Chronic Pain, Wellness

FYI: Myofascial Cupping 101

Myofascial cupping is a therapeutic technique derived from ancient chinese therapeutics used thousands of years ago.

It also resembles someone post octopus attack, and has been spotted (no pun intended) on many high level athletes. Similarly to how Kinesiotape (we’ll discuss this next time!) became mainstream after it was seen on a few olympic athletes, cupping has become increasingly popular in the therapeutics realm.

How does it work?

Cupping works in a “negative pressure” style. When we think of most therapeutic treatments or modalities, the goal is generally to increase (or decrease) circulation, change tissue temperature, use friction, pressure, or tissue movement to do the first two things, realign soft tissues, and change the nervous system’s perception of an area. One of the most common modalities, massage, works in a positive pressure style. That being, the practitioner is applying pressure to the area to increase circulation, temperature, create soft tissue change and affect the brain’s perception of the area.

In cupping, cups are applied with suction to draw the layers of tissue apart, allowing circulation to rise from the bottom up through the different layers of tissues (think muscle, lymphatic vessels, facial tissue and connective tissues). The suction helps to create heat, and is a modality that has been shown to be effective in releasing fascial and tissue tightness, scar tissue, and increasing lymphatic drainage.

As a practitioner, I find that myofasical cupping will get deeper than my hands can when it comes to releasing certain types of tissue trauma and tightness. I use cupping to assist in the treatment of arthritis, all sorts of soft tissue injuries, back pain, and chronic injuries (that broken rib you had years ago that still bugs you, or that ankle that just doesn’t move right, or the knee that you tore a ligament in years ago and still have issues with). I also have body builder clients who love cupping as it relaxes the fascial binding around muscle groups, which allow their muscles to “pop” more. Of course, like all modalities, it comes with some risk. Those with vericose veins should avoid cupping directly over the area, and it should be used with caution (and by an experienced professional) with individuals dealing with an acute stage injury, spinal injuries, and those with hypermobility disorders.

In the clinic I find it extremely beneficial with clients working with arthritic joints. Knees and shoulders specifically seem to respond very well to the addition of myofascial cupping to their rehab plan, and many with back pain often find it helps to calm down the acute levels of pain. Myofascial Cupping can also be used to stimulate acupressure points for a more holistic style of treatment, if the practitioners is trained in the meridians of the body. I have seen it used to treat digestion troubles, menstrual cramping/pain (which is not normal!!!), stress and anxiety, and insomnia. More often then not, the structural release will also help with some of these conditions- as the body is all one big dynamic system. It is important to take a big picture approach when treating any condition, physical or otherwise.

As with any modality- it is a tool to be used in the process of returning someone to being able to move without pain- and a stepping stone on the pain to rehabilitative and preventative movement and lifestyle practices. It should not be used as a bandaid or a quick fix for pain/dysfunction.

Clients are often put off by the circular bruise like marks cupping leaves, but majority of the time those marks are not painful nor are they technically bruises. Rather they are titled “ecchymosis”, which is basically the technical term for a hickey. Another common misconception is that cupping breaks blood vessels. Cupping does not break blood vessels, in most cases, the marks are left because the circulation is drawn to the surface underneath the circular cup. Rarely are vessels actually damaged or broken. If we look at the ancient chinese style of cupping, some pracitioners still provide “wet cupping” which involves blood letting, as well as hot cupping or fire cupping- in which the practitioner creates suction by heating hte cup with a flame before it is applied. Majority of soft tissue practitioners will use a suction gun to suck the air out of the cup, and wet cupping and fire cupping aren’t as common.

Cupping is an effective modality for a variety of conditions, and from someone in the industry I can tell you that it is worth the hickeys. As always, cupping isn’t a one stop fix. All treatments or modalities should be accompanied by a preventative exercise and wellness program. Before attempting cupping, check in with the practitioner about the risks and where they took their certification.

Athletic Therapy, Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Conditioning, Equestrian, Free Workouts, Motor Learning, strength training, Weight Loss, Wellness

At your age…

Here’s a fun tidbit I hear OFTEN second hand from clients after their friends/family/peers find out what their training and therapy plans consist of…

“At your age, should you really be lifting weights?”

“Isn’t weight training dangerous for your joints? Does that really help you feel better?”

“Aren’t you worried about getting injured again?”

“I heard that weight training is bad for you- doesn’t it cause arthritis”

First off.. I’m honestly not sure where people are finding that last bit of information from, at this point in our history. Secondly I’m also endlessly grateful that I’ve stopped frequently hearing that weight training will make women bulky- at last that myth has been put out of it’s misery. Third off- weight training is highly effective for arthritis rehabilitation and management- WHEN IT IS DONE CORRECTLY. The only time it’s going to cause arthritis is if you don’t do it in good form. This is why having the guidance of a trained professional is imperative when starting any new program. At the very least get a movement assessment and see where you need to work!

