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Category: Functional Fitness

What is Kinstretch?

“You need your joints for your whole life. Make them better.”
– Jeff Schlotter, SVPT client and Very Smart Guy

This insightful quote by Jeff, one of our dedicated and hardworking clients, captures in a nutshell what Kinstretch aims to do. Kinstretch is a system of training designed to improve body control, mitigate injuries, improve joint health, and promote the physical longevity of your body. It is meant to improve your ability to move skillfully and make whatever physical tasks you do in your daily life easier – from gym workouts, to getting on the floor with your kids (or grandkids), to vacuuming the house, to climbing in and out of your vehicle.

But what does this look like in practice? And how can Kinstretch help you, as an individual?

Imagine this scenario: your 11-year-old daughter asks you to come kick the soccer ball with her in the backyard. You do…and find that you feel stiff and locked up, and afterward your hips and back ache like crazy. What seems so easy and natural for her is incredibly taxing on you.

Or this: you need to do some maintenance work around the house that requires kneeling on the floor for a long time. You start working, only to find that your knees and ankles just don’t bend enough to allow you to kneel down low. You end up having to constantly get up and back down again as your legs and back get fatigued trying to find a position that works.

Or one that might be familiar to a lot of SVPT trainees: you have been working with your trainer for a while now and feel that with his or her guidance, you have mastered your squat technique. But you still have a hard time getting good depth and sometimes you feel a nagging pinch in your hip. Or maybe you just can’t quite seem to get your technique on your rows right – despite good instruction and lots of practice, your shoulder blades seem to have an inability to do what you want them to.

All of these scenarios represent situations where the body’s joints are not able to do what is asked of them by a particular activity. For whatever reason – typically years of limited joint movement, or old injuries – the joints lack the needed range of motion. This is where Kinstretch comes in! Kinstretch specifically trains the joints to gain back this lost range of motion, and equips your body to better handle physical tasks. If strength training with weights is preparing the body’s muscles to handle anything, think of Kinstretch as preparing the joints to handle anything.

So what does a Kinstretch class actually involve? At its base, Kinstretch starts with CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations). Among other things, CARs teach you how to move a joint through its full range of motion, without using any other joints to “help”. They teach you how to dissociate movement at one joint from movement at another joint, and to clearly distinguish the difference. This helps you to know where in your body your movement is actually coming from, where stress is being placed on your body during physical activity, and how to control your body to direct stress toward more desirable areas and away from less desirable ones.

With the solid base of body awareness gained from CARs, Kinstretch then branches out into various movement challenges. These challenges are designed to develop your ability to rotate, bend, and extend your joints with a ton of awareness, intention, and control. Each challenge aims to improve a specific joint function that carries over into real life. For example, our soccer parent above could develop the ability to extend the hip back into a good kicking position through a specific challenge that trains the hip’s ability to move backward. Our homeowner could develop better range of motion in the knees and ankles to allow for a comfortable deep kneeling position. And our gym-goer could, through specific Kinstretch training, develop the ability to squeeze that shoulder blade back during rows.

Kinstretch training is highly specific, quite demanding, and incredibly rewarding. It is also very scaleable and accessible. Whoever you are, whatever your life’s physical demands are, and whatever your individual limitations are – Kinstretch can help you. It can address your limitations, improve your movement, and reduce your nagging aches and pains. If the idea of having a better-functioning and more injury-resistant body that can handle a wide range of physical activities appeals to you, consider giving Kinstretch a try!

Erica Saunders, BPE, CSCS, FRCms, Kinstretch Level 1 Instructor

Strength in Many Forms

When a lot of us think of the word strength, our minds might jump immediately to a picture of someone hoisting a fully loaded barbell from the floor, squatting with an extremely heavy load, or cranking out rep after rep of pull-ups. And that isn’t necessarily wrong! Those activities obviously require a great deal of strength…but are they the only way to express strength? Are there many ways to be strong, and many activities to be strong in? We think so. Strength can be expressed in countless ways and is not pigeonholed into one activity, one lift, or one sport.

