Quick Tests To Gauge Mobility, Strength, Anaerobic Capacity and More

When was the last time you tested yourself to determine your overall fitness level? Have you ever even been tested? If you worked with a coach or personal trainer in the past then most likely you’ve been tested. Or let’s just say you should have been. Periodic quick tests like the following three, can be used as a motivational tool, to help break through plateaus, and to help determine what you’re doing in the gym is actually working. Most importantly though, your program design should be based off the results of your testing. How can you manage something if you never measure it?

There are many different types of fitness tests available to help gauge where you’re at. Most people spend their time testing their strength using exercise like bench press for maximum repetitions. The following three tests work because they are safe, effective and offer insight into more than one area of your body.

Quick Tests: One-Minute Peak Power Test and 500 Meter Row

The great thing about a rowing machine is its versatility when it comes to testing. This is especially true with a Concept 2 erg or a SkillRow from Technogym. Again, there are many test you can perform. Remember, we want it to be fast and easy to do. The idea behind this test is to provide an objective assessment of your peak power output in a 60-second, all-sprint. The test will also lend insight into your ability to sustain power anaerobically. Do not pace yourself in this test, simply go all out with each stroke.

Other personal favorite quick tests are row for time. More specifically, performing 100 and 500 meter sprints. I believe the world record for the 100 meter row was 12.8 seconds and 500 meter is 1:24 performed by a female and 1:14 by a male. Most people typically do it in about 2-minutes. My personal best 500 meter row time is 1:36.8 to give you a range to shoot for. Hitting 1:30 would be great not to mention a good goal. Rowing is one of the best workouts you can do. Known as a complete workout that involves about 85 percent of your muscle mass. Other than being performed seated, it’s great. Of course the best known event is a 2k meter row in which a 7-8 minute recorded time is considered respectable. Happy rowing!

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The Complete Exercise: Turkish Get-Up

All you need for this one is one kettlebell. This is all about strength and mobility. The exercise requires several movements that need to be executed while under load. Try it initially without weight, then use a light weight before progressing to a heavier load if able. It’s an advanced, full-body strength movement. The Turkish Get-Up is performed laying on the ground while holding a weight straight over your head, you stand up, and then you reverse that entire movement until you’re back on the ground where you started. Sounds easy I know but that’s far from the truth. History has it that ancient Turkish soldiers used the get-up as part of their strength training regime.

Coach Bret Contreras has reported using electromyography (EMG) and determined that a 50-pound Turkish Get-Up was enough to cause over 100 percent peak activation of the core muscles (rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and the spinal erectors). Sounds impressive enough to me. It’s called a complete exercise because it involves: rolling, a lunge pattern, an overhead hold, multiple hip hinges, glute activation, core engagement, and shoulder work, specifically, rotator cuff stabilization. Coach Todd Cambio offers a great explanation of the exercise sequence. This ain’t a bicep curl.

The test would be to first determine if you can do the movement with good form without weight. One repetition on each side. My advice would be to start using this movement as part of your dynamic warm-up. Then eventually see what you can handle for a load. If you’re a beginner with limited exercise or strength training experience….skip this test for now. Use bodyweight only if you do decide to go for it.

Bodyweight Deep Squat

If you are having trouble with a Squat or Deadlift, try experimenting with this bodyweight deep squat. It’s another one of those great quick tests that offers a great deal of information. Such as, where your ankle mobility stands. Many people who have trouble getting low when doing a barbell squat may have limited ankle mobility, specifically, ankle dorsiflexion. This test can help improve that exercise and many others. Your best option is add this deep squat into your dynamic warm-up like the Turkish Get-Up.

When trying this test, lower into the squat slowly dropping hips back while keeping chest up. When you begin your ascent, think about using three points of contact. As you extend the knees and hips, drive through the feet placing equal pressure on the heel, big toe and pinky toe. Don’t force anything. The goal is to see if you can get the hips lower than the knees.

