Bootcamps – How To Stay Safe
September – this time of year marks the return of kids to school and parents return to their workout plans or embark on a new fitness regime. This is a busy time of year for most gyms, bootcamps and personal trainers as everyone seeks to return to their healthy lifestyles that sometimes go astray with the summer vacation plans. I have written blog posts in the past about what to look for when hiring a personal trainer or what to watch for when attending bootcamps.
But, with questions arising at the studio this past couple of weeks I thought it prudent to once again touch base regarding group exercise. People as a rule love to workout together. The sense of camaraderie of “sweating it out” beside someone else makes the exercise regime a little more enjoyable. For some, there is also the sense of competition which helps to motivate and spur you through a tough workout.
But along with wanting to work hard, possibly shed a few pounds and improve your “cardio” you must learn to train smart. Physiotherapists are kept busy dealing with injuries associated with bootcamp style training (strained hamstrings, shoulder injuries, low back pain). There are a few very popular exercises that seem to be the backbone of every bootcamp workout regardless of where you go and who teaches it. These are: push ups, lunges, planks, squats, crunches/sit ups and prone superman. Most of these exercises are ok when done correctly and a couple of these (can you spot which ones?) should not be done at all. Let’s take a look at each one individually and assess whether they are appropriate.
This along with crunches and situps seems to be the most popular exercise in group fitness classes. And it is also an exercise that is often done incorrectly and with terrible form. Lunges, especially when done stepping forward is an advanced exercise that requires adequate mobility of the ankle and hip. Lunges also require stability through the knee and upper body. And yet in almost all bootcamps you will see lunges done in the first class and quite often as a warm up.
Some of the benefits of performing lunges are: strengthening the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings, improves posture, develops core strength and stability, improves balance and coordination. The lunge is one of our primal patterns. This is a movement that is stored in our brains from early development.
Unfortunately even though we are born hard wired with this movement pattern, over time we lose the ability to perform it correctly. Some common flaws Seen in a Lunge:
Forward Lean – this can be caused by tight hip flexors or quads. Or it can be a simple as being lazy and not working to keep the upper body posture strong throughout. If you are in a hurry to complete the exercise, you may not be focused on keeping tall and this allows the body to lean. Take your time and reset your posture before each rep.
Knees Adduct (Cave In) – If a person has weak glutes they are not able to stabilize adequately or decelerate the hip motion This leads to the knees caving in That is where glute activation exercises (bridges, tube walking) come in. You see there is a reason to be walking back and forth with those dang tubes around your feet!
Foot Caves In – This often seen along with the knees moving in Typically a muscle imbalance in the lower leg will cause this (tight calf muscles) and weak anterior tibilias muscles. These are the reasons we do the calf stretching, ankle mobility work (specifically the toes up) before and after the workouts
Improper Landing – landing on your toes or pushing off from your toes is usually due to weak muscles around the hip. If you lack the strength in the glutes and posterior chain to get you back to the starting position, then you will push off from your toes utilizing your quad muscles more. Focus on pushing from the heel, not the toes.
Variations and Progressions of the Lunge:
The lunge is an exercise that can be started very basic and progressed to very complex and difficult. As you can see from the list of progressions below the forward or walking lunges typically seen as warmups or exercises in Day 1 is actually 3rd in the list of progressions that I typically follow with clients. Only when I am satisfied that they can control their movements from head to toe do I progress to a more dynamic movement such as as they forward lunges. Typical progressions of the lunge are:
#1 static lunge (or split squat) #2 reverse lunge #3 forward lunge #4 walking lunge #5 rotating lunges.
Once again squats seem to be the backbone of group fitness or bootcamps. As with lunges, squats require adequate mobility and stability to perform safely and correctly. You often hear people say they can’t do squats because it hurts their knees. In some cases this is true due to various reasons (knee surgeries, arthritis, ligament damage, meniscal injuries). But for healthy individuals knee pain is commonly due to bad form, faulty movement patterns and instability through the core. When care is taken to instruct the squat and prepare the client through proper mobility drills, warm ups, and core training this exercise can be done pain free.
The push up probably one of the most under rated, misunderstood and often a rarely performed exercise. Let’s take a walk through thru this great body weight exercise.
To perform the push up correctly, you must maintain a straight body or plank position. This requires that muscles of the back, abdominals, glutes and even leg muscles are working to maintain the plank position. Push ups are not an exercise you would want to do with a “relaxed” attitude. Keep the body tight. Push ups may look easy, but there is technique involved in performing a correct push up and unfortunately it is also an exercise that is commonly done incorrectly. Some common mistakes seen with push ups are: looking up or hyper extending the neck, allowing the head to drop towards the floor, or leading with the chin, allowing the hips to drop or sag, elbows out, shallow range of motion.
With that in mind, the correct way to do a push up is:
Lie face down on the floor with toes pulled under
Keep elbows at about a 45 degree angle
Press up to the starting position and slowly lower yourself toward the floor
Keep a neutral neck – don’t look up and don’t allow head to drop to the floor
Keep chin tucked
Keep your abdominals tight and squeeze your glutes
Two common exercises done in group fitness and bootcamps should not be done by anyone. These two exercises are:
#1: Crunches and/or Sit ups: Although the rectus abdominis has a very limited ROM and is not really the most important core muscle to be working, this old school exercise still seems to be the “ab” exercise or choice. Crunches and situps put the spine under extreme flexion and should be avoided due to high risk of disc injury. If you want to work the core, this is probably the worst choice of exercise.
I did a whole blog post “Say No to Crunches and Sit Ups Forever” that goes into more detail about the anatomy of the Core and why these two exercises should be eliminated from everyones exercise list.
There is however a variation of the crunch movement that does have it’s place in a well designed exercise program. This exercise was recommended by spine research Dr. Stuart McGill and is referred to as the McGill Crunch. This is safe and is the only crunch movement we allow our clients to perform.
#2: Prone Superman
This is another very poor choice of core exercises. This superman is not to be confused with the “birddog” exercise which, when done correctly is an excellent core exercise and is also a staple in our facilities’ core training program. The prone superman is routinely done lying prone or face down. The arms are extended out in front. The arms and legs are then lifted simultaneously off the ground. This once again puts the discs of the spine under tremendous pressure now through lumbar extension.
An alternative to this is the “birddog” sometimes called superman:
As with any exercise program undertaken, homework should be done by the individual prior to joining any gym, group fitness class or bootcamp or hiring a personal trainer for that matter. Credentials should be checked, insurance verified and references should be available if requested. Inquire as to what assessment and orientation is done prior to starting the group class. Be aware of what exercises are to be avoided and be aware of your own limitations or contraindications. Group fitness and bootcamps can be fun and motivating. But, they also need to be done safely with a plan of regressions and progressions for each exercise to accommodate each person’s abilities.
Have fun. Train Hard. Be Safe
Till next time,