Optimal Form, Warm-up Ideas, Stretches, and Exercise Descriptions
R.Kin, BA, MSc Candidate
Anatomical Positioning: Attaining Optimal Form
Neutral Lumbar Spine:
The lumber spine (lower back) has a natural anterior curvature and it is important that this does not become excessive or extinguished during most physical activity and sport movements. Engaging in depression and retraction of the scapulae (see below) should help to maintain the neutral lumbar spine. What you do not want to see is a full anterior pelvic tilt, in which the butt is sticking out more than it usually does, creating a hyper extension in the lumbar spine. You also do not want to see the lower back become rounded as is seen in a posterior pelvic tilt position. The spine should essentially be in line from the head to the sacrum, avoiding any excessive curvature.
Scapular Depression and Retraction:
You have two scapula bones (shoulder blades) which help to make up your shoulder girdle, and provide attachment sites for many muscle in this area of the body. Proper anatomical positioning of the scapulae is depressed and retracted but the positioning required for much of our modern day workforce and everyday tasks (driving, working at desks, and couch potato-ism) have given way to improper posture which pulls the scapulae into elevation and protraction. This is one of the contributing factors to stress in the neck and upper back for a lot of people. Ensuring proper positioning of the scapulae during exercises is essentially for helping to lock down the shoulder girdle and core as well, and to make sure you can isolate muscle in certain exercises (Lat Rows, Pull downs, Pull ups etc). You want to feel as if you are pulling your scapulae down and towards your spine when you have them depressed and retracted, as if you are trying to pinch a pencil between your shoulder blades and hold it there.
Anterior/Posterior Pelvic Tilt:
As mentioned in the neutral lumbar spine section above, anterior pelvic tilt occurs when there is an excessive anterior curvature of the lumbar spine and anterior rotation of the pelvis, and posterior pelvic tilt occurs when there is a posterior curvature to the lumbar spine and posterior rotation of the pelvis. In other words, in the anterior pelvic tilt your butt and bottom of your pelvis are sticking out and away from your back. In posterior pelvic tilt the opposite occurs and you are pulling the bottom of your pelvis towards the front of your body, activating your glutes (butt muscles). In the posterior pelvic tilt you want to feel as if you are trying to pull your tail between your legs, if you had one. Engaging in posterior pelvic tilt is key to knowing how to engage your gluteal muscles and is used in many posterior kinetic chain exercises (Posterior plank, glute bridges, hip thrusts, split squat).
This involves maintaining a neutral lumbar spine and essentially means that when you bend your torso forward you are bending at the hip joint only and not letting your spine round out (as in posterior pelvic tilt). Depressing and retracting the scapulae will help maintain proper positioning as well and should be engaged throughout the any hip hinge. To visualize, you would want to be bending your torso forward at the hip joint while seeing no motion (bending) within the actual torso (spine) or the legs.
Warm-Up and Stretches
Repetitions: 10, or if you have enough space, do #’s 1-12 moving forward 20 metres, rest 15-30 seconds and do the same back.
Warm-up and Dynamic Stretches
Marching: High knees, touching hand with knee, don’t lean forward
A’s: Butt kicks - Try to hit your butt with your feet
B’s: Fast march, pushing off the ground with each step so you are almost hoping to the next step
C’s: Same as B’s but add a kick (extension of lower leg) at the top of the hop so your leg in the air extends out fully in front of you
Burpees: Start with a jump while extending your arms above your head. After landing squat down to the ground and place your hand on the ground while simultaneously extending your legs and kicking your feet out behind you with just your toes on the ground, bringing you into the ‘up phase’ of a push up. Do a push up to make the burpee more challenging, otherwise, bring your feet back up to your arms by jumping forward and then continue to jump up to a standing position. Repeat again with a jump from standing position.
Cross chest swings w/skip: Arms back and forth crossing the chest as you skip with high knees
Arm circles: forwards and backwards, can do with a skip
Walking knee hugs: Try to hug knee high, don’t crunch forward and maintain neutral lumbar spine, can go up on toe
Calf jumps: Straight legs, try not to bend knees
Inchworms: Bend from waist forward using ‘hip hinge’, hands on ground, walk hands out while keeping legs as straight as possible until you reach upper pushup position, then walk feet in with small steps to reach hands, finish rep by standing back up trying to engage the hip hinge as much as possible
Walking Lunges with Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch: Lunge forward with your right leg and lower your upper body until your knee is just above the ground. When you step up from the lowered lunge position, grab your left heel with your left hand and pull your ankle and foot up towards your butt; stretching out the front of your thigh and hip. Then releasing your hand from your foot as it come down lunge forward with your left leg and repeat moving forward
Bird-dogs: Begin on all fours, raise opposite hand and foot, keep hand and foot straight, hips square
Static Desk Stretches
Encourage breaks every 15-20 minutes
Hold 30 seconds minimum
Neck: All directions
Shoulder shrug: 10 second hold
Scapular retraction/depression - Shoulders down and back, see above
Triceps stretch: Reach back to between your scapulae with one hand and pull gently on the elbow of that arm with the other
Shoulder stretch: Arm across chest, putting pressure and pushing gently with the opposite arm
Forearm stretches: Straight arm in front of you, with opposite hand push fingers up and down, pulling wrist and fingers back towards you stretches flexors, and pushing wrist and fingers down towards the ground stretches extensors.