Would I tell someone of ANY age to just go and start lifting weights (no matter how much)? NOPE.

Do I prescribe and coach programs for ALL ages (yes, all the way up to 90-somethings- seriously) that involve various amounts of loaded movements, functional movements, dynamic movements, and stability training? You bet I do!

Here’s the neat things about the body.. it works on an adaptation based system. Which means- invariably- to IMPROVE our systems we have to STRESS our systems.

Here’s the feedback I get from my dedicated clients:

“I don’t wake up at 3am anymore with back pain”

“I sleep through the night and don’t wake up stiff in the mornings anymore”

“I don’t get tired during the day”

“My joints aren’t bugging me as much since I started training”

“I’m making healthier choices elsewhere in my life since starting this training routine.”

“I FEEL GOOD”

When we apply GOOD, healthy stress to our system- things change for the better. We also develop a higher tolerance for negative stressors, which means we function just overall more kick ass.

It no longer new information that the mind and the body are one coordinating unit.

Exercise, movement- of any kind- is the BEST and most EFFECTIVE medicine. The stats support it. Check these out.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, if we were to decrease the number of inactive Canadians by even 10%, we’d see a 30% reduction in all-cause mortality and major savings in health care. It is in fact estimated that more than $2.4 billion, or 3.7 per cent of all healthcare costs, were attributed to the direct cost of treating illness and disease due to physical inactivity1. The financial impact of poor health amounts to a loss of more than $4.3 billion to the Canadian economy, and the negative repercussions of inactivity cost the healthcare system $89 billion per year in Canada2. According to several studies, properly structured and supported exercise program, designed and delivered by a kinesiologist can, among other benefits:

  • Reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease by 40%;
  • Reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes by 50% and be twice as effective as standard insulin in treating the condition;
  • Help the function of muscles for people affected by Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis;
  • Decrease depression as effectively as pharmacological or behavioural therapy;5
  • Reduce the risk of stroke by 27%;
  • Reduce the risk of colon cancer by 60%;
  • Reduce mortality and risk of recurrent cancer by 50%;

(Based on year 2009. Jansen et al., 2012 2 Based on year 2013. 3 Cardiorespiratory fitness is an independent predictor of hypertension incidence among initially normotensive healthy women.
Barlow CE et al. Am J Epidemiol 2006; 163:142-50. 4 Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. DPP Research Group. New England Journal of Medicine 2002; 346:393-403. 5 Exercise treatment for depression: efficacy and dose response.
Dunn A et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2005. 6 Physical activity and colon cancer: confounding or interaction? Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
June 2002 – Volume 34 – Issue 6 – pp 913-919)

Weight training- when done intelligently for each individual- is just as effective as other types of exercise in improving health. It has it’s own set of extra benefits and of course risk factors. Just like that Tylenol you like to pop for your back pain.

There is no one way to utilize the benefits of movement. Some people to pick things up and put them down.. others like to yoga.. some like to do step classes, and others just like to go for regular walks and stretch. IT’S ALL GOOD.

The biggest emphasis I am trying to make is that adding weight to your routine when you’re doing it correctly for YOUR SYSTEM (this is where the help of a trained professional often comes in), you’re looking at more resilience throughout your body and mind.

Don’t knock it til you try it 😉

(With the correct prescription and educated advice, of course!)

Athletic Therapy, Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Conditioning, Equestrian, Motor Learning, Posture, Weight Loss, Wellness

If it ain’t broke.. The right way to move

Is there a correct way to move?

This is a question that has plagued therapists, trainers, and clients since the age of time.

Actually.. probably not that long.

The evolution of health and movement is one to be admired- in that, we’ve gone from quadruped beings, to walking, running, bipedal masterpieces, to what we are now.

We’re at an interesting point in movement science. We’ve somewhat regressed in our movement ability. While yes, we are still bipedal, upright beings- we no longer spend much of our time moving around in a variety of ways.

Now we move from point a-b-c-d in condensed timeframes, spending majority of our time between 3 positions (or variations of..): standing, seated, and laying down.

The author of Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari, points out that the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions not only may have ended our movement ability, but also may have birthed the beginnings of the various chronic illnesses and pain that affects us today.

Modern Day practitioners have been preaching alignment for decades already, and certainly our posture and ability to move has a huge impact on our overall wellbeing.. but is there such a thing as the “perfect” posture or alignment? Is there one optimal way to move?

The truth is yes, but also.. no.

