Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Perfect Plank in 10 Simple Steps

Plank pose is an amazing core exercise that prepares your body for advanced exercises, however many people cannot get past the barriers of wrist and/or low back pain. Below we are going to go over the steps for building a proper Plank. *If you have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome please perform the Dolphin variation of Plank at the end of this post.

10 Steps to a Better Plank

1. Start in a quadruped position on the floor, shoulders directly above wrists

2. Middle fingers should face forward, fingers should be separated slightly with an L shape between the thumb and index finger

3. Step one foot back at a time to come into Plank, your body should be at a diagonal incline

4. Pull your shoulder blades apart and down in the direction of your hips

5. Keep your collarbone wide and gently pull chest forward

6. Press all points of your hand and all knuckles into floor (especially thumb and index finger knuckles)

7. Now rotate the inner part of your elbows to face forward- further drawing the shoulders down the back (keep the thumb and index finger knuckles pressing into the floor)

8. Pull your belly button up and in towards your spine
(this is crucial for protecting your lower back)

9. Reach your tailbone back towards your heels

10. Pull your heels back and the top of your head forward
like you are pulling two ends of a string in opposite directions.

There you have it- the perfect plank! You should hold this position for 5-10 breaths at a time gradually increasing strength.

If you still experience back discomfort revisit steps 8, 9 and 10 above, hold for fewer breaths and gradually increase as your core gets stronger.

If you still experience wrist discomfort try the following in succession until there is no discomfort. Once you find the modification that works for you practice it for awhile before challenging yourself with the more difficult variations.

1. Forearm stretch: Kneel, extend arm out palm up, opposite hand grabs fingers, pull straight fingers (no curl) towards the floor. Switch sides. Try Plank again emphasizing steps 6 and 7 above, if you still experience pain try step 2 below.

2. Roll up a mat until it is an inch or two high and place under the heel of the hand decreasing the angle of the wrist. If this does not solve the problem, stay off the wrist and perform Plank on the forearms (also known as Dolphin)

3. Dolphin: Come down onto forearms, elbows shoulder width apart, hands in gentle fists, shoulders blades apart and down the back, chest forward, belly button in, tail back, heels back, crown of the head forward.

Don't give up, Plank is a challenging exercise that has numerous benefits. In time it will become easier, so be patient and enjoy the ride!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stiff neck, tight shoulders? It may be Disappearing Neck Syndrome

Just because it is not a real syndrome in the technical sense, seeing how your neck will probably never entirely disappear, does not mean that disappearing neck syndrome (DNS) should not be taken seriously. In fact it may be affecting you right now.

How do you know if you have DNS? Answer the questions below to see if you are at risk:

1. Do you work at a computer?
2. Do you use a hand held device?
3. Do you drive a car?
4. Do you experience minor stresses on a daily basis?

If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, you should stop what you are doing, acknowledge that you probably have DNS, and STRETCH! Don't stress (it only make things worse). This will only take a minute- you don't even have to leave your chair!

1. Shoulder Rolls: Relax your arms by your sides and draw small circles with your shoulders to the back for 10, and then to the front for 10.

2. Pec Stretch 1: Sit up tall, reach your arms back and grab the back of your seat behind your butt (fingers point back) lift your chest toward the ceiling hold for 10 deep breaths.
* if you are on a ball, reach to the back of a ball , if you are standing clasp your hands behind your back, palms together and straighten your arms

3. Pec Stretch 2: Turn your chair sideways to the left at your desk, keep your right forearm on desk, then lean forward as your chest sinks toward your thighs. make sure your chest is below the level of your right arm. You should feel the stretch in the front of the chest. Hold for 10 breaths, switch sides.
*To deepen the stretch kneel on the floor instead of sitting on chair.

4. Neck Stretch 1: Reach you right hand down and clasp the bottom of your seat, pull your shoulder blades down your back and then pull your left ear to your left shoulder, slowly nod your head front to back (as if nodding yes) maintaining the side bend in the neck. 10 reps then switch sides.

5. Neck Stretch 2: OK- you may look a little funny doing this one, but if anyone stares, just stick your tongue out while you do it and they'll probably look away quickly and give you your privacy ;)
Sit up tall like you are being measured for height and want to be an inch taller, lift especially high through the back of your head. Now slide your chin in towards the back of your neck like you are trying to make a double chin, then release. This is a slide motion, not a nod. Imagine your chin is on a shelf and you are just sliding it back and forth. Eyes should stay fixed on one point directly in front of you). Hold chin in for 3 counts release for 2 counts, do 10 reps.

Disclaimer: These exercises will work to relieve shoulder and neck tension, herein referred to as DNS, however, people may look at you inquisitively if you mention to them that you have DNS, as it is not really a medical syndrome. On the other hand, they may not even notice, seeing how we live in a society that seems to have an acronym for everything we do that is out of the ordinary (and even some that are not) So, if they look puzzled just give them the test above and refer them to this blog for a little TLC.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Breathe Away Aches and Pains at Work

Sometimes a nice deep breath (or five) is just what we need to relax our shoulder, neck and back muscles at work. This technique is easy to do, only takes a minute or two, and can be done right at your desk...

To perform this exercise while sitting at your desk

1. Sit up properly at your desk (see 1st blog post)

2. Place hands on your lower ribs, fingers lining up with your ribs and pointing in towards one another

3. Take a deep breath in through your nose, imagine that you are slowly sucking air in through a long straw that starts just behind your nose, goes down the throat and fills the lungs. Feel your lower ribs expand out to the sides as your lungs fill with breath (this should take 5-8 counts).

4. There! Now your lungs are full, like a big balloon

5. Picture this balloon in your belly and slowly begin to press the air out of the balloon by squeezing your ABS in, pushing the air up through the straw, and out through the mouth (this should take 5-8 counts as well).

6. As soon as all the breath has been completely emptied give your ABS an extra squeeze for additional transverse abdominal work.

Repeat five times melting tension from your shoulders, neck and back, increasing abdominal strength and fueling your blood and brain with energizing oxygen. Now back to work!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Five Simple Tricks for Sitting Upright at your Desk

1. Locate your sit bones, sit on them (your butt cheeks should be behind you not under you)

2. Lift your sternum (or ribcage) until it sits right over your pelvis

3. Relax your shoulders

4. Lift the back of your head (occipital ridge) up, this will draw the chin in slightly

5. Pull your navel and waist in towards the spine

For more information on proper ergonomics for your workstation check out this informative link