Category Archives: Training for sports

The Step-Up Article

Once upon a time, I stopped using step-ups. I was under the impression that they weren’t a great exercise choice because most people cheated when they did them. The cheat was usually a combination of pushing off the down leg too much and adding a big forward lean. Then one day I pulled out my ski training ebook and remembered I had included crossover step-ups and lateral step-ups. Huh. If they’re in this awesome book, they couldn’t be that bad. So I did a few sets to help me re-assess my feelings about them. As it turns out, I liked them very much.

I still don’t love regular step-ups for the reason noted above, but I find the lateral position for the start and finish fixes that. Given the right cueing and feedback, it’s difficult to cheat a lateral step-up. It also trains/requires hip stability, which as Martha Stewart would say, “it’s a good thing“. In fact I think the hip stability element of the lateral step-up is a big benefit over other exercises like split squats and even rear-foot elevated (RFE) split squats that are typically classified as single leg. Don’t misread that: I love both split squats and RFE split squats. In fact if you randomly walked into my gym you’d see at least one person doing them. But I think there is a need for leg strengthening that involves a greater frontal component to the force vector (fancy talk for you need to use your muscles to keep the hips from moving sideways and diagonally).

Once someone is able to control the lateral step-up, I love to progress them to the high box step-up. I got the idea for the high box step-up from a video of someone I know sharing that version many years ago and instantly thought it looked interesting. Unfortunately I don’t remember who it was, so I can’t give credit. Instead I’ll just hope it was someone named Rob and say “Thanks Rob, for introducing me to this great exercise.” I tried it shortly after seeing it and loved it. To be more precise, I mean I love it for my clients as a way to provide a training effect through a full range of motion in a squat pattern, with minimal opportunity to cheat, while also really hitting the glutes nicely. Win-win!

Note that the high box version should be considered an advanced exercise. If you have proven yourself strong in weighted split squats (including rear foot elevated), can stabilize your hips when subjected to rotary forces (mastery of side planks, chops and lifts, and shoulder taps), and possess reasonable ankle mobility, then give these a try. Note that the video above shows an 18″ box. Depending on a client’s height, we use 18 to 24 inches as the height for a high box step-up.

Since re-introducing lateral step-ups into the Custom Strength Exercise Library, there are two other specific scenarios where I use them:

  1. For clients with knee pain who don’t tolerate other squat movements well (yet). Because we get a lot of referrals from manual therapists, we probably train more people with knee issues than do most trainers. Often (not always) squats and even split squats don’t feel great for them. In this case we find that lateral step-ups to a 12 inch box provides a pain-free alternative. Once they get stronger in this movement, we progress by increasing the height, adding weight, or both (note we never increase both at the same time). In some cases, after doing these for a while (in addition to some variety of deadlift and some core exercises), they are able to return to split squats and/or squats without pain and continue to get strong with them.
  2. To help progress clients to single leg squats. Previously we went from split squat, to RFE split squat, to TRX RFE to progress, to single leg squats. Unfortunately I didn’t always like the form I saw when they started the single leg squat. Often one knee would wobble all over the place, or the hip would jut out to the side. Not what I considered ideal, but it was a good lesson for me that the progression I was using was inadequately preparing my clients for the demands of the single leg squat. I was able to coach them through it by temporarily reducing the range of motion until they were stable, and then building it back up, and in some cases using a band to help. Since adding the high box lateral step-up to the progression, I have seen an improvement in single leg squat-ability.

Give lateral step-ups a try and I suspect you’ll agree it’s a great exercise.


Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa who respects and practices the art of proper regressions and progressions in exercise.

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The exact moment I saw the impact strength training had on sport performance

It was a wintery night in Ottawa in 2004 and I was playing indoor ultimate in the bubble at Lansdowne. Other than my moment of epiphany, this was a perfectly ordinary night of ultimate. In fact it was so ordinary that I don’t recall anything about the night other than that one play made me go “Whoa!” The funny thing is that the play that made me realize how much of an affect training had on my game” was actually a screw up on my part. I was cutting for a disc (also known as a Frisbee by non-ultimate players and veteran ultimate players) that was thrown to me. The disc was thrown a bit high, so I jumped for it, but instead of catching it, the disc hit my arm just below the wrist. After a moment of disbelief at not having caught it – I don’t usually drop – I grinned as I realized what had happened. That was the only time in my ultimate career that I was happy about missing the disc.

I missed the disc because I jumped too high. I jumped. Too. High. :)

Thankfully an athletic body can adapt to a new normal relatively quickly, and I was soon able to adjust my timing to match my new vertical, and no more discs were missed.

I had always known intellectually that strength and power training was a good idea for sports performance before that moment, but after that play, I really knew it. And since that moment, I have known that as long as I continued to have any athletic ambition, that I would continue strength and power training.

At the time, my training involved primarily squats, Romanian deadlifts, rows, and hang cleans. Since then, the details of my training have changed, but fundamentally it is still built around some type of squat, some type of deadlift, some type of rowing (pulling), and some type of power exercise (including hang cleans).

