5 Exercises for Increasing Thoracic Spine Mobility in Your Golf Swing

By Dr. Ben Langdown, PhD (@benlangdown) and Jennifer Fleischer (@holisticfitsf)

By Dr. Ben Langdown, PhD (@benlangdown) and Jennifer Fleischer (@holisticfitsf)

Our last blog focused on exercises to increase the strength of the gluteals and discussed their role in creating various movements. This time we’ll address the thoracic region of the vertebral column (commonly known as the T-Spine) and provide examples of mobilisations and exercises to improve mobility in this area.

Do you want the chance to create a more effective swing and increase clubhead speed? Read on to see how mobility exercises can help...

As a whole, the vertebral column (often described in press as ‘the spine’ or ‘spinal column’) has 5 main functions:

  1. To support the weight of the head and the trunk
  2. To allow movement of the head and trunk
  3. To protect the spinal cord which transmits signals all over the body
  4. To allow nerves to exit to each part of the body
  5. To provide sites for muscle attachment
 

The functions of the vertebral column, from an anatomical point of view, are well established. However, how we improve movement in the thoracic region and transfer it to the golf swing needs further investigation. This blog focuses on function number 2 -- the ability of the spine to allow movement of the head and trunk -- and in particular, the movement of the trunk.

We know that golf is a sport that involves a great deal of rotation...and that rotation has to come from somewhere in the body.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: The Thoracic Spine!

 
                A thoracic vertebrae

                A thoracic vertebrae

 

12 chunks of bone, stacked on top of each other, named T1-T12, increasing in size the further down you go, pointy ‘processes’ for muscle attachment, a close relationship (‘articulations’) with the ribs, an ability to rotate, flex, extend and bend sideways...the T-spine certainly plays an important role in the golf swing.

 
The thoracic region of the vertebral column

The thoracic region of the vertebral column

 

While a golfer should produce sufficient rotation through the thoracic spine, it is also important that the hips provide rotation during the golf swing. Note that we said “hips” here and not pelvis! The pelvis itself cannot rotate, as it is not a joint. We can measure the resulting rotation of the hip joints via the change in pelvis position from address using 3D analysis during the golf swing. Beware of compensatory movements that contribute to this rotation though. Studies (e.g. Murray et al., 2009) have found that golfers with decreased hip rotation were more likely to complain of lower back pain. This suggests that increases in lumbar rotation in the golf swing may be one of the reasons why this pain occurs. We have previously discussed how sitting at a desk for prolonged periods can lead to poor posture and limited thoracic rotation. If the T-spine can’t rotate enough, the lower back will often rotate to compensate for this lack of mobility.

Table 1.0 shows the normal range of motion expected at each area of the spine and the hips. One thing to note is that the total amount of lumbar rotation usually ranges between 3° and 18° when in a neutral posture but values can be higher in younger children due to the orientation of the facets on the lumbar vertebrae (aged up to ~11 years of age; Kondratek et al., 2007). Anything over 3° rotation at each joint for adults can result in compensated movement and greater risk of injury and low back pain (Bogduk, 2005) . The function of the lumbar region should therefore be one of stability while the thoracic region should provide mobility.

 
The lumbar region of the vertebral column 

The lumbar region of the vertebral column 

 

Do you often get low back pain during or following golf? Or is your PGA Professional saying you over-rotate your pelvis in your backswing?

When swinging the golf club, we must remember that we are not simply rotating. We are also flexing, extending and side bending throughout the swing. As a result, too much lumbar rotation, extension and lateral flexion (side bend) when in posture at the top of the backswing and especially through the high-force phase of the downswing and eventual follow through can increase the incidence of lower back pain and risk of injury. As a result, good range of motion in the thoracic spine and hips can help reduce the amount of compensatory movements in the swing.

Hashimoto et al. (2013) have even gone to the extent of analysing golfers wearing corsets in an attempt to increase stability in the lumbar region. They found that corsets could significantly reduce lumbar extension, tilt and rotation while also increasing hip rotation in the trail hip (16% higher) at the top of the backswing and lead hip (19% higher) at the end of the follow-through. However, they didn’t measure clubhead speed or any performance parameters, so unless you are already in the habit of wearing a corset to the golf course then currently this may not be a practical or comfortable solution!


Having established where the rotation should be coming from, we can propose that there are plenty of golfers out there who are generating their backswing ‘turn’ through other compensatory movements! They will gain rotation through the lumbo-pelvic region by making these compensatory movements (e.g. changes in leg movements, buckling knees inwards or straightening the knee joint to provide any sort of added rotation through the hip and generally excessive resultant pelvis turn), but this may come at a cost: reduced clubhead speed (lack of separation between upper and lower body) and increased risk of injury to the back, hip, knees or other areas of the body, especially when combined with overuse of these movements.

As rotation is so important, how do we go about ensuring it comes from the right places?

The key is to make sure that clubhead speed in the swing is not limited by physical constraints, and in this case, a lack of range of movement in T-Spine. The strength and conditioning focus, therefore, needs to be on improving both T-spine AND hip rotation (both internal and external).

The focus of this blog is to provide a few ideas for increasing thoracic rotation. Remember, thoracic mobility is only part of the puzzle for increasing clubhead speed and altering movement patterns. Many other factors contribute, including (but not limited to) the range of movement available at the hips and also how any increases in T-spine movement is transferred into the swing. For this reason, working with a PGA Professional in addition to a strength and conditioning coach is vital. A team approach is required to alter movement patterns both in the gym and out on the golf course.


5 Exercises for Increasing Thoracic Spine Mobility

You should only perform the following exercises if you have had clearance from your Doctor. Perform them when you are warmed up and start with 3 times per week.

SKLZ Accupoint Drill

Place the Accupoint (or two tennis balls taped together) under your T-Spine, towards the lower part of your ribcage. The Accupoint shouldn’t be touching the vertebrae, instead it should be touching the muscles either side. Perform 5 small crunches with the hands on the side of the head and then lower yourself down onto the Accupoint for the second phase of the drill. Reach the hands into the air above the head and keeping the elbows straight drop each arm towards the floor aiming to touch the thumb to the ground. Hold for a couple of seconds and then repeat on the other side and then with both arms.

Move the Accupoint slightly higher up the back and repeat the process. You should aim to do this with the Accupoint in 4-5 different positions up the thoracic spine.

Open Book

Lying on your back place the top leg over to the side and keep the knee held down as you perform the exercise.  Your head can be resting on a pillow or pad and you should let it move as you complete the exercise. Take the top arm over to the opposite side of the body to the held down knee and rotate the torso to increase the stretch through the T-Spine area. The important point in this movement is to keep the pelvis stable so that the stretch is felt in the mid-upper back. Hold the position for a count of 5-10 and repeat several times each side.

Anti-Rotation Drills – Plank Rows

Assume a plank position on the hands. The aim with this exercise is to not let the body rotate as you lift one hand off the floor. To make this easier you can place your feet wider, or to challenge yourself keep them closer together. Before you raise your hand, brace your core and slowly row your hand to your side, lower it back down and repeat on the other side. To increase the load you can use dumbbells and you can also mix it up by lifting one foot at a time. Remember – there should be no movement of the body, just the limb that is being raised off the ground. This exercise, although it’s called ‘anti-rotation’ will actually strengthen the muscles that drive rotation in the swing. Perform 2-3 sets of 4-6 rows each side as part of your exercise programme.

Reach Backs

This exercise can be done in two positions: sitting down on the heels and on all fours. Place one hand on the head and move the elbow from the floor to the air, rotating through the T-Spine. Try to fix the position of the pelvis so that there is no compensatory movement adding to the rotation. Complete 5 reps each side and then repeat the drill, this time trying to rotate a little further through the T-Spine.