There is certainly a most efficient way to move- in that, we will put minimal stressors on our structure and expend the least amount of energy to create that movement. There is a general textbook answer to this optimal alignment.

As an aside- it’s common to hear practitioners saying that one of your legs is longer then the other, or your pelvis is out of alignment.. when often the truth is some asymmetries are NORMAL to a certain degree.

We all have one shoulder that will be slightly depressed based on our hand dominance. We all have slight differences in how our rib cage sits, because of our anatomy (the left side has less lung in it to account for the heart- causing a shift between left and right), and where the rib cage goes the hips follow. Our body works in a chain like system- one link compensates for the next.. and while many compensations cause other problems, not all asymmetries are bad or abnormal. This will also change based on the mental health and perception an individual holds on pain, stress, and their systemic health. The debates on these fuel many research articles and books already. Stay tuned for more discussion on those topics and how movement relates to them.

When it really comes down to it, our movement is as unique as we are- and what is the best way to move for one person may not always mirror the best way to move for another person. We’re designed to be adaptable beings, and our postures should be just as adaptable.

Wait.. haven’t you been preaching posture and biomechanics your whole career?

Yes.. and while there may be differences across our spectrum of movement- majority of us inherit similar postural dysfunctions.. it’s very rare to find someone who moves well, even though there is no set checklist for what exactly moving well means.

Moving poorly in relation to your body can create a vicious cycle of degeneration, causing pain, causing less movement, causing more negative health outcomes. You can get enough movement, but if you don’t move well- you can actually do harm to your body which results in less movement.

For that reason *usually the first step with clients is to assess and correct how they move. From there we build a foundation of efficient movement, and build their movement habits on top of that foundation.

While I can’t say there is one right way to move, I can say that it is very rare to find someone with obviously inefficient movement without some sort of history of pain. The thing about pain is that it may not even present as physical pain.. it may be present in the form of gastrointestinal issues, or undue mental states. Our structure represents our internal framework too- and that can be a chicken or the egg scenario.

Many movement based practitioners will offer within their consult with you a movement screen. If you’re looking for an assist with your health, this is one of the things you should look to your professional to do. Cookie-cutter exercise programs, apps, and group fitness classes are convenient and cost effective- but the grain of salt there is if you get injured or develop pain because you’re movement wasn’t properly screened before starting a program- they cost you more in the long term.

We routinely see clients at their wits end come into our care. They’ve tried everything and nothing works- they are even hesitant to try anything else. They can’t move enough because of pain, or- they’ve never been taught healthy habits around their lifestyle (including movement and nutritional practices). This is what plagues our healthcare system today, and the message I keep putting out there to clients and peers is that none of this is a difficult fix- it just requires a shift from expecting a quick, cheap fix, to some quality time spent investing in our own health and getting educated guidance.

If you have questions about your movement today- send us an email and we’d be happy to help. Consults are always free.

Athletic Therapy, Chronic Pain, Wellness

5 Reasons Why Integrative Movement is Different

1. Accessibility

We pride ourselves in providing a simple, affordable solution to health and lifestyle services. We also offer services out of four satellite locations covering South Winnipeg, the Pembina Valley, Charleswood, and Selkirk region. All our locations are partnerships with other likeminded health facilities. From full functioning gyms to yoga studios – we do the groundwork to develop a health focused community feel wherever we go. We also offer online services and training for those at a distance or on a budget! 

2. Investment

How many of us have bought into a health program, rehab, or gym membership only to under utilize it and later feel like we’ve just wasted the money? Our job is to support you in whatever your health goals require. Whether it’s developing healthy habits in the gym or at home, recovering from an injury, or pushing yourself to a new level of health and fitness, we work hard to provide highly skilled and knowledgable support. As a bonus, new members at our Selkirk and Charleswood locations automatically get 6 weeks of coaching alongside their memberships. No longer will you be stuck not knowing what to do with your gym membership! Your health is an investment, and we believe that navigating those investments is best with accessible, individualized support.

3. Individuality

It’s all about YOU- At IM we are different then your average rehabilitation facility or personal training sales pitch. We take the time to figure out what makes you tick. From consult to regular sessions, you can expect to spend 45min-1hr with us in either dedicated one on one therapy, consult, or training sessions or in a small group of likeminded individuals working at a common goal. Keeping things personal allows us to make sure you’re getting all the resources YOU need to reach your full health potential.

4. Diverse Experience

We are a team of Kinesiologists and Athletic Therapists with years of education and a growing experience base. Each of us enters our practice with our own personalities, history, and interests. For that reason, we pride ourselves in working as a team to meet our clients where they are at- and when appropriate work as a team with other professionals you deem valuable to your healthcare team.