The modern version of my training (and my clients’s training) has a few more layers:

  • In 2004, I did a simple dynamic warm-up that was based on a Mark Verstegen (owner of Exos). Today my training is similar but includes a few specific exercises to address issues with my movement (versus a generic warm-up).
  • I used to train partial range bilateral squats primarily, but I also used to get hip pain for a couple of days after. The concept for partial range to train for sport was that one doesn’t typically get into a full squat depth in sport, so why do it in the gym. When my trainer at the time explained that, it made sense to me, but since then I have changed my perspective on that and believe that parallel squats makes more sense.[1] I also switched to single leg squat variations for myself because of the hip pain I used to get. Switching out bilateral squats for split squats, lunges, single leg squats, step ups, and skater squats yielded significantly less hip pain for me. I remain a fan of bilateral squats for many people but now believe they are not ideal for everyone.
  • I continue to do Romanian deadlifts for periods, but more often I do single leg Romanian deadlifts, or conventional deadlifts instead. I think each of these three can provide the posterior chain development we want for sport performance.
  • I continue to train Olympic lifts (hang cleans or snatches) for power, but now also use kettlebell swings for this purpose as well. I continue to get feedback from clients telling me that they can jump higher on the field than before. I hate to have to narrow it down to one exercise as there are many elements of sports performance, but if I had to do only one thing to develop vertical jump in someone, I would probably choose cleans. For another perspective on that, take a look at the video below that shows a track and field athlete, a free runner, and an Olympic weightlifter in a vertical jump competition. The video is in Russian, but you don’t need to know what they are saying to enjoy and learn.
  • I have added more upper body work to my training. I still do some variety of rowing, as do all of my clients, as this is a great way to build a strong back, but I also balance this out with some upper body pressing, like push-ups and cable presses. There is research that suggests some upper body strengthening has an impact on vertical jump and speed, but it does not seem to be a strong relationship. Some is still something, though, and most of the upper body exercises I use tend to have a core training element that makes it worthwhile.
  • The sport performance training that I do and that my clients do includes some specific core training, including something like planks for the front, glute bridges for the backside, and Pallof presses or similar for the side. Most sport performance involves both the upper and lower body, which means that most performance will be enhanced by being better able to transfer energy between the upper and lower body. When an athlete is on the field, the ice, the snow, the court, or the links, this is the core’s job. The core is also important in keeping the back healthy. Those are both compelling reasons for me to include core training.
  • Most sports also require a level of cardio-respiratory fitness (aka cardio). There are many theories on how best to develop this: once it was all about the jogging; then it became all about intervals; and now it seems to have settled somewhere in between. I tend more toward intervals for sports performance, but most of the strength training we do is done in circuits, which I believe yields some jogging-like cardio-respiratory effect, which suggests our training respects the current “somewhere in between” research on cardio.

I’m not the only person who has felt this change in their performance since adding sport-specific training to their world. One of my favourite conversations was with a golfer client, and it went something like this:
Client: “You ruined my golf game.”
Me: “Really, how?”
Client, smiling: “I am hitting so much further now that I don’t know what club to use.”
Me, also smiling: “I’m not going to apologize for that.”

If you are an athlete who does not work out (regularly and effectively), think about how cool it would be if you could jump a little higher and run a little faster? If you’re a masters aged athlete, the cool factor of this prospect is infinitely higher. Next year you can be a year older and you can be faster. You can be a year older and have more vertical. Ya, I figured that would make you think.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc, CSCS, and her team train athletes of all types at Custom Strength in Ottawa, Canada.

Note:
[1] I believe in full (parallel) squats now because I think that even though it is not part of every play, we do end up in positions of more than partial squat positions on the field and being strong enough to deal with them seems smart. I also believe that the level of core stability required in a lower squat is desirable to train, and lastly, I think that only training the top half of the squat can lead to relatively overdeveloped hip flexors, which I think can contribute to inefficient hip movement.

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Training for tennis domination

For the first time in years, I am pumped about a performance goal. So pumped that I just contemplated having a hard boiled egg as a snack. I didn’t. But I did read through some research journals to help me create a new tennis conditioning workout to add to my tennis preparation plan. I know that ultimately the quality of my game is going to be the biggest determinant of how well I perform on the court this summer, but I also know that I can significantly up my game by being strong and fast enough to get to more shots, and by being fit enough to do so throughout the match. This is the stuff that training provides. Training also has a side-benefit of reducing ones risk of injury.

I am working on improving my tennis ability with a great coach and depending when you talk to me, I’m either excited or frustrated by my progress. I do seem to be getting better, which is cool because I want to start playing tournaments this summer. In fact I’ve even got eyes toward playing in the Canadian Senior Nationals toward the end of the summer, which is conveniently located in Ottawa this year. I haven’t committed to that yet as I want my forehand to be more consistent. What I have committed to is training as though I’m going. Both on the court and off.

What does that entail? What does one do to train for tennis domination? How does one train to be able to return those shots that seem unreturnable? What does a training plan include that allows one to be as fast and reactive in the last point as in the first? Here’s the plan that I am following:

Strength, power, and movement

For the past few months I have been working out in the gym three times per week (up from two) for between 45 minutes and an hour. My workouts start with a dynamic warm-up designed to address movement limitations as well as to get my body ready for the job ahead. Then it’s time for a combination of power and agility. There are a lot of options I program in this section, but most recently I’ve been doing single leg lateral hops, medicine ball slams, and power cleans. After that, I move into the strength section where I build the foundation of strength that will support my body on the court. Currently I’m doing rear foot elevated split squats, one arm kettlebell rows, Pallof presses, deadlifts, cable presses, and single-leg lowering. I either finish with a few stretches, or I do some tennis-specific intervals for conditioning.

