I bring you this post from my sick bed. After my couple weeks of traveling on little sleep, along with the stress of needing to apartment hunt in the cold of NYC winter, I figured it was bound to happen no matter how well I try to take care of myself. Plus, like most of you, even I tend to let some things slide when in the midst of stress (getting enough sleep, remembering to take my vitamins, eating enough veggies).
Unfortunately, these are the times when we need to be on top of self care the most. I should know this well enough by now, having felt the impact of this neglect most dramatically during the final year of my PhD program. I was so stressed trying to get my dissertation written and prepare for my defense that I told myself I had no time for exercise or eating well. Instead, I overdosed on coffee (Seattle and coffee are synonymous, after all) and Diet Mountain Dews (yes, I was addicted to brominated vegetable oil). As a result, my already compromised immune system broke down and I ended up with a full body eczema rash – literally head to toe – that lasted for much of the year. The truth is, making time for some exercise and eating well would have helped me better manage my stress.
So practicing a healthy lifestyle needs to happen both when we are feeling good and feeling not so good. It’s obviously called a practice for a reason and I still have some work to do myself :)
Speaking of practicing a healthy lifestyle, I’m going to introduce you to a new kid on the fitness block – the ActivMotion Bar. The ActivMotion Bar was designed with functional fitness in mind. It is filled with rolling steel weights that move around inside as you use it, challenging your body to maintain stability. The bars come in 5 different weights ranging from 6 to 18 lbs.
Stability training is critical for all of us, whether a beginner or pro athlete. No matter what your goals, a strong core is important to prevent muscle imbalances and reduce risk of injury. In addition, as I’ve learned recently trying to recover from my meniscus tear, stability training is also critical to rehabilitation.
I received the 6 lb ActivMotion Bar, along with a set of DVDs ranging from a beginner foundation builder to more challenging workouts. Each provides easier modifications to allow for progression. I found the workout videos to be simplistic in choreography but also challenging all the same. Many people think they need to be running on a treadmill or lifting heavy weights to be making an impact on their body. In truth, some of the most effective exercises are the lowest impact on your body.
Lean muscle is built more effectively during the lengthening (eccentric) phase than the shortening (contraction) phase of any resistance exercise. Why is this the case when we generally think the opposite? It’s during the eccentric part of an exercise when the muscle fibers have to work against resistance as they lengthen. During this eccentric phase, nerve impulses signal motor units to fire, but there are fewer motor units involved than during the concentric phase — and therefore more stress on each one. That stress leads to muscle breakdown; the more breakdown you have, the more the muscle has to rebuild, and it’s this rebuilding of muscle that gets you stronger.
As with stability and core training, eccentric movements have also been a big focus of my knee rehabilitation. For many of us, weakness in the glutes and adductors leads to overactivation of the hamstrings, quadriceps and calves to compensate. Over time, these muscle imbalances cause wear and tear on the joints, often times the knees. Therefore, one of the main goals of rehabilitation is to stretch/lengthen the overactive muscles and strengthen the underactive ones; this is where low-impact eccentric movements come into play.
Here are a couple of ways that I’ve incorporated the ActivMotion Bar into my rehabilitation and exercise routine:
For both the abductor (outer thigh) and adductor (inner thigh) muscles, you can add bar as weighted resistance. Going slow as the leg lowers allows you to emphasize the eccentric phase of the movement. For example, you can lift for a count of 1 and lower for a count of 4. The weights in the bar will move as you lift and lower, further getting you to activate your core
Single-leg romanian deadlifts are a great exercise period. They activate and strengthen the glutes (yay), strengthen the back and even help to stretch the hamstrings and hip flexors in the extended position of the exercise. They also activate core and hip stabilizers, which become even more challenged with the addition of the ActivMotion Bar.
If you want a double stability challenge, you can do squats using the bar while on a Bosu. Maybe master each separately first: 1) squats with the bar on the floor; 2) squats on the Bosu without the bar and then 3) squats on the Bosu with the bar.
Regardless of what you end up doing, you’ll have fun trying out different variations. At some point when I’m willing to embarrass myself fully, I’ll post a video of how I use the ActivMotion Bar while jumping on my trampoline…
This post is sponsored by ActivMotion Bar on behalf of FitApproach.