Next up on our journey to know, and therefore loves our bodies, is the horizontal pull muscles. The first post was all about pushing things away from the body. What about pulling things in? Whether you're pulling a door closed or pulling someone in for a hug, this group of muscles is huge and when well trained can keep your posture perfect. The other benefit of training such large muscles is that when you work these muscles hard, they will continue to burn calories for you hours after the workout is completed.
Developing strong horizontal pull muscles helps us to correct the rounded-shoulders posture that I mentioned in the previous blog post. The muscles we are training in horizontal pull are those that achieve horizontal extension, which takes the arms from across the body to straight out to the side of the body.
There are quotation marks around joint because the scapulothoracic (scapulo for scapula, and thoracic for rib cage) "joint" actually doesn't meet any of the joint classification criteria, except for the fact that the scapula bone glides across the bones of the rib cage. Due to it's involvement with the glenohumeral, or shoulder, joint, the scapula is able to move across the rib cage in a couple of different ways. I will talk a little bit more about what the different joint actions are that the scapula can perform in the vertical pull blog post that will be coming your way in a few days. For now I want to show you what horizontal pull looks like with respect to your scapula.
So when you are at the gym and you are working on your seated rows, think about trying to squeeze a pencil between your shoulder blades when you pull the weight back.
One more thing to note before I get into the exercises - keep the shoulders down.
Remember those fickle desk jobs that have put us into the rounded-shoulders posture? Well that plus the stress of our jobs has over-developed our upper traps. When we are stressed, our body naturally tries to put us in a more protective position. The shoulders come up to protect our necks, and the body rounds forward to protect our vital organs. So what I have seen in many of my clients when they try the seated row is that they 1. don't know how to engage their mid back and 2. when I give them the cue to pinch the pencil between their shoulder blades, they bring the shoulders up, instead of maintaining relaxed shoulders and engaging the mid-back musculature. So if you are going to try the following exercises, try it with a friend who can watch you and make sure you keep your upper-traps out of the exercise, and that you are really engaging the mid back.
The seated wide row is a great way to develop your horizontal pull muscles. Get yourself seated in an upright position in-front of the cable machine. With your feet comfortably placed on the platforms, grab the handle with palms facing the floor (you may need to change the attachment on the machine to do this). Slightly lean the torso backwards, make your chest proud, brace the core, and pull the handle to the the area between the belly button and the bottom of the breast bone (the bone that connects the two sides of your rib cage). When you pull, make sure you are making the mind-to-muscle connection to feel the back of your shoulder muscles work, and pinch that pencil between your shoulder blades!
This exercise is one of my favourites and a staple in my posture-correcting programs. A standing cable face pull really hones in on the horizontal pull muscles. Using the rope attachment for the cable machine, grab either side of the rope putting thumbs under the rope and fingers over the rope. Take a few steps away from the machine so that you can extend your arms straight out in front of you without the carabiniere touching the pulley system.
Depending on the weight you are using, you may need to lean your body backwards slightly to pull the rope towards you. Once in place, pull the the rope towards you by bringing your elbows high and wide, and the rope to about nose or eye level (see image).
Again, really focus on squeezing the muscles between the shoulder blades and keeping the shoulder down. Stay consistent with this exercise and you will begin to see and feel massive improvements in your posture.
Last on the list is the dumbbell reverse fly. For those of you who do not have access to a cable machine, this is an easy one to do. You don't even need a bench! Just a few dumbbells and some way to get yourself bent over in such a way that when you lift the dumbbells, your muscles are moving the dumbbells against gravity's downward pull.
In the beginning, I actually get my clients to do this without any weight at all. Set yourself up on the bench (or bent over at the hips) so that you have a nice strong torso. No rounded back, weak core, or lazy glutes. Fire them all up prior to doing this exercise. With your hands together below you, open the arms up wide to the side. There should be 90 degrees of space between the sides of your torso and your arms, and 180 degrees from hand to hand. When you open up your arms, really focus on squeezing the mid back. Having someone put their fingers on your spine between your shoulder blades is a great way to ensure you are really making the connection to where you should be squeezing. As you become more proficient contracting these muscles, add weights into your hands and start to build a beautiful back and perfect posture!
