A Strong Back Cornerstone of Conditioning

From the April 30 edition of The Lancaster News

From posture to lifting, our back muscles play a significant part in our everyday lives. Developing a healthy and strong back is a must in any strength conditioning program.

This muscle group is often overlooked by some because when they look in the mirror, they can’t visually see a strong back. Instead, they are looking for the toned, cut and defined abs or curvy, toned hips. You may not realize that it takes great back posture to support great abdominals and hips. Let’s face it – you can’t show off your hard-earned abs if your back is out of shape. It all works together.

About the back muscles

The back muscles are a large group of muscles integrated with both stabilizer and prime movers. That means when performing different movements, they work together to stabilize and move the human skeletal system.

One very significant function it entails with is posture. Posture is considered in some readings to be static (without movement).

However, in today’s society, posture must rapidly change to meet the heavy demands that are being placed on the kinetic chain (muscle, skeletal and nervous systems).

Exercise properly

The seated row and straight arm lat pull-down exercises illustrated on Page 2B are for educational purposes only.

It’s important to remember that people who have suffered from chronic back pain in the past or have current conditions, such as a herniated disk, osteoporosis, back muscle spasm, back surgeries, spinal cord injury or any other back issues or concerns, should always use caution when exercising. I advise that before adopting any type of exercise or training regimen, you should first check with your family physician or with a physical therapist. The seated row is a great exercise for building the back for strength and overall development. I prefer this exercise because it involves both contraction and stretching.

During the pulling motion, you go into a muscle contraction and when you lean forward, it stretches the lats (back muscles).

You can use various types of hand grips, such as using a straight bar with hands over grip, a hands under grip or use a close-grip bar with palms facing each other.

The straight-arm lat pull downs have both a contraction and stretching affects as well. Secondary muscles get a workout, too During both the seated row and straight-arm lat pull down movements, various other secondary muscle groups are being exercised, too.

These include the posterior deltoids (back of the shoulder muscle) and the biceps (front of the upper arm muscle). The straight-arm lat pull down also involves using the rectus abdominal/pelvic core muscles (ab muscles) and the triceps long head (back of the upper arm).

Remember properly training your back muscles is the key for strength and endurance. If you don’t, you will have a difficult time training your hips. Take charge today and develop a back training program to be the cornerstone of a healthy physique. Until next time, train hard and eat healthy.

– Fitness expert and bodybuilder Kennett Washington is president of Healing Strength Personal Training.

Photo illustrations

Straight-arm Lat Pull Downs

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You should first start by standing and facing the machine with your feet slightly apart. Take an overhand grip on the bar with your arms straight with a very slight bend at the elbow joint. Your back should be straight. Activate your core by inhaling and contracting your abdominals) simultaneously. Pull the bar down until it touches your upper thighs. Remember to keep your arms straight and elbows slightly bent. Hold movement at bottom position for a tenth of a second. Start to exhale as you return back to the starting position.

Seated Row

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You should first start by sitting and facing the machine, above. If the machine model has foot stops, place your feet in position with a slight bend in the knees, but do not lock your knees out. Lean toward the pulley gripping the bar safely, inhale and pull the handle until it touches your lower rib cage. Arch your back slightly (do not over-arch). Pull the handle toward your torso, making sure your elbows travel as far backward as possible, below. Hold movements for a tenth of a second. Begin exhaling as you return back to the starting position.

Elliptical Trainers

Elliptical trainer can reap great rewards When is it comes to cardiovascular and condition training, an elliptical trainer is my favorite choice. Some of you may not know what an elliptical trainer is.

An elliptical trainer (sometimes referred to as a cross trainer) is a stationary exercise machine with movements similar to that of walking, running or skiing.

The experts’ choice

Some models are equipped with components that provide both upper and lower body workouts, which I recommend, simply because of the calorie expenditure it takes to move four extremities versus two.

If your goal is burning excessive body fat, tone up and improve overall body strength, this is the exercise for you.

Think about it like this; An elliptical trainer forces you to simultaneously use upper and lower body movements at the same time. I can assure you from experience that you will burn twice the calories you’d burn using a machine that only requires lower body movements.

An elliptical trainer also allows you to combine various muscle groups. Some of these include small muscles such as the triceps muscle (back of the arm) or the gastrocnemius (calf muscle) and the larger muscles, such as latissimus dorsi (back muscle), the gluteus maximus (buttocks) and the quadriceps (front of the thighs). The core (abdominal muscles) is also one of the muscle groups an elliptical trainer benefits since it plays a vital role in the movements of all of these various muscle groups.

Design and purpose

Improper elliptical training can lead to serious knee injuries.

An elliptical trainer was designed with the intent to take excessive pressure off the joints, especially the knees, in a non-impact cardiovascular workout. On a treadmill, someone with a past or present knee injury will soon discover that intense walking or even jogging will have a painful impact.

The knee and its structure is much too complex for me to explain. Suffice it to say, all have four major ligaments within the complex structure of each individual knee.

And if one of these ligaments is damaged due to injury, tightness, swelling, etc., it can affect other knee components, including tendons, fluid, bones, cartilage and other ligaments.

Common mistakes

I often note that some people who use elliptical trainers tend to lock their knees as they go through the motion of the movement.

The movement itself is almost like cross-country skiing. It should be done with a continuous, glide-type motion, using both upper and lower extremities together. I coach all of my clients on the importance of proper form.

You should never lock the knees because when you do, you direct a huge amount of pressure or force on the joints.

For example, if you weigh 230 pounds, every time you shift your weight with your knees locked and hyperextended, you are placing up to 65 percent of your body weight on that locked knee joint. That is not what an elliptical trainer was made for; this machine was designed to decrease the excessive pressure to the joint decreases the risk of impact injuries. Locking the knee can create major micro- tears within the knee joint, ligaments and tendons. Plus, when you lock your knees, you remove the resistance from the muscles and place it on the joints.

Over time, this will cause severe cartilage and bone damage, which can also lead to certain joint diseases, such as arthritis.

I have also noticed that some individuals over-compensate on the balls of their feet. By going through the motions of the lower body movement, you should work to not over-compensating by raising up on the balls of your feet. Now, it’s natural to have a slight heel lift during the movement on an elliptical, but this movement should not be excessive.

Most clients who cannot do this correctly are simply dealing with overly tightened muscles and muscle imbalances in their lower body. If this is done incorrectly over time, it will cause some type of injury.

I have found that to avoid this, you should concentrate on stretching the entire gastrocnemius (calf) muscle.

If you are one who experiences this type of compensation, I strongly recommend you add some type of static, active and myofascial stretching techniques into your training program. In conclusion, an elliptical trainer is beneficial for a total body cardio workout while conditioning and toning small and large muscle groups.

Ultimately, you are burning more calories. But like with any other exercise program, I encourage you to occasionally switch to another method of cardiovascular training.

If you are unable to use this piece of equipment due to a medical condition or other reason, check with your physician or physical therapist for possible alternatives.

– Fitness expert and bodybuilder Kennett Washington is president of Healing Strength Personal Training.