Spiderman Stretch

This is a great stretch for increasing mobility through the hips and the T-spine. Lunge forwards, place both hands inside the front foot and reach with alternating hands into the air with rotation from the torso. Hold this position for a count of 5 and repeat on the other side. You can keep the back knee off the floor to challenge yourself further and you can also add in a hamstring stretch to the exercise straight after the lunge, as shown in the video.


References:

Bogduk, N. (2005). Clinical anatomy of the lumbar spine and sacrum. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Hashimoto, K., Miyamoto, K., Yanagawa, T., Hattori, R., Aoki, T., Matsuoka, T., ... & Shimizu, K. (2013). Lumbar corsets can decrease lumbar motion in golf swing. Journal of sports science & medicine, 12(1), 80.

Kondratek, M., Krauss, J., Stiller, C., & Olson, R. (2007). Normative values for active lumbar range of motion in children. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 19(3), 236-244. 

Murray, E., Birley, E., Twycross-Lewis, R., & Morrissey, D. (2009). The relationship between hip rotation range of movement and low back pain prevalence in amateur golfers: an observational study. Physical Therapy in Sport, 10(4), 131-135.


 

 

 

 

Ten Foods That Help You Shed Pounds

We all know that there are millions of diets out there. Paleo. Atkins. Macrobiotic. Whatever Tom Brady is eating.  And we also all know that diets don’t work.

We need to shift the weight loss conversation from one about diet, diet plans and celebrity-endorsed fads to one about eating for wellness and using whole foods to support optimal health. After all, you can’t lose weight to get healthy. You have to get healthy to lose weight.

Food nourishes us. It’s the most powerful drug on the planet. It can work for us providing optimal health and vitality, or against us, creating disease.

While we all have varying needs of proteins to fats to carbohydrates at each meal, most of us share a few major things in common when it comes to food.

  1. Eating anti-inflammatory foods leads to weight loss, increased mental acuity and an overall reduced risk of disease
  2. We ALL get more insulin resistant as we age and therefore LESS ABLE to process carbohydrates, leading to increased weight gain and, according to recent studies, even certain neurodegenerative diseases
  3. Healthy fats, once thought to give us heart disease and an ever-expanding waistline, are actually highly protective for brain health and immunity, and support the function of every cell in our bodies
  4. Health starts in the gut

Have you heard that last point before? Health starts in the gut. Perhaps more than anything else, a healthy microbiome (essentially your body’s community of microorganisms) dictates your overall health – everything from your mood to how much inflammation is in your body. Recent studies prove that the microbiome is so important for your overall health, in fact, that it’s now being referred to as “a newly recognized organ” and “the other human genome”. As neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter says, “What a humbling notion it is to consider the fact that 99% of the DNA contained within the human body is actually DNA that is associated with the bacteria that live within us. When we consider how the human genome has been so aggressively studied as representing the “holy grail” in terms of its role in determining our health destiny, to get our arms around the notion that in fact almost all of the DNA in the human body is actually bacterial certainly changes our perception of who we are and what we are. And even more compelling is new research that indicates that even that 1% of the DNA in our bodies that we consider our own is itself actually and powerfully influenced by the gut bacteria, our microbiome.”

I can hear you now --  Hello? I thought this blog was about how to get rid of my gut?!

Stay with me.

The foods you crave (and how much) are determined by your microbiome.

  • While we once thought it was ideal to be germ-free, we now know that good bacteria can help us avoid overeating and can even help curb some of our food cravings. Scientists in recent studies have found that germ-free mice developed more receptors for sweet flavors in their intestines and preferred to drink sweeter drinks than their normal mice counterparts. In addition to craving more sweets, these germ-free mice also demonstrated a dramatic increase in appetite.

Your ability to lose weight is determined by your microbiome.

  • Researchers are now able to identify patterns in the types of bacteria in the gut. Some bacteria correlates with obesity and metabolic syndrome while other bacteria may relate to superior health.
  • A study in Science found that differences in the microbiome might even explain seemingly unusual instances wherein one twin is obese and struggles to lose weight while the other is lean.

In addition to taking a high-quality probiotic supplement, if you really want to nurture your microbiome and support all of its functions, start to incorporate these foods into your diet today:

Prebiotics: (these foods help nourish the existing healthy gut bacteria)

1. Leeks

2. Raw Asparagus

3. Raw Dandelion Greens

4. Raw or Cooked Onion

5. Raw Garlic

Probiotics: (these foods help introduce new healthy gut bacteria)

6. Kefir (coconut variety is best)

7. Pickled Vegetables : Kimchi, Sauerkraut, etc.

8. Kombucha (look for low-sugar flavors like ginger)

And finally, some superfoods:

9. Turmeric: an anti-inflammatory powerhouse that’s highly preventative for Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer. Turmeric is also directly linked to decreased levels of insulin resistance and leptin resistance (again, increases in insulin resistance and leptin resistance lead to weight gain).

And last but not least:

10. Mushrooms! I’m sure many of you have read in Goop and Time about the guys responsible for modernizing these superfoods with their mushroom coffee and mushroom hot chocolate. My friend Tero Isokauppila, founder of Four Sigmatic, suggests these two mushrooms in particular for cultivating a healthy microbiome:

  • Reishi Mushroom: Proven to alter gut bacteria, which can reverse symptoms of weight gain and insulin resistance.
  • Chaga Mushroom: Renowned for its high antioxidant count and superior ability to neutralize free radicals, chaga is also highly protective for the gut, helping to calm the inflammation associated with Chron’s disease, leaky gut syndrome and IBS.

Excited to learn more? Watch this interview with Dr. David Perlmutter and Dr. Frank Lipman on how to avoid feeling old and getting fat! Hint: it's all about food.

Four Exercises for Stronger, More Powerful Glutes

Whether you’re looking to improve your golf game, speed up your sprints or simply prevent injuries and low back pain, focusing on glute strength is one of the most important things you can do in the gym. In this blog, my mentor Ben Langdown (@benlangdown) Sports Scientist, Golf Strength & Conditioning Coach and Ph.D in the field of Golf Biomechanics and Swing Variability, shares four exercises he uses with his athletes for increasing glute strength, ranging from beginner to more challenging. In our previous blog together, Ben discussed the negative effects of desk posture and how it can cause a tight low back and hip flexors as well as weak abdominals and glutes. In this blog, we are going to focus on what exactly the glutes do, what happens when they are weak, and what you can do to get them working for you again! While there’s no substitute for going to see a strength and conditioning coach to get an individualized program, we hope this blog will teach you how to start training for stronger glutes in your next workout. I hope you find it useful!


If you are keen on progressing your training in the gym to higher loads or intensities while remaining injury-free, then it’s imperative that your glutes are effective in their roles. Let’s start by having a brief look at the role of each of the gluteals and how limitations in their strength can affect your daily life and your golf performance! The gluteals are made up of three different muscles which, although they sound like they have been named on their success as Roman gladiators, are actually named based on their size: Gluteus Maximus, Medius and Minimus. Each has a different role to play within the movements we make:

Maximus: The gluteus maximus, as its name suggests, is the largest of the gluteal muscles and acts as a powerful hip extensor(1). It helps maintain balance when you walk, provides control of your torso when you run, and is activated to drive you back up when you get to the bottom of a deep squat (i.e. where the thigh breaks parallel with the floor). The gluteals also play a vital role in golf performance(2) and it has been suggested previously that the gluteus maximus contributes significantly to hip stabilisation during the swing(2,3).

Strength in the gluteus maximus can also allow posture to be maintained during the swing(4), power to be created during the downswing and the triple extension movement to occur through impact which can result in greater clubhead speed. This has been shown in previous electromyography (EMG) research studies(5) where it has been identified that in right-handed golfers the right gluteus maximus is highly active during the beginning of the downswing and the acceleration phase towards impact.

