Spinal Health – Assessment and Treatment with the Backrack™

At the Elite Sports Performance and Rehabilitation Show I met the wonderful team at Backrack.

This tool immediately caught my eye due to it’s beautiful engineering and design…

What I really like about this is that it has been designed in such a way that when you lay on it (supine), the rack suspends your spine in the channel against gravity – different to a foam roller or hard surface due to the fact that it suspends the vertebrae in the gaps while the spinal muscles are given pressure from the nodules, essentially allowing it to lengthen. This immediately helps to screen where the majority of tightness is and begin rehabilitation. Further, it decompresses the whole spine and neck therefore treating and preventing a whole range of back pain and associated symptoms.

The inventor, (Mr. B.M. Luklinski) is an expert in spinal rehabilitation with over 40 years of clinical experience. Now we don’t need to overdiscuss the benefits of spinal health, but here’s a few just to establish why it is so, so important:

  • Assists good posture, good posture = better weight distribution
  • Large role in ensuring correct form during loaded and bodyweight movement patterns
  • Injury or tightness in the spine will spread across the whole body
  • Supports better CNS function (control and signalling), as well as longevity of health

The Backrack comes with an operating manual full of effective exercises at different levels. That being said, after learning the technical safety it is very easy for a fitness professional to use with their client. My first experiences with it have been excellent – it quickly highlights the problem areas and after a few minutes symptoms of tightness already desisted. I will be using this regularly to help recover from my workouts, as my core, hips and spine are integral to the way I train!

The rack is suitable for anyone really which makes it such a great tool for assessing, fixing and maintaining spinal health – however it should not be used if you are pregnant, have a vertebral fracture, severe scoliosis, or any spinal disease/infection. It comes in two sizes based on the natural curve of the spine in people of different heights.

You can get your own here , and we managed to get a 10% discount for you guys so use the code BWGURUS10 to redeem that!

 

Best Foam Roller to Use?

At the Elite Sports Rehabilitation and Performance show this year at the London Excel, I got to see a few of the promising new developments coming out of the research for improving sports performance.

Amidst all manner of inventions and tech breakthroughs like infrared light therapy and some other more fancy contraptions, there was the PulseRoll – and let me start by saying this is definately a big step toward the future of myofascial tension release.

The PulseRoll is a vibrating, multi-speed foam roller – which I have to say straight away, does it’s job brilliantly. It does not attempt to reinvent the wheel – instead, it took a perfectly well designed tool (foam roller) and simply added good vibes to the whole experience! 😉

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There is also a peanut shaped version called the PulseBall, which is harder to use due to the smaller surface area – I’d say that’s more for intermediate users and athletes as you need to be able to surrender to the pressure. It also allows for greater accuracy in targetting the trigger points.

Now usually I would use a small massage therapy ball or a typical spikey/hard foam roller. The PulseRoll not only has a good surface for friction but the vibrations penetrate deeper into the fascia and fibre as you up the ante on the vibration level – this instantly forces a relaxation reflex on even the tightest areas.

 

A fairly large part of rolling effectively is knowing what you are doing – going slowly but firmly, knowing when to stop or move, surrendering to the pressure, breathing and relaxation are key. Using the PulseRoll however made much of the usual pain dissappear through the provision of a constant vibration, allowing me to concentrate more on the release rather than blocking the pain.

In this way it was much more efficient than using a traditional roller, allowing me to finish my release in around 10m where it would usually take me double that time. For an all over release, start at the neck or upper back and work your way down until you finish at your calves.

Check out the video for some example movements you can do on this, and if you don’t roll already, I definately recommend you get one!

You can buy your very own here – make sure to use code BWGURUS at the checkout for 10% off!

Handstand: The most important skill?

The Handstand is one of the most important skills, and potentially the most important.

To be able to hold a perfectly straight handstand, it is essential to be able to hold the spine and hips straight using subtle adjustment of stabilising muscles, whilst upside down with the arms above the head.

Many people can’t even stand on their feet with neutral alignment, let alone on their hands. For this reason, handstands (and planks) are a brilliant way of training the #posture.