Periodic self-testing will help in many ways as discussed above. In addition, finding out if positive changes are taking place in other areas of the body is also important. Changes like increases in strength and anaerobic capacity and an improvement in mobility. Improvements in these areas will translate into a better overall experience at the gym. Stay Strong!

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Maintaining an Active Lifestyle Now Impacts How You Age

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When we’re young we can feel invincible, but as we age, that invincibility can slowly deteriorate. The short-term goal for many is to maintain an active lifestyle throughout their twenties and thirties. The thinking behind this is that if you start young, the habit will carryover into the golden years. One of the key ingredients in this scenario is sustainability. The long-term goal should be to maintain a healthy lifestyle no matter what decade of life someone is in.

An Active Lifestyle is a Mindset

In its simplest form an active lifestyle incorporates physical activity into every day life. The time invested in activities like walking, biking, running and strength training are well worth it. Maintaining a consistent routine with such activities will keep chronic disease at bay. A physically active lifestyle is beneficial for the body and the mind. The by-product of an active lifestyle improves everything from quality of sleep to

Three Types of Physical Activity

Physical activity consists of three components, muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility. It’s important to focus on these individual components and add each one into your weekly training program.

  • MUSCULAR STRENGTH

Muscular strength is defined as the maximum amount of force a muscle or group of muscles can produce during a single bout of exercise. There are many reasons why this is so important to maintain throughout ones life. One of those big reasons is lean muscle mass. If you don’t engage in regular strength training you lose muscle mass. Period. If you do not strength train regularly, as you age, you become part of a statistical group that loses approximately 5-8 pounds of lean muscle mass with each passing decade starting at about age thirty-five. Let’s just end by saying those numbers get much worse after fifty.

  • CARDIOVASCULAR ENDURANCE

Is the ability to move the body over a sustained period of time. It’s critical to improve and maintain cardiovascular fitness throughout your lifetime. By doing so, you’ll reduce your risk of developing heart disease by increasing the efficiency of your heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

  • FLEXIBILITY

This is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to move through a range of motion. Flexibility is a component of mobility.

“Given what we know about the health benefits of physical activity, it should be mandatory to get a doctor’s permission not to exercise.”

~ PER-OLOF ASTRAND, MD, PHD, KAROLINSKA INSTITUTE, STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

Benefits of Maintaining a Lifelong Active Lifestyle

Here are a few examples of the benefits associated with enjoying an active lifestyle.

  • Research published in 2013, in the journal Lancet, reported among people with early signs of pre-diabetes, taking an extra 2,000 steps each day, or the equivalent of a 20-minute moderate-paced walk, helped lower their chances of heart problems.
  • Over the course of a yearlong study, an additional 8 percent lower risk of heart disease was observed for every 2,000 steps walked a day.
  • Scientists from University College London performed a meta-analysis of peer-reviewed journals between 1970 and 2007. The studies evaluated 459,833 test-subjects who were absent of cardiovascular disease at the start of the investigation. The subjects were followed for an average of 11.3 years with all cardiovascular events recorded. Their analysis makes a strong case for the benefits of good old walking. The study showed walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31 percent and decreased the risk of dying by 32 percent.
  • The Harvard Alumni study found men who average at least eight flights of stairs a day enjoy a 33 percent lower mortality rate compared to men who are sedentary.
  • Research shows that people who sit the most have a 112 percent increase in the Relative Risk (RR) of diabetes and a 147 percent increase in the RR of cardiovascular events compared to people who sit the least.

Review of Physical Activity on Awareness & Mood Levels

A research paper published by Berger titled Psychological Benefits of an Active Lifestyle looked at the key benefits derived from an active lifestyle. According to Berger, “exercise has many benefits…, it is important to explore ways in which exercise might become something one “wants” to do several days a week. Possible sources of enjoyment and motivation for physical activity may include “feeling better” or mood alteration; stress reduction; and enhancement of self-concept, self-awareness, and even self-knowledge.”

