Be Well Personal Training

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Adapting Ashtanga

As some of you are aware, I am an Ashtanga yoga pseudo-junkie.  I love everything about it- the breath, the poses, the way it is sequenced, the challenge of it.  However, some of the very things I love (the poses, the sequence) conflict strongly with the philosophy I take with my clients.  I feel movement should be individualized to enhance and correct a person's posture and improve movement, two things Ashtanga doesn't always provide (at least in my opinion).  At times, I find myself conflicted, particularly when a client wants to begin a yoga practice and wants me to be the guide.  Many of my clients have or have had injuries and/or pain and are in their 50s and 60s.  They trust me to help them move better and the clients who end up asking me to teach them yoga do so after we have been working together awhile and they trust me not to hurt them.  Currently, I am teaching yoga to a wonderful woman I will call Kay.  Kay is in her early 60s, practiced a yoga program designed for her by someone 30 years ago for decades, has had hip replacement, needs the other hip replaced, has experienced bouts of vertigo with headstand, has scoliosis, and was injured in the last guided yoga class she took.  Kay strength trains with me twice a week.  We emphasize good hip mechanics, strength, and core stability.  I do not feel Kay is a good candidate for the Ashtanga primary series for a variety of reasons; however, I think elements of first and second series with a strong attention to mindfulness and movement with breath will benefit her posture and her current physical condition tremendously.  We are currently working on Ujjayi breath, slow sun salutations, some of the standing postures (we are skipping revolved side angle because it is difficult for her to hold the hip firmly in the socket during rotation and move from the thoracic spine rather than the lumbar), some of the seated postures (not always with vinyasa between but always with breath), some modified postures from second to improve thoracic mobility, and a modified closing sequence.  Sometimes, I feel a bit fraudulent (this isn't Ashtanga!  I am not being true to lineage!), but I return to ahimsa, which is my guide as a personal trainer and yoga teacher.  To practice ahimsa, I must do what I think is right for the client or student and help, rather than hurt.  While this isn't necessarily "true" Ashtanga, it is Ashtanga that has been adapted to the individual's needs.  Sometimes, I think it is important to practice flexibility in teaching to provide the greatest benefit.  Kay is thoroughly enjoying our yoga practice, and has recently added another day.  She might not be standing on her head anytime soon, but I am confident that she will progress from modified cobra to upward facing dog without pain.  The greatest sense of success as a teacher often comes from what an outsider might view as a simple improvement.

Yours in health and wellness,

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hip extension, running, and the importance of dynamic hip mobility

Running is a dynamic, repetitive movement pattern.  The trouble with these types of activities is if you lack a good, basic movement and you perform a version that is slightly off over and over again, things don't work as well.  It's kind of like a door that is on a hinge slightly crooked.  You don't notice that the hinge is rubbing wrong at first, and the door opens fine the first 50, 100 times.  After a while, the door doesn't swing as well and eventually, the hinge wears down and the door, while it might still open, doesn't function well.  Your body functions much the same way.  You can get away with certain faulty movement patterns for a while, but after enough times, something's gotta give.  In the case of running, the poor knee (which should move forward and back, not side to side) is stuck between two joints that are supposed to be quite mobile (the ankle and the hip).  The movements we perform in our every day lives do not favor ankle and hip mobility; as a result, the knee often loses some of its stability.  Running with hips and ankles that lack mobility is setting that knee up to function like the crooked door hinge.

Hip extension is critical to good running mechanics.  Our society is extremely forward in nature.  We sit, hips flexed, at desks with our heads jutting forward.  This shortens everything in the front of the body and reduces our ability to properly use the muscles in the back of the body.  Schache, Blanch, and Murphy (2000) found a correlation between limited hip extension flexibility and increased anterior tilt during running.  While there is little in the literature that discusses the importance of hip mobility as it relates to running stride, Saunders, Pyne, Telford, and Hawley (2004) point out a strong correlation between running economy and distance running performance; further, muscular stiffness and efficient mechanics are thought to decrease the amount of energy wasted on braking forces and vertical oscillation.  If you do not have good hip mobility, you are going to be unable to extend your hip, leading to a more forward dominant running stride.  This often leads to a running pattern that involves more hip flexion, causing the foot and knee to land more forward.  As a result, the ground and the foot collide each time the foot lands, resulting in more braking forces.  Couple this with poor ankle mobility, and there are more than likely going to be problems.  One way to work on hip extension is to implement a corrective exercise program that emphasizes hip extension and mobility.  Exercises such as squats, lunges, and bridging are great ways to begin to activate the hip area.  More advanced and complex moves such as McGill's airplane, the Cook hip lift, and Bulgarian split squats can reinforce proper hip mechanics and gluteal activation if performed properly.  It is also important to not neglect the ankle area.  Implementing simple drills, such as seated ankle dorsiflexion, ankle circles, and inverserion/eversion, can dramatically increase ankle mobility.  Remember, when implementing a strength and conditioning program, understand your goals and know what movement patterns and mechanics are necessary for success in your chosen sport.  This, coupled with your current static and dynamic posture, should dictate the exercises you choose, not necessarily the exercises "everyone else is doing."  Move well and move often.

Yours in health and wellness,

Schache, A.G., Blanch, P.D., & Murphy, A.T., (2000).  Relation of anterior pelvic tilt during running to clinical and kinematic measures of hip extension.  British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34(4), pp. 279-283.
Saunders, P.U., Pyne, D.B., Telford, R.D., & Hawley, J.A. (2004).  Factors affecting running economy in trained distance runners.  Sports Medicine, 34(7), pp. 465-485.