7 MOVES THAT WILL REVEAL HOW FIT YOU ARE

If someone were to ask you what your definition of being fit is, what would your response be? Strong core/abs? Be able to squat your bodyweight? Run a mile? The toe-touch test? While these are all ideal indicators of being fit, they don’t necessarily provide an accurate measure of one’s fitness. A lot of guys think they are fit because they can bench press and squat the world (I used to be one of such people) and have washboard abs. The fact of the matter is how fit a person goes beyond physical strength. Don’t get me wrong, being strong is a renowned gift and warrants acknowledgement. There is more to fitness than being able to Deadlift 300 pounds.

There are several assessment protocols that measure fitness and plenty enough to chose from. But the following are 7 simple tests that can reveal how fit you are and can be done pretty much anywhere using just your bodyweight. These tests will identify strengths, weaknesses and limitations while measuring upper/lower body strength, core strength, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility and mobility.

OVERHEAD SQUAT: Using a PVC pipe or a rolled up towel held at slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, bring your hands over your head with elbows fully extended. Your feet should be slightly wider than hip-width. Take a deep breath, brace your core and sit your hips back as far and low as you can while trying to keep your torso rigid.

Things to look for:

-Do your knees cave inward as you descend? (This is caused by weakness and/or poor activation of gluteus medius and other hip external rotators)

-How deep can you squat? Are you able to bring your things to parallel? (Could be a result of tightness in hamstrings and hip external rotators)

-Do your arms, along with the PVC pipe or towel, drift forward during descent? (This could be caused by tight shoulder internal rotators and weak core/trunk stabilizers)

-Are your heels rising off the floor? (Tight/weakness in dorsiflexors and/or ankle instability)

The Fix: Exercises like band-resisted clamshells and side-band stepping are ideal for activating and strengthening gluteus medius which is responsible for knee function and hence better squatting. Regular stretching and foam rolling of the hamstrings and hips can improve depth. Working on external rotation/retraction exercises like band pull-apart and face pull will keep the arms from dropping forward.

 

SCAPULAR WALL SLIDE: Stand wit your back about a foot or slightly less from a wall. Establish three points of contact against the wall : head, shoulder blades and tail bone. Bring your arms full extended in from of your then pull your elbows back to touch the wall. Point your left and right forearms towards 11 ‘o’ clock and 1 ‘0’ clock. From there, extend your arms up against the wall while trying to keep your wrist and forearms pressed against the wall (creating the letter ‘Y’) . Hold for a second and then bring them back down to your starting position.

Things to look for:

-Were you able to extend your arms up against the wall while maintaining your 3 points of contact and keep them pressed against the wall?

-Did any of your body parts come off the wall during ascent and descent?

-Did you feel any pain/ache during the movement?

The Fix: If you answered ‘yes’ to the first question, congratulations! You have excellent shoulder mobility and flexibility. But if you answered ‘yes’ to the lat two questions, your shoulders are internally rotated thus causing limited mobility in external rotation. This can sometimes come with rounded shoulders or a slouch posture. Interestingly enough, this very test can also be used to correct the issue. Externally-rotated targeted exercises and practicing pulling the shoulders back are the best remedies.

 

PLANK: I don’t consider the plank to be the best measure of core strength given the fact that it requires a great deal of shoulder strength and endurance. But it can be a good indicator of how strong the anterior core is. With a stopwatch timing you, hold a plank for as long as you can.

Things to look for:

-Are you able to maintain a neutral spine all throughout? (lumbar hyperextension, dropping the head)

-Did you hold for longer or less than 30 seconds?

-Did you hold for longer than 60 seconds?

The Fix: Being unable to maintain a neutral spine during a plank not only means the anterior core is weak. It also means the posterior chain isn’t activated enough to keep the body upright. The gluteus muscles and lumber stabilizers must be strengthened to help correct this. Although not universally accepted, holding a plank for less than 30 seconds could be a sign of a weak core. I believe 45 – 60 seconds is a moderate standard to aim for. The only drawback to the plank is it can be quite difficult for people with preexisting shoulder injury and chronic pain. Either way, gradually work your way up to 1 minute.

 

TOE TOUCH: Arguably the most premier assessment flexibility test, the toe touch has pretty much been eradicated from many fitness testing protocols. I still consider it a good measure of hamstring and trunk flexibility. So many people have tight hamstrings and not even know it. This simple test will tell you. Standing with your hands along your sides, bend at the waist (trunk hinge) and reach your hands as far as you can towards your toes.

Things to look for:

-Did your hands get past your knees and/or shin?

-Were you able to touch your toes, or better yet the floor?

-How much did you have to bend the knees?

