strength training

Deconstructing the Plank

This week we are going to completely break down another one of our most basic moves – the plank! Most people are aware of the planks most central component: a strong core. This week you will discover that there is MUCH more to it than that alone, but let’s start here.

We define the core as any and all muscles that attach to and/or stabilize the spine, which technically probably includes a near majority of the muscles in your body! Your core connects your lower body to your upper body. Most of our daily movement either emanates from the core or moves through it. Being able to actively “turn on” your core is vital for obtaining good posture, is key in balance and stability, maintaining a healthy back, and in everyday activities. Being able to quickly activate or “turn on” your core muscles is often the difference between sustaining injury or not when lifting and/or moving some everyday object or having to react quickly like catching yourself during a trip and near fall.

Now as we talk more about what goes into a quality plank it may help to imagine a soldier – standing at attention.

Their back is tall, ears aligned over their shoulders, legs straight. They are standing at a-TENSION! “Chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in.” Flip them down on the ground with arms forward and you have a beautiful plank! The next time you plank, think to yourself, “if I were flipped up onto my feet, would I be standing tall and straight?” PUSH through your heels in your plank to create tension. Pretend a cat is climbing up your leg, digging in its claws (we know, ouch!). Instinctively your muscles would tighten, pulling the knee cap “up” on the thigh – the front of your leg is now “engaged”.

Next, pretend your pelvic bone is a bowl. Slightly tip the bowl backward like you are trying to pour water out of your back side (gross image, but bare with us). This engages, or creates tension in the external obliques, rectus abdominis, glutes, and hamstrings. Check out this great article to get more in-depth with pelvic tilt!

Hopefully by this point in the article, you have gathered that planking includes alignment and tension throughout the body! This continues into the upper body. Be sure your elbows are securely under your shoulders. Turn your palms down, and spread your fingers for the most sensory input (no prayer hands!). Push your body up into your upper back, or in other words lift yourself through the shoulders – don’t allow them to collapse together on your back. Your head should be aligned with spine – think about giving yourself a double chin. If there were a pole on your back it should make contact at the back of your head, shoulders, and tailbone.

Now that you’ve found all this tension in your body it is time to find a little movement! A strong plank is in part created by proper breathing, meaning breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. When you breathe deeply, you should feel your entire rib cage and belly expand to its fullest extent. When exhaling all the way you activate your deep core muscles, which is exactly what want to be calling upon during planks! So many of us are chronic “mouth breathers” which can lead to a whole host of issues like exercise induced asthma, sleep apnea, chronic hyperventilation and even increased allergy symptoms. Now, take a DEEP breath…or MANY deep breaths!

So that’s it. Nothing to it, just: TENSION (stand tall), feet dorsiflexed, quads/front of legs engaged (cat claws!), slightly tip the pelvis (belly button to spine and close to nose) for core activation, elbows under shoulders, chest into upper back, head alignment, BREATHE!

Go forth…and plank

Deconstructing The Squat

The squat is the perfect analogy for life. It’s about standing back up after something heavy takes you down.”

~ unknown

When most people think about squats, what do they think about? Quads? Maybe glutes too? However, this foundational movement goes MUCH deeper than that! A weighted squat is quite literally a total body exercise, and this week we are going to break it down piece-by-piece for you:

START FROM THE GROUND UP
Not the other way around!

Instead of picking up weights, making sure they are secure and then bending your knees dropping into your squat, bring your attention FIRST to your feet! Weightlifting experts suggest focusing on broadening the foot, spreading the toes laterally, and making as much contact through the floor as possible. Imagine someone has placed several playing cards under different parts of your foot, and you are trying to prevent someone from pulling them out! You might be surprised to find how much more active engagement you feel throughout the muscles of the lower body. Ready? Yes you! Imagine those cards under each corner of your foot – now squat! Just a few, don’t burn yourself out – we want to take a moment to do just a few bodyweight squats with each paragraph to solidify what you’re reading and make it more real.

Next up are the ankles! Take a look at the graphic above. Notice the angle at the ankle – it is not 90 degrees with the knee directly over the heel, because that would shift your center of gravity too far to the back making it impossible to hold weight safely. Ankle mobility might be the most common limitation people face when it comes to getting into a deep squat. Try drawing the alphabet or big circles in both directions with the ankles, really pushing the range of motion and moving slowly throughout the range. Maybe move your ankles for a minute or two, then try another couple of squats – try thinking about pulling the front of your shin down towards the tops of your feet (but don’t pop up off those heels!)