Lat stretches: In doorway, hold onto the wall side of the frame with one arm and then the other. Hold on with one hand lower down into a deep squat and let your arm support most of your weight pulling on the latissimus dorsi, and look up while pulling on door frame
Static Floor Stretches
Quad: Standing on one foot, pull the elevated legs foot/ankle back towards your butt. Stand tall, point knee straight down to floor and feel the stretch across the front of your thigh
Hamstring (Touch your toes stretch): While sitting bend forward at your hip joint (hip hinge) keeping your legs straight out in front of you. Keep a neutral spine while bending forward at the hip (do not slouch forward and bend your back), engaging scapular depression and retraction aids with this. Use your hands to pull you closer by gripping onto your legs as far down as you can reach (shins, ankles, feet).
Calf stretch: Press one foot into floor behind you (leg you’re stretching) with front knee bent in a semi lunge position. Then try to reach heel of your back leg to floor, feeling the stretch in the back of your lower leg. Alternatively bring your toes up against a wall and drive your heel into the ground, making a triangular gap under your foot between the floor and wall. Keep your leg straight and then lean forward at the hip. Halfway through this version, bend the knee slightly of the leg that is against the wall. This will isolate a deep calf muscle, the soleus. If you lose the stretch sensation in the lower leg after bending your knee, focus on driving your heel into the ground again while still keeping your toes on the wall.
Rag doll: Bend at waist while grabbing elbows (Hip Hinge), let hand and arms hang limply once you’re bent over as far as you can, try to keep legs as straight as possible
Glutes Thread the needle: Cross one leg bent over the other thigh while laying on your back, reach in-between legs to grab the front of the shin or the back of the leg and pull to chest, relax head and neck on mat
Cat/Camel: Camel: on all fours, arch back with head and tailbone pointed down (put tail between your legs, aka posterior pelvic tilt) then move into Cat: head up, arch back and put pelvis into anterior tilt (butt to sky, aka anterior pelvic tilt)
At Home Exercises:
Can be done in a dorm room, in various rooms in houses, with just body weight, or adapted with weights/equipment. Keeping proper form applies to all though; remember it’s not ‘practice makes perfect’… It’s ‘Perfect/Proper practice makes perfect’. Doing these exercises with improper form, to increase the weight you’re lifting or to get more reps in, compromises your muscles ability to perform properly and safely and can lead to injury, improper/poor motor patterning, and cost you time and gains in the long run. If you train the wrong way and adapt to these bad habits, you will have to unlearn them and re-learn the proper way and begin the adaptation process all over again. It’s much better to start off the right way, making all the effort you put into exercising and working out as beneficial to you as possible.
Squats: Maintain neutral lumbar spine and keep scapulae depressed and retracted throughout. Try and line up your knees with your baby toes and keep them over them throughout the squat, while not allowing your toes to go out in front on your toes. You may notice this will make your knees point out laterally, this is good; you DO NOT want your knees to fall in medially toward each other while squatting. This puts excessive stress on your knees and makes the exercise quad dominant. While you do engage your quads during a squat, you want to be engaging your glutes primarily. To ensure this maintain the positions as stated above and when going down into the squat from standing your butt should be going back and down, not just down, as if there is a chair behind you that you are going to sit on.
Lunges: Once again maintain a neutral lumbar spine and your scapulae depressed and retracted. Step out with one leg in front of you and then lower your torso down as you lunge. Try not to use forward momentum to carry you down as this will likely lead to your toes shooting out past your toes (putting stress on your knees and ankles). As in the squat try to keep your knees line up above your baby toes, knees pointing out laterally is much better than them pointing in medially.
Split Squat: This is a cross between a lunge and a squat. You’ll need a chair or bed to place one leg up on. Get into a lunge position except with your back leg up on a chair/bed/bench and bring your hips into a posterior pelvic tilt. This will ensure your glutes are activated. Your front leg’s knee is once again line up over your baby toe and don’t let them fall inward or in front of your toes during the exercise. Slowly lower your torso down always maintaining the posterior pelvic tilt, and lower down to the point where you feel yourself not being able to maintain it, then push back up through the heel of your foot on the ground.
Calf Raises: Start in a normal standing position. Then push up onto your toes (Plantar Flexion) engaging your calf muscles.
Hip Thrusts: During the thrust phase of this exercise be sure to maintain a posterior pelvic tilt and engage your glutes. Place your shoulders on a raised surface (chair/bed/bench) or even on the floor. Your feet are on the ground about shoulder width apart but the only part of your foot on the ground is your heel, with your toes pointed outward (externally rotates your hip, helping engage the glutes) Bring your hips into a posterior pelvis tilt and thrust them up off the floor trying to make your pelvis the highest point elevated. Hold this for 3 seconds before lowering your hips back to the ground.
