes, shifting your weight off your elbows.
By following these helpful tips, you should feel your abdominals, quads, and glutes working during your plank. Your weight should be shifted more centrally, keeping your shoulders pain free.
5. Hip Hinge
The infamous Hip Hinge, or more commonly known as the Deadlift, is an amazing posterior chain exercise that targets your lats, hamstrings, glutes, and core if done properly. However, this exercise can be a real bugger to get the hang of, with most people complaining of low back pain. Follow our simple tips to avoid low back pain and create a perfect Hip Hinge.
Keep your spine straight. You can do this by tucking your chin or think of holding an apple between your chin and your chest. You want a nice straight line from your neck to your low back
Keep your weight back. You can do this by reaching back with your bum. It can feel awkward at first but there are many tricks to help. Try practicing a foot or so away from a wall, as you hinge, try reaching back with your bum, see if you can make contact with your bum to the wall.
Engage your lats! Don’t let your arms go limp in a Hip Hinge, actively engage your back and lats by pulling your shoulder blades together. Your arms matter too!
If you follow these helpful tips, you should feel your lats, hamstrings, glutes, and core targeted during your Hip Hinge.
If you have any other questions regarding the above exercises or specific questions pertaining to your individual technique, come by the clinic to chat with one of our knowledgeable physiotherapists. You can book an appointment online by clicking here, or by phone at 604-553-1203. We hope to see you soon!