Adding the components of physical activity (strength, endurance, flexibility) into your workouts will allow you to make the most of each day. Finally, turning this into a habit now when your young will pay back stronger dividends when you’re older. Stay Strong!

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Exercise Review: Deadlift

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One of the best and most often used exercises is the deadlift. However, it’s also an exercise that many people perform incorrectly for a multitude of reasons. A good rule of thumb prior to lifting, is to address posterior chain mobility. This can be done by assessing back, hip and hamstring mobility. Try the following test, see if you can touch your fingertips to the bar prior to performing the deadlift. Attempt this by keeping the legs straight and not rounding your back. If you can, you’re in good shape.

Exercise Execution

Starting Position

  • Begin with the feet flat, positioning them somewhere between hip and shoulder-width apart. Feet should be pointed straight or angled out slight (10-15 degrees), depending on your choice and experience. Note: some movement expert like Dr. Kelly Starrett suggest positioning feet straight ahead while others say turn the feet out slightly. Moreover, doing this engages more of the glute muscles like the glute medius. The question arises, however, can you brace your body and create the torque needed by “screwing” the feet into the floor when the feet are turned out?
  • Next, squat down until the hips are lower than the shoulders grasping the bar with a closed, alternated grip (one overhand the other underhand). Other grip choices include double overhand and hook grips. Please note, if you have trouble getting into this position – you’re probably not ready to perform the movement due to hip or back mobility issues.
  • Position the Olympic bar about 1-inch away from the front of your shins.
  • Make sure you check off the following items regarding your body position. Your back is “flat”, relaxed neck & trapezius area, retract your shoulder blades, and position shoulders over the bar.

Upward Movement

  • Pull the bar from the floor by extending the knees and hips.
  • This is key – do not let the hips rise before the shoulders.
  • Keep the elbows extended and shoulders over the bar during the execution of the lift.
  • As the bar passes the knees push the hips forward.

Downward Movement Phase

  • To return the bar to the floor, think about sitting back first. Allow the hips and knees to flex as the bar returns to the floor.
  • Maintain a flat back keeping elbows extending, looking straight ahead.
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Deadlift Upward Movement: Pull Phase

Exercise Options

Stiff-Leg Deadlift

Hex Bar Deadlift

Dumbbell Deadlift

Muscle Groups Involved During the “Compound Movement”

PRIME MOVERS (Hip Extensors)

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Hamstrings

STABILIZERS

  • Quadriceps
  • Lower leg
  • Back
  • Core

REFERENCES

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 2nd Edition, NSCA, Baechle T. R., Earle R.W. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL., 2000.

Becoming a Supple Leopard, Starrett K. and Cordoza G., Victory Belt Publishing: Las Vegas, NV., 2013.

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Are You Focusing Enough on Mobility in Workouts?

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You should not experience joint pain when you perform activities of daily living (known as ADL’s). How does your body feel during a typical day? Do you feel pain when you move your hips, shoulders or knees through their full range of motion? Take the shoulder joint as an example. When you perform shoulder flexion, extension, rotation, or for that matter internal or external rotation, are those movements pain free? Do you have joint pain when working out? If pain is present, there may be an issue with the mobility of that joint.

What is Mobility?

In order to better understand mobility you first have to grasp what flexibility is. Flexibility is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to stretch when needed. Conversely, mobility is the ability of a joint to actively move through its expected range of motion. Both flexibility and mobility change over the course of time. Think of both as nourishment for your body; flexibility keeps the muscles happy and healthy while good mobility leads to happy and healthy joints, like your hips and spine. When moving and doing any type of activity, good flexibility and mobility are associated with pain free movement in the muscles and joints respectively.

Never Enough Time for Mobility

When you go for a run or have a great strength training session, you feel the benefits of each immediately. This may not be the case, at times, for mobility. You need to put the time in each day to work on improving mobility now so it continues to pay back dividends as you age. Take 5-10 minutes before each workout and work on the areas that you feel like your lacking mobility.