Medius: The gluteus medius provides internal hip rotation (inwards), hip abduction (moving the leg out to the side) and stabilisation of the hip. When you walk, for example, your gluteus medius muscle allows your standing leg’s hip to be stabilised, which keeps your pelvis level and prevents your opposite hip from dropping. Severe cases of weakness here can result in the “Trendelenburg gait” which is an abnormal walking coordination pattern where the opposite hip to the standing leg drops due to underactive hip abductors (i.e. the gluteus medius and minimus) and the upper body moves to compensate through each stride.

Ok, so we know weak gluteus medius can affect our stride, but how does it affect our golf swing? Again the gluteus medius plays a large role in preventing excessive lateral sway and slide of the pelvis into the backswing and downswing respectively. If the gluteus medius is conducting its role effectively then it will aid internal rotation into the trail hip in the backswing and the lead hip in the downswing. It has also been suggested that the glute medius is active on the trail side during the acceleration phase of the downswing (i.e. where the club is moving from half way down to impact with the golf ball)(2).

However, if the gluteus medius becomes under-active, the TFL can become overactive which can lead to knee pain, hip pain, and unwanted movements of the knee joint.

Minimus: Although it’s the smallest of the gluteals, the glute minimus has important functions to perform including being a primary internal hip rotator and also helps with abduction of the leg, and hip extension. Along with the gluteus medius, the minimus is also responsible for stabilising the hip of the standing leg when walking.

Now that we’ve gone over the gluteals and their functions, let’s look a bit closer at what can happen to golfers when their glutes are lazy!  A research study on 56 golfers found a substantial difference in the glute strength between lower handicap golfers (high skilled) and high handicap golfers (lesser skilled)(6). The study determined that golfers with a lower handicap were more likely to have increased pelvis rotation speed (503 d/s) compared to higher handicap players (380 d/s). Potentially this difference is due to their increased skill level and more effective motor patterns rather than, or alongside, physiological variations, which can be a major limitation of different skill group comparisons. The authors of this research came to the conclusion that this disparity was the result of increased gluteal strength in the low handicap golfers, specifically the strength of the gluteus maximus and medius.

Low handicap group:

Mean strength for right and left gluteus maximus = 30.5% and 30.6% of body weight respectively.

High handicap group:

Mean strength for right and left gluteus maximus = 21.9% and 20.7% respectively.

Similar results were reported for the gluteus medius. This research doesn’t explain everything but it suggests that strengthening the glutes can be a contributing factor to improving your golf swing and reducing that all-important handicap level. Another researcher has also suggested that clubhead speed could be influenced by the strength of the gluteals (and other lower body muscles)(7), which should further motivate you to get in the gym and ensure that at least some of your training programme targets this area of your body!

Right, enough with all the talking -- you want to know how to strengthen the glutes! Below are four exercises that I use with my athletes to engage the glutes and build strength in these important muscles. There are four single leg exercises and one is the basic squat movement using body weight or a dumbbell to get you started if you’ve not done much glute work before. As mentioned above, you should see an expert trainer for an individualized program if you are serious about taking your training to the next level.

Goblet Squats:

This is the first squat progression I use with my athletes (using both legs) to improve their movement patterns. A body weight squat is a great exercise to begin with and then you can add weight to complete the goblet squat. Often the weight provides a bit of counter-weight that helps people drop lower into the squat without falling backwards or tilting the torso forwards. Researchers have suggested that the best exercise to activate the gluteus maximus is the full squat(8). In order to fully activate the gluteus maximus you need to break parallel with the thigh in relation to the floor. Don’t lose form as you go to this depth. So, keep the pelvis in a neutral posture and avoid tucking it under (posterior tilt) and curving the lower back. On the other hand, avoid sticking the butt out and excessively arching the lower back as again this can place too much pressure on this area.

Feet around shoulder width apart, toes can be turned out to around 5 to 1 / 10 to 2 on a clock face (turning them out can allow increased depth for those with restricted range of movement).

Set the shoulders and brace the trunk before you begin the descent and take a breath in and hold until the end of the upward phase of the squat.

Begin the descent by flexing at the hips and knees simultaneously. Then descend into the squat moving your weight from mid-foot to the heels at the bottom position. The bottom position should be where the thighs have broken parallel with the floor.

Drive back up from the bottom position leading with the chest and using the glutes to fire back up to standing.

Repeat for 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps

Single Leg Squats:

There are two progressions to this exercise. The first (easier exercise) is to use a gym ball against a wall. Place the standing foot under the hip and lean onto the ball with your hip. Lift the inside leg up to around 90 degrees and then squat down as low as you can. Use the ball to support you and ensure your squatting leg does not collapse inwards at the knee. The knee should track over the toes as you squat. If you can’t feel the glutes working try tucking the pelvis under slightly just before you start the squat each time. The ball is there to help you so make sure you lean into it while keeping that standing leg under the hip. Repeat for 3 sets of 4 reps to begin.

Once you are comfortable with this exercise try moving on to a single leg squat to box using a mini-band to further activate the glutes. Place a mini-band just above the knees, pull the free leg up and out to the side to put tension on the band. You should feel the glutes activated when you do this. Then putting your arms out in front of you to help control your descent, squat down through the standing leg towards the box / bench. Try to lightly sit on the box / bench and then drive back up again. If you can’t get to this point you could always add a pad onto the box in order to reduce the depth that you need to squat to begin with. Try to increase the depth you squat every week until you can get to the box. Control the squat – don’t just sit down! Repeat for 3 sets of 4 reps to begin.

Comfortable doing these? Challenge yourself – can you do a pistol squat?! If you can, congratulate yourself, I don’t come across many people that can do this.

Ok, enough showing off…on to the final two ideas for you to try in the gym which will incorporate some rotation and upper body work…

Supported Single Leg Deadlifts with Rotation:

A great little exercise that requires rotation and stability as you are standing on one leg throughout. Place one foot against the wall and ensure the front foot is far enough forwards that when you complete the exercise you can feel the glutes being worked! Ensure that you rotate towards the front leg and turn your entire torso (instead of just swinging your arms). Squat low enough to touch the inside of your foot and don’t try to reach with your hand. Try completing 2-3 sets of 6 reps each side to begin with. If you are struggling with balance, place the back foot on the floor and then progress up to the wall.

Single Leg Deadlift with Dumbbell Row:

The final exercise for this blog is another single leg drill. Weight doesn’t need to be used to begin with if you struggle with the deadlift part. Try to keep the knee at the same angle throughout this exercise (straight leg but unlocked knee). Hinge at the hips and keep the torso (spine angle) tight / braced throughout. This exercise requires stability through the standing leg and requires work from the glutes in both the standing leg and the free leg as it lifts into the end of the downward phase. At this point you can add in some upper body work through additional movements such as the row (demonstrated in this video) or reverse fly type exercises.  Again try completing 2-3 sets of 6 reps each side to begin with and add additional load when you are comfortable with this exercise.

I hope you found this blog useful! Be on the lookout for my next blog with Jennifer -- we will tackle the upper body and give you some exercises to help with thoracic mobility. That’s right, we’re going to help you increase torso rotation in your swing! 

References:

1.    Kang, S.Y., Jeon, H.S., Kwon, O., Cynn, H.S., & Choi, B. (2013). Activation of the gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles during prone hip extension with knee flexion in three hip abduction positions. Manual therapy, 18(4), 303-307.

2.    McHardy, A. & Pollard, H. (2005). Muscle activity during the golf swing. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(11), 799–804.

doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2005.020271

3.    Watkins, R.G., Uppal, G.S., Perry, J., Pink, M., & Dinsay, J.M. (1996). Dynamic electromyographic analysis of trunk musculature in professional golfers. The American journal of sports medicine, 24(4), 535-538.