Glute Bridges: Same as hip thrusts but you are on the floor (shoulders and heels on floor). Thrust your hips up in a posterior pelvic tilt from the ground and maintain for 3-7seconds each rep.
Push-ups: Keep your scapulae depressed and retracted during pushups and a neutral lumbar spine. Engaging your core will help with this. In standard pushups your elbows and wrists are in line with your shoulders. Wider stance with your wrists will make them easier, and closer stance will make them harder. A close triangle position with your hands and wrist will also make them harder and place emphasis on your triceps being activated. Lower your torso towards the ground until your chest touches the ground and then push it back up into starting position. You can also increase the intensity and focus on different muscle fibres of the chest musculature by elevating your feet or upper body onto a stable platform. These variations are called; Incline Push-ups and Decline Push-ups. Incline push-ups are done like a normal push-up but your hands are on an elevated surface (Bench, chair, bed, stairs) while your feet remain on the ground. The opposite is done during decline push-ups, where you place your feet on the elevated surface (Bench, chair, be, stairs) and this time your hands remain on the ground.
Planks: Engaging your core, depressing and retracting your scapulae, and engaging your glutes are all key during any plank. Your elbows and forearms are along the ground and your elbows will be below your shoulders. Feet should be spread out a bit. While in the plank your toes, elbows, and forearms are the only things touching the ground so that you are keeping your body weight elevate off the ground. These can be modified in numerous ways; feet on a raised surface, elbows/forearms on raised surface, on swiss/bosu/medicine balls, in pushup position etc.
Lateral Planks: These focus on your lateral abdominal muscles but still engage your entire core. Again you are elevating your body weight off the ground but this time only one elbow and forearm are on the ground and the lateral side of your foot. On your side, push your hips, torso and legs off the ground and try to maintain a straight line from your head to your toes. Once again your shoulder of the arm on the ground should be directly above the supporting elbow.
Posterior Plank: These are the same as glute bridges, although your heels, toes still pointing outward, are on a raised surface (chair/bed/bench). Make sure to bring your hips into a posterior pelvic tilt and fire your glute muscles. With your shoulders on the ground and heels on a raised surface you thrust your hips toward the sky and hold this position as long as possible.
Bicycles: Sitting only on your butt, maintain a neutral lumbar spine, not letting it round out. You want to depress and retract your scapulae as well. From this starting position you will start pedalling as if there are bicycle pedals in front of you. An easier variation to this is to lay on your back and pedal upwards.
Burpees: See warm-up section above.
Mountain Climbers: Starting in the elevated position of a push up, instead of lowering your torso you will bring one knee up towards your chest as if running and the switch to the other, repeating. Maintain a neutral lumbar spine and depress and retract your scapulae thoughout.
Using House-Hold Furniture For Exercises
Spilt Squats: See above
Hip Thrusts: See above
Dips: Place your hands behind you on the chair/bed. Legs extended in front of you, your body weight is elevated off the ground and you then dip your hips and weight down toward the ground. Bend only at the elbow joint and try to keep your elbows in line with your wrist and shoulders and do not let them shoot out to the side. This exercise is meant to isolate the triceps and when your elbows shoot out to the side, this isolation is lost. Push your weight back up from the ground extending through the elbows.
Marches: Same as in warm-up up but with your shoulder leaning on chair/bed
Pushups: See above; Incline and decline (hands on chair/bed or feet on chair/bed)
Adding Weights to Your Workout Without Any Fitness Equipment
Bicep curls and triceps extensions with canned food/water bottles. Even textbooks in a bag etc.
Deltoid Raises (Anterior, Lateral, Posterior Flies) with canned food/water bottles
Loading a back pack on your chest for squats, lunges etc.
Trap Shrugs: Bags filled with textbooks
Remember to always warm-up before starting any workout routine. Strive to incorporate dynamic drills that engage all your major muscle groups and joints - especially the ones you will be focusing on during your workout. Some reasons why you need a good warm-up before you start your routine are:
Increases blood circulation to all your major muscles and joints
Increases joint lubrication
Increases neuromuscular response and reaction times
Gradual progression to a steady-state of increased workload, which helps avoid premature lactic acid build-up
Helps to prevent injuries
Always finish with a cool-down and stretch after you have completed your workout. Cool downs generally follow a similar structure to the warm-up routine, except the intensity is decreased, leading into static stretching. Cool-downs and stretching are beneficial because:
Prevents blood pooling in lower limbs by driving venous return
Decreases heart rate and blood pressure back to a steady resting state
Helps prevent Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Stretching increases flexibility
Stretching promotes muscle fiber repair and speeds up this process
Helps to prevent injuries
Completing proper warm-ups and cool-downs when working out are critical in preparing your body for the upcoming workload, preventing injuries, and helping your body repair so it can be ready for the next workout and your daily functioning.
See the 'Optimal Form, Warm-up Ideas, Stretches, and Exercise Descriptions' section above for some ideas for your warm-ups and cool-downs.
DISCLAIMER: Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.