3 years ago

What To Do After Back Surgery

You hear it all the time… you’re just twisting and/or lifting something simple, maybe the laundry basket, maybe just your laptop, and OUCH: your back goes out.  In the case of my client Peter, while picking something up, he actually ruptured a disk. Fragments of his disk entered into the spinal column causing extreme nerve pain. Life as he knew it, was suddenly different.

In this case, Peter had no other option than to have back surgery to remove the fragments in his spinal column.

Peter came to me 3 months post-surgery based on the recommendation of his neurosurgeon and his wife (a longtime client).  I think Peter was more scared of his wife than the doctor.

It’s rare that a surgeon will recommend strength training over physical therapy, but in this case he did.  Peter came to me having barely ever exercised in his life. He wasn’t super excited about the whole thing, but he came with a mental commitment that he was going to give it a try.  That’s all he needed.

We started slow, it went something like this:   First, let’s just stretch.  Now, let’s find your missing muscles (the glutes). Ok they are not really missing, but they are sleeping.  Let’s wake them up Peter.  Gently. “Go home and do these everyday” I told him, sending him home with his customized routine. Peter did it.  He read every morsel of the document I gave him and made a commitment to his routine.

In the beginning Peter came into the studio once a week, then once every other week, then once every 3 weeks.  Each week we would review his routine.  He would ask questions: “Why does this leg feel tighter than the other one?” and “How long should I hold this for?” and “Is this a good progression for me to get stronger?”  Peter was an excellent at asking good questions.

One day his wife lifted up his shirt and said “Check it out, he has a butt now!  It’s so cute!”  Despite the TMI, I smiled ear to ear.  Yes, he finally has glutes and knows how to use them.

I got Peter to record a quick video telling us his results.  He’s a funny guy… check it out here.

All you need is a posture routine, a floor, a mat, a wife who loves to compliment your glutes (ok that’s optional) and a will to wake up those sleeping muscles.

3 years ago

Breathe, So I Don’t Have To Do CPR on You…

Last week we talked about the TVA, the ever important muscle that wraps around your waist and supports your spine.  Learning to engage the TVA: easy.  Learning to engage the TVA and breathe at the same time: not so easy.  Many clients who embark on using their TVA the first time feel lightheaded from the inability to get enough air in.   I get concerned I’m going to have to use my CPR skills for the first time!

First, let’s talk about why it’s important to breathe (other than the obvious fact that you will pass out if you don’t). Here is a list of the myriad of benefits of PROPER breathing:

  • Strengthens postural muscles
  • Improves circulation
  • Increased energy levels
  • Improved digestion
  • Brighter skin tone
  • Makes you look slimmer (I’ll explain this- keep reading!)

There are many muscles that aid in respiration.  The most important respiration muscles are the diaphragm, which sits in the bottom of the ribcage, and the intercostals, which lay between each rib. Some secondary muscles are in the neck region, such as the

Angry Neck!

sternocleidomastoid and the scalenes. When we lose the ability to breathe properly using the primary muscles, then we tend to overuse the secondary muscles in the neck.  What does this cause?  You got it… an ANGRY neck and lots of pain!

When we inhale the Diaphragm contracts and moves downward, this makes room for the lungs to expand.  The intercostals also contract and expand to move the ribs out and up.  When you exhale the diaphragm relaxes and moves up, and the intercostals also relax to shrink the ribs.  With this expansion and contraction, it’s easy to also let go of the TVA and let the stomach expand and contract.  However what happens when you need the TVA to help you with  Breathing Diagram FINALa particular movement (like picking up a box) and you happen to be inhaling at the time?

It’s important to learn how to breathe properly, engaging these important muscles, and contracting the TVA simultaneously.  It just takes a little practice and focus.   Since practice makes perfect, let me introduce you to an exercise I call “ribcage breathing”.  It took me a while to master this, but if done every day this exercise can get you breathing better in no time.

Sit facing a mirror and place your hands on each bottom rib.  Look in the mirror and pull your stomach in towards the spine (get rid of that pooch!).  Now inhale and attempt to place the air into where your hands are.  Watch your stomach and make sure it doesn’t pooch TOO MUCH.  It will move.  But you are looking to avoid major belly bulge while you do this.  Now, as you exhale, think about pushing your ribs closer together.  Actually use your hands to move the rRibcage Breathingibs a bit so you can learn to feel the movement on the inside of your body. Continue to breathe like this as your stare at your stomach and talk to it.  Yes, I said talk to your stomach…and tell it to move less, and tell your ribs expand more.  Remember: the brain controls the body.

I will warn you, this will take time and practice.  Ribcage breathing did not come easy to me.  I was terribly confused by it in the beginning, but then one day I was demonstrating to a client and noticed… BOOM!  I was expanding my ribcage.  In fact, once I learned to breathe, my BRA SIZE went up!  I’m referring to the ribcage strap number part, not the cup size of course (I wish I had the magical non surgical solution to that one).  You wondered how breathing properly can help you look slimmer: when your ribs expand a bit, the stomach area looks smaller.  The shoulder/rib/waist/hip ratio is more pronounced.