5. We get it.

Life happens. Injuries are tough. Pain messes with our heads. Taking the steps towards lifestyle change seems impossible some days. We have been there, and we understand. Even on the days where you think it’s never going to change, the pain will never leave, or you’ll never get your old energy back.. we’ve got you. We won’t give up even when you don’t know where you stand. As the therapists and coaches we are, we hold out hope even when all hope seems lost. We’re all in the same boat, us humans, and we approach your care on your side every single day.

Want to learn more about how we can fit seamlessly into your journey towards optimal movement and health? Book your FREE consult here or drop by any of our locations to learn more. Looking forward to meeting you!

Athletic Therapy, Chronic Pain, Wellness

5 Reasons Why Integrative Movement is Different

1. Accessibility

We pride ourselves in providing a simple, affordable solution to health and lifestyle services. We also offer services out of four satellite locations covering South Winnipeg, the Pembina Valley, Charleswood, and Selkirk region. All our locations are partnerships with other likeminded health facilities. From full functioning gyms to yoga studios – we do the groundwork to develop a health focused community feel wherever we go.

2. Investment

How many of us have bought into a health program, rehab, or gym membership only to under utilize it and later feel like we’ve just wasted the money? Our job is to support you in whatever your health goals require. Whether it’s developing healthy habits in the gym or at home, recovering from an injury, or pushing yourself to a new level of health and fitness, we work hard to provide highly skilled and knowledgable support. As a bonus, new members at our Selkirk and Charleswood locations automatically get 6 weeks of coaching alongside their memberships. No longer will you be stuck not knowing what to do with your gym membership! Your health is an investment, and we believe that navigating those investments is best with accessible, individualized support.

3. Individuality

It’s all about YOU- At IM we are different then your average rehabilitation facility or personal training sales pitch. We take the time to figure out what makes you tick. From consult to regular sessions, you can expect to spend 45min-1hr with us in either dedicated one on one therapy, consult, or training sessions or in a small group of likeminded individuals working at a common goal. Keeping things personal allows us to make sure you’re getting all the resources YOU need to reach your full health potential.

4. Diverse Experience

We are a team of Kinesiologists and Athletic Therapists with years of education and a growing experience base. Each of us enters our practice with our own personalities, history, and interests. For that reason, we pride ourselves in working as a team to meet our clients where they are at- and when appropriate work as a team with other professionals you deem valuable to your healthcare team.

5. We get it.

Life happens. Injuries are tough. Pain messes with our heads. Taking the steps towards lifestyle change seems impossible some days. We have been there, and we understand. Even on the days where you think it’s never going to change, the pain will never leave, or you’ll never get your old energy back.. we’ve got you. We won’t give up even when you don’t know where you stand. As the therapists and coaches we are, we hold out hope even when all hope seems lost. We’re all in the same boat, us humans, and we approach your care on your side every single day.

Want to learn more about how we can fit seamlessly into your journey towards optimal movement and health? Book your FREE consult here or drop by any of our locations to learn more. Looking forward to meeting you!

Athletic Therapy, Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Conditioning, Equestrian, Motor Learning, Posture, Wellness

Inhale | Exhale 

It’s all going to be okay… Assuming you’re breathing right! 
Just kidding.. It’ll be okay regardless. However, the way we breathe dramatically influences our total body function and health. Breathing improperly will not only cause stiffness in the upper back, shoulders, hips, and neck, it can also decrease energy levels. The most common manifestation I see of poor breathing mechanics is neck pain and headaches. Most of us like to breathe with the muscles in the upper part of our chest and neck (instead of our diaphragm). This is especially true for those of us who experience increased levels of stress- as emotions will change how we breathe as well. Since most of us now live in a society that breeds high stress and emotion a lot of the time, it’s not surprising the most of us have forgotten how to breathe. 
If we experience stiffening in our ribcage, we will by nature also experience a tightening in our neck and hips. Where the ribs go, the hips go.. And vice versa. So now we have stiff ribs, hips, and a neck that is poorly set up to absorb the force of our heavy heads bouncing around. 
Try this. Lay on your back with your feet resting on a stool or chair (knees and hips should be approx at 90deg). Place your hands on either side of your rib cage. Take a deep breath in, and out. Did you feel your lower rib cage expand to the sides (into your hands)? No? You’re probably breathing into your upper chest and neck, then. One more time, do the same thing but move one hand to the tissue just above your collarbone. Did you feel that tissue expand with your inhale? Then you’re definitely doing it wrong. Take your hands back to your side rib cage. Now apply light pressure on either side (press in with hands) and take an inhale, focusing on pushing your hands out. Repeat this at least 10 deep breaths, also making sure to exhale entirely each time. Welcome to the wonderful world of diaphragm breathing! 
Practicing that movement multiple times a day is the first step in getting your breathing back on track. You should notice a marked difference in how your neck and upper back feel, maybe even improved energy levels and mood! Make sure when you do take time to practice this you don’t have other distractions. It takes a lot of focus to get this right! 