Begin with areas on your body where you experience the most pain. This along with limited joint range of motion are key ingredients that will eventually lead to dysfunction and it needs your attention, now!

Check for Mobility Issues with Simple Testing

A previous Jefit blog post looked at the pressure placed on the back when sitting, standing and walking. Read that post to better understand how heavy loads placed on the body can effect the spine. Keep in mind you can kill two birds with one stone here, start using mobility drills to act first as a warm-up while also working on mobility.

Apley’s Scratch Test

  • To test your mobility of your right shoulder, stand up and raise your left arm straight above your head (see picture below).
  • Flex your left elbow placing your left palm on the upper back and neck area, then slide it down between your shoulder blades.
  • Take your right hand and reach behind your body so the top part of your hand rests on the middle of your back.
  • Reach down with your left hand while reaching up with your right. The goal is to try to touch the fingers of both hands together.
  • Have someone measure the distance between your fingertips. If your fingers are touching or overlapping, record that as good.
  • Now switch arms and test your opposite shoulder.
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Right shoulder Apley Scratch Test – testing shoulder mobility

If you’re like me and have a few inches of separation between your fingers (see picture above), you need to work on improving shoulder mobility. Begin by using a foam roller regularly to rollout the upper back and shoulder areas. Hanging from a pull-up bar with both hands, progress to single-arm hangs for 15-30 seconds and repeat for a few sets. Next, stretch the shoulder capsule daily performing a posterior capsule stretch followed by a tricep stretch. You can use a yoga strap to help stretch and close the gap between your fingers. This is a good first step before adding in occasional vibration work, massage and myofascial release.

Kneeling Thoracic Mobility

The mid-back or thoracic spine (T-spine) is an area that is restricted in most people especially those who do a great deal of sitting or driving. The key here is to first release any tight fascia around the mid back area. The best bet is to perform foam rolling or “rolling out” on taped tennis balls or a lacrosse ball. After loosening the area, try the following mobility drill. If you have difficulty or feel “resistance” rotating your body while moving your elbow up towards the ceiling, you need to work on T-spine mobility.

  • Start in a quadruped position (on all fours).
  • Touch your left hand to the left side of your head.
  • Exhale. As you breath in rotate your body and raise that left elbow up towards the ceiling, keeping the hand in contact with the head throughout.
  • As you’re doing this, push the right into the floor. Think about your mid-back during this dynamic movement.
  • Slowly return to the starting position, following your breath. Move to the speed of your inhale/exhale. Repeat for repetitions.

Simple Hip Mobility Test

The area that many people have trouble with is hip mobility. Mobility issues or dysfunction in this area typically leads to other major issues like back-related problems. A good first step is to add in hip mobility drills as part of your dynamic warm-up prior to every strength or cardio workout. Then foam roll 5-10 minutes hitting the upper thigh before lying side ways to roll the gluteus medius. Finally, position yourself on the foam roller to target the inner thigh and roll out that area before lying supine rolling out your gluteus maximus. Then try this quick test to assess hip mobility.

  • Sit tall in a chair with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
  • Without using your hands, see if you can lift and cross your right leg over your left? Then try the same on the opposite side (you should be able to).
  • After attempting that, position the right ankle above your left knee that is bent (like in the picture below).
  • Take a few deep breaths in/out and relax.
  • Now take a look at the angle of the right leg that is crossed.
  • If the leg feels comfortable and drops below a 45-degree angle or is parallel to the floor, you’re in good shape.
  • Most people, however, will have a 45-degree angle or greater and feel tightness in the hip complex. Is so, you guessed it…work on hip mobility.
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A quick and easy hip mobility test

These are just three of the many tests you can do on yourself to assess where you’re at mobility wise. Mobility work must become a component of your weekly exercise routine. There may be days where your body just needs to skip a workout and rollout and work on mobility drills. Your body and performance will love you for it. Stay strong and mobile with Jefit.