To hold a straight and clean handstand you need to be able to:
– equally distribute your weight onto both shoulders
– keep the hips neutral by using pelvic tilts to correct their position
– elongate the spine while upside down, keeping it straight
– squeeze the leg muscles and core
– plus some other minor technicals

Once you have learnt the above in a handstand, you will have inadvertently learnt how to turn on at will the correct muscles in your body to stand on your feet with good posture, as well as being more conscious about your general alignment.
This is one of the lessons that a handstand teaches us – and if one takes that knowledge and applies it to all other movements, they will begin to more finely understand what good form actually is and what it isn’t.

Another lesson is learning to live between holding on and letting go… #bodyweightgurus

Pointy Toes vs Flat Feet

If you are into bodyweight training, you would probably have noticed that there is a fair amount of discussion around toe pointing, across all moves. Considering many of the static holds in calisthenics are also performed in gymnastics, the toe pointing has surely been influenced by this.

However, there are a large band of athletes (especially at the top level) who prefer flat feet over pointy toes. The question is, which is better and why? To look at this in more detail I have taken the Front Lever as an example to discuss.

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There are many variations of the front lever (and other moves) which have different muscle group activation – is there any difference functionally from the ankle down, or is it all just subjective opinion on what looks the best?

Aesthetics
Well, aesthetically the two styles have different effects – pointed toes tend to streamline the body more and make it look more gymnastic and graceful, whereas “pointing your heels” looks more machine-like due to the right angles, giving the impression of rigidness. If we want to understand what’s better from a training perspective though, we must first look at the kinetic chain involved when flexing the ankle and how that impacts the move difficulty and form.

Functional Biomechanics

ankleThe ankle can point the toes downwards (plantarflexion), upwards (dorsiflexion) or side to side (inversion/eversion).

It has been said that there is a correlation between the Athlete’s ability to engage their glutes and dorsiflex their ankle, the clinical and biomechanical components being undeniable. If an athlete struggles to dorsiflex their ankle, it is usually a given that their glutes aren’t working well.

One of the roles of the glutes is to maintain posterior pelvic tilt (PPT) during movement. This means that your hips are tilted slightly backwards. Many people have tight hip flexors from sitting down all day which causes anterior pelvic tilt (APT), which in turn can lead to back tightness and pain.

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In the front lever as an example, the role of the glutes is to help keep the hips up in the air whilst maintaining posterior pelvic tilt.

If we try to do a front lever with dorsiflexion (pointed heels), we are more inclined to use the correct kinetic chain of muscles to perform the move (rear delts, lats and glutes).

If however we opt to use plantarflexion (pointy toes), we find that it encourages APT as pointing the toes away is effectively “unhollowing” the body. It’s important to note that the angle of the head and feet in any movement can be changed without effecting the rest of the body and kinetic chain, but in weaker performers who have not mastered engaging all relevant muscles, angling will cause corruption of the spine’s alignment – for example, turning your head to the side will cause unsymmetrical use of the spinal muscles.

In Conclusion

  • It is easier to hold the hips up straight if you point your toes, as the hip flexors will contract while long and help out. If you use the hip flexors too much over the glutes, they will encourage APT. If the APT becomes too pronounced, your spine will arch and your front lever will look curved. It is still possible to point your toes and maintain PPT, though.
  • It is harder to hold the hips up straight if you point your heels, as the activated glutes will encourage PPT (correct hollow body), and the hip flexors will not be able to engage (a good thing as we do not want APT). When there is PPT in conjunction with a strong core, your spine will be straight.
  • In the interim when one is learning the move, your body will drop from the hips, but you should focus on using the glutes as the primary method of pushing them up (remember to keep the core tensed too).
  • A correct hollow body front lever CAN be achieved using pointed toes, so long as the rest of the kinetic chain is encouraging PPT. So it is not “incorrect” to point your toes, it’s just that doing this usually discourages glute engagement, which as a result encourages some of the incorrect muscles to get involved.

If anything, the truth is that all suspension moves are a delicate balance of opposing forces on both sides of the body using all muscles, but depending on the direction of gravity and the planes of motion you are moving in, you will need to use some muscles more than the others to perform moves safely and correctly. Knowing which those are for each move you train is the key to unlocking the perfect form…

Don’t hibernate, come alive this winter!