Along with the exercises I mentioned above, here are a few other exercise suggestions to work your horizontal pull muscles. Also, I realize this post is a bit longer than usual but I am super passionate about posture correction. Whenever I see people wandering around hunched over I want to show them these exercises and get them walking tall and proud again.
Here are a few other exercises you can do during your horizontal pull day using (hopefully) their common names so that you can look them up online.
Basically just a bunch of variations on the rows! So play around with the cable machines, dumbbells, bands, bars - whatever you would like and let me know how your horizontal pull workout goes!
"Do something good for your body today"
What a wonderful start to the year we have had! In the month of January we explored a few topics to have helped you make not only this year the best year ever, but to make every year to come full of healthy choices and habits. From goal setting, to changing your mindset, to finally kicking crash diets, I have shared some of the tools that have revolutionized my own life and put me on a path to be healthy and happy for as long as possible.
So where do we go from here? How do we continue to pursue a balanced, healthy, happy lifestyle? Well for the month of February I am going to let you in on another secret to my own success in fitness.
When I decided to switch from studying earth and ocean sciences to studying anatomy, physiology and other exercise related topics, my perspective on exercise completely changed. When I went to the gym, I was able to piece together a better workout and target certain muscle groups properly because I actually understood how my body worked. I would squat and understood that my quads needed to contract, and I could literally visualize what that was. I felt more connected to the muscles, bones, and processes going on inside of me, and it opened my mind to greater possibilities in the gym.
This isn't a unique experience to me either. I have a client who, when she started, had very poor kinaesthetic awareness (general awareness of your body in space). We would be doing squats and she would say "ow" and hold her thigh because she was feeling the muscle working. After working with her for a few sessions, I proposed making her a document that had pictures of all of the muscles we typically use during various exercises. Now that she better understands what is working, and why we do certain exercises, she is able to get through a full workout without any complaints of pain!
Fall in love with your body
This month I am going to be putting in some serious work to bring you A TON of information to help you understand your body better. When I say a ton, I really mean it. I will be posting every other day. You read that right - EVERY OTHER DAY. That way you can check back here and learn something new about how your body works so that you can fall in love with the wonderful complexity of the human body and use that information to feed and train your body really well. I will say that some of this information is very technical and, at times, confusing, but I will do my very best to make everything as clear as possible.
If you ever are reading one of the blog posts and find something hard to understand, then please, do not hesitate to leave a comment or send me an e-mail with your question/suggestion.
I hope you all are excited to fall in love with your body this month!
(I am going to start this blog post by fulfilling a dream of mine to be like Tony Robbins.)
Who here has tried a crash diet? ~ say I!
Who saw results from that diet? ~ say I!
Who then gained back the weight and then some? ~ say I!
Now who wants to see results without the crash dieting and relapse? ~ LET ME HEAR YOU SAY I!
That was exhilirating - thank you.
If you have made a New Year's resolution to lose weight/improve your health then chances are you have tried a crash diet. That excitement of losing weight and seeing results quickly is amazing. Then your cravings kick in, you cheat a little here, a little there and then all of a sudden you find yourself on the couch elbow deep in the Costco sized chicago mix popcorn looking up the next quick fix.
This week I'd like to give you all a little guidance on how to avoid crash dieting, and to see patient, long term training as your solution. So get that hand out of the popcorn bag and buckle-up because I am about to rock your world with this blog post.
you are restricting everything
Many crash-diets are incredibly calorie restrictive and some even restrict you to eating 1 thing for several days on end (like the lemon, maple syrup, cayenne cleanse or the cabbage soup diet). Their effectiveness is not surprising. When you limit yourself from eating, you are not only having to burn through fat stores for energy, but your body is also having to work extra hard to function on fewer nutrients than it is used to. Not just the large nutrients, as in the food stuff, but the actual micronutrients that are crucial for all of the behind the scenes work that goes on in the body to keep you working properly. Neurotransmitters, hormones, red blood cell production, immune responses - all of these require an adequate intake of micronutrients on a regular basis in order to help you function properly. Yes we can live off of stores of some of these nutrients, but there are some that we just simply cannot make enough of (see infographic below for those nutrients).
prioritize long term health
Instead of subjecting yourself to borderline starvation, and multiple, uncomfortable trips to the bathroom, shift your thinking to long-term training and lifestyle choices. If you keep yourself in good health, then you never have to crash diet.