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Simple Body Hacks to Improve Performance

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The majority of people who exercise or engage in individual or team sports often looks for ways to improve performance. With that, brings us to how we can better “hack” our body to improve performance, some also call this DIY science….biohacking. Dave Asprey, a biohacker who created the company Bulletproof, defines biohacking as “the art and science of changing the environment around you and inside you so that you have full control over your own biology.” 

Why Try to Hack Your Body Anyway?

There are many people out there who try to hack their body to improve performance, on some level. They do this basically because they have a strong desire to feel better and to see just how far they can push the human body. A lot of people are hacking their body essentially to try and live as long as possible. Dave Asprey as an example, has been quoted as saying he wants to live to 180 years old.

Another well-known body or bio hacker is Tim Ferris, author of the best-selling book, The 4-Hour Body. Ferris has a well known reputation for trying to hack just about everything related to his body. Why does he do it? This Wired interview explains why.

Now that you have a better understanding of what trying to hack your body is all about, check this out.

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Mindful breath work effects everything from mediation to sports performance.

Breath Work: An Easy Way to Improve Performance

We all know how to breath intuitively and how importance breathing is since it gives us life. Go beyond this for a moment and listen to this great Wild Ideas podcast from REI. The podcast, comes out every other Monday, and just featured author, James Nestor, author a new book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. The book comes out in May. The podcast talked about his years of doing research and talking to medical experts on the science of breathing. He offers up some great easy-to-follow tips that you can use right now. I actually tried his 6-second breath technique on my morning walk today. You can try this when seated (or like me, walking). Take in a long, slow breath through your nose only, for 5-6 seconds. Then exhale slowly for the same amount of time and try this for about 6 repetitions. The goal of this type of breathing, is to help more nitric oxide enter your body and tissues. It’s been reported that when you breathe through your nose, nasal resistance increases by 200% and this helps the release of oxygen. If you were wondering, mouth breathing does not let your body take advantage of the sinuses production of nitric oxide.

Nasal Versus Mouth Breathing

Try closing your mouth and just breath slowly in/out through your nose for about minute. According to a lot of the science out there, “breathing through your nose is one of the most beneficial things you can do for the overall health of your body and for your longevity.” This is what Nestor talks about in his book and in the podcast. You may already know the value of breath work, if you practice yoga on a regular basis. Think about this for a minute. How great would it be if we could get a legitimate boost in performance by simply breathing slowly through our nose? Listen to the podcast and give it a shot. For additional reading, check this great article out on the science of breathing by Sarah Novotny and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. and this research paper on effects of nasal breathing in runners.

There are many experts and researchers who think breath work should become a component in health & fitness model. Meaning, you work on strength, flexibility, cardio, nutrition, etc. – why not also incorporate breath work as part of your daily routine?

Mobility: Unlock Tight Hips to Improve Performance

We typically spend a great deal of our time in the gym pushing weights or doing cardio. One key area that often gets overlooked is mobility. Mobility can be defined as freedom of movement without pain through a full range of motion. Mobility exercises can be done as a warm-up if you’re always rushed for time. They are great for reducing joint pain, improving a fuller range of motion and can even reduce the chance of injury. We all know tight muscles and connective tissue are an accident waiting to happen.

When you want to squat, lunge, or lift weights better, mobility work is key, especially when it comes to the hips. You may have limited hip mobility because of an old injury, you don’t work on mobility or you may sit or drive all day for work. In any event, tight hips can cause, over time, a chain reaction resulting in dysfunctional movement. Over time your hip joints will become tight if not addressed appropriately, you’ll begin to notice issues when performing exercises like Squats and Deadlifts.

What are Some of the Better Hip Exercises to do?

There are a lot of different directions you could go here. This is an opportunity to use the Jefit app and perform this series of exercises. Complete each exercise below slowly, working through a full range of motion. Perform each exercise as a hip and glute warm-up prior to working out and you’ll eventually see an improvement in hip mobility. Some may not be pure hip mobility drills but doing these will in turn improve glute/hip function. Perform each exercise for 30-seconds then move to the next and repeat the circuit twice.

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