Biomechanics, Chronic Pain, Equestrian, Free Workouts, Motor Learning, Posture

The One- Say Happy Valentine’s Day to Your Body.

Who says V-Day has to be about your significant other? Make it about you! You only get one body. What are you doing to appreciate it?

Before you hunker down for your chocolate binge and netflix (it’s allowed, I’ll be doing it too), make sure you do a little something for your one and only body. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, our body appreciates the simple things. Movement. Total body movement. We don’t move much anymore. A great quote from Katy Bowman’s book Alignment Matters sums this fact up:

“Our culture’s use of chairs and toilets, our beliefs in what our posture means to others, and even our clothing (rigid shoes, narrow skirts for women, etc) have all resulted in self-induced joint rigidity. All the movements you have never done are movements that would have toned muscle, kept connective tissues moist and supple, and kept blood oxygen flowing evenly to all areas of the body. Instead, we have huge chunks of unused muscles, bones scraping together at the joints and increasing friction (causing osteoarthritis), and we are constantly medicating to make living possible in our physical agony.”

Scary, right? But there’s a silver lining- all of that is COMPLETELY CHANGEABLE. All you have to do is wrap your head around moving more. Change that little voice that says “we’re tired today, it’s okay to just sit here and relax” and reframe it into “I’m going to go for a nice relaxing walk after each meal, to clear my head and move my body”. I guarantee you’ll feel much better!

How many people do you know who use restrictions in their body as an excuse? I’ve even had people tell me their trainers avoid their areas of pain in their programs, simply because that area causes them restrictions. That’s a sure way to cause long term issues, in my mind. For example. You don’t do squats, lunges, or high impact cardio because your knees hurt. So, instead of figuring out WHY your knees hurt (probably and issue in your hips and core, and/or your posture, gait, and lifestyle habits).. you just avoid them completely. Long term effect? Decreased bone density, higher risk of osteoarthritis, muscle imbalances, decreased movement ability- chronic pain.. So while it’s great you’re working with a trainer, it might not do you much in the long term. If you have a restriction- or a bad attitude- there is a way to correct them and move on. Don’t get stuck with what you have!

Sitting for long periods is bad. So is over exercising or staying in any one position for a long period. It’s all about constant change. We’ll all have to sit for long periods here and there.. it’s the nature of the world we live in.. but we can adjust how we’re sitting so we’re not always stuck in one spot. Take stretch breaks, get up every 20-30min and go for a walk around wherever, don’t sit cross-legged all the time. Change it up.. constantly!

So, in the light of that lecture.. here’s one of my favourite strength exercises for the WHOLE BODY. And guess what, it doesn’t require any equipment except for you and the floor/ground. It also requires little time, and little space. Feel your excuses narrowing? Good.

All you need is a floor, with enough clear space that you could lie on your back and not hit anything, and a can-do attitude. If you have a can’t-do attitude, I’m not sure why you’re reading this post- go be unhealthy somewhere else and come back when you’re ready to adjust your lifestyle.

This exercise involves moving your own body-weight and doing the most functional of tasks: lowering yourself to the ground, and then lifting yourself back up. This is a task that everyone, no matter your size or age, should be able to do. It’s imperative to our health. I know 90yr olds that can still do this. You have no excuses to let this ability falter!

So. Get to the point. I know.

I commonly call this the “inchworm” exercise, but I’ll let you create your own name for it if you want.

It’s pretty simple, really. Start by standing up (in a good posture, I hope), then bend over from the hips, and knees, touching your hands to the ground. From here, walk your hands out until you’re in a plank position (you can drop to your knees here if needed), and then lower yourself to the ground (preferably in a push-up style and not a face plant style). Here, take a second and do a back extension or a cobra pose, just cause it feels nice. Then lower yourself back to the ground, push-up back into your plank and reverse the whole process… walking yourself back up to standing. Here’s a super accurate stick-figure drawing:

I know. I’m the next Van Gogh.
Repeat this anywhere from 5-10 times and you’ve got yourself a total body workout with no huge time commitment and no equipment necessary. When you’re ready for an extra challenge.. start on one leg and keep one leg elevated through the entire movement! Or start adding more push-ups.

