Thoughts and a book review: The power of habit

Self discipline is something I thought I had in abundance. That was until I started following some of the top Chiropractors in Canada and the USA. It is incredible at how often they read to further themselves and how self disciplined they are with what they say they will do and then carrying it out.

One of the best Chiropractors I follow is a guy called Jason Ross, he stated at the start of the year that he would do a blog every day as his new years resolution and he has stuck to it. I didn’t think it would be possible as I find it hard to do one a month at the rate I am going.

One of the tips I learned from Jason is to read at least 20 minutes a day, this helped me a lot as I have been using the excuses of time and a new relationship to explain why i haven’t posted or read enough recently. However by doing little bits at a time I have been able to achieve a lot more. I love reading as knowledge is power and little chunks at a time have been an amazing way of helping me finally finish some books I have been unable to complete for a while.

The power of habit was one of these (ironic I know), this book helps you understand exactly how we form habits and how to create and break good and bad ones.
The power of habit

By adopting the above system and repeating it over and over you can form a new habit, this can be positive or negative. An example of how it is used is smoking, see the packet, smoke the cigarette and your senses get the reward. Stop the cue or replace the routine and you can form an alternative to a bad habit. This can even be a positive change as your reward may not even lie in the chemical reward from a cigarette, it could just be that you want to be social. In which case, go chat to someone at their desk instead of going for a social cigarette and see if that social reward solves your ‘craving’. you’d be surprised at how the reward you are looking for can be misunderstood.

I love books like these, ones that take a topic and use others experiences to explain the details. A highly recommended read, you never know, this could be life changing for you or your sport. I’m gonna work on writing my posts more regularly (Gulp!).

As Aristotle once said “We are as we repeatedly do”.

What is the best way to strengthen the core muscles?

How do I strengthen my Core?

Apologies for not posting sooner, it has been a hectic couple of months!

So then! If you have ever had repetitive lower back pain and have seen a professional or rehab specialist to try to address the problem, then you may have been told you have a “weak core and it needs strengthening”?

Unfortunately, in my opinion and experience, the word ‘Core’ gets used far too much by people that don’t truly understand it. The classic mistake is that some professionals generally view the abdominal muscles as being the core of the body and that by strengthening these muscles, your core will be ‘stronger’ and lower back pain will cease. As you may have already found, abdominal strengthening exercises such as planks and sit-ups do not solve repetitive lower back pain and can make it worse, here is why.

To truly strengthen your core, you have to make sure the muscles that make up the thoraco-pelvic canister (TPC) (described by Dr Evan Osar in his book ‘) are activated at all times to support your lower back. The TPC is best explained using the analogy of a tin can representing your abdomen and the muscles that make it up. The top being the diaphragm, the bottom being your pelvic floor muscles and the sides being your abs, internal and external obliques, Quadratus Lumborum etc..

I address the muscles of the TPC using exercises that address these 3 areas:

i) 25% of abdominal contraction engages a good amount of the core to stabilise the TPC. Therefore use progressed Dead bug and Bird Dog type exercises, then into activity specific strengthening. this is To strengthen the sides of the tin can.
ii) Progressed pelvic floor stabilisation exercises To strengthen the base of the tin can.
iii) Progressed Breathing correction exercises (use principle muscles (diaphragm etc) and not accessory muscles) To strengthen the top of the tin can.

All areas must be worked for endurance type strength and not for power, therefore lots of repetitions which are gradually and gently progressed and challenged. Also, they must be worked in various positions that we adopt each day: Standing, sitting, lying down (although sitting in chairs is always bad for the back). By working these three areas your core will be super strong and you should find episodes of lower back pain and even episodes of recurrent neck pain should also decrease (due to deactivation of accessory muscles).

Stay tuned for future posts on exercises to help strengthen each of the 3 areas of the TPC.

How to improve hip strength

The hips are an often over looked and under utilised part of the body, yet I can’t stress just how important they are. When not correctly strengthened they can often be the origin of a lot of knee and lower back pain and if severely functioning incorrectly, can lead to early hip arthritis.

However, when functioning well, can lead to a vast improvement and cessation of many knee, hip and lower back complaints. In an athlete they can lead to a large improvement in performance and injury reduction.