4.    Phillips, D. (2013, March). Early Extension Swing Characteristic. TPI Improve My Game Articles. Retrieved from: http://www.mytpi.com/articles/swing/early_extension_swing_characteristic

5.    Okuda, I., Armstrong, C.W., Tsunezumi, H. & Yoshiike, H. (2002). Biomechanical analysis of a professional golfer’s swing: A case study of Hidemichi Tanaka. In E. Thain (Ed.), Science and Golf IV: Proceedings of the World Scientific Congress of Golf (pp. 8-16). London: Routledge.

6.    Callaway, S., Glaws, K., Mitchell, M., Scerbo, H., Voight, M., & Sells, P. (2012). An analysis of peak pelvis rotation speed, gluteus maximus and medius strength in high versus low handicap golfers during the golf swing. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7(3), 288–295.

7.    Hellström, J. (2008). The Relation Between Physical Tests, Measures, and Clubhead Speed in Elite Golfers. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 3, 85–92. doi:10.1260/174795408785024207

8.    Wilson, J., Ferris, E., Heckler, A., Maitland, L., Taylor, C. (2004). A structured review of the role of gluteus maximus in rehabilitation. New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy, 33(3), 95-100.

What’s in YOUR Water Bottle? The Four Best Elixirs for Promoting Detox

...and petting the dog helps too

...and petting the dog helps too

It’s that time of year again: After indulging in more sugar, grains and alcohol than usual over the holidays, most of us are feeling the need for a little detoxification. All too often, people embark on a weeklong juice-cleanse or starvation diet in an attempt to press the reset button after the holidays. But their results are usually the same: the stress of not eating produces even more lethargy and exhaustion than they felt before they started. Regardless of what the other emails flooding your inbox might be telling you this week, you don’t need drastic measures to get your body (and habits) back on track.  You don’t need to run five miles a day or subsist on steamed peas. The best way to safely detoxify your system and get back to a happy, healthy you is to return to these seven basic principles:

  1. eat only whole, unprocessed foods
  2. eat only high-quality foods
  3. eliminate gluten and avoid most other grains
  4. eliminate sugar
  5. sweat
  6. drink ½ your body weight in ounces of clean water daily
  7. rest

In addition to these principles, here are four of my favorite detox elixirs for when I feel like my body needs a little additional support.

Bone Broth:

What it does: Fights infection, boosts digestion, heals leaky gut syndrome, reduces joint pain (it’s packed with the raw material necessary for healthy bones and joints), fights inflammation

How to use it: As a post-workout snack or an alternative to tea or coffee when you want something warm and nourishing to drink. I’m a big fan of the frozen chicken and beef stocks at BiRite, Prather Ranch and Five Dot Ranch. Additionally, both Belcampo and Prather Ranch now serve bone broth in to-go cups for sipping.

Turmeric: 

What it does: Dr. Perlmutter refers to turmeric as a "super supplement" for brain health: Protects mitochondira, improves glucose metabolism, supports memory and other cognitive functions, boosts immunity, highly anti-fungal, anti-microbial, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and packed with antioxidants

How to use it: Fresh is best. One of the easiest ways to get a healthy dose of fresh turmeric is in Juice Shop’s Turmeric or Healthy Moose’s Liquid Luck shot. I’ve also been buying turmeric from BiRite, peeling and slicing it and simmering it with black pepper and coconut oil (both ingredients make the turmeric more bio-available).

Apple Cider Vinegar:

What it does: Lowers blood sugar, boosts energy, reduces inflammation, highly antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal.

How to use it: Look for cold-pressed brands that have sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Lately I’ve been getting my daily dose in Happy Moose’s Feel Mo' Betta shot with added lemon and ginger but you can also make your own elixir by adding two tablespoons to eight oz of water.

Magnesium:

What it does: Impacts nearly every function of the body, eases stress, reduces inflammation, improves nerve function, aids in the formation of joint proteins, relaxes muscles and can even help with irregular heartbeats

How to use It: I’m a big fan of sipping the unflavored Natural Calm product in warm water before going to sleep at night, but you can also find magnesium in pill form. If you’re not into supplements, pumpkin seeds, spinach and swiss chard contain more magnesium than any other foods.  

I hope you found these tips helpful and healthful! Here's to a happy new year. 

Is Your Desk Ruining Your Golf Swing? Part 2

By @holisticfitsf & @benlangdown 

Part 2 - Upper Crossed Syndrome

So from part 1 of this blog, we know that lower crossed syndrome (weak gluteals and abs and tight hip flexors and low back) can cause a host of issues in your golf game, but what about the upper body version?! I’m sure we can all identify with a typical lazy desk posture: rounded shoulders, hunched upper back and a chin that pokes farther forward than a pigeon strutting across the park!

Have you noticed any loss in torso rotation through your spine, an inability to get the club on the right “plane” that the coach has been suggesting you need to achieve, swinging “over the top” or losing posture at the top of the backswing?! You may not have even noticed these limitations slowly creeping into your game over a number of years.

When you sit at a desk for long periods of time, your chest and upper back muscles can become very tight while the deep cervical flexors of your neck and mid back muscles become very weak. We call this postural dysfunction Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS) and this can be seen alongside a neutral posture below in figure 2.

Figure 2.  Normal posture (left) and UCS (right). Note the forward position of the head in comparison to the neck and the rounded shoulders and upper back.

However, by doing the right exercises, you can overcome the upper body limitations that emerge from sitting for too long at your desk. To reverse UCS you must increase the flexibility in your chest and upper back muscles and increase the strength of your deep neck flexors and mid-back muscles.

I’m throwing out lots of technical terms and muscle names but here are some examples of exercises that can help reduce the effects of your occupational desk-bound duties on your upper body!

One solution to upper crossed syndrome is to strengthen the muscles through the mid-back that sit all around the shoulder blades. Ts, Ws, and Ys are common exercises that you might have tried before, but just in case you've forgotten, take a look at the video below. 

Coaching Points:  Lie face down on a gym ball with the feet apart and legs almost straight for support. For extra stability, place the feet against a wall. All of the movements in these exercises begin with the hands underneath the eyes with the palms facing upwards. To make the letter T, take the hands and arms out to the side of the body until they are straight and in line with your shoulders. You should make the shape of the letter so that if a bird flew above you, it would see a letter T with your body. Next are the Ws. These are similar to the Ts but with bent arms at the top position forming a W. Finally the Ys, the hardest out of the three, so don't be tempted to raise the upper body or head to help get the arms fully extended out in front of you. Keep the body tight throughout and the head looking down to the floor. Remember not to hold the top positions, simply repeat the movement for each rep continuously until you have done 10 on each letter to begin. To progress, you can add light weights to the Ts and Ws and then later on, add weight to the Ys. 

A less common and even more dynamic exercise for strengthening the muscles that sit around the shoulder blades is Crab WalksThe late Ramsay McMaster, a world-renowned golf physiotherapist, originally demonstrated this exercise. It’s an excellent exercise that combines work for the muscles involved in both LCS and UCS.

Coaching points: Place a mini band around both legs just above the knees and hold a piece of tubing or theraband behind your back with a pistol grip. Keeping the elbows tucked into the side and the chin pulled back into a neutral position, begin to circle the hands backwards. Do not force the shoulders back and stick the chest out, as this is not a neutral position. Instead, gently pull the shoulder blades down and in as if sliding them into an envelope on your back. Once you have got the arms going begin some side steps, like a crab! Make sure your feet stay apart throughout the exercise and the closest they should ever get is the width of your stance in your golf address position. You should feel the glutes, mid-back and triceps all burning after doing 2-3 sets of 20 steps in each direction.

With regards to the tight areas in UCS, it is important to stretch out the chest. Prior to this stretch, you can use a spikey ball or massage ball to roll into the pectorals (the chest muscles) to improve the tissue quality and increase the flexibility across this area. As with the LCS hip flexor foam rolling, do not do this every day as it may bruise and your muscles will need time to recover from the massage effects. Follow this rolling by completing the chest stretch using a chair (your office chair perhaps?!) or a gym ball.