Now wait. You’ve taken a yoga class before, and at the end of the class your instructor told you to breathe into your belly, and to let it expand and collapse.  Yes, this kind of breathing I call “belly breathing”, and it is WONDERFUL for meditation.  Honestly, you can get a far greater volume of air into your lungs when you do belly breathing – it allows you to truly inhale without having to think about contracting anything.  It’s freeing, it’s liberating, and you feel like you can float on a cloud when you breathe like this.  But when you are lifting, or moving, or walking, or running, there is a need for your TVA to be involved.  It is the power and center of your body.  Ribcage breathing is going to help bring that power back to your center.

Finally, which orifice should you breathe with while exercising? Your yogi will tell you to inhale and exhale through the nose.  I won’t object to that.  But the years of Pilates practice have trained me to inhale through the nose, and exhale through the mouth.  When I exhale with a “ha” sound, I am able to feel my TVA contract more and makes me more aware of the muscle.  In fact if you do multiple “ha’s” it really helps to build awareness to your core.  Try it…

Inhale gently through the nose expanding into the ribs,

Exhale and make the sounds “ha, ha, ha, ha, ha” quickly in succession.

Feel your TVA contract? BOOM!  You did it.  Thank goodness, now I hope I don’t have to do any CPR anytime soon!

3 years ago

The CORE Exercise You’ve Probably Never Seen

There are many ways to work the core, and today marks the first in many emails of my favorite core exercises.  Do you have a pillow and a wall?  That’s all you need today. No fancy equipment necessary.

The transverse abdominal muscle (aka the TVA) is the first place to start when looking to strengthen the core.  It wraps around the midsection of the body and protects the spine as if it is a weight belt. It sits UNDER the rectus abdominis muscles which is usually referred to as the “6-pack” muscle.  Have you ever seen people in the gym with a weight belt on?  When I do… I CRINGE. We humans have an internal weight belt (the TVA!), one that many people have forgotten how to use because they sit all day long.  Therefore if you are a normal human being, you do not need a weight belt; by wearing it, you are allowing your own internWeigthlifting Dudeal weight belt to get weaker.

Now there are guys like this who lift weights like this (ie bodybuilders)… I would give him a pass and let him wear some extra support.  His face is telling us his internal weight belt may not be

I digress.  The point is, learning to strengthen your TVA is critical to building a strong base of support for your spine.  What does this have to do with my posture?  EVERYTHING.  Building a strong internal core will help you maintain good posture, specifically when it comes to your pelvis.

In a Pilates class, the instructor might say “pull your belly in towards your spine” or “engage your abs”. Often times, this IMPORTANT part of the Pilates exercise is not enforced or corrected because the exercise is just too darn challenging to even think about the details of the movement. Clients may be doing bicycles crunches and whipping quickly through them, but there stomach is bulging and their TVA is not engaged. This is how you could be doing ab work, but not really strengthening the root core muscles and instead only focusing on the superficial muscles.

Check out the difference in these two pics below.  On the top, my stomach is “pooching” (TVA not engaged) on the bottom, I finally have my stomach pulled in (TVA engaged). 53C3C190-1A57-43F1-9FEF-764746E33D17It should feel like you have to zip up a super tight pair of pants and have to suck in your stomach to do so.

The following core exercise is GREAT for strengthening the TVA, and also involves the hip flexors. The hip flexors are a complicated muscle group, and it’s important to make sure the hip flexors are both strong, and flexible.  This exercise will help work on the coordination of these two muscle groups working simultaneously.
Lie face up with the knees bent and the feet flat on a wall.  Make sure that the knee joint is at a 90 degree angles and that the shins are parallel to the floor.   Make sure that the hips are directly below the knees.

Now this is CRITICAL: make sure you have your pelvis in neutral position, which means there should a small space between the lower back and the floor.  The low back should NOT imprinted, or pushed down into the floor.  Imagine if you have a mini grape in the small of your back… don’t squish it!  This is super important because if you are not in neutral, other muscles will take over and it will lessen the effect of the exercise.

Next, place a pillow or small ball between the knees and squeeze gently on the ball.  This is not to break the pillow or the ball, it’s a gentle squeeze at about 50% capacity of your strength. Hold this position for about a minute and tell your TVA muscle to pull your stomach in, and your hip flexors in the crease of your hips begin to activate.File_000

Now pull your feet off the wall and maintain the position you started with, holding for 3 seconds.  Do NOT let your belly POOCH here!  This is the moment when you are building the TVA strength and awareness.

Place the feet back on the wall and hold for 3 seconds.  Go back and forth between pulling your feet off the wall and placing them back on the wall for 10 to 15 repetitions.

Start doing this exercise daily to feel a difference in your internal weight belt.  Want some more exercises to do at home?  Hop on over to the FACEBOOK page and post a picture of you doing this exercise at home.  I’ll be choosing one person to receive a SKYPE call with me to create a custom home routine.

Stay tuned for next week’s post where we talk about how to BREATHE when doing this (and any core) exercise.  Holding your breath is not an option; your roommate/spouse/cat will be unhappy that they will have to call 911 when you pass out!

PS.  Do me a favor, please share this blog with anyone you think has a weak TVA!