The Fix: If you were only able to reach to your knees and shins, your hamstrings are tight and most likely your lower back too. Being able to touch the toes or the ground indicates great trunk and hamstring flexibility. Although the knees can bend slightly during execution, too much bend devalues and diminishes the test. Correcting the above miscues is simple : lots of passive stretching and foam rolling.

 

PUSH-UP: Probably the most ancient exercise of our time, the push-up remains a staple in fitness programs. While it can be used as a workout, it can also assess upper body strength and muscular endurance. Perform as many push-ups as you can. When you start getting tried, drop to your knees and continue until exhaustion.

Things to look for:

As with the plank, so many standards exist for the push-up. The way I look at it is the more push-ups you can do without having to kneel, the better and stronger you’ll be. The modified push-up, though a regression of the standard push up, can help build some upper body strength. But it’s alway going to pale in comparison to the regular version in terms of improving and developing strength and endurance.

The Fix: Incorporating lots of anterior core work can help improve push-ups. Doing push ups on higher surfaces like a bench or Reebok STEP can be a precursor to the push-up. Strengthening of trunk stabilizing muscles like the shoulder and triceps can be beneficial also.

BODYWEIGHT SINGLE-LEG RDL:

The Romanian Deadlift is a popular exercise for targeting the posterior chain but can also a good way to assess balance and strength in both legs when done unilaterally with just the bodyweight. With your hands resting along your sides, stand on your right leg and lift the opposite left foot slightly off the ground. Hinge the trunk forward while reaching your hands towards the ground as your left leg lifts up. Aim to perform 6 to 10 reps.

Things to look for:

-How much shifting is occurring at the hips?

-Is the balanced foot/ankle wobbling and/or pronating too much?

-Does your hamstring fatigue enough so much you’re forced to stop?

-How high is the non-balanced leg when fully hinged? Is it in line with the trunk?

The Fix: Hip shifting and lateral movements could be traced to weak and under-active hip external rotators. Band-resisted clamshells and side-band stepping will help with that. Another challenge with this test is wobbling and pronation at the foot and ankle. Doing inversion, eversion, dorsiflexion and plantar flexion with a Thera band is a great way to address this. Generally speaking, single-leg work like lunges, step-ups and single-leg squat variations are vital for strengthening the legs individually. Keep in mind that traditional squats done on both legs, while associated with tons of perks, do not identify which of the legs is working the hardest and and the least.

STAIR CLIMB:

Find a stairwell with lots of floors and climb up 3 to 4 flights at your regular, walking pace.

Things to look for:

-Did you get out of breath?

-If you got out of breath, how soon did it happen?

-Did you find climbing these flights of stairs overly exerting?

The Fix: Stair climbing can be a good way to measure cardiovascular endurance and VO2 Max. The latter is the amount of oxygen available for use during activity. Here’s a simple way to look at it: If after walking 2 or 3 flights of stairs you found yourself breathing heavy, it indicates there wasn’t enough readily available oxygen in your body which means your V02 max and cardiovascular endurance are low. Obviously there’s a limited number of stairs we all can climb before we get tired. Assuming the knees and hips are in good condition, I believe we all should be able to climb a minimum of 4 flights of stairs without getting out of breath. Strength training the lower body and doing a wide variety of cardio activities like HIIT, bootcamp, cycling will surely help improve cardio endurance and VO2 max.

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5 exercises that can help improve posture

For many fitness enthusiasts who train regularly, posture and body mechanics are two vital areas of concern. We often hear people say to others, “Sit up straight”, “Pull your shoulders back” or “Keep your spine tall”. The term ‘slouch’ has never been more apparent in our society the way it is today. Thanks in large part to several case studies that have linked poor posture to imbalances in the kinetic chain, back pain and other degenerative diseases like scoliosis and kyphosis.

Those who know me well will tell you that I’m a strong advocate of postural awareness. Before I take on any new client, I put them through a series of movement pattern screening and postural evaluation exercises. So many different exercises can be used to assess and evaluate posture. In my humble and professional estimation there isn’t a best one, although some fitness professionals could make a case for the Overhead Squat.

There is currently insufficient evidence that supports the notion that exercise can correct posture or lead to deviations. More research is still being conducted at this time. While I don’t believe postural training exists, there are few exercises that can help improve and enhance poor posture. It is important to remember that these exercises shouldn’t be relied entirely upon for postural correction. Active stretching, myofascial work and mind-body awareness should be integrated as well.

