Proprioception

Proprioception is defined as the body’s ability to sense stimuli with regard to position, motion and equilibrium. It is the sense of the orientation of one’s limbs in space; the ability to know where a body part is without looking at it.  Therefore, the body is able to sense the position of its parts, analyze it, and react with proper movement. Without proprioception, we would have to constantly watch our feet while we were walking.

Balance and proprioception are not the same things. The sense of balance originates from the fluids in the inner ear. Proprioception is provided by proprioceptors, which are sensory receptors. These nerves are located inside the body and transmit information from the muscles, joints, tendons and skin to the central nervous system.

Proprioceptors control balance, coordination and agility, and by training proprioception, we can improve balance, coordination and agility. Balance is a basic skill needed in practically every activity.  The key to efficiency is changing your center of gravity to match your moves. Agility is what allows us to move gracefully without wasting motion.  It allows our joints to move through the full range of motion smoothly and confidently. Proprioception also reduces the risk of injury. For example, ankle sprains are a fairly commonly injury for athletes.  These are often caused by a lack of balance or proprioception.  Even if a runner has strong lower limbs and good endurance and flexibility, slight deviations in the terrain during running require adjustments in balance. If the athlete has not trained the neuromuscular system to react appropriately when running on uneven ground or when they have a misstep, they may be injured.

Just like any other motor activity, proprioceptive ability can be trained. Any new motor skill that involves precise movement of our arms and legs– from baseball to painting to skiing – involves training our proprioceptive sense. And just like any new skill or exercise, it requires a progression during training. Start with simple exercises and make them more complex as the individual improves.

Proprioception can be tested by standing on one leg for 30 seconds with both eyes open and then standing on one leg with both eyes closed. Beginners should start with static balance activities and advance to agility and coordination activities. Balance exercises should start on the floor and progress to unstable surfaces, such as stability trainers or wobble boards. On the stability trainer, you can perform lunges, mini-squats, etc and progress to using a resistance band and then further progress to one leg. Wobble boards are good for static balance training and can be made more difficult by using a weighted ball. Be sure to exercise caution when using unstable surfaces.

After mastering balance, you can move on to more advanced proprioception for agility and coordination. Activities used to improve agility and coordination including pivoting, twisting, jumping and cutting. Progress jumping from two legs to one leg.

It is important to use correct technique when performing proprioceptive exercises. Reduce the intensity or level of activity if you cannot perform the exercise with proper technique. In order to reduce the risk of injury, perform these exercises before you are too fatigued. It is important to consider age and body weight when engaging in proprioceptive exercises. Performed correctly, this type of core stabilization or stability training is an invaluable tool to enhance overall fitness.

Skip the Sit-Up!

For many years, fitness professionals have used the sit-up as the exercise of choice for the core. It is important to train core muscles, which include the muscles around your trunk and pelvis, for both balance, stability, and strength.  Additionally, a tight core makes you look thinner, since generally you will have tight abs and a slimmer waistline! While most experts agree that a strong core is crucial to any exercise routine, there is some discrepancy on the best way to achieve this goal.  Those educated in the field contend that the sit-up is outdated and shouldn’t be used to exercise because it presents too great a risk of back injury.

According to Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics, sit-ups can place hundreds of pounds of compressive force on the spine. McGill has published many studies and written over 200 scientific papers and found that repeatedly performing sit-ups and flexing can squeeze the discs in the spine. This may potentially lead to herniated discs, which press on the nerve and cause pain.

Old school sit-ups can be damaging to your lower back because the sit-up recruits and overuses the hip flexor muscles. When you perform a sit-up, you push your spine into the floor and use your hip flexor muscles to lift you up. Hip flexors that are too strong or too tight can pull on the lower back and create discomfort by compressing the lumbar discs and creating back spasms and lower back pain. For example, the psoas, one of the hip flexor muscles, runs from the upper thigh to the lower back, and when it is contracted, it causes the pelvis to shift into an anterior position, forward and down. This position may cause discomfort plus it may increases pressure on the disks. When the feet are anchored down, this exacerbates the problem. Additionally, many people contract the neck when performing sit-ups, causing neck strain.

The Canadian Armed Forces has recognized the negative repercussion of the sit-up and recently banned it from its fitness test. Many military experts in the US are trying to cut it from the Navy and Armed Forces as well. In fact, a commander at the navy was quote as saying that sit-ups don’t prepare us for daily life activities. Core strength is needed to pull, push, carry and lift, and the sit-up is not an effective way to stabilize the abs to perform these daily motions.

Instead of a traditional sit-up, McGill recommends a modified curl-up that he created where the hands palm down are positioned under the low back to lessen the pressure on the spine. The back should not be flattened on the ground, and the shoulders barely leave the floor. The crunch up should be slight in order to work the abdominal muscles; you do not have to crunch up very much. Additionally, it is possible to do a modified sit-up or crunch on a stability ball, but this not recommended for everyone, and a personal trainer should evaluate you to determine your individual level and physical limitations.