Chances are if you live in the northern hemisphere you will have already felt like an ice cube at least once this week.

Temperature drops, shorter days and colds/flus can all make life a little less comfortable, so it’s important we make a few changes to our lifestyle and diet during this season. Here’s a few tips for you on how to stay feeling your best this winter…

untitled-5Sleeping patterns
It’s completely natural to want to hibernate and not venture into the unforgiving cold, however sleeping longer than usual will actually make you more lethargic. Try to time and curtail your sleep to 8 hours a day (adult average).

It’s also not unusual to feel slightly down or depressed due to the shorter days and lack of sunlight – if you try to programme your sleep pattern so you wake earlier you will witness more of the day’s light and experience a significant shift in mind-state as well as an increase in productivity.


untitled-4Keeping warm
It will come as no surprise that in winter we need a few extra pounds of fat on the body to help keep us warm and protect our organs. The body is capable of maintaining core temperature in extreme conditions, but it requires calories to burn to do this – therefore having access to fat stores or to immediately available calories is very useful.

Make sure you snack and keep your energy levels high so you can stay warm and active. Some foods you can eat which are loaded in good fats include avocados, olives, nuts (especially cashews), sweet potato, peanut butter and butternut squash – just eating two from this list a day is a good start.


untitled-3Joint protection
Moving around in the cold (let alone training!) can be really uncomfortable especially if you have any issues with your joints. The drop in temperature causes contraction of the muscles, leading to stiffness and tension. To help keep your joints pain free and lubricated well, make sure you’re getting enough oils – try coconut oil, flaxseed oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil or pumpkin seed oil. Cook with it or drizzle it on your food.

Self massage also helps to release the muscles. My top tip is to use a muscle rub ointment around affected joints before going out – it will really make a difference in comfort when you start moving (personally I use Tiger/Aboniki Balm).


untitled-2Immunity and energy boosters
Of course, winter is notorious for an increase in cold and flu virus. Make sure you get some of these great natural immune boosters into your body to help ward off the pesky critters.

The main things you’re looking for are foods high in vitamin C and antioxidants. A few great examples of superpowered foods are citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, green leafy vegetables, beetroot, turmeric, garlic and ginger. Just throw some into your normal meal on the side or mix it in when cooking.


untitled-1Hair and skin
As well as looking after our insides we also have to protect the surface of our bodies, which are our first defence. Growing your hair (and body hair) longer during winter will help to trap air and keep you warmer, much like an extra layer of clothing. Your skin will also become dry easily because of the cold, so make sure you moisturise and take care of areas such as the lips and nose where hot air from inside your body meets cold air from outside.

Natural oils like coconut oil help fortify and protect skin and hair with a protective layer. Vitamin E is also important in supporting this process from the inside, as it is responsible for repair.

 

 

Fitness First “Urban Workout” launch with BodyweightGurus

So over the last few weeks we’ve had an absolutely awesome time working with the Fitness First gym in Brixton, London.

The team were planning to open a new area in the gym with bars and equipment specialised for bodyweight workouts. After some initial consultation from us on the specifications and layout of the area, a brand new bar setup was installed with the help of the team at Wolverson Fitness!

We went on to hold a workshop for all the personal trainers at the gym to show them around the new equipment and qualify them to teach calisthenics and bodyweight exercise.

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Last weekend we also turned up for the launch day to help celebrate the opening of the new area and welcome Brixton’s members to try it out!

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The whole series of events were a great success and we very much look forward to working into the future with Fitness First… watch this space!

How to warm up effectively for a Calisthenics/Bodyweight workout

Hey Guys!

First video of the blog and we’re starting with how to warm up effectively…

So many people underestimate the value of a comprehensive warm up – prepping the body for exercise is hugely important if you want to perform at your best. Warming up properly increases mobility in the joints, suppleness and elasticity of the muscles, as well as blood circulation and a more awake mental state.

We hope you enjoy it and if you have any questions or ideas for future topics you’d like to see just comment below or on the video!