So without further ado, here are my top 5 exercises for improving posture:

1. DEADLIFT: I’ve written extensively about the Deadlift in some of my previous blogs. This is arguably the best resistance exercise for improving posture because of it’s functional component. No other exercise mimics the action of picking up an object from the floor. But even more important are the mechanical aspects of it. Setting up for this exercise requires the trunk to be in a diagonal alignment from shoulder to hip which reinforces neutral spine. Flexion of the hips automatically causes activation of the dorsiflexors of the leg forcing the ankle to be mobile. The retraction of the shoulder blades and full extension of this hips  via thrusting at the completion of the movement emphasizes good posture. Retraction and adduction of the scapula will help a person who is internally rotated in the shoulders via external rotation. Likewise, extension of the hips will help a person who has  tight hip flexors and over-lengthened glutes due to prolonged sitting by stretching them at the top of the movement.It is important that you don’t hyperextend the lumbar spine like some people do.

Deadlift1

2. REVERSE LUNGE: The most knee-friendly lunge variation is also a good exercise for those with short and tight hip flexors. When dumbbells are used, the shoulder girdle and upper back region get activated. The hip flexors of the leg that lunges backwards get a deep stretch during execution of this exercise. When I perform this movement, I try to hold the bottom position for 2 seconds to illicit a good dynamic stretch of the hip flexors. When dumbbells are held in each hand, the shoulders ‘pack’ and forced to pull themselves back due the challenge of maintaining good balance. A much farther center of gravity forces the shoulders to externally rotate to prevent tilting forward because of the additional resistance in each hand.

3. SCAPULAR WALL SLIDE: This is an exercise that will garner weird looks from others when you’re doing it. If only those people knew the amazing postural impact it has on the trunk musculature. The good thing about this movement is that it can be included as part of your pre-workout mobility warm-ups or as an exercise in a resistance training program. Stand with your head, upper back and butt against a wall. The heels of your foot should be anywhere from 12 to 18 inches away from the wall. Lift your elbows to shoulder level and press your forearms back against the wall so your elbow and shoulder make a 90-degree angle. Most people won’t be able to get their forearms to press firmly against the wall indicating tight shoulder internal rotators and chronic slouchy posture. With your head, upper back and butt pressed against the wall, fully extend the elbows in a diagonal pattern, hold for a second and return to your starting point. Many will also have a hard time keeping their back flat and will arch quite often early on. The objective here is to continue to keep the forearms close to the wall as much as possible and do your best to keep the back flat. I used this movement to correct extremely tight shoulder internal rotators I battled with for many years. My forearms were 10 inches from the wall when I started this movement!  Though they’re not quite touching yet, they’re about 4 inches from the wall today.

4. DUMBBELL SUITCASE DEADLIFT: This deadlift variation, which was developed through the real life action of picking up a suitcase, is ideal for training the core stabilizers while also strengthening the posterior chain. Though identical to the conventional deadlift, it is different in it’s unique way. Hold a dumbbell of moderate resistance in one hand and stand in front of a mirror in neutral alignment. Your stance should be 3-5 inches less than hip-width apart. Push your hips back and bend the knees as you would do in a regular deadlift. Lower the dumbbell as far as your can without rounding your back or letting your knees cave in. The objective here is trying to remain symmetrical despite the destabilizing forces from the dumbbell attempting to pull you out of alignment. The reason for the mirror is to keep an eye on your symmetry and alignment ensuring you remain neutral all along. Do not allow your trunk to tilt laterally while performing this movement. It is the resistance to tilting that yields the benefits of this exercise. As an added bonus, the core musculature is activated via anti-lateral flexion exercises.

5. WAITER’S WALK: Popularized by the innovative Gray Cook, this exercise is eerily similar to the suitcase deadlift due to the asymmetrical nature of both. The idea behind this exercise came to fruition after witnessing the incredible dexterity and skill waiters display as they constantly hold and walk around with a tray in one hand above their head. To perform this exercise, hold a dumbbell of moderate resistance in an overhead stance. Earlier I talked about ‘packing’ of the shoulder girdle for increased joint rigidity. The same technique applies in the Waiter’s walk. With the dumbbell over your head, ‘pack’ and pull your shoulder back into the scapular without shrugging. Keep your upper arm as parallel as you can next to your ear. As you begin to walk, you’ll feel the weight of the dumbbell trying to pull you out of alignment from all directions. The challenge is to resist these forces and remain symmetrical as much as you can. Do your best to avoid tilting and hiking up the hips. When all the mechanics fall in place, the result is an erect posture in neutral alignment. Begin by walking 20 to 30 yards per arm and work your way up to 40 to 50 yards.

So there you have it. 5 exercises that can help improve your posture. Keep in mind that these are based on my personal experience and years of extensive theoretical studies and research. As always, use good form and work with a moderately challenging resistance. Incorporating active stretches and self-myofascial release will make the process much easier.