That’s what I was doing for the off-season, but now that the outdoor courts are open and I’m playing more, I’m about to drop down to 2 days per week in the gym and adjust my focus from a bit less strength (although it is still a big part) in favour of more core and power work. The reason I’m dropping to 2 days per week is because I’m spending much more time on the court than I was, and I need to be sure that I still give my body adequate time to recover. This is important for everyone, but even more so for those of us who are over forty.

Tennis specific intervals for conditioning

This is the stuff that I developed from reading about game statistics. More specifically, I found an amazing analysis of tennis match play in The British Journal of Sports Medicine. Here are the points that I found to be particularly relevant to the development of a conditioning program for tennis:

  • Points are typically 4 to 10 seconds long with 10 to 20 seconds of recovery, with longer recovery bouts in the 60 to 90 seconds range
  • The work to rest ratio is between 1.7 and 3.4, which I interpret to mean 1:2 is a good approximation. Note: this is where many people err in building their conditioning programs. They don’t provide adequate rest. That seems like a good idea to some as it seems like you work harder. But do you? Or do you just work slower? More is not always better, but better always is.
  • 80% of strokes are within 2.5m of ready position, and there are 4 direction changes in the average point.

From that study, I created two conditioning workouts for myself: one is brief and I do it after one of my gym workouts; the other is a bit longer and I do it as a separate workout on the court after doing a tennis-specific dynamic-warmup (below this paragraph) and a few serves. Having two different conditioning workouts makes sense to me, with one focusing on the short points, and the other focusing on longer points. Although relative to the intervals I program for other sports, neither is long. Here are the two conditioning workouts:

Day 1: Post-gym workout
6 bouts of 5 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest
60 seconds rest
repeat

I do this on the slideboard and focus on trying to get as many strides in as I can. It’s easy to look at this and think 5 seconds of work is nothing. But look at it another way: how important is it to explode with those first two steps? Short bursts where you push yourself to be as fast as possible (which means you need rest) are huge helpers with that.

Over the course of May and June, the 6 bouts increases to 8 then 10, then 12.

Day 2: On-Court Conditioning
8 bouts of 10 seconds of work and 20 seconds of rest
90 seconds rest
repeat two more times (3 rounds)

I set up one cone at the middle of the baseline, another 3 meters toward the sideline, and another on the sideline (singles). Of the 8 bouts, I do 3 moving to the forehand and shuffling back, 3 moving to the backhand and shuffling back, and 2 moving in for a short ball then back-pedalling. I finish each bout by going the full distance from the ready position to the sideline instead of just the 3m. Over the course of May and June, I increase from 3 to 4 to 5 rounds.

Skill training and practice
Currently I am on court three to four times per week, with one lesson each week and then playing and/or practising with other players two to three times per week. I’m trying to balance enough tennis time to improve, with enough non-tennis time so that I don’t end up with an overuse injury. I am also going through some “inner game” issues, which I will share in a separate post – the brain really is amazing in both a good and bad way!

Rest and recovery
If you add up all of the training in my plan above, you get to 7 training sessions per week. I am a believer in a day of rest, which means in order to get my full training plan in, I will need to double up at least one day per week. So far I find this very doable, and will often either do a workout at noon and then play in the evening, or I will play twice on a weekend day. Given that of the time I only get 45 to 60 minutes of court time at the club, booking two games in a day will theoretically give me a taste of tournament play where matches may be longer.

For me the day of rest doesn’t have to be completely without activity, but I believe it should be with low intensity and different activity. I typically go for a bike ride or a nature walk on my recovery day.

Nutrition
I eat relatively well most of the time, and maintain a body fat level that I think provides a good balance between performance and enjoyment. I may change my tune over the next month and tighten up my diet a bit to include fewer indulgences, but for now that is not part of my plan. I do, however, take a post-workout recovery drink during my gym workouts, and between tennis games if I am doubling up. I mix water with a powder that is 2:1 carbohydrate to protein and has just under 200 calories per serving.

That’s my game plan for the summer. I’ll be sure to update this post at the end of the summer with my progress. Or at least if I do well, I will. :)

If you’re a tennis player in the Ottawa area and have been contemplating adding in-gym training to your week, fill in the contact form below and let’s discuss. We have openings for semi-private training where you’ll get programming and coaching that are specifically developed for your body, your sport, and your ability.

If you’re not in Ottawa, or you’d rather workout at your own gym but would love to have your workouts focused on making you a better tennis player, fill in the contact form below about our online training for tennis group for a lower-cost geography-non-specific option.

Want to dominate on the tennis court? Either with in-person training in Ottawa on online group training anywhere? Send me an e-mail with questions or to sign up.

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Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer specializing in sports performance and training around injuries.

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Tennis training: dynamic warm-ups and hip rotation

I had a great tennis lesson with a new instructor yesterday, and we chatted a bit before starting, and in particular noted that the warm-up I had been doing was not what tennis players typically do. I mentioned that I have a dynamic warm-up for tennis video that I would be happy to send to him. As the discussion ensued, I realized that I have a couple of other videos and bits of information that would probably be of interest to tennis players, so I decided to write this post.