Another good core exercise is the plank because it recruits more muscles on the front, sides and back of the body instead of just a few target muscles like the sit-up does. Most of our activities of daily living, in addition to sports and recreational activities, require muscles to work together instead of in isolation like the sit-up. Using patterns of movement that are dynamic will help strengthen the entire set of core muscles used everyday.

Other research also supports the fact that the sit-up is not the best exercise for abdominal strength. According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports, researchers found that exercises on a swiss medicine ball were more effective than the traditional bent knee sit-ups/crunches.

The sit-up has continued to remain popular because the general population believes they cannot have tight, toned abs without them in their routine. However, powerlifters and weightlifters develop amazing abdominal muscles without the sit-up and use only total-body lifts, such as squats, power cleans and deadlifts. Dr. Stuart McGill further states that toned abdominals are not about crunches; it is about lower body fat. So even if you do not have any back or neck pain from sit-up, why take the risk of damaging your spine and potentially causing back pain in the future? Great abs are possible without the sit-up, so cut them out of your routine!

Exercise As You Age

As we get older, we are finding it harder to adhere to a healthy, active lifestyle. This is especially true for those in Corporate America . Anyone, from the receptionist answering phones to the CEO closing 7 figure deals, can have terrible eating habits, less time to exercise, and more stress than they are meant to endure. These environmental stresses speed up the aging process and contribute to the deterioration of the body. Throw in a crazy travel schedule and bad sleeping habits, and you have your average American. It is because of these stressors that 1 in 3 Americans is considered obese and struggles with weight issues.

Our lack of activity is actually killing us, and the older we get the more important exercise becomes. So, why do people refuse to exercise? There are too many reasons to list, but often I hear, “I don’t know where to start.”  In a sea of misinformation and in an unregulated fitness industry, it is almost impossible to know where to begin. The gym can be a dangerous place if you do not know how to use the equipment or where to begin. As an expert witness, I have seen improper form and misuse of equipment that leaves me speechless. My advice to those confused about what to do is to start by finding a reputable professional, who has an accredited certification and who can list doctors as references.

Recovering from injury can take longer as we get older. For this reason, err on the side of caution when starting a program. Regardless of age the most common injuries occur in the lower back and shoulders. Very often, these injuries are simply a result of poor exercise form or performing the wrong exercise. Starting out at a high intensity and doing complex exercises may seem like the best avenue for fast results, but more often than not, it results in injury. It is crucial to take a person’s daily activities and orthopedic issues into account before prescribing exercise. For example, if you sit all day and have lower back pain or discomfort, sit-ups and leg raises may actually make your condition worse. Planks, chops and deadbugs are safer and more effective exercises for the core. In addition, some machines are not designed properly and can contribute to injury. For instance, some seated leg presses can stress the lower back and cause pain and/or injury. For the lower body, it is safer to start with a ball squat or step-up instead of using a machine, so as not to disrupt natural movement patterns.

As we age, we lose muscle mass and flexibility and our overall balance degrades. Posture is a major problem, especially for those in Corporate America, because they sit for so many hours, often without taking a break.  It is important to create a solid foundation for an active lifestyle and focus on exercises that attain personal goals. Performing balance exercises, stretching and correcting postural distortions are critical to participation in daily activities. Without these exercises, the likelihood of daily pain and injury is markedly increased. Stretching and core strengthening will eliminate most of common everyday aches and pains.

Balance, mobility, postural training, and circuit training with weights at a 50-60% intensity are a great start for the older, sedentary population. It might sound easy but if you haven’t been exercising for a long time, it will be very challenging. It is important to remember that we are all individuals with different strength and weaknesses, so what may be easy for one person may be impossible for another person. Do not just copy exercises that surround you in the gym! Remember that you are a unique individual and your workout needs to be tailored to your specific needs. A majority of older clients who were not athletes or workout buffs in their youth have no interest in looking like a fitness model or a bulging Adonis on the beach. They just want to feel better and live longer. More than half the battle is the training consistency, not the training intensity. If a client does a low to moderate level workout and follows a fairly healthy diet, he/she will feel better and have health benefits, even if he/she is only exercising a couple of days per week. The bottom line is that some exercise is better than no exercise.

I have worked with many older clients. In fact, my oldest client was 90 years old. In my experience, I found that many exercise programs do not include enough flexibility training and intensity is often too high. Many professionals believe that you must train at a high intensity to get any substantial results. There is plenty of reputable research that shows higher levels of intensity can be a better use of time compared to low to moderate levels of exercise. The majority of these professionals will insist that regardless of your age, you need to build your workouts up to intensities beyond 80-90%. While there is truth to the science behind this theory, the experts fail to explain that working out at lower levels is still extremely beneficial. They don’t take into account that at higher intensities, not only is injury risk is increased but a majority of older individuals are not interested in exercising at that level. As a result, they will never stick to that sort of program. Others cannot train at that level because of orthopedic injuries or some other health limitations. If a client’s goal is to eliminate back pain, to increase balance and to be able to play with their grandchildren, plyometrics and intense sprinting is probably unnecessary. They will get more benefit from full body circuit training with active rests and with sets that include therapeutic exercises and stretching. When we look long-term, consistency is king because the most consistent person regardless of intensity will reap the most rewards of exercise.