Coaching Points: Keep the arm bent to 90° at the elbow and raise it level with your shoulder. Kneeling down, gently press the torso downwards, bending the supporting arm if necessary to increase the stretch felt across the shoulder and pecs. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds and repeat twice on each side every day when warm.

While certain exercises can help us overcome the negative postures we all adopt at our desks, if you really want to improve these limitations quicker and for the long-term -- you guessed it -- you need to focus on reducing the hours spent at your desk in a poor posture. Whether this means increased desk breaks, more hours spent out on the golf course (!) or simply being aware of how you sit at your desk and how you stand when walking, anything you can do to reduce the negative effects of LCS and UCS will pay dividends out where it counts!

For more information on Strength & Conditioning sessions with Jennifer or Ben please contact them on Twitter:

@HolisticFitSF

@BenLangdown

References for more information on Janda’s work:

Janda V. (1987). Muscles and motor control in low back pain: Assessment and management. In Twomey LT (Ed.) Physical therapy of the low back. Churchill Livingstone: New York. Pp. 253-278.  

Janda V. (1988) Muscles in Cervicogenic Pain Syndromes. In Physical Therapy of the Cervical and Thoracic Spine, ed. R. Grand. New York: Churchill Livingstone. 

Is Your Desk Ruining Your Golf Swing?

by @HolistictFitSF & @BenLangdown

Whether you want better posture for increased golf performance, injury prevention or simply a more confident, youthful appearance, this blog is a must-read. In this two-part blog series, Ben Langdown, Sports Scientist, Golf Strength & Conditioning Coach and Ph.D. in the field of Golf Biomechanics and Swing Variability, gives us a thorough breakdown of how desk posture can affect your golf performance and what you can do to fix it. I was lucky enough to meet Ben at the Titleist World Golf Fitness Summit last November, where he and his colleague Jack Wells came all the way from England to give an outstanding presentation on the ultimate dynamic warm-up for golfers. Many of you have heard me reference their research since then (yep, Ben is one of the experts that helps his golfers hit the ball up to 40 yards farther just by giving them the right type of warm-up). 

In part 1, Ben will discuss lower crossed syndrome, the swing faults or injuries that commonly accompany it, and together we will show you exercises you can start performing today to improve your lower body posture. I hope you enjoy it!

Part 1: Lower Crossed Syndrome

Your office desk. Your neat little set up. Or is it more like your enemy, joining forces with your office chair…conspiring against you...set to ruin your posture and even your golf game?!  

Many people fail to realize that their desk habits impact their performance on the golf course. If you like to play golf and you also work in an office environment, it’s imperative that you address your desk posture and spend time training in the gym to reverse the power struggle between your posture and your office furniture. The next 10 minutes could change your life! Well, ok maybe not your life, but your ability to hit that little dimpled white ball around the 18 holes at your local golf club!

Recently, the press has asserted that sitting is “the new smoking”.  Like smoking, clocking up hours in a sedentary position can have a multitude of negative health consequences such as increased risks of developing cancer, heart disease and type II diabetes. OK, so we know sitting can be detrimental to your health, but did you know that it can also lead to lower and upper crossed syndromes (see Janda, 1987 & 1988 for further research). Sounds serious, hey?! When it comes to your golf performance, it could well be the difference between getting (or not as the case may be) into those positions your golf coach has been talking about for the last few seasons!   

In the first part of this blog, I’m going to focus on how desk posture leads to lower crossed syndrome and what you can do to fix it.

The habit of sitting over a period of years can lead to the main muscles in your golf swing becoming lazy, including the gluteals, also known as your buttocks! In your swing, the gluteals provide stability, rotation and power. If these important muscles aren’t firing properly, a variety of swing faults can emerge. Along with the gluteals not firing effectively, the hip flexors (the muscles on the front of the hips) and the lower back often become tight from too much desk time, which can lead to an altered pelvis position (too much forward tilt) when you address the golf ball. This altered set-up position can have consequences such as over-rotation (reversed spine angle) and may even increase the risk of injury and lower back pain.

In addition to the gluteals becoming weak, another culprit of adopting a lazy attitude and becoming weak when we sit for long periods of time is the abdominals. Without strong and functional abdominals it’s nearly impossible for us golfers to transfer forces up through the body and out to the arms and clubhead during the motion of the golf swing. So now you could be facing a situation where you have an unstable lower body (weak gluteals) trying to send forces up to a lazy abdominal region. It’s been said before that this scenario is like trying to do the shot put on an ice rink, or fire a canon from a canoe. We call this postural dysfunction Lower Crossed Syndrome (LCS) and this is shown on the right side of figure 1 below with a normal posture on the left.

lowercrossed

Figure 1. Normal posture (left) and LCS (right). Note the forward tilt of the pelvis and the increased arch in the lower back.

Solutions to overcoming LCS include strengthening the glutes through exercises such as Speed Skaters. 

Coaching Points: Using a mini band, placed around both legs just above the knee, you should keep the torso tall and skate back and out to the side with alternating legs. You can imagine there is a raw egg behind you on either side, when you skate back you are not allowed to smash the egg with your toe tap on the floor! In other words, control the movement, use that front leg to squat down slightly and then return to a tall standing position after each rep. Complete 3 sets of 6 reps each side to begin.

As well as strengthening the weak areas of LCS we also need some flexibility work to take place and correct the tight hip flexors and erector spinae. The following hip flexor exercises involve using a roller to improve the muscle tissue quality and reduce tightness through the hips followed by a hip flexor stretch to increase flexibility in this area.

Coaching Points: For the rolling you should do 2 x 30 seconds on each side no more than 3-4 times per week to allow your muscles to recover from the massage effects of rolling. Use the free leg for support to reduce the pressure on the roller if it is too painful to begin with.

Coaching Points: The hip flexor stretch should be held for a minimum of 30 seconds on each side and completed every day when warm. You can increase the stretch by reaching tall and leaning slowly over to the side of the front leg. Do not twist the torso at all as you lean. The stretch should be felt on the front of the hip for the trail leg. Ensure the legs are far enough apart if you can’t feel the stretch.

Obviously there are more exercises to complete than this but start by giving these exercises a try and look out for my blog post next week on upper body postural dysfunctions, how they affect your golf swing and what you can do to fix them. 

Four Simple Daily Detox Rituals

As Dr. Mark Hyman says, “If you feel lousy, it’s likely you’re toxic.” Have you been feeling lousy lately? A little sluggish? Getting more headaches than normal? Finding yourself craving sugar and starchy, processed foods?

If so, it might be time for some detoxification. We all know to eat clean, drink plenty of water, get quality rest and exercise, but here are a few daily rituals you can easily incorporate into your routine to optimize your body’s ability to remove toxins. In just a few extra minutes a day, these rituals will boost everything from your immune system to your metabolism.

Skin: Dry Brushing

One third of your body’s toxins are eliminated through the skin. Because it stimulates the lymphatic and circulatory systems, dry brushing is one of the most effective ways to help the body remove toxins. It’s even been shown to improve the strength of the immune system and decrease the appearance of cellulite.

As the name suggests, you want to dry brush when your skin is completely dry. Before you shower, simply brush your skin in large, upward strokes and circles going in the direction of your heart. Tip: Look for a brush with natural bristles. The harder the brush, the more lymphatic response you’ll achieve.  

Body: Epsom Salt Soak/Clay Baths

Baths: Soaking in Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) draws out toxins and helps to replenish the body’s magnesium levels. As many of you know, magnesium is a wonder mineral. In addition to flushing toxins from the body, it also eases stress, reduces inflammation, improves nerve function, aids in the formation of joint proteins, reduces irregular heartbeats – the list goes on and on.

Add two cups of Epsom salt to warm water and soak for at least 12 minutes. I also like to add in some Abra Muscle Therapy Bath to help soothe sore muscles. For those of you looking for a little extra indulgence, International Orange recently brought in a wellness line I absolutely love called Pursoma. Pursoma offers a variety of bath ritual packets, many of which are formulated with ancient volcanic clay. Pursoma also created a luxurious body mask designed for accelerated detoxification. 