Dynamic warm-up for tennis

Try this while you’re waiting for the court. It only takes about 5 minutes.

Hip rotation training

These are actually videos I put together for training skiers, but I realized while watching a tennis player do a cross-over that this would also be very helpful for tennis players. As you watch it, every time I refer to turning the skis, pretend I said changing direction on the court and I suspect you’ll find it makes a lot of sense.

Note: In addition to the videos below, if you have a hip injury, or find that your hips bother you when (or after) you play, you may find my ebook about Training Around Hip Injuries very helpful. Note that the currently available version is specifically for individuals with Femoro acetabular Impingement or FAI, but I have a new version coming out that is intended for a wide array of hip issues, including labral tears, arthritis and even hip resurfacing or replacements. If that is more interesting to you, I suggest you add yourself to this list and I will send out an email when it is available.

Standing hip rotation:

Mini-band hip rotations:

Single-leg squat:

Reverse lunge with hip rotation:

I hope this post is useful for some tennis players out there, and that some of it helps you to improve your performance and/or helps you stay healthy so you can enjoy this great (but sometimes frustrating) sport.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa Canada who works primarily with athletes and individuals returning to active lifestyles post-injury.

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Can the FMS predict sports injury?

I’ve been reading a lot about why the FMS is good and why it’s not recently. I’ve even co-written a point-counterpoint discussion with Bret Contreras about it.

I am a proponent of the FMS, but I have read some studies that have made me question it. I also attended a couple of very compelling presentations at a strength & conditioning conference at the University of Toronto recently that pointed out some shortcomings.

I have not read or heard enough (yet?) to change my mind about continuing to use the FMS for my clients, but I have just started to use a new assessment approach for my clients in addition to the FMS. For the next few months, I will use both approaches and will take notes about how well each one worked, both during the initial client consultation and over the first few training sessions.

I will also continue to read and listen. In fact I just read a study this morning that suggests the FMS is very beneficial in predicting injury. Here is a link to the study, titled ASSOCIATION BETWEEN THE FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENT SCREEN AND INJURY DEVELOPMENT IN COLLEGE ATHLETES. Or more specifically, that an FMS score of less than 14 combined with previous history of injury equated to athletes (in the study group) being 15 times more likely to sustain an injury over the course of a season.

I didn’t love the study abstract and write up because it didn’t address the difference between the FMS, the previous injury, or the combination of the two. Thankfully one of the tables in the study did just that. And as you can see from the screenshot below, it would appear that the combination of previous injury and an FMS score of less than 14 is a strong predictor.

Screenshot 2015-05-14 11.05.15

What I would like to see (and maybe I just missed it in the presentation of the data) is what this number changes to with higher FMS scores. What was the injury rate among athletes in the group with a history of injury and an FMS score of 15? of 16? If there is a significant drop there, then that makes for a very compelling case for a combination of:

  1. using the FMS
  2. finding out about previous injury from your clients or athlets
  3. appropriate training as a means to in increase the FMS (and conveniently training is also a great option for performance improvement)
  4. re-FMS to see if the person has moved into a lesser risk range

I think this study does show that having a low FMS score and a history of previous injury makes one much more likely to sustain an injury. That is good information to have, but only if there is something we can do with it. If there is also a proven link that the risk is lower with a higher FMS score paired with a history of previous injury, and if there is a proven link that appropriate training is a tool to get us to the higher FMS score (which I believe there is, although I need to re-review the literature), then that would be a very compelling reason to use the FMS for athletic clients. While the study is not quite a home run, it definitely sits in the “pro” column for continuing to use the FMS.

Elsbeth Vaino is an engineer turned personal trainer who enjoys the science of training

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Principles to consider for your team fitness program

March is a great month, isn’t it? The weather is getting nice, the days are getting longer, and if you’re a field sport athlete, you’re starting to look forward to the upcoming season. If you’re involved in coaching or managing the team, you’re probably starting to plan out things like try-outs and pre-season fitness.

For those of you involved in designing your team’s fitness programming and testing, Please read and consider the following three concepts:

1. Fitness must be build progressively
Often coaches go heavy on fitness testing and conditioning early in the season as a means to motivate their athletes to have done their fitness in the off-season. It’s a good thought on one hand – we want to push our athletes, and we need them to be fit. The problem is that if the players didn’t do enough off-season training, this approach can contribute to season-long overuse injuries that will either limit their performance or keep them off the field. You have a long season ahead of you. Consider cutting out the high volume fitness testing and instead program progressive fitness training into your season practice plan. In addition to reducing the overuse injuries, this can also serve as a great team building opportunity.

2. Build balanced bodies
This includes aiming for left to right, front to back, and remembering that the core is more than just the abs and hip flexors. Almost all athletes have a preferred side for cutting, accelerating, and direction change. Making them go both ways in practice will help them develop more options on the field, and will reduce overuse injury potential. For strengthening, think about balancing movements that are quad-focussed with movements that are glute-focussed, and balancing pushing movements with pulling movements. The front to back balance can be a challenge for on-field strengthening as there are many more bodyweight strengthening options that work the quad-dominant and pushing movements than their are ones that work glute-dominant and pulling. But it is possible! Lastly, remember that v-sits, crunches and planks all work the anterior (front) core muscles. Try to have a balance of front, side, and rear core exercises in your core fitness regimen.