You can do this anywhere! The office, the kitchen, the living room, your mom’s house, in front of the couch, in the gym, outside, at the barn… ANYWHERE! So.. do it. If you have a good reason not to, please share in the comments below 😉

Chronic Pain, Conditioning, Free Workouts, Motor Learning, Posture

A Plank a Day…

A plank a day keeps the doctor away!

Planks are probably one of my favourite exercises. Not only to they work our core, they can teach us how to move with an active, stable core. Not to mention they also are great for our shoulders, hips, legs, and posture.

Another great thing about them? You can pretty much do them anywhere, anytime.

In honour of this fantastic exercise, here are my top 10 favourite variations. Add in at least one a day and see what happens!

 

  1. Plank Step-Outs– These no only work the core, but they work in the hip stabilizers as well. Super important for postural stability, no matter what activity you enjoy best! Important things to remember, don’t let the hips move as you step each leg out. Activate the core and only move the legs!
  2. Chatarunga Planks/Sun Salutations– A HUGE favourite of mine! With variations to make this accessible to everyone, no matter your fitness level, these are an EXCELLENT way to start the day, or wind down. They incorporate full body movement, dynamic stability, arm strength, shoulder and core activation.. you name it, you’ll find it in your chatarunga. I like to start my days with a few of these!
  3. Side Plank w/Dips – Excellent for the side-body and hips. Feel the burn with these ones!
  4. Single Leg Plank Walk-Outs– If you’ve ever trained with me, you’ll know I like to throw these in just when you think I’m going to have mercy. Practice your balance, hip hinging, and overall stability with these walk-outs!
  5. Three-Legged Dog to Plank Crunch– Another total body burn. Feel your shoulders work as you transition in and out of down dog, and feel your core work as you crunch your leg into your arm during the plank phase. My closet yogi comes out again here!
  6. Pike Plank– Using a exercise ball, OR a towel under your feet on a hardwood floor, draw your feet up into a pike. This will challenge your upper body stability, core stability, and hips! If you’re not up the the full version yet, use a ball and draw it in and out with your feet, bending at the knees vs. the hips!
  7. Shoulder Dust Off Planks– Simple enough, right? Dust those shoulders off but keep those hips still!
  8. Renegade Rows– The hips stay still rule applies here too, as you row with whatever weight suits you. While the arms work- the core has to work too to ensure the rest of the body stays stable. Adjust your feet wide to aide in this.
  9. Side Plank w/ Reverse Flies– Core and arms all in one! Establish your side-plank and then add in the arm movement!
  10. Rotary Plank– a favourite for teaching core activation! There’s a few important progressions to do until you know how to control your stability to make sure you don’t use your hips as momentum for the full movement. Starting people on the wall is usually my go to, but this is a great way to progress as well! This one takes lots of practice!!

So.. what’s your favourite way to get your plank in??

 

 

 

 

 

Athletic Therapy, Biomechanics, Equestrian, Motor Learning, Posture

Fixing the Lower Leg Slide

Do you find that your lower leg is a constant issue? Keeping that leg a mixture of functional, strong and supportive as well as not letting it get stiff, slip back or forward can be tough if you don’t have the right tools. I see plenty of riders who thing their lower leg is perfect, only to look at a photo of them over a fence, or during a ride and find it’s slipped behind them, or watch a video of them posting and see that it is wiggling up and down with their seat in an attempt encourage their horse forward.

It’s not an uncommon issue, but it does take some outside thinking to fix.As I discussed in a previous article, problems with the lower leg can come from weak hip stabilizers. The leg, although made up of many parts, acts to some extent as a whole when it comes to our position. If our hips aren’t stabilizing correctly, it’s going to be pretty hard to keep the leg functional underneath us. Symptoms of weak hip stabilizers can include low back pain, poor balance, knee pain, calf pain and ankle pain as well as an inability to keep the leg strong or underneath you during a ride. Below is a diagram of where the gluteus medius sits, one of the major players in pelvic stabilization. Other big players are the core musculature, and quadratus lumborum which sits in the low back attaching from the pelvis to the ribs.

GM

Another piece to this problem is the foot’s position in the stirrup. An often overlooked factor, if the foot isn’t balanced and centred the alignment all the way up to the hips  will be off.. which will interfere with how the hips function, and therefore the rest of the leg and even torso.

The foot in the stirrup should be similar to how we stand. When we stand, there are three points on the foot that should be the main points of contact. The ball of the foot, the base of the pinky toe, and the heel. If you stand with more weight to the outer or inner edges, or more to front or back of your foot- you have some work to to. An easy way to test this is to stand on one foot and see how you shift your weight in the foot. Feeling for those three points of contact equally is the first step.