Brain: Meditation

We all know that stress leads to chronic inflammation. But many of us forget that to our bodies, bad thoughts are a form of stress. Negative thinking has been proven to literally pollute your mind, weakening your immune system and creating an overall sense of lethargy. Meditation is a fantastic way to break the cycle of negative thinking and detoxify your brain from its effects. There are many different types of meditation you can try, but some find it easiest to start with guided meditation, such as those on calm.com.

Second Brain: Gut Health

Now that your brain is detoxified, let’s move on to your second brain – your gut.

Incorporating more probiotics into your diet is a great way to detoxify your body, improve your blood sugar regulation and speed up your metabolism. By increasing the amount of antioxidants in your body, probiotics have been proven to help get rid of the toxins associated with heavy metals, free radicals and dangerous bacteria. And because toxins are stored in fat, the less toxic you are, the less fat your body will accumulate. In fact, a recent study found that people who took a probiotic on a regular basis not only lost weight but were more likely to keep the weight off. In addition to taking a probiotic supplement, you can also increase your probiotics by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut.  I recently found a fermented drink called “Gut Shot” and am loving it. Nutrition tip: Did you know? The best time to take a probiotic is after a meal. 

I hope you found these ideas helpful. Here's to a little spring cleaning! 

The Ultimate 6-Week Fat-Blasting Program

Regardless of age or gender, the number one reason people don’t exercise is lack of time. Most people come into the New Year with the best of intentions, and right around the first week of February get sucked back into their old habits. There simply wasn’t enough time for that five-mile jog each week, or that hour-long spin class. Well guess what? You can get tremendous physical results with minimal time commitment.  Yep, we’re talking about HIIT (high intensity interval training).

I suggest HIIT for my athletes that are looking for elevated exercise capacity, improved cardiovascular conditioning and last but not least, increased fat loss. A recent study (1) found that a single sprint session can increase post-training fat oxidation by 75%. Those are results that get me motivated! 

And for all of you endurance athletes out there getting ready for your bike trips this summer, HIIT can help you as well. According to a study (2) in an article published by the American College of Sports Medicine, subjects doubled the length of time that exercise could be maintained at a fixed sub-maximal workload from approximately 26 to a whopping 51 minutes after only 6 HIIT sessions conducted over a 2 week period. That’s a lot of gain for very little pain.

Think sprinting is just about leaning down? Think again. HIIT also improves insulin sensitivity (3) more than continuous running at moderate intensity. And as we all know from Grain Brain, insulin resistance is to blame for a host of neurodegenerative diseases (so much so that Alzheimer’s is now seen as Type 3 Diabetes).

Let’s put some of these studies into action!

I recently completed my first Cooper Run Test and I came in at 1.39 miles. Now I want to see how much farther I can get using HIIT over the next 6 weeks. I’ll report it back to all of you once I re-test. Who’s with me?

Here’s my plan:

Sprint for 30s and jog at a moderate pace for 30s of recovery x 5 cycles. At least five minutes of rest (during the rest periods I will do some mobilization work or bodyweight exercises). Then I will complete 5 minutes of HIIT on the battling ropes, alternating 30s on and 30s off for 5 minutes. Then I'll rest for around 5 minutes again and complete one last HIIT sprint on the treadmill, alternating 30s on and 30s recovery for 5 minutes.  I’ll aim to do this once per week (twice if I can!!). 

Training Tip: You don’t have to jump on a treadmill! Many of my clients get their HIIT by using the battling ropes, biking, swimming, running stairs and jumping rope.

And now that you’ve saved yourself so much time, you can prepare Egg Foo Young-ish (Spinach, Egg, Ham & Coconut Pancakes) for breakfasts and snacks throughout the week. This great dish is gluten and grain-free, packed with protein, fat and greens and best of all -- portable.

References:

1. Chan, HH, Burns, SF (2013) Oxygen consumption, substrate oxidation, and blood pressure following sprint interval exercise, US National Library of Medicine

2. Gibala, M, McGee, S (2008) Metabolic Adaptations to Short-term High-Intensity Interval Traning, American College of Sports Medicine

3. Sandvei, M, Jeppesen, PB (and others)(2012) Sprint interval running increases insulin sensitivity in young healthy subjects, US National Library of Medicine

Gluten-Free in 2015? A Guide for Beginners

Wheat

Thanks to Gwyneth Paltrow, Novak Djokovic, JJ Virgin, Dr. Oz and too many others to name, the gluten-free diet has gained incredible recognition in recent years.  In addition to all of the benefits that come with the gluten-free diet gaining popularity, I’ve also noticed two things:

1. More gluten-free junk foods on the market

2. More people saying it’s a fad

With so much confusion and doubt in the air, I decided to create this Beginners Guide to Going Gluten-Free to help any of you looking to eat healthier in the New Year. Before I get into the safe and unsafe foods, two general tips:

1. Go gluten-free but don’t eat gluten-free: Gluten-free replacement foods are not health foods. In fact, many gluten-free foods are more caloric than their gluten-containing doppelgängers. I’ve seen many people actually gain weight when going gluten-free by merely swapping out their Cherrios for gluten-free cereal in the morning. For optimal nutrition, eat real, whole foods and eliminate processed foods as much as possible.

2. Gluten-free isn’t enough: Do you know about lectins?

While discussed less often, lectins are incredibly harmful for a number of reasons. Lectins are sugar-binding proteins that are in all plant and animal products, but are highly prominent in wheat, rye, rice, spelt, beans, soy, dairy and in nightshades (such as tomatoes and eggplant). Wheat contains a particularly harmful lectin called Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA).

What Lectins Do To The Body And Why You Should Avoid Them:

Lectins are part of a plant’s natural defense mechanism, helping them fight off mold and parasites. When plants sense an invader, lectins attack them by binding to the foreign sugar molecules and stopping their infestation in its tracks. When lectins get into your body, they still use this defense system to attack sugar molecules. Why does that matter? Our digestive systems are lined with sugar-containing cells that help us digest and break down foods. Lectins bind to these sugar-containing cells, wreaking havoc on our digestive and immune systems. What’s the result? Intestinal damage (which leads to reduced nutrient absorption), altered gut-flora (which makes us more vulnerable to certain types of infection, such as E. Coli) and leaky gut syndrome (essentially gut permeability, the negative effects of which could take up an entire blog). Lectins can bind to any tissue – thyroid, pancreas, collagen in joints, etc. and disrupt the function of that tissue. When lectins bind to these tissues, the body reacts by releasing white blood cells to attack the lectin-bound tissue and destroy it. As many of you know, this reaction is commonly referred to as an autoimmune response. For this reason, the consumption of lectins is highly correlated to autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, migraines, hypothyroidism, IBS, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and many others.

I can hear some of you now. I can’t even think about lectins yet. Give me the gluten-free facts. I’m new to this and don’t know what to eat!

Okay, okay.

CONTAINS GLUTEN:

Wheat

Rye

Oats: Look for gluten-free. Commercial Oats contain gluten

Barley (and Barley Malt, which is often in candy, chocolate bars and snack bars)

Triticale

Some fancy terms for wheat:

Bulgur

Durum Flour

Farina

Graham Flour

Kamut

Semolina

Spelt

DOES NOT CONTAIN GLUTEN:

Rice

Corn (Polenta, Cornmeal)

Oats (when gluten-free)

Potato

Tapioca

Teff

Montina

Flax

Sorghum

Quinoa

Millet

Buckwheat

Arrowroot starch

Amaranth

Many flours are gluten-free. Some common ones:

Nut Flours

Coconut Flour

Tapioca Flour

Rice Flour

Bean Flours

Hide and go gluten -- You’ll often find gluten lurking in the following foods:

Breading and Coating Mixes (Panko Breadcrumbs)

Energy Bars

Stews (ask if they added wheat to the broth)

Salad Dressings

Imitation Meats and Veggie Burgers

Marinades

Chocolate and Candy (even certain mints)

Processed Deli Meats

Soy Sauce

Soups (always ask)

Sauces such as gravy (always ask)

Jerky

Let’s not forget alcohol!