Some of you may be at a point in your life where you need to lose a lot of weight to protect yourself from developing diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Some of you may just be hoping to look good for that vacation you have coming up in a few weeks. Instead of trying to drop a ton of weight really quickly, consider looking at your health on the life-long scale. Developing daily routines that will slowly improve your health and body metrics will ultimately serve you better than putting your body through nutrient deficiencies, and rapid, and risky weight loss. If you are patient you can look forward to being healthy for every bikini season to come in the future, and you never even have to think about the gruelling process of crash dieting only to be marginally pleased with how you look in your bathing suit.
Regular exercise and healthy food choices also sets your body up to work optimally every day. When you exercise regularly, you keep your joints healthy, you improve vascular function - decreasing your risk of heart disease, and you will keep yourself at a weight that does not cause inflammation, or stress the delicate tissues in and around joints.
When you make healthy food choices on a regular basis, you are providing your body with the tools to fuel and recover-from your workouts. You are ensuring that the body has enough nutrients to support all of the functions that help you sleep well, fight off illness, feel energetic, and stay mentally clear and focused throughout the day.
summing up this world-rocking
Everywhere else in life the word crash is not a good thing. A car/plane/train/bus/boat crash; you need a crash cart when someone is dying - so why do we think that crash diets are good thing? Yeah - you might be able to get the look you want for your vacation, but what happens after that? The weight comes back and your entire body is left in worse shape than before. So quit the crash diet and fitness fads.
Do something good for your body today and prioritize long-term health by finding a way to make exercise and healthy food choices a part of your life so that you can live well and feel amazing for a very long time.
This week is really the best week to be talking about mindset. For those of you who follow my instagram, you will know that I was battling a bit of a cold this week. It was also one of the craziest weeks for weather where I live. We went from getting 25cm of snow of Monday, to freezing cold temperatures, to the temperature going from +12 to -12 in the span of a few hours. This level of discomfort can really take a toll on attitude, and mindset. Shitty weather paired with a cold and poor sleep is a recipe for laziness and over-indulging in order to achieve a basic level of comfort.
After spending 4 hours on public transit just to get to work, and then having a really brutal sleep, I woke up on Tuesday morning feeling like shit. My alarm went off at 5:30am so I could catch the bus to get out to the gym for my workout, and I instantly felt frustrated. Not exactly the emotion I would like to start my day with. I started to run through all of these reasons why I shouldn't go to the gym - it'll stress me out; I shouldn't be spending too much time on public transit while I am sick; I need more sleep to feel better. Within the same thought I was thinking of all of the reasons why I should go to the gym - exercising is a great way to improve overall health; if I don't start my day now, I won't want to get out of bed later; the time on the bus is good for me to prepare myself for the day. Instead of wrestling with myself over this for too long I decided to compromise.
I am very fortunate to work at a gym where I have the equipment to get in most of my workouts. So I decided that morning that for the rest of my workouts for the week, I would find time while I was at work to get my main lifts in (chin up, squat, deadlift) with a few accessory exercises. This way I wouldn't slow down the progression of my strength training and I got to feel like I did something. This also enabled me to sleep in, keep my stress levels low, and limit my time on public transit.
I have made the commitment to myself that I will do at least 1 thing good for my body every day. That mindset was crucial to keeping myself on track this week, despite everything that tried to slow me down. Pushing myself to get to the gym super early for my regular workouts when I was not in regular health is not good for my body, but not moving at all is also not good for my body.
Training your brain to see health as a bigger picture than simply working out and eating "perfectly" is something that I think everyone should strive for. So much of what we do is determined by our mindset, so when we embark on any journey to improve our wellbeing, mindset should be the starting point. It's a strong mindset that will help you get to the gym, even on the coldest of days. It's a strong mindset that will give you the willpower to not overindulge in sweets or other treats that do not align with your goals. It's a strong mindset that will help you make the every day decisions that will help keep all aspects of life in a healthy balance.