The hip is similar to the neck, lower back and shoulder in that it has its own ‘core’ muscles that are responsible for keeping the hip in the middle of the joint, or ‘centrated’ as it is known. ‘Centration’ is a very important thing to understand, the hip is a ‘ball and socket’ joint as you can see in the picture below, where the head of the femur (upper leg) is the ‘ball’ and the cup in which it sits in the pelvis is the ‘socket’.
There are many structures that keep this joint in position such as ligaments and a capsule called the acetabular labrum. However, to ensure the joint is allowed to move evenly throughout the joint, the joint must be in the correct position within the joint to allow even force distribution to decrease wear and tear and ensure best function. The muscles responsible for this are the ‘deep rotators of the hip’. These form the base level muscles around the hip and are often responsible for buttock, hip, leg, knee and back pain if tight and weak. To ensure they are functioning correctly, they must first be lengthened and then strengthened. To strengthen them, a set of exercises that can be done at home are called ‘clam shells’. The Clam shell routine is designed to strengthen up key musculature around the hip including the most important part, the deep hip rotators. Once these are strengthened you effectively have a solid foundation upon which to work.

The next stage is to strengthen the ‘global muscles’ that overlay the deep rotators, the most important ones being the Gluteus Medius and Gluteus minimus.

These muscles effectively brace over the hip downwards, preventing the hip from collapsing sideways. These muscles are also prone to tightness (a tight muscle is a weak muscle), this can lead to compensations such as TFL and Glut Max tightness that when overused and tight can effectively cause Iliotibial band tightness and common problems such as ‘runner’s knee’ and problems in other areas. Glut Min and Med are strengthened using a piece of light to medium strength Theraband and the X-walk and monster walk, there are many variations of this exercise on Youtube so I combined the best pieces from each into the above word document. There are progressions of these exercises to make them more challenging such for the athletic individual, however when in the rehab phase after an injury these exercises are great. I will at some point start doing my own Youtube videos as I find technique lacks in a lot of the videos currently available.

Performing these exercises regularly when the hips are not in pain can help prevent hip osteoarthritis. If however, the hips are already painful it is best to stretch and use lots of ice packs (10-15 mins every 2 hours) to calm the musculature down before attempting any strengthening routines.

A simple way to improve hip rotation


A simple way to improve hip rotation

Before I get into the meat of this post, I’ll quickly explain why hip rotation is so important.

Without good hip rotation the forces from your lower limbs cannot be distributed throughout your hips and the tissues around them in the way that they were designed. This leads to more force being applied to either the hip joint itself (rather than the soft tissues) or into the lower back, causing lower back issues. There is very reliable evidence that links a loss of internal hip rotation to lower back pain.

Hip rotation is a key aspect of many sports, I found that my decreased internal hip rotation as a result of playing football prevented me from efficiently “popping up” onto a surfboard when surfing.

The solution to my problem was the simple use of a tennis ball to massage the hip region while laying on my back. It is also worth working on the other hip musculature in the region as compensations are likely to occur from daily life and sports with non-rotational muscles also getting tight in the hip region. I find using a tennis ball a lot more efficient as you can easily hit the spots that are tight rather than using a stretch as stretches tend to be quite global and tend to miss key areas of tightness within a muscle.

The routine I recommend, I refer to as “search and destroy”. Locate your hip by feeling the side of your leg till you find a bone that is the size of a small tennis ball. This is your landmark to work from as the majority of the musculature in the hip region attaches around this point. Roll the ball side to side in the buttock region from the hip and then roll it up and down above the hip. If you find a sore spot, stop and hold it for up to 1 minute and then continue self massaging with the tennis ball for a few minutes until the whole area feels looser.

In the next post I will explain how to rehab and strengthen up the hips so they function more efficiently to decrease tightness in the future. Remember “you cannot have stability without mobility” so by improving the hip musculature you will decrease your chance of a hip operation and help prevent lower back and knee problems.

Football: Quick solution to improving shot power

Football: Quick solution to Improving shot power

An award winning study recently carried out showed that Manipulation (a technique developed and perfected by Chiropractors) does improve shot power at least in the short term.

Manipulation is when a joint is taken to the limit of its range of movement and a thrust is applied to take it then beyond that limit. A popping or cracking noise is occasionally heard when this happens which is a combination of carbon dioxide gas being released due to a rapid change in pressure to the liquid that lubricates the joint and/or any adhesions being broken due to the joint not having moved properly for a while.