Moving up the leg to the knees now. Many people struggle to keep their knees in line with their ankles/toes as they get deeper into their squat. This is most commonly due to inner thigh weakness, glute weakness, hip tightness or all three. Find a mirror! Watch your knees on the way down and continue to hold them in line – pay attention to whether you start feeling your squats in different areas! Ask a coach to assistance if you find your knees continue to fall in towards each other; there are a few ways to work through this common movement dysfunction. The Split Squat is one excellent example of a unilateral exercise that can help us identify instability and weakness. During split squats and side lunges take care that you don’t allow your knee to fall inward by engaging the outer glute and pressing through both the inside and outside of the foot. Hip lifts and single-leg hip lifts are also great exercise to help develop stable glute strength. Now you know what comes next – put it to work! Focus on the position of your knees while squatting and try keeping them pointing directly in line with the toes! Maybe try a few squats with your feet narrow, wide, in the middle, turn the toes outward a little. See what feels most comfortable.

Speaking of hips! The very first step for the squat is to send the hips back – THEN begin sitting. Too often we start bending our knees into our squat before we have even begun to send the hips back and this sets us up for dysfunctional movement right off the bat. Alright fine, maybe just one squat this time…start with the hips!

So that pretty much covers your lower body – but we haven’t even got past the hips yet! What happens above them is just as important for your squat form especially if you are going to be carrying weight. Squat Holds and Quad Rocks (see a trainer for demonstration) is a great exercise to help get you into the habit of engaging your core muscles during the squat. A quad rock IS a squat if you turn the movement vertical, however this variation drastically reduces the amount of weight you have to move. Often we forget about the upper body here and just focus on the legs, but especially if we are loading the squat we MUST have core engagement to ensure the safety of the spine. Tuck the chin in (double chin) to keep the spine straight all the way through the top, and don’t forget to pack those shoulders!

So there you have it folks – the squat in 500 words or so. There is even more that we could say if we wanted to continue delving into this movement, but let’s allow this to sink in and if you like seek out some one-on-one time with a trainer to fine tune your squat.

The Inside Scoop (Part II)

Welcome back to day-to-day life for those of you who’ve been traveling or “Up North” as they say here in Wisconsin! We hope you all had a great 4th of July, and we know many of you haven’t made as many workouts as is routine this week so you will definitely want to read on to see what you missed during this week’s educational series!

Every day our workouts are a little bit different here at Ellipse Fitness, and we wanted to be sure that all of our members have some understanding of what we are aiming for with our workout programming. Here is our day-by-day look for this week:

(Monday)
Metabolic Conditioning in the broadest sense is a work:rest ratio implemented to elicit a specific response from the body. Different work to rest ratios call upon different energy systems of the body and help us work towards different goals (i.e sports performance, reducing body fat, increasing endurance). The key to getting the most out of “Met Con” is to push as hard as you can through the work period – “GO, GO, GO!” This increases your EPOC (excess post oxygen consumption) after your workout so you can continue to burn fat hours after your session is over!

(Tuesday)
Energy Systems: Ready? It’s about to get a little nerdy up in here…
Tuesday boxing combines cardio and strength. By combining both formats we can recruit all three energy systems (phosphagen, glycolytic and aerobic), boost metabolism, help prevent injury, and break the monotony of standard training protocol while still achieving significant results. The phosphagen system provides energy for all-out type exercises you can only do for 10 seconds or less, the glycolytic system is our intermediary system so to speak – for exercises lasting 30 seconds up to a few minutes minutes, and the aerobic system is utilized for those movements you can sustain longer.

(Wednesday)
HYPERTROPHY!! So much of what we design our workouts around revolves around muscle hypertrophy. In the simplest terms, this means “building muscle”. Hypertrophy includes both the ability to store more glycogen (stored glucose that is mobilized during the above-mentioned glycolytic cycle) and increase of myofibril size (the actual size and strength of the muscle fiber). We want to build more muscle for many reasons, not the least of which are an elevated metabolism and a less injury-prone body!

(Thursday)
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been shown to offer greater benefits to your heart than moderate, steady-state workouts, and it is extremely effective for achieving fat loss, increasing endurance, decreasing blood glucose levels and promoting EPOC (Excess Post Oxygen Consumption). EPOC means your metabolism is elevated and you are burning calories/fat for hours following your workout. But there is a catch! During the peak times of the workout you have to push yourself to the limit to truly reap all the benefits of HIIT!

(Friday & Saturday)
Periodization may very well get its very own blog post dedicated to it in the future, because this here is a major piece of what separates a decent exercise routine from an exceptional one. We look at periodization on a day-to-day level, but also on a much broader scale with the understanding that many of our members are here for life! And while it is important to exercise throughout your life, if you just do the same movements the same way over and over and over and over and over…you get the idea…it will eventually lead to imbalance, chronic pain, boredom and most likely injury.