Distillation supposedly removes all of the gluten molecules in alcoholic beverages. Some people still choose to play it safe and avoid alcohol made from gluten-containing grains, especially when they are new to the diet. So, playing it safe: 

CONTAINS GLUTEN:

Beer

Lager

Ale

Whiskey

Scotch

Bourbon

Gin

DOES NOT CONTAIN GLUTEN:

Wine

Rum

Tequila

Potato Vodka

Gluten-Free Beer 

I hope you found this guide helpful! When in doubt, skip it. Gluten stays in your system for up to 90 days, so if you've done the work to remove it, do a little research to make sure it doesn't sneak back in. 

The Four Things Every Athlete Needs

In Strength and Conditioning expert Mike Boyle’s presentation at the World Golf Fitness Summit, he asserted that there are four things every athlete needs. They are:

Adequate Mobility

Above Average Strength

Anti-Rotation Strength

Rotary Power

In this blog, I’ll briefly expand on these four categories, and show you an exercise you can start using today to improve each.

Adequate Mobility – Mobility in the body is a huge subject, but I’m going to focus on thoracic mobility for the purpose of this blog. Your thoracic spine is essentially your mid-back. As David Darbyshire, Movement Coach to Adam Scott (one of the best athletes in the world) told me the other day, the thoracic spine gets restricted as you get older. According to Darbyshire, as this happens, you see people rotating more from their arms than their spine. For any athlete in a rotary sport, this is not only a recipe for injury, but also a great way to lose power. So while many people think of explosive drills when they think of gaining more power, you can also gain power by improving your mobility. The farther back you can get your golf club in your backswing, for example, the more club head speed you can create, and the farther you’ll hit the ball. This mobilization on a foam roller is one of my favorite ways to increase thoracic mobility:

Above Average Strength – I love the squat for developing strength in my golfers, but really anyone who wants a strong, powerful lower body and core should squat. Golf specifically is all about ground force production, so getting golfers to squat efficiently is key. In the golf swing, you push off the ground to generate power from the legs and hips. If I’m working with a golfer who can’t squat properly, in most cases he/she will exhibit common swing faults, such as sway and early extension. At the summit, Boyle said he likes squats for golfers in particular “because they play a unique, two-leg sport that has specific demands on the lower body. Squatting helps meet those demands." In the video below you’ll see me performing the Goblet Squat, holding the weight (you can use a dumb bell or kettlebell) in front of me. This squat variation forces the core to fire and works the thoracic erectors as well.

Anti-Rotation Strength:  If you want a stronger core, you must train yourself to resist rotation. As Boyle stressed in his presentation, we should start to think of the abdominals not only as flexors and rotators of the trunk, but also as anti-rotators and anti-lateral flexors of the trunk. So if you’re interested in a stronger, more functional core for injury prevention and/or sports performance, your program must include exercises that train you to resist rotation. The Anti-Rotation Cable Press is great place to start:

Rotary Power – Rotary power is extremely important when it comes to building a strong, functional athlete. Golfers, for example, play a rotary sport, so any golfer looking to create a more powerful swing must have rotary exercises in his/her program. I like the Upper Body Stability Ball Twist as more of a rotary mobility exercise, to teach golfers how to properly engage the muscles needed to rotate efficiently. The second video depicts a true rotary power exercise, but of course there are many less integrated power exercises clients can start with, such as kneeling medicine ball chops. 

Robbie Cannon performing the Step-In Med Ball Throw:

Remember: Train smarter, not harder. See you in the gym! 

Get *The* Most Effective Workout With This Simple Formula

WGFS

 

I recently attended the World Golf Fitness Summit, an incredible conference hosted by Titleist that featured some of the world's leading experts in sports performance training. The speakers ranged from NFL Coaches to PGA and LPGA Movement Coaches to Olympic Team Coaches to a pitching guru -- really too many experts to name. I'll be writing several blogs based on what I learned at the WGFS, starting with some takeaways from Strength and Conditioning expert Mike Boyle. Many of you have probably seen or read Mike Boyle in Golf Digest, or have seen his blog. Whether you play tennis, hockey or golf, or just want to train injury-free, Boyle is your man.

Most people get to the gym, do a few stretches from their high school soccer days and then jump on a cybex machine. This formula, although common, is a recipe for disaster. As Boyle explained in his presentation, we all want the same thing when it comes to training. First, we want to remain injury-free. We want effective workouts that leave us feeling energized, not beaten to a pulp (he actually had a great word for the beaten to a pulp workouts: SHIT - stupid high intensity training). Second, we want to train to prevent future injuries. If your trainer understands functional anatomy and can screen you for potential kinks in your body's stability/mobility chain, you're in good hands. And third, regardless of our sport, we all want to train to improve our performance. We want to be stronger, faster, better. 

So what's the best way to ensure our workouts hit the three goals Boyle mentioned? There's a formula:

1. Foam Roll

2. Stretch

3. Dynamic Warm-Up

4. Lift 

5. Condition 

What does this mean to you? When you get to the gym, grab a foam roller and start working on the quality of your tissue. If you don't know how to foam roll, watch this video. Once you've achieved a therapeutic effect from rolling, stretch. Now we're working on tissue length. [A note on static stretching: There are quite a few studies indicating that static stretching often hinders athletic performance. That said, certain static stretches have their place. In this video, for example, you'll see Boyle perform the 90/90 hip stretch. The 90/90 is one of those static stretches that's excellent for those of you with immobile hips and/or low back pain. But also note the stretches he says to avoid]. After you stretch (if you need to) move on to your dynamic warm-up, getting the tissue nice and warm. Here and here are some ideas. After the dynamic warm-up, move on to your functional lifts. Squats, dead lifts, pushes, pulls -- the exercises aimed at tissue strength. Then, finally, go home and come back to the gym again a day or two later. In other words, get stronger -- now we're talking tissue tolerance. 

And remember, it's not just about training. Rest and nutrition have just as much to do with your success as your workout program, if not more. See you in the gym! 

Zesty Pesto Chicken with Zucchini Noodles

To this day, the smell of fresh basil takes me back to sitting in the kitchen with my mother while she made fresh pesto from the basil she grew in her garden. If you're like me and you can eat pesto by the spoonful *and* you sometimes crave a warm and comforting meal that won't derail your hard work and discipline, this pesto chicken recipe is for you. 

You'll need a spiral vegetable slicer to make this dish. I'm sure many of you have heard me talk about the spiralizer in our sessions lately, so you know I think it's pretty much the best thing since <food we don't eat anymore>. I haven't tried spiralizing anything other than zucchini, but it makes the perfect "noodle" for so many dishes -- ranging from breakfast spaghetti (with ground chicken, apple and sage) to chicken pad thai -- that I haven't felt the need to venture out just yet. 

Zesty Pesto Chicken with Zucchini Noodles 

Ingredients: 

Zucchini Noodles: 

2 zucchinis 
1 tsp celtic sea salt

Chicken:

1 TBS coconut oil or butter
2 pounds of boneless chicken, cut into pieces
1/2 cup - 1 cup cherry tomatoes (sliced)
4 TBS pine nuts (garnish)

Zesty Pesto: 

1 large bunch of fresh basil (leaves only)
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
1/4 tsp celtic sea salt
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup of pine nuts 

Spiralize your zucchini and place the noodles in a large strainer with a bit of sea salt to sweat. 

For the pesto, place the basil and garlic into your food processor and blend. Add olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt and continue to process, adding pine nuts and pulsing until you reach the desired consistency. 