One of my favourite songs is Rejoice by Swedish DJ, Steve Angello. It puts a wicked beat to a speech given by T.D. Jakes that is all about changing your mindset. I listened to this song every morning for about a month because what he says in the speech/song is so important.
If anything is going to make you successful this year, it is going to be your attitude towards your goals. I have so many clients who come in and say "I know I can lose weight, but I'll never not be fat" or "I can't stop smoking" and I have literally said to them that those assumptions are probably true if that's their attitude about it.
Train your mind to believe that you can achieve your goals. Make it a part of your every day routine to cast away self-doubt, and see your goals as not just a dream or good idea, but as an attainable reality. It takes time, but that is also part of a mindset shift - understanding that patience will pay off. Rome wasn't built in a day.
Do something good for your body today and make a promise to yourself to improve your mindset every day. It doesn't have to be a major change - little changes build up over time - it just has to be something.
New Year's resolutions are not just some gimicky thing that everyone does at the beginning of the year to say they had a plan... and then failed 2 months later. New Year's resolutions are an opportunity to practice goal setting. I know that when I switched my New Year's resolutions from lofty, vague, unimaginative goals to specific, meaningful ones that I actually started to follow through with them.
It started in the New Year of 2015 when another one of my family members was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt like making yet another New Year's resolution where I vowed to change my eating habits and get a Victoria Secret Model's body before my birthday in June - was a bit ridiculous. I had made that kind of resolution for so many years and it hardly ever worked, which was really discouraging.
If the point of making a New Year's resolution is to improve the life you are living that year, then why not seek that out in the betterment of the world? So in January of 2015 I made the New Year's resolution to support a charity for the whole year. I was working a part time job at a deli and saving for college but I figured a few things here and there was enough. 3 months later I was running a fundraiser out of my favourite bar. I was sharing the charity's facebook posts and helping to promote their main fundraising event by talking to my friends about it. By the end of 2015 I actually felt like I had accomplished something and it gave me a new appreciation for proper goal setting.
Now that I have sufficiently humble-bragged my way into an awesome segue, let's get down to the nitty-gritty of goal setting. In a study published in Health Education Quarterly they posited that "setting specific difficult goals leads to higher performance when compared with no goals or vague, non-quantitative goals, such as 'do your best'". So when you are choosing your New Year's resolutions or setting any kind of goal at any time, the difficulty and the specificity of the goal will actually increase your chances of accomplishing said goal. Instead of "I'm going to go to the gym this year" which is incredibly vague, try "I'm going to go the gym at least twice a week, for 30-60 minutes to lose weight/improve muscle definition/bulk up/improve posture". The clearer you make the target, the easier it will be to hit.
For those of you looking to improve your eating habits this year, effective goal setting can be an incredibly useful tool for you. In a review published in Journal of the American Dietetic Association they suggest that instead of approaching diet changes in a knowledge based way - ie. simply educating people on good and bad dietary choices - that we should look at diet changes in terms of behaviours. What they have observed is when people focus on 1 more of their personal, behavioural, or environmental factors that influence their eating habits and implement a 4-stage goal-setting strategy that they are more likely to be successful at achieving their desired dietary change. For those of you wondering, the 4 step process is as follows:
1. Recognizing a need for change;
2. Establishing a goal;
3. Adopting a goal-directed activity and self-monitoring it;
4. and self-rewarding goal attainment.
It doesn't have to be health related either
Health and fitness blogger say WHAAT?
Yes, my friends - your New Year's resolution does not have to be health related. Although around 70% of all NYR are somehow related to health, if you are not ready to make a commitment to that just yet, or you are happy with your health, then goal setting in other areas of your life is amazing as well. With that said I leave you with this quote.
This year my New Year's resolution is to make 4 goals for every month. Each goal has to fit into the 4 categories of family, financial, health, and fun. I recognized that as my life gets busier and busier with work that I don't want to forget about the things that exist outside work. By creating goals every month in these four categories I will have a monthly check-in to make sure that every aspect of my life is in a healthy balance.
Do something good for yourself this year and try effective goal setting. It could make this year the year you really do stick to your New Year's resolution!
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's discoveries as she develops her skills as a marketer, and finds new and sustainable ways to stay healthy.