In the stirrup we only have two points of contact with the foot- the ball and the pinky toe’s base. Next time your in the saddle, note if your foot is equally balanced or if it is shifted more to one edge. If it is shifted, practice focusing on getting the balance equal between both feet and see how that effects your lower leg’s ability to work.

The position of the foot plays a minor roll to the hip’s stability when it comes to the lower leg. The hip itself and our ability to balance and stabilize the body is the biggest part. The muscles that help with this are often over looked in training programs, and subsequently forgotten about by our brain, and not used as they should be. It sometimes takes an outside eye, and assistance retraining how to move before it all clicks into place.. but here are a few of my favourite exercises that combine balancing the foot and the hip to better the lower leg.

Side Plank/Bridge:

– Start from your knees moving from the hips, as shown in the video. Once you feel strong holding from the knees.. you can progress to a full side plank position.. having the feet wide is often more comfortable then stacking the feet. Try both out and see which is best for you!

These exercises should not cause pain anywhere, and you should be checking for proper alignment and core activation the entire time! There is many progressions to both those exercises, but master the basics first and then move up. Remember, perfect practice makes perfect!

The next is the Flamingo or Single Leg Deadlift. Basically anything single leg is going to be awesome for you, as it really targets our balance (obvi) but also gets us using the foot correctly (if we focus on it) and works the hip stabilizers. This one in particular is my all time favourite for the hips, and everthing lower body.

Make sure the body stays in one straight line, as in the second picture.. the shoulders must stay active as well as to not let the posture fail. Move continuously on one leg in and out of the posture, feeling the standing leg work- especially in the hips. Make sure the leg in the air is active too- push the heel down and back as if you were standing in your stirrup on that side.. this will help keep the hips even. Doing 10 on each side, x3 is excellent! I often have my riders work on this exercise off the horse, and then feel for the same activity once their are on the horse as well (visualizing the leg being this active really helps kick the musculature into action). Here’s a video of a similar exercise. The technique remains the same between the two. Maintain a strong posture, keep hips level and toward the ground, use the core to help balance, and keep everything active!

flamingo-move

Lastly, reverse lunges to a step up..

ball-step-up

Here we start with the reverse lunge. Stepping backwards and bending, then swinging the back leg up as we stand to step up to a small box or bench (or bale) to stand straight, bringing the other leg up to the high knee position as shown. Master your reverse lunge first by just doing a few week of step backs and lunging.. this is often a big enough challenge balance wise. Watch the hips don’t sway, and your maintaining equal contact between the three points of your front foot. From here progress to the reverse lunge plus a high knee afterwards (no step-up yet). After you feel confident at that movement, add the step up. Be warned, it takes a lot of concentration!!

Try those out by adding them on their own into your day, or adding them to your regular work out. Looking for some guidance in your exercise and health? My membership options may be just what your looking for. Check out my membership page for more.. at offers as low as $10 for your first month.. what are you waiting for? Really?

As always, if you have questions about your riding or these exercises specifically.. shoot me and email at katmahtraining@gmail.com!

 

 

Conditioning, Equestrian

No Stirrups November: Some Thoughts and Strategies

Don’t get me wrong… I’m 100% for feeling the burn and making those riding muscles work without the aid of those things we put our feet in. NSN1I just have a few things I need to get out about the entire month dedicated to riding without stirrups.

As any rider who came up through a lesson program likely has experienced, No Stirrup November is a time where either someone suggests politely to you to ride withouts stirrups as much as you can, or (more often) someone literally steals your stirrups and you spend a month without them, hacking, in lessons, jumping.. you name it, you’re stirrupless.

In my professional opinion, I believe riding with no stirrups has a great place within the realms of developing position, strength, and function in the tack. Hunter/Jumper/Event riders, we’ve all found ourselves in the middle of a line approaching a huge oxer or in the middle of a combo just having conveniently lost our stirrups at some point, amiright? Having some background in being able to keep your leg and your balance without weight bearing is hugely beneficial.

We know the pros to this. Increased balance, strength, and confidence. These are great pros! But if NSN is done wrong, you may not get the full benefit and actually end up affecting balance, strength, AND confidence.

Yes, there are safety cons to NSN. Falling, muscle soreness/strains, higher chance of injury.. etc. However, that’s not exactly what I want to focus on today.