3. More is not better; better is better
This is true for virtually all aspects of fitness, but I want to specifically address plyometrics and intervals. To get the most out of your athletes without breaking them, focus on quality in plyometrics, and intensity with intervals, instead of increasing volume. Think less but harder. In addition to risking injury, when we add volume as a means to increase the challenge, we run the risk of our athletes adapting an I’m saving some for the next sprint mentality. If we can get rid of that mentality in practice, it can carry over onto the field.

If you are involved in your team’s fitness training program, then you may be interested in my free ebook, Creating Sport-Specific Dynamic Warm-ups. All you need to do to get this free ebook is sign-up for my Sports Performance Newsletter:

Sports Performance Newsletter and Dynamic Warm-Ups ebook

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Are you doing the right workout?

Depending who you talk to, the best exercise option is one of the following[1]:

Aquatic exercises
Climbing
Cross-country skiing
Crossfit
Cycling
Elliptical
Equestrian
Free weights
Functional training
Intervals
Kettlebells
Olympic lifting
Pilates
Playing my favourite sport
Plyometrics
Power lifting
Running
Skating
Strength training
Stretching
Swimming
Tabatas
TRX
Walking
Yoga

Did I miss any? I was about to add aerobics, but I’m pretty sure that’s one 1980s fad that hasn’t come back. Or has it?

The point being – it’s a pretty long list. And each one has staunch supporters who are eager to tell you that their favourite is the best option. Who is right? Are you doing the right or workout? How can you tell?

In truth – it’s really quite simple. Answer the following 3 questions to find out if you’re doing the right workout for you:
1. Do you do it?
2. Are you staying healthy (or not losing health)?
3. Are you reaching your goals, or on track to do so?

If you answered yes to all three questions, then you’re doing it right. Period. And yes, for some of you that means crossfit is the right option for you. Daily yoga might be it for others. Or running. Or going for walks with your best friend, spouse, or kids.

What about those of you who can’t answer yes to one or more of those three important questions? For you, there’s clearly something missing. “I do it”, “it isn’t hurting me”, and “it’s helping me reach my goals” shouldn’t be too much to ask of your exercise regime.

This leads to the question: if you answer no to at least one of those questions, what do you need to change?

1. “I don’t do it”. If you’re not doing it, then you don’t enjoy it enough. Try something else until you find something you enjoy. This is the single most important determinant in what you should do, because if you’re not doing it, the details are irrelevant. Not sure how to find out? Find a friend who’s willing to experiment with you. You might be surprised to hear this, but you may find that you will actually enjoy lifting weights. Seriously – some of my clients actually look forward to their sessions. Others look forward to their yoga classes, or their running group. Personally, I feel this way about skiing and ultimate. Try to find that thing that you will look forward to, and do that. It may be about the activity, or it may be about the people involved. Either or both is fine. Whatever it takes to get you to enjoy moving!

2. If you love what you’re doing but your body doesn’t, that’s a problem. Sorry for bursting your bubble, but exercise should enhance your ability to move, not reduce it. If it makes your knee, or back, or shoulder hurt, it’s doing the opposite of that. A little secret: this applies to the more “gentle” exercise types like yoga and pilates. Some yoga poses will cause problems for some people. I’m not saying yoga is bad; it’s not. But I am saying that if your body responds poorly to yoga, then some part of it is bad for you.

Similarly, I think we all know runners who run for hours blocking out the pain from their knees, hips, or shins. Or weight lifters who have a constantly sore back. And soccer players who wear as many braces as they have joints. They’re doing it wrong.

I believe there is one exception to the rule that your exercise choice should make your body should feel good: if you are someone with a chronic, degenerative joint problem who has pain 24/7; it’s highly unlikely that your joints will magically stop hurting during exercise. But the initial question still holds true for you: “Are you staying healthy (or not losing health)?” What this means for you, is that the exercise you do shouldn’t make this problem worse. If it does, that’s a problem. If it is the same or a bit better, then awesome. You’re doing it right.

If your exercise approach is hurting your body, what can you do about it? Try something different. I don’t necessarily mean you should completely stop doing your thing; but it may be time to cut back and add in something that complements it. For most people who only do one type of exercise, this typically means adding in something else that works your body differently. For instance, I believe most people do either too much or too little yoga. I think those who do yoga as their sole source of exercise should add in strength training; and conversely, those who do strength training as their sole source of exercise should add in yoga. Most runners will also benefit from strength training and/or yoga (depending on how they move), and/or swimming. Take a look at what you’re doing and think about whether you’re missing anything. If you are, add or substitute it in. Personally I workout at the gym with strength and mobility exercises as a means to keep my arthritic hip happy enough that I can keep enjoying skiing and ultimate.