The study found that manipulation to the lower back and sacrum improves shot power. My views on this are 2-fold, firstly if your joints and soft tissues are moving better (as is the outcome of successful manipulation) then power transfer will be more efficient. This along with an improved fulcrum for movement to occur will inevitably improve the shot power. Secondly, manipulation has been found to reset muscle tone, with the Hamstrings in particular having been shown to relax when the Sacro-iliac joint (base of the lower back) is manipulated. Relaxed muscles allows better firing of the muscle being contracted and a greater ability of the opposite muscle to lengthen and therefore allow more movement.

Wonder why your shot power has decreased or that your cross field passes are weaker than they used to be? A sports Chiropractor is the best choice to receive top notch manipulation in the areas that will allow your body to work at it’s best. I guarantee you’ll notice a difference in your ball striking abilities.

Reference: Found here

What is the true cause of repetative lower back pain?

What is the true cause of repetative lower back pain?

The cause of recurrent back pain can be for many reasons, muscle tightness, muscle weakness, poor core stability, genetics. However, there is one cause which has a profound affect on the majority of the population. The cause that is most often over looked, yet if incorrect, very often is the beginning of a snowball effect of problems that can lead to eventual and repeated lower back injuries.

Incorrect breathing, find a mirror and watch yourself breath, take a deep breath in and then out again. Notice where the air was going in your body when you breathed in. If the air went mainly into your chest then you are breathing wrong, if it went in to your abdomen, then you are likely to be breathing right, so well done!

Why is it important to breath in to your abdomen? Your diaphragm is the muscle which is both crucial in the process of breathing as it contracts, as well as it being a major factor in stabilising your lower back. If this muscle is under utilised, which is the case in so many people, then after a cascade of compensations throughout the body, lower back pain can repeatedly occur.

So remember, before you do any core stability exercises to strengthen your back, make sure to check your breathing. A simple exercise to help with this is to put your hands on the outer lower edge of your rib cage and breath deeply down and back in to your hands. Do 20 good breaths in a row at least once a day and vary sitting, lying and standing positions. After 2-3 weeks your breathing (and your lower back stability) will have a much better foundation upon which to perform back stability exercises, ensuring better results.

Thoughts on Vitamin D

A report recently by the BBC stated a research paper suggested that Asthma may be helped by taking regular supplements of Vitamin D. Vitamin D has been found to be beneficial to so many areas of the body and it has been suggested that a significant proportion of the population has a deficiency. I would give you a list of all the benefits of vitamin D though the research quality of a lot of findings varies hugely and I would not wish to misinform you. I have however, come to the conclusion that due to just how many areas this vitamin benefits it is not a question of “should I make sure I am getting enough vitamin D?”, it is a case of “why am I not taking it already?” I would put this vitamin up as one of, if not my most required, vitamins.

There are many vitamins/minerals that are recommended to be supplemented or included in a balanced diet. If you are starting to look at which ones to focus on supplementing, I would start with the most important and beneficial vitamins/minerals essential to your lifestyle and try to ensure you are getting these first. Make a priority list of the key ones for you depending on your lifestyle and environment and work to this. I would consider Vitamin D as one of the most important supplements for someone from England in particular as we tend to have a lack of sunlight especially during the winter months, which has been put forward as one of the contributing factors as to why illness and depression peak at this time of year. Vitamin D’s role is generally considered to be the transfer of Calcium into and from the blood stream. Though it appears there may be more to this vitamin than first thought with more and more studies claiming it’s multiple health benefits. Due to an unwillingness to encourage overexposure to the sun there are no guidelines on how much sunlight you are recommended to have to ensure you get enough vitamin D. Though, if you have ever lived in England where, during the winter months, a number of the population begin their working day in darkness and finish it in the darkness so you can see how long term illnesses can develop.

Here is a chart with the recommended amounts of Vitamin D to be eaten/supplemented:
Calcium and Vit D

I myself take 1,000 IU (25µg) of the Vit D supplement each day, however, I also try to include it in my diet and for those of you who do not like taking pills, here are some vitamin D rich foods:
Vitamin D table

Note that 3,000 IU of Vitamin D3 can be absorbed from 5-10 minutes of sunlight depending on the environmental conditions. This appears achievable yet many people are still lacking in the recommended levels of this vitamin. You can get your vitamin D levels tested by asking your GP or by ordering an online testing kit if you wish. Weight up whether or not you could do with a top up of vitamin D as everyone is different, also make sure you stay within the recommended values otherwise toxicity can occur.