To make the chicken, warm up a skillet over medium-high heat and add your oil or butter. Sauté the chicken until fully cooked and starting to brown, roughly 8-10 minutes. 

Pat your noodles down with a paper towel and add them to another skillet, with a bit of oil or butter. Sauté for 2-3 minutes (they taste best al dente).

Combine your chicken, pesto, sliced cherry tomatoes and pine nuts, gently toss and rejoice.

How Strong Glutes Can Fix Your Back Pain And Your Golf Swing

Strong and stable glutes hard at work in Adam Scott's swing

Strong and stable glutes hard at work in Adam Scott's swing

Back pain sufferers are often told to "strengthen their core" if they want to alleviate their back pain. Unfortunately, when most people hear the word "core" they think of their abs. And when most people think of training their abs, they think of doing crunches (one of the worst exercises for back pain sufferers). A strong and functional abdominal wall will reduce back pain. No question. But the key for most back pain sufferers lies in, well, the back of the body. The glutes! 

Your glutes are a part of your core. How many of you had to read that again? Your glutes are a part of your core. As such, strong glutes are crucial for healing low back pain and fixing some of the most common swing faults golf pros see daily. 

In the golf swing, strong and stable glutes are responsible for a smooth acceleration of power from the lower body up through the torso and out through the arms/club. We call this the kinematic sequence. If you don't have strong and stable glutes, you won't be able to efficiently coil in your backswing and your body will instead shift laterally to generate power. As many golfers know, shifting laterally (or swaying) in your swing leads to an incredible loss of power. For right handed golfers, for example, the ability to laterally stabilize the right leg in the backswing is directly linked to the strength and stability of the glute muscles. 

I don't golf but my back hurts - get to the part about me! 

Back pain sufferers: The body works in an alternating pattern of stability and mobility. Your hip needs to be mobile and your pelvis/sacrum/lumbar spine needs to be stable. If the hip joint lacks in mobility, the lumbar spine will become mobile instead of stable, which can lead to disc and facet injuries in the lower back. Strong and functional glutes will create more mobility in the hip and lead to more stability in the pelvis, helping to relieve back pain and prevent future injuries. 

Ready for stronger glutes? Try these two exercises (and special thanks to Robbie Cannon for all his great ideas). 

Clocks - Work up to 2 sets of 8 taps on each leg. The lower you bend the standing leg, the harder it will be. Perform from golf set-up posture for added golf performance benefit. 

Single Leg Bridge - Work up to 2 sets of 10 reps on each leg. Make sure the knee is at 90 degrees.  Have fun! 

Want Flat Abs? Ditch The Crunches And Try This Instead

Today I watched a man at the gym do crunches for three minutes straight. He was pulling his head forward with his hands, his feet were coming off the ground each time he curled up and his stomach was rolling over his shorts. I wanted to stop him, but I figured I'd write to all of you instead. 

The abdominal crunch is not for most people. 

As many of you know, if you want lean, toned abs you must FIRST address your diet. Because food intolerance inhibits the abdominal wall from working properly, the presence of inflammatory foods such as dairy, gluten and most grains in your diet renders ab workouts futile. It doesn't matter how great your trainer is or how much of a burn you feel in your abs, if you're eating the SAD (standard American diet) you're going to have to work that much harder to look good AND you'll most likely feel terrible in the process. Bottom line:

If you're eating inflammatory foods, most ab exercises won't help. 

Ready for an exercise that tones your abs and helps improve your posture?  Try the Stability Ball Ab Push Back. In addition to helping you get a lean midsection, this exercise is fantastic for stability in the scapula and pelvis and mobility in the shoulders. To keep from winging the shoulder blades, be sure to push the ground away from you and imagine a fish hook lifting your chest. It's also very important to maintain a neutral pelvic tilt in this exercises, so watch yourself in the mirror at first to ensure that you aren't arching the low back too much, or rounding through the mid back. And most importantly, have fun!!

*To make this exercise easier, bring the ball closer to your pelvis and start with a very small range of motion. 

Are You Eating This Superfood?

sauerkraut

Sauerkraut -  A Fat Burning and Immune Boosting Superfood

Want to lose body fat and increase your immunity? Add some sauerkraut to your meals each day. As a fermented food, sauerkraut is one of the healthiest foods you can eat, loaded with vitamins, digestive enzymes and healthy bacteria. 

Fermented Foods and Immunity:

About 85% of your immune system is in your gut. If you have a leaky or permeable gut wall from eating grains, low-quality oils and other processed foods, you likely have a weakened immune system. Reintroducing healthy bacteria into your gut helps support the function and integrity of your GI tract and increases your overall immunity. 

Fermented Foods and Weight Loss:

In addition to helping boost your immunity, fermented foods are loaded with healthy bacteria that is vital for weight loss. Recent studies show that a lack of healthy gut flora might be more responsible for diabetes and obesity than most doctors and nutritionists previously realized. 

According to Integrative Medicine Practitioner Chris Kresser, "Changes in the gut flora can increase the rate at which we absorb fatty acids and carbohydrates, and increase the storage of calories as fat. This means that someone with bad gut flora could eat the same amount of food as someone with a healthy gut, but extract more calories from it and gain more weight. Bad bugs in the gut can even directly contribute to the metabolic syndrome by increasing the production of insulin (leading to insulin resistance)."

Because sauerkraut, which is essentially fermented cabbage, is relatively mild, it can easily be added to a variety of dishes. Try it with eggs and bacon in the morning, on a salad at lunch or as a side with virtually any dinner. 

Want to take further steps to increase your gut health?

  • Eliminate all dietary toxins such as wheat and industrial seed oils

  • Use NSAID's and antibiotics carefully

  • Supplement with the amino acid L-Glutamine to promote gut wall integrity

  • Eat fermented foods 

  • Manage your stress

Should You Cut Salt From Your Diet?

salt

Like saturated fats, salt has earned a bad reputation from the medical industry, leaving many people eliminating salt from their diet in an attempt to lower their blood pressure and risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, most people fail to realize that there are two very distinct forms of salt: refined, white table salt (a stripped or nutritionally lacking form of salt) and unrefined sea salt (a naturally-occurring, nutrient-rich form of salt).  Most people also fail to realize that most of the documentation on salt and its negative effects on heart health is based on research conducted on table salt, and not on salt in its organic form.
 
Why table salt is so bad:
 
Because our bodies are designed to eat until we are nutritionally satisfied, when we eat a food that is stripped, such as table salt, we will continue to eat and eat until our bodies believe that we’ve obtained adequate nutrition. For this reason, foods that are loaded with table salt, such as potato chips, cause people to eat and eat without ever truly feeling full. We've all heard the Pringles tagline “Once you pop you can’t stop”…well, Proctor and Gamble did their research when they developed that one. Food companies have known for years that adding table salt to their products causes people to consume more of that particular product. 
 
In addition, table salt contains additives such as heavy metals (aluminum, for example, a metal that is often linked with diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to various forms of cancer) and even dextrose, a form of sugar. Many of these additives are thought to be associated with mineral malabsorption, bloating, joint pain and over time, kidney and heart disease.
 
Why sea salt is so good:
 
As opposed to stripped, processed table salt, sea salt contains over 40 trace minerals that are essential for optimal health, aiding in many of the regulatory functions of the body. Additionally, sea salt is a natural antihistimine, helps prevent muscle cramps, removes excess acid from cells (specifically brain cells), balances blood sugar levels, helps the GI absorb nutrition from food particles, clears excess mucus and phlegm from the lungs and increases bone strength. 

Athlete Tip: Add sea salt to your water to balance your electrolytes and keep you hydrated. A must-have for all you golfers out there. 
 

So yes, you should remove salt from your diet. Table salt. For optimal health and vitality, add some sea salt to your food (and a pinch to your water). I highly recommend Celtic Sea Salt. 

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