The fact is low to moderate intensity workouts will produce significant results and keep your client healthy and pain free. If a person is capable of more and wants to work up to a high intensity program, I am not against it and agree that it works for some people. I believe the average person does not have an athletic history and is frequently deconditioned. In my personal experience, it seems that the people who need low intensity exercise the most often believe it is a waste of time to work out if they aren’t “dying” during a workout, and therefore they won’t engage in lower intensity training. The truth is that most Americans just need to move and do low-level exercises to remove stress and to keep them healthy.  For some people, exercise is a stress outlet, it helps them stay healthy, and it keeps their eating habits on track.  Lower intensity exercise is also important for those who need to recover from their active lifestyle. For example, clients playing 2 hrs. per day 4-5 times per week or those who are avid runners training 25 miles per week should focus their training on flexibility, recovery and exercising when they are in the gym. The goal should be to increase efficiency and to increase the longevity of participation in that activity.

My advice it to focus on the fundamentals and to get the client moving better and feeling good. Once you achieve this, then you and the client can decide what is next. Individualize the workouts and encourage them to meet their individual goals. Start with a solid foundation, and if high intensity is their goal, gradually build up to those type of workouts at a pace that works for the client physically and mentally.

How To Do A Step-Up

Emphasis – The concentric action is hip and knee extension. The primary muscles used during hip extension are the gluteus maximus  and hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris). During knee extension is quadriceps (vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis and rectus femoris).

Starting Position – Begin the upward movement by stepping up with one leg. Keep trailing foot at start position and shift weight to the leg on the box. As the hip and knee extend on the box stand tall while simultaneously bring the opposite foot next to the starting foot.  The downward movement starts with shifting the body weight to the same start leg and stepping off the box with the opposite leg. Shift the body to the the opposite leg and the start leg will follow to starting position.

Movement:

Training Tips:

  • Keep torso erect and parallel to the tibia
  • Initial contact of lead foot with top of the box must be made by the entire foot
  • During upward extension push through the heels and squeeze the glutes
  • Maintain hip flexion, knee flexion, and dorsiflexion of ankle at top of movement

Warning Tips:  Do not allow the heel to hang off the edge of the box

All Trainers Are NOT Created Equal

Many people who have personal trainers feel that theirs is the very best.  I have never met anyone who doesn’t rave about his or her trainer, especially if he/she has been working with them for a substantial period of time. Part of the training experience is the camaraderie and trust formed between the trainer and his client, and the majority of people are very loyal.

However, putting friendship and personality aside, only a handful of personal trainers are truly competent and knowledgeable. As a result, many people get injured and sometimes the client doesn’t even realize that their trainer is responsible. Many injuries are repetitive injuries, which are injuries that occur gradually over time due to frequent, repeated, unsafe movements.

The client may not even know that they are being injured! For example, one morning a person can wake up with his knee bothering him and he is unable to walk without pain. He may not remember doing anything the day before to cause the injury; in fact, this injury may have been happening gradually over a period of time. Therefore, a client may be ignorant to what is causing his ailment. Injuries may be caused by improper form, unsafe exercises, or lack of knowledge about anatomy and how the body works. Clients need to be able to evaluation their trainers objectively; you cannot assume that all gyms are hiring qualified, competent trainers.

Intensive training &/or education is not currently required to become a personal trainer. All that is required is a certification that is accredited that the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCAA); for example, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), NFPT (National Federation of Personal Trainers and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). Most gyms require that their trainers are certified, but NOT all do! Make sure that your trainer is certified and that he attends seminars and takes continuing education courses to stay current.

The body is a complex machine and it is important that a trainer understands proper mechanics to avoid injury, especially if the client has pre-existing conditions. A trainer should perform an initial evaluation and obtain a health history so to target weak areas and avoid aggravating an injury or condition that is already present. The evaluation should include testing flexibility, balance, core strength, muscle strength and endurance, as well as proprioception. Your trainer should be able to explain why he is choosing certain exercises and how they benefit you. He or she should also be knowledgeable in functional training, which is training for daily activities or a specific goal. Additionally, your trainer should be able to use the initial assessment to design a tailor-made workout program for each individual. There is no one-size-fits-all in personal training.

There are many benefits to using a personal trainer rather than working out on your own. Choose wisely, because not all trainers are created equal. Do your due diligence and do your research to ensure you get the results that you want.

Fitness. Performance. Education

XposurePictures.com (22)

Greenwich Personal Training offers the highest level in-home training and massage services. Trainer specialties include weight loss, balance training, therapeutic exercise, sports specific and flexibility training. Our staff members are required to take nationally recognized education courses written by our partner, Fit and Functional. In an effort to deliver the safest and most scientific program, our requirements far exceed the industry standard.

Sign up today to learn more and get a free in-home evaluation!

Looking for a gym? Ask about our affiliate locations throughout Westchester and Fairfield county.