Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Strong legs -- lift without getting hurt!

Ah…Fall…the leaves are falling, the air is cooling, and it’s time to just snuggle up and relax, right?  No!  Now is the time to get our blood pumping and our body toning to help carry up through the cold months ahead.  Plus, with the beautiful falling leaves comes raking those leaves, and every year many people overdue it and injure their backs.  So, for the next two weeks I’m going to be covering a few exercises to get you prepared and ready for the 20 bags of leaves you’ll be raking up.
This week’s exercise is working the legs, core, and arms.  I like to think of this as training for picking up all those leaves.  Although leaves are light, if you lift improperly (with your lower back) over and over, you’re probably going to tweak or pull something.  If you lift like this week’s exercise, using your legs and core, it will be smooth sailing. 

Squat Lift
For this exercise we will be using a weighted ball.  If you do not have one of these, simply use what’s around you (jug of milk, heavy book(s), piece of firewood, etc.).  Begin with your feet wider than shoulder width apart while holding on to your weighted ball.  Exhale and squat down while lifting the weight up to your chest.  Inhale return to your starting position.  Go for 2-3 rounds of 20-30 reps.
Since safety and proper strengthening is all about the technique, let’s talk about your position as you squat down.  First, make sure as you squat down that your knees stay over the ankles.  The knees should not go past your toes or buckle in or out.  In fact, at the bottom of your squat you should have a straight, vertical line from your ankle to your knee.  Second, keep your legs pressing open, activating your inner thighs.  Feel your hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps activating to support you.  Third, keep your chest up and back.  Think of having a line running from the crown of your head down through your tailbone; keep this line pulling up toward the ceiling (not forward).  Fourth, as always, pull your belly in to support your lower back. 
Most simply put, as you go from your starting position to your squat your upper body should not change position at all.  All you need to do is keep your legs pressing open and your knees over your ankles.
That’s it!  You’ve got it!  However, the strengthening and muscle memory needed to help protect you through all those falling leaves (and upcoming snow) will take some time to develop.  So, continue doing this exercise 3-5 times per week for at least a month, then go down to 1-2 times per week to maintain (while of course substituting in some other great exercises I’ll be covering).
Conquer the leaves as we jump into Fall!

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