Last word on this: if you are finding yourself injured or sore all the time from your exercise, you may be due for some massage, or a visit to an athletic therapist, chiropractor, or physical therapist. The health benefits of exercise are so vast it’s almost ridiculous, but if you use your body, some maintenance of the muscular system is advised. You wouldn’t drive your car for years at a time without changing the oil, filters, and spark plugs, would you? Then why are you doing that to your body? You’re probably not going to have the same car 30 years from now, but hopefully you will have the same body. If car maintenance takes a higher priority for you than body maintenance, you’re definitely doing it wrong.

3. Let’s talk goals, shall we? Do you have fitness or performance goals? If you do and you aren’t meeting them with your current exercise approach, then your current approach isn’t working for you. Simple. You can really fix this in one of two ways: change what you’re doing, or change your goals. That latter part was not meant to be cheeky, but rather is a reality for many of us.

Sometimes our goals don’t fit any more. It may be a factor of the time we have available to commit to exercise, or it may be that our goals are more appropriate for a younger version of ourselves. That’s not meant to be defeatist! Appropriate training can work wonders in terms of preparing the body to take on great feats, regardless of age (just ask these 80, 90 and 100 year olds). But there are two realities to consider in regards to how our bodies perform at 50 versus at 25:
1. A 50 year old body has 25 more years of wear and tear on it. If you’ve spent those 25 years playing a sport at a high level, odds are you have a joint or two that has suffered as a result.
2. while a 50 year old body has the physical potential to accomplish a lot, it has some physiological limitations like stiffer connective tissue, and slower recovery.

If the reason your exercise approach isn’t helping you meet your goals is that your goals don’t match you or your life, then work out some new goals, and start working toward them.

If your goals are appropriate, then the problem is your exercise choice. This is where you will need to get into more details, and you may find you need some help figuring it out. If your goals are weight loss related and you’re not meeting them, it may be a factor of your choice of exercise, or the amount you’re doing; but more likely it is a factor of nutrition choices. If you’re not sure how to address that, consider getting help from a nutritionist. You may also find my Get Lean program will be a good start to helping you address some habits that are slowing your progress.

If your goals are performance related, then what is the deficit? Most athletes know their shortcomings if they really reflect: is it speed? Endurance? Strength? Flexibility? Power? Are your opponents getting away from you on the ice because they sneak around you, because their first step is better, or they eventually overtake you? Or is the limitation related to question 2 – is there an injury problem limiting you? Often some self-evaluation can help you to recognize what you need.

Maybe your goals are about life-performance? Want to be able to play with your grandkids in the park? Or be the coach of your kid’s soccer team? But maybe you’re worried you’ll be huffing and puffing after demonstrating one drill? Or that you’ll throw your back out with one kick? For most people, reaching these goals will be best achieved with some combination of strength, flexibility, and endurance training. Unfortunately there isn’t a book or website I can point you to that will find the answer for you. What I can suggest is that you find a health care professional that you trust and ask them for guidance. Odds are they know who the good fitness professionals are who can help you figure this out. And of course if you’re in the Ottawa area and you think this all makes soooo much sense, then you may be interested in getting some help from me or one of the personal trainers who works with me at Custom Strength. We’re all about helping people find the right exercise for them.

How do you fare against the three questions? Are you doing it right? If so, what are you doing? And well done! If you answered no to one or more questions, has this been helpful to steer you to a better path?

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa Canada who loves that she gets paid to help people reach their goals.

[1] I recognize some of the “exercise types I listed are really tools (TRX, kettlebell) or protocols (Tabata), but I often hear people speak about them as though they were types, and following the perception is reality philosophy, it made sense to me to include them. In a similar vein, some are overlapping or flat out redundant, for the same reason as above.

What motivates you to workout?

I don’t love working out. There, I said it. Weird right? I mean, I love being a trainer. But I don’t think “yay, leg day” when I get to the start of my workout. What I do think is “this is going to give me a shot at being like this guy“:

96 and still skiing. So awesome! I want to do that. And for those who think you’re too old to start something, did you notice that George Jedenoff said he didn’t start skiing until he was 43?

Then there’s the centenarian skier:

It’s a fact: I would like to still be skiing at 100. And I’m pretty sure that getting there will require some body maintenance. That’s why I work out. The fringe benefit is that working out also let’s me have the stamina to perform the sports I love without having to stop early and without that pesky next day soreness. As awesome as playing is, sport can take a toll on your body. Or at least they can if left unchecked. Each sport has its repetitive movements, and depending on how your body adapts to those movements, can start wearing down your joints. Yes working out helps with performance, but in my mind, this is the true gift of working out. Playing a sport often results in specific muscles getting stronger and in some cases also getting tighter. Over time, this can lead to joints getting out of their natural alignment. I can’t think of any sport that is truly balanced in terms of the movements you do during the sport. Working out can help with this. A good sport-specific training plan will not only address the movements and energy systems needed for your sport, but also the movements your body needs so that it can balance out the impact of your sport. If being able to play for another 50 years is one of your goals, then this has to be a consideration.

For those not into skiing, the next inspirational interlude features Ruth Frith, who continued to set world record at 103 years old.