Periodization is a plan. Planned progressions to prevent plateaus. Planned management of fatigue to achieve continual muscular adaptations. Planned program design to avoid repetitive stress which can result in over-training and can set you back months or more.

Results at Ellipse Fitness come from our careful planning and management of your training program. To get the best results from your Ellipse program, arrive early to foam roll and warm up properly, understand the goal of the day’s workout, work to your full potential during the session, and then recover properly after you leave by eating well, getting enough sleep, and balancing stress. The program can’t work quite as well as it is designed if you don’t also do your part – and THAT is why we are stronger together, healthier together, and better together!

The Inside Scoop on Ellipse Workout Programming

A lot goes into our programming at Ellipse Fitness. This week we’ve brought you a sneak peek into the what some of the components are, and the how’s and why’s of what we do at Ellipse to get RESULTS from our members. Each paragraph corresponds to the respective workout of the day, in order throughout this week!

(Monday)
One important component we look at is Training Volume. # of sets X # of reps. More Volume = More Results/Muscle Growth. No matter the reps, the key here is to work up to – or close to – fatigue to continue to achieve results. However, ONLY doing high volume work can lead to burnout or injury which is why we do not perform high volume workouts exclusively.

(Tuesday)
Power is another factor we take into account when designing workouts. Remember our partner-resisted runs and broad jumps earlier this week? Power is a combination of strength and speed that reflects how quickly you can exert force to produce a desired movement. As we age, power diminishes even quicker than strength, so it’s important to make it a part of your fitness program. Power training increases reaction time (think catching yourself during a trip or fall). You can’t be powerful without speed, so if you are strong, work on your speed; if you are fast/reactive, work on the strength piece. It is important to train both aspects for overall health and quality of life.

(Wednesday)
How can you get better at a specific movement or activity? In short, work on the movement pattern! If you struggle stepping up on the boxes, to a specific height or with weight? Work on your split squat, increasing your range of motion first and then adding weight to the movement. If you can’t perform a solid chest press, a push-up will be a real challenge. Both movements require core stability in addition to chest, triceps, shoulders, and back strength, however a push-up forces the core stabilization and works on relative body-weight strength – making it a more difficult move. You may have heard us reference ways to practice push-ups without dropping down to the knees because this common regression takes most of the core work out of the movement, making it difficult to ever progress to a push-up from the full plank position. This principle is called Specificity.

(Thursday)
Much like power, Mobility declines drastically as we age if we don’t continue to work through a full range of motion. Mobility training also promotes healthy joints and helps to prevent injury! Flexibility is only one component of mobility. Mobility is flexibility under tension – think flexibility that you can actually put into practice in your day-to-day life. Passive stretching to improve flexibility can last as little as a few minutes sometimes, while mobility exercises actually change the way your body is able to move. Walking like a monkey is a lot more than just a fun move to practice

(Friday)
Rest Based Training (RBT) is another really effective way to achieve strength gains and fitness results. The motto: Push until you can’t; rest until you can again. This training format prevents overexertion, allowing even high intensity workouts to be executed safely. Studies have shown that when individuals are given the opportunity to control their own work to rest ratios, people exercise at a higher intensity than predicted by the researchers. The rest is shown to make exercise psychologically easier, often providing a more enjoyable workout in addition to being safe and effective.

(Saturday)
If you’re one of our members you’ve probably been waiting to hear us talk about this next one: Kickboxing! In addition to being a really great cathartic experience that allows you to melt stress right out of your body, kickboxing complements our strength training perfectly by addressing some other key factors related to health and well-being. It sharpens the mind by improving neuromuscular connections, coordination and proprioception, it has been shown to slow the effects of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and it increases you aerobic capacity, abdominal and upper body strength!

Tune in next week for more!

Are You Taking Fish Oil?

First of all, let’s discuss what Fish Oil is. Fish oil is jam packed with Omega-3 fatty acids that are derived from the tissues of oily fish. Ideally, you should take about 6 grams of Fish Oil everyday.

In creating this habit, you are aiding in reducing pain and inflammation in the body. Fish Oil contains Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly EPA, which has a very positive effect on your inflammatory response. We recommend taking fish oil as a key aid in combatting muscle soreness.

Fish Oil also has benefits for your cardiovascular health in lowering cholesterol, triglycerides, LDLs and blood pressure levels, while at the same time increasing good HDL cholesterol. Let’s not leave out that this all lowers your risk of having a stroke or a heart attack.