Too often what I see happen with NSN is an immediate jump into absolutely no stirrups (as in the cases where stirrups mysteriously disappear from saddles and aren’t returned for 4weeks). While, yes this is a sure way to commit… it’s also a sure way to develop bad habits, compensations, and put yourself at risk for newly developed poor equitation come December. Think of it this way.. if someone took away your desk chair and you had no way of modifying the desk height or finding another seating device, so you had to still get down low enough to work at the desk.. Let’s say you’re ambition and you try to maintain a seated position (now squat) position (because we all sit in that nice posture, right?!)… you probably wouldn’t last long, and soon you’d start trying other weird things just to keep functioning. You’d probably start out by hunching or crouching, then maybe try to kneel and crane your neck, then maybe standing in a lopsided posture looking down…

Now think about the last time you rode without stirrups. Were you fluid and efficient with your movements? Or did you immediately lock up your hips, clamp with your legs and knees, and stiffen your arms and the rest of your body in an attempt to maintain your “normal” eq? This is before muscles even got tired!

If the above didn’t happen immediately.. it likely happened as soon as you got fatigued. Which is very normal. My issue with this? Now you’re training bad habits, and strengthening in your position in the wrong ways. Yes, the more the month goes on, of course the stronger you’re going to get. But if you build that strength on top of incorrect equitation.. it’s not really benefitting you. Also, your horse won’t appreciate you bouncing around all stiff and clampy for the first few weeks either. Think of their back and yours!

All this being said.. I’m still in favour of no stirrup training. If it’s done appropriately. Here’s my recommendations for NSN.

Week 1 (3-4x/wk):

  • Regular warm-up with stirrups
  • 1-5 min of no-stirrup work (or as long as you can until you find you begin to lose good equitation and posture.. this could be only 1-2min to start!). All gaits. Trot is obviously going to be the most difficult gait, with walk and canter being a little easier to maintain.
  • 10-15 min regular riding. Do any jumping or more intense work within this time.
  • 1-5 min of no-stirrup work. Focus here on things like sitting trot and transitions to build that core stability. Make sure you’re still letting the hips move, and keeping the legs in an appropriate position and of course maintaining a correct posture!
  • Cool down. Or continue with a regular ride with stirrups.
  • Repeat this every second ride (if you ride every day) or 3-4x/week with days in between.

Week 2 (3-4x/wk): 

  • Reg. warm-up with stirrups.
  • 10-15min regular riding with stirrups.
  • 3 min trot work with out stirrups, posting and sitting, 2 min canter work and transitions from trot to canter no stirrups.
  • 2 min break
  • 3 min trot work with out stirrups, posting and sitting.
  • 1 min break
  • 1 min trot work with out stirrups, OR transitional work (walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to sitting trot, sitting trot to canter, canter to posting, posting to walk.. etc).
  • 1 min break
  • 3-5 min with stirrups holding two-point at trot. Focus placed on leg position and hip elasticity!
  • Cool-down.

Week 3 (3-4x/week): 

  • Reg. warm-up with stirrups
  • 10 min reg. ride with stirrups.
  • 2 min with stirrups holding two-point at trot. Focus placed on leg position and hip elasticity. Trust me you’ll feel the burn in your legs!
  • Jump-work with no stirrups (if you jump), or lateral work or advanced work with no stirrups. Do this only until you feel your position slipping… Take breaks as necessary. If jumping, start at a level you’re comfortable with (obviously). Ideas here could be:
    • small gymnastic exercises or grids or small course work.
  • 1-2 min break.
  • 5 min regular hacking or jump work with stirrups.
  • 5 min hacking with no stirrups, all gaits.
  • Cool-down.

Week 4 (3-4x/wk):

  • Reg. Warm-up with stirrups, including 3-4min two point position work at trot.
  • 5-10 min no stirrups, all gaits.
  • 5 min regular hacking with stirrups.
  • Any jump work or advanced skills with NO stirrups. If you’ve been working on jumps, work towards a full course at a comfortable height for you within this week!
  • 1-2min break.
  • 5-10min no stirrups, all gaits.
  • Cool-down.

Some general rules of thumb for this progression:

  1. The times are a suggestion. If you feel you can do more or can only do less before your position and posture get poor, by all means modify!
  2. The point is to challenge yourself, but not to the point of training a bad position. Be aware!
  3. The two-point position holds will challenge your position in a similar way to not having stirrups. I recommend throwing these in at the beginning and end of every ride you do for 2-5 minutes. Challenge yourself to control your horse with your legs, while keeping good position, and maintaining balance. Use your saddle or horse’s neck for balance IF NEEDED ONLY. This will work legs, core, and overall postural stability.
  4. Perform the above progressions every second ride, or 3-4x/week. On days off from no stirrup work, add in the two-point holds and ride as usual otherwise.

NSN is often viewed as a month to go hard or go home. While I’m all for challenging riders to improve their fitness in the saddle.. it has to be done appropriately and smart. If it’s not then that’s where we end up with injuries, chronic pain, and perpetually fixing bad habits!

If you’re interested in a consult and a more personalized program for your NSN… contact me at katmahtraining@gmail.com

Happy Riding!

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