If you’re watching the videos, you’ll notice a theme: These people all work at it. And they don’t mind working at it, because the joy they get from their sport is more than worth it. Everyone reading this who has a sport they love knows that feeling. Or at least those of you who do are probably smiling right now. How cool would it be to extend that feeling into your 90s and 100s? So what are you doing about it? Working out is what I’m doing about it. Here’s another example, this time the world’s fastest centenarian:

Further to the note above about training the movements that you don’t use in your sport to ensure your body stays healthy, it is also important to listen to your body. It gives clues when there is a problem. I used to be that person who kept playing my sport even though it hurt so much that I followed each game with “vitamin I” and then hobbled around for a few days until the next opportunity to play. Then one day I thought “how will this impact my dream of skiing at 100?” I think it’s fair to say that “Negatively” is the answer. For this reason, I no longer play ultimate in the winter. It turns out that my hips don’t like the pounding that results from playing ultimate on turf. I could still do it, and as an athlete, having a sore joint after playing is not that hard to just suck up. But when I think about that sucking it up now could mean not skiing when I’m a senior, I quickly change my mind. In fact I would argue that playing your sport year round, especially if you have a nagging injury, will not only lessen your chances at awesomeness in your senior years, but it will likely reduce your performance in the short term. If your joint hurts with every step or every pivot, or every throw, are you really able to put your all into that play? If so, for how long? How many games did you miss last season because your body finally couldn’t hack it? Maybe it’s time to look at the off-season the way professional athletes do: As a time for recovery and a time for preparation.

Speaking of performance, here’s gymnast Johanna Quaas with a brief gymnastics display shortly before her 89th birthday:

So that’s why I workout: So that I can have the best shot at doing the things I love for the rest of my life. And I love my job as a trainer because it allows me to help my clients workout so that they too can enjoy the sports they love for the rest of their lives.

Why do you workout? And before you answer, here’s one more inspirational video, this time it’s 82 year old Madonna Buder crossing the finish line at the Ironman in Penticton in 2012, making her the oldest person to ever finish an ironman:

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer, skier and ultimate player in Ottawa.

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Can’t go left?

Nope, not a blog about Seinfeld, although I do wish I had a video clip of this:

“Every time he tries to make a move, something screws up. Like on their first date, they were on the couch, but she was sitting on his wrong side.”
“Wrong side?”
“Yes, she was on his right side. He can’t make a move with his left hand. Can’t go left.”
“He can’t go left?”
“No. I’m leftie, can’t go right. What about women? Do they go left or right?”
“No, we just play defense.”
- Jerry and Elaine, in “The Implant”

Taking this concept out of the dating realm and into the hills, one of the biggest problems I saw when teaching intermediate and advanced skiers was a greater difficulty to turn one direction over the other. We typically tried to fix this problem with skiing drills on the snow, to varying degrees of success. Here’s the problem with that approach: odds are the problem still remains when you take your skis off.

If only I had addressed that strength difference...
If only I had addressed that strength difference…

I say this with a degree of confidence based on the number of different people I have worked with as a personal trainer. When I first meet a new client, I have them perform a series of movements so I can see how well they move, whether there are areas that will need extra attention, and if there are movements where we’ll need to tread lightly for a while. I also can see if there are differences in any of the movements from side to side. As it turns out, most people are not symmetrical in their movement.

In fact 83% of the people I screened had at least one movement pattern where they was a noticeable difference between left and right. (Here’s the full result for anyone who is interested). This is while standing on flat ground, either barefoot or in shoes. What if the asymmetry in your turns is not related to how you ski, but to how your body moves? If that is the case then are you really going to have the most success addressing it on snow? Or will you see better results if you try to address it on land?

If you have a harder time turning to one side, try the exercises shown in the following series of short videos. The first is an introduction, and the next four each provide specific exercises that you can try at home. They address strength and stability in your hips and legs. Give these a try for a few weeks and then see if that one direction on snow feels easier. If it does, then consider adding these movements once or twice a week for maintenance.

Introduction:

Exercise #1: Standing hip rotation

Exercise #2: Band hip rotations

Exercise #3: Single leg squat

Exercise #4: Reverse lunge with rotation

Lastly, do you warm up before skiing with anything other than a cruiser run? If not, give this warmup a try. You can do it on snow, it only takes a few minutes, and it gives your body a nice bit of preparation for the fun you’re about to have.

Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer and former ski instructor in Ottawa.

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Why do you have FAI?

FAI, or femoro acetabular impingement, is a hip “abnormality” in the shape of either or both of the femoral head and acetabulum. If you have it, or suspect you have it, you’re probably relatively young (seemingly too young for hip problems), and you’ve probably been dealing with hip and/or groin pain for a while without knowing what was going on, until someone finally came up with FAI.

I was diagnosed with it in 2007 after almost two decades of on-again, off-again hip pain and dysfunction. Since then, I’ve read a lot, chatted with many people who have it, and have trained many clients with it. I recently wrote briefly about my own experience with FAI, and have also written an at-home exercise ebook for FAI.

As more is known about FAI, more research is being published. I’ve pulled out five particularly interesting facts (or so I think) from the research, and have included my interpretation of them and their potential relevance. Enjoy, and please ask questions in the comments and I’ll get to them as soon as I can. One note: use of the term “young” in this post refers to people under the age of fifty. Funny how our concept of “young” changes as we age! With respect to hips and FAI, studies tend to focus on people under fifty.