Research shows Omega-3 fatty acids break up clots before they can cause any damage.
Omega-3 fatty acids are “good fats” that are essential for optimal health. Like vitamins and minerals, omega-3 must be provided by our diet as it is not produced by our bodies. EPA and DHA are the active forms of omega-3 required by the body to perform vital functions.

If you have more questions about how to implement Fish Oil into your daily regiment or workout program, please consult your Ellipse Fitness trainer. It is essential that as you begin taking Fish Oil, you start slow and at a lower dose than 6 grams daily to allow your system to adjust to the intake of the fatty oils and absorb them properly.

Fitness Tip of the Week: TRX Lower Body Mountain Climber

Planks on a stable surface are an awesome exercise for core, hip and shoulder strength however planks on the TRX are even more challenging and effective as the core works harder to stabilize the body. 

Now let’s take the intensity up a notch and create more movement by adding a lower body mountain climber.  This new move will multiply the abdominal workout while simultaneously spiking the heart rate.  With that spiked heart rate comes a higher metabolism and a greater calorie burn both during and post workout as your body recovers back to its original, homeostatic state. 

  1.  Begin by adjusting your TRX to mid-calf length. 

  2.  Then face away from the TRX anchor point and put your toes in the straps. 

  3. Get into a plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders, and keeping the back straight, begin your lower body mountain climber. 

Go hard and fast until exhaustion.  Rest and repeat as many times as you are able.  Enjoy the burn! 

Fitness Tip: Dumbbell 2 Arm Skull Crusher

The triceps brachii is Latin for “three-headed arm muscle”. It’s an extensor muscle that joins together at the elbow and is an antagonist of the biceps and brachialis muscles. The triceps cover about 2/3rd of our arm and are primarily used for pushing.

One of our favorite strength exercises to isolate the triceps is the 2 arm Skull Crusher.

1. Lie prone (on your back) holding 2 dumbbells in a neutral grip with palms facing each other, above your chest.
2. Keeping the arms parallel, hinge at the elbows, as you lower the forearms and bring the dumbbells even with your ears. Then return to your starting position and repeat.

Fitness Tip: Triceps Kickback

The tricep kickback strengthens the triceps brachii, which is a three-headed arm muscle that joins together at the elbow. The triceps brachii is both an extensor and an antagonist of the biceps.

To strengthen the L. tricep, step forward with the R. foot and hinge forward slightly at the hips. Keep your back straight and weight supported either with forearm to thigh, or hand to thigh.

Begin with the dumbbell at the L. hip with the L. upper arm parallel to the floor. There should be a triangle of space created by the angle of the left elbow.

Next, extend the arm parallel to the floor, contracting the triceps, then return to your starting position.

To ensure you’re getting the most out of this move, avoid dropping your elbow or gaining momentum by swinging the dumbbell.

Fitness Tip: Jackknife Crunch Variation

There are many variations of the Jack Knife Crunch, each targeting different muscles of the core.

The Straight Leg Jack Knife Crunch targets the abdominals, primarily. Start by lying on your back and extending your legs out straight and arms overhead. Then simultaneously raise the arms to meet the legs above the hips as you contract the abs.

The Bent Leg Jack Knife Crunch puts less pressure on your spine but is still effective for the abs. Begin with the knees bent and raised. Then extend the legs as you simultaneously reach for the feet with the hands.
The next variation is the Single Leg Alternating Jack Knife Crunch which continues to target the abs but also engages the obliques. Start by lying on your back with both legs and arm extended. Bring the arms up to meet the opposite leg and alternate sides.

The final variation is a Side Lying Jack Knife Crunch which targets primarily the obliques. Begin lying on your side with your bottom arm wrapped around your waist and your top elbow bent with your fingers at your ears. Then simultaneously raise your legs and upper body as you contract your obliques and exhale. The range of motion is small, but the results are big.

Fitness Tip: TRX Overhead Back Extension

TRX Suspension Training was initially created by Navy Seal, Randy Hedrick, by using the straps of his parachute to train overseas.
The TRX is:
1. Scale able to accommodate all fitness levels.
2. Trains in 3-D to work all planes of motion.
3. Displaces the center of gravity thereby activating the core in all moves.
The TRX Overhead Back Extension integrates hip, back, shoulder and core strength simultaneously.
1. Adjust the TRX straps to mid length.
2. Hold the handles straight above the head palms facing forward and arms straight and next to the ears.
3. Keeping the head between the arms, hinge back at the hips and roll onto the heels as you drop into an “L” position.
4. Drive the hips forward and return to your starting position.