Thanks for joining us this week for our blog series on getting and staying healthy in a reasonable and sustainable fashion.
There is no one exercise that is best for everyone. What is an enjoyable exercise to one person may turn out to be a suffer-fest to another! You may hate running and I might find hours of yard work (yes, that does count as exercise) mind-numbing, but that is okay! Last week, we talked about how exercise must involve work in order to effect a change in our bodies, but doesn't necessarily have to involve struggle. We also saw that, if you find something you enjoy doing, even the "work" portion of exercise can be enjoyable!
While there is no single exercise that fits all, there are two basic movement patterns that are consistent in almost all types of exercise:
- Alternating Cross Crawl
- Core Transfer
When these two fundamental patterns are strong and established, it not only protects one from injury in exercise, but in daily life as well.
Alternating Cross Crawl... aka, Walking!
The cross crawl movement pattern is one of the earliest purposeful motions we make as humans. Babies crawl! This activity of using the opposite arm and leg is essential in developing coordination, the transfer of strength from the larger pelvic muscles of the lower body to the upper, and for getting us places. We start out crawling as infants and, within a few short months, we are walking.
If you think about it, we also judge aging in part by the decline in the ability to walk and hold a strong walking posture. Walking has been related to a myriad of health benefits from back health to brain health. Walking is also one of the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to stimulate the heart and cardiovascular health. It really is fundamental to human experience and health!
Recently, I have been reading several books by Stuart McGill, PhD. He is one of the most well-respected and published researchers on conservative treatment (non surgical) of the spine. He is a big advocate of walking for back health. When searching for a synopsis on his approach to walking, I came across this great summary article at Fitness 4 Back Pain. In it, the author detailed several key points about how to walk:
- Stand tall with your chest out
- Walk briskly (not a stroll) with good arm swing
- Walk often
- Finally, if you are limited by pain or fatigue: Stop Before You Have To
Inevitably, when I am giving exercise as part of a treatment plan, people always want to know how fast, long, and often they should walk. The reality is, if you aren't doing it at all, even 12 minutes is going to do you some good. Start where you are and add a minute or two each time you go out. After you get to about 30 minutes, start to increase your speed. Once you get one session a day for 30 minutes at a good clip, try adding a second session for 15 minutes, or expand your 30 minutes session to 45. Alternatively, you could find a hill to walk up and down! Walking is infinitely variable and can be done just about anywhere. Try to get in at least one session a day.
Planking for a Solid Base (Core Transfer)
The single best exercise I have seen for stabilizing the core of our bodies is called a plank. Planking is actually not just a board on a walkway, but I thought you would like this picture better than the ones that are going to follow of me doing an exercise called the plank!
Seriously though, there is some corollary to the picture above and planks. Imagine walking across the field pictured above in the wet spring time without the boardwalk - you would be slipping and sliding, back and forth, and a lot of your energy would be going in directions other than to propel you forward. Now, imagine yourself walking the same (wet) field, only this time you are on the boardwalk. With a firm foundation, more of your energy goes into propelling you forward in the direction you want to go. When you have a solid mid-section (back, butt, tummy, and hips), that is exactly what happens - you can more efficiently and effectively transfer the propulsion of your hips through your core to move your body forward!
Planking is done in two positions:
On the floor, brace yourself on your elbows and your knees. Don't allow your butt to fall below the height of your shoulders and keep your head neutral (not raised up or drooping).
Hold this position for a slow count of six, then relax onto your tummy for six seconds, before pushing back into the up position again.
To start, repeat this six times (six up for six seconds, six down for six seconds).
You can help activate your core by first squeezing your fists, then your butt cheeks together, while holding the up position.
Lay on your side with your knees bent, in-line with your shoulders, hips slightly behind both. Slowly press your hips up toward the ceiling, until they are level with your knees and shoulders. Hold for the count of six before slowly lowering back down to the floor for the count of six. Repeat six times.
Roll over and repeat on the other side for a set of six.
Like the front plank, you can help activate your core by squeezing your fists, then butt cheeks together.
Standing Front Plank
Standing Side Plank
The nice thing about the planks is you can do these standing if it is to hard to get down on the floor. This is also a useful posture if you have shoulder problems. The counts are the same.
The further you are away from the wall, the more load on the core. When doing a side plank, place one foot in front of the other (heel to toe). Don't forget the fists and butt cheeks!
Setting the Bar
You might be reading this blog post and thinking, "Doc, that is too easy," or you might be thinking, "Man I can't do that!" Either way, my question to you is: "Are you currently doing any exercise?" If you aren't, and you think it is too easy, go ahead and start, it shouldn't be a problem.
If you would like to take the planking exercises up a level, check out this video on McGill's Big 3. If you aren't currently exercising and think they may be too hard, I encourage you to give it a try anyway. If you are able to make it work on some level, you can begin to build from there. If you are having pain with the exercises, give me a call and we should be able to determine over the phone if it is just a conditioning issue or if you need to seek care.
Truth be told, the main reason most of us don't engage exercise is we just don't want to take the time. If you decide you want to get going, try working with walking and planking daily or every other day for the next six weeks. I think you will be pleasantly surprised about how just moving through your day gets easier. Let me know how it is working out for you!
Yours In Health,