Fact #1: FAI is much more prevalent among men than women, with studies suggesting anywhere from 14% to 24% occurrence in young men with asymptomatic hips , but only 6% in young women with asymptomatic hips.[1]
Interpretation: FAI is a real thing, even among people with no symptoms. The question is, what does it mean? If someone has FAI but has no symptoms, should we do anything about it? Take my hips for instance. I had twenty years of hip pain in my left hip, and zero years of pain in my right hip, but I have FAI in both. My sense as a trainer is that it’s important to recognize that not all hips are built “to spec” and that the two biggest areas where we should keep FAI in mind are in relation to stretching and squats. With hip stretches, I keep tabs on whether it causes pain or discomfort. If it does, I’m going to tend to assume we’re pushing into a bony end range (maybe FAI; maybe another hip structural anomaly), and I’m going to back off that stretch. I’ll talk about squats down a few facts.

Fact #2: FAI is twice as common among men with limited hip internal rotation as those with normal hip rotation range of motion.[2]
Interpretation: I think an important question to ask about this finding is whether FAI is more common in the presence of reduced internal hip rotation, or whether reduced internal hip rotation is an early sign of FAI. Either way, I think the take home is similar to the take home for fact#1: If someone has limited hip internal rotation, there might be a structural contribution, so be careful with your efforts to increase internal rotation range of motion. In fact this might be a situation where seeking input from a good physical therapist, athletic therapist, or chiropractor would be in order.

Fact #3: “We performed a database review of pelvic and hip radiographs obtained from 157 young (mean age 32 years; range, 18-50 years) patients presenting with hip-related complaints to primary care and orthopaedic clinics…At least one finding of FAI was found in 135 of the 155 patients (87%)”[3]
Interpretation: Yikes! 87% of young, symptomatic hips had FAI? I think the take home here is obvious: Don’t ignore comments of hip pain. Perhaps this is a good reminder that the body is pretty good at telling us when something is wrong, if we’re willing to listen. I always hate to suggest this, but feel I would be remiss if I didn’t: If your hip hurts after you play your chosen sport, maybe you should question whether playing that sport is appropriate for you? That’s not to say that if something hurts a bit, you should stop playing. Definitely not! But if your hip constantly hurts during or after a specific activity, despite having spent months (or years in my case) with a manual therapist and a good training program, maybe your body isn’t built to do that activity. For me, this brings a flashback to the 2007 Canadian Ultimate Championships, and me sitting in the stands between games with a big bag of ice on my left hip while snacking on vitamin I (Advil). Note I did this “in between games”; not after stopping playing because my body was clearly telling me that I was damaging my hip. So yes, this is me suggesting you aim to be smarter than I was.

Fact #4: People with FAI have less range of motion in body weight squats than do people without FAI.[4]
Interpretation: People who have FAI probably shouldn’t squat. How can you tell? Is it painful? Does your pelvis shift to one side during the squat? Do you start to round your back at the bottom? These are signs that you lack the range of motion or stability required to squat so your body is finding alternative ways. If you see this, try to fix it, and if you can, great. But if you can’t fix it, then you are probably someone who shouldn’t squat. Thankfully it is possible to be awesome without squats in your workout.

Fact #5: Hockey players have a higher prevalence of FAI than do skiers and soccer players, and the rate increases as they move up, with particularly high levels noted at the midget level.[5]
Interpretation: FAI might be something people develop in response to biomechanical forces? And it would appear that there is something in the way hockey players skate that produces higher rates of adaptation. It would be interesting to see if similar numbers are seen in figure skaters, to see if it is a skating thing, or if it is a skating with the torso in a flexed position thing? In terms of what I suggest, I need to disclose that I have a conflict of interest: I am Canadian. And that means I can’t suggest that someone consider not playing hockey, because I don’t want to have my passport revoked. But you may want to re-read fact #3.

If you have FAI, are you a hockey player? How’s your hip internal rotation? How does your squat look? Do squats cause hip pain? Do you keep doing them anyway? It’s interesting to think that our bones change in response to our activities. That may seem revolutionary, but in fact it’s a long-known truth. In fact it’s even got a name: Wolff’s Law.

I’m very excited to be launching my new ebook: Training Around Injuries: At Home Exercises for FAI in November.

Did I mention that I wrote an FAI ebook? Head over here to learn more (and to buy it). It’s a home exercise program (4 of them actually), complete with photos and instructions, a link to a video playlist that has all 42 exercises demonstrated and described, and a background section to help you understand what might be going on.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa Canada who also has FAI (technically I had it on both sides but after surgery on the left, I now only have it on the right).

References:
[1] KA Jung, et al, “The prevalence of cam-type femoroacetabular deformity in asymptomatic adults”, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 2011.
[2] Michael Leunig, “Basic and Clinical Science Advances in Understanding FAI
[3] Leah M. Ochoa et al. “Radiographic Prevalence of Femoroacetabular Impingement in a Young Population with Hip Complaints Is High”, Clin Orthop Relat Res. Oct 2010,
[4] Mario Lamontagne, et al, “The Effect of Cam FAI on Hip and Pelvic Motion during Maximum Squat”. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 March.
[5] Marc J Philipon Et al. “Prevalence of Increased Alpha Angles as a Measure of Cam-Type Femoroacetabular Impingement in Youth Ice Hockey Players”. Am J Sports Med 2013 Apr.