Monday, August 1, 2016

Hip and Back of Leg Mobility Drill

What looks like a hamstring stretch but is much better?

The sequence of movements described are used in a warm-up to improve mobility in the back off the legs. Because it looks like a familiar hamstring stretch that people 'know' how to do, details are given.

Most of the focus is on the hamstring muscles, but many others including the adductors and abductors are included. Another way of saying this is that hip flexion is being trained.

Important concepts:
  • The hip joint is a ball and socket. It can turn in multiple directions, and should be stretched that way to address the full range of motion(ROM) in which the muscles can move it.
  • The big muscles in the back of your leg are the hamstrings -there are three. All start at the ischial tuberosity(except the short head of the biceps femoris), aka 'sit bone', but they end at different points on the inside and outside of the knee.
  • The hamstrings, like all muscles, do not work in isolation. Changing hip alignment changes which muscles are included and to what degree.
  • This is called a mobility drill because of the emphasis on moving into full elongation of multiple muscles at various angles. The central nervous system is being trained along with the muscles.
  • The hamstrings cross both the hip and the knee(bi-articulate) so both joints should be utilized for full ROM mobility.
  • There are no hamstring attachments to the spine, nose, or fingertips. How far those bits go is not a good measure of hamstring elongation. Keep your spine in neutral and don't round forward when stretching the back of the leg.
How to perform the drill:
  • Step forward with the side being addressed about the length of your foot or a bit more. The back leg supports most of your weight, and is bent at the knee.
  • At all times, keep the spine neutral, and keep the pelvis and shoulders pointing in the same direction.
  • Pivot the pelvis and all the body above the pelvis straight forward and down. The body is folding at the top of the front leg. This is often called a 'hip hinge'. Keeping the spine straight will help anteriorly tilt the pelvis.
  • Hold for only a couple seconds. This is not static stretching.
  • Slightly reduce the forward angle.
  • Turn the pelvis together with all the body above the pelvis to one side as far as possible.
  • Repeat the forward pelvic tilt at this new angle.
  • Reduce the pelvic tilt, turn to the opposite side, and tilt again.
This sequence can be repeated 2-3 times.
Stretching the back of the leg. Hands show the angle of the torso.
Now increase the intensity by including the knee.
  • At each angle, stretch as much as possible without pain or losing alignment.
  • Straighten the knee(extend).
  • Hold 2-3 seconds, release the knee, and turn to new angle, and repeat.

Using a prop for the foot as shown adds a stretch to the big posterior calf muscles, especially the gastrocnemius, which is also bi-articulate, crossing both the ankle and knee.
Side view of the back of leg stretch, with calves included
Final Comments:
  • Remember to keep flowing at a slow but steady pace, and don't prolong any one position.
  • The foot can also be elevated, for instance onto a chair or step.
  • Some extra variety is possible by shifting the hips side-to-side at each angle, and by twisting the leg.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Gaining Muscle While Losing Fat

Simultaneously losing fat and gaining muscle is the goal for many people embarking on an exercise program. Because this is so difficult, it's usually much better to focus on just one at a time. What can make it easier though is increasing the ratio of calories from protein in the diet.

This article from the New York Times gives a great discussion of recent research on the topic:
A Diet and Exercise Plan to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle

From the article:
"The routine had succeeded in incinerating pounds from all of the participants. The men in both groups weighed about 11 or 12 pounds less, on average. 
But it was the composition of that weight loss that differed. Unlike most people on low-calorie diets, the men on the high-protein regimen had actually gained muscle during the month, as much as three pounds of it. So in these men, almost all of the 11 or 12 pounds they had lost over all had been fat.  
These results strongly suggest that extra protein is advisable during weight loss, Dr. Phillips said, to avoid stripping yourself of muscle. 
But exercise is also key, Dr. Phillips continued, particularly weight training, since it is known to build muscle. Even the men on the lower-protein diet lost little muscle mass, he pointed out, which was unexpected and almost certainly due, he and his colleagues concluded, to exercise."

A few important points:

  • The comparison is made to the RDA of protein, which is a minimum, and does not consider additional needs from exercise, especially strength training(good discussion here).
  • Carbohydrates still accounted for 50% of the calories. This is not a high-protein, ketogenic diet.
  • Overall calories were restricted by 40%. That is huge cut, and unrealistic for most people even for a short time.
  • The subjects were novices. Well trained individuals will find this harder.

28 g protein powder(20 g protein)
While the RDA for adults is 0.8g/kg of body weight, I suggest 1.5-2.0 grams per kilogram for anyone doing strength training. That means an athlete weighing 68 kilos(150 lbs) needs about 120 grams of protein per day. This is a rough guide- a more accurate number depends on lean body mass(muscle) not total weight, age, and how intense the training program is. This is still not an upper limit, and additional protein may offer even more benefit.

Gaining muscle is easier in a calorie surplus- eating more calories than are used by your metabolism and activity, but if you want to also try to lose fat, add even more protein while decreasing overall calories.