Strength is very much individual-specific and context-specific. A person may be incredibly strong for their unique work, life, or sport activities, but may not necessarily be strong in another activity – especially if it is a task they have never attempted before. For instance, a person who can squat an extremely heavy weight is certainly a strong human, but could he or she demonstrate strength in the same manner as a Cirque de Soleil performer? Absolutely not! By the same token, the Cirque de Soleil acrobat is an unbelievably strong athlete, but likely cannot squat an extremely heavy load.

This is obviously an extreme example, but hopefully it illustrates that there are many ways to be strong, and many methods to get there. Cyclists express strength by driving incredible forces into bike pedals, wrestlers express strength through tremendous grip and body leverage, gymnasts express strength through their ability to achieve and control extreme body positions…the list could go on. Every activity has different strength demands, yet all of these people can be classified as “strong”.

The key element that ties all of these different activities and types of athletes together is that they still all need to be strong! Whatever that might look like for any given person, the common thread remains – they need to be able to bring their specific strength to bear in a specific way for their activity.

It is important to note that we are not saying that strength gained by lifting weights in the gym has no carryover into sport or life activities. It most certainly does! Each athlete mentioned above could improve their general strength by performing a weight training program. However, improved ability to express strength through a squat or deadlift does not directly translate into improved ability to express strength through a bike race, wrestling match, or gymnastics event – the athletes must still utilize task-specific strength when they participate in their sports. The weight training program simply gives them more potential to do exactly this.

We can apply this overarching theme to ourselves as weekend warriors, gym enthusiasts, or people training for general health and wellness. Getting “strong” may not look the same from person to person, as everyone has their own unique life demands, jobs, or activities that they are training for. Different people may need to express strength differently in their daily lives. But regardless of what it looks like, everyone should still train for increased strength. Strength is king – it is required for almost everything in life, it is needed in many forms, and it is for everyone!

Erica Saunders, BPE, CSCS, FRCms

 

 

 

The Muddled Meaning of Mobility

“Mobility” has become a huge buzzword in the area of fitness and health. The term gets thrown around quite often in online articles, but rarely is its true meaning explained. What exactly is mobility, why is it made out to be such a big deal, and why is it so good for me?

The general definition of mobility is “capable of moving, or being moved freely and easily.” The word mobilityas it relates to the human body refers to a joint’s ability to actively achieve a certain position – that is, to move the joint using the body’s own muscular strength and control, without any external assistance. This is the joint’s “usable” range of motion, the range of motion that you are able to access at any given moment, during any day-to-day activities.

This is in contrast to flexibility, a term that is often used interchangeably with mobility, despite not meaning the same thing. They sound similar, but they are not synonyms! Flexibility means “capable of being bent, usually without breaking.” When talking about the body, it refers to a joint’s ability to passively achieve a position – that is, to use no muscular effort or activation to get there. To get an idea of passive movement, picture a yogi grabbing her foot and pulling it up behind her head. While her joints can obviously get into those positions, it requires the external help of her hands to do so. It is very unlikely that she could lift her leg into that position completely on its own, without her hands pushing it into place. In this example, she has great flexibility but limited mobility. The crucial difference between the two is the way in which her body’s joints achieve the position. Any joint position that requires external help to get into is not a usable position, but is “un-usable” range of motion.

Despite the “un-usable” label, passive flexibility is not bad. It is actually needed in order to have mobility, but it is only one part of the equation. Mobility is a combination of flexibility, strength, and control. To have mobility, you need:

Lots of available passive range of motion (flexibility)  +  lots of strength throughout that range  +  great control over that range

From this, we can see that we have the potential to convert passive flexibility into active mobility through training. Using our yogi as an example, we could train her joints to have the strength and control to lift her leg behind her head unassisted, thus giving her the active mobility to match up with her great flexibility. All of her passive range would become “useable”, which is a very good thing!

Now that we have a better understanding of what mobility actually means, we can dive into why it is so important to have it, as opposed to just having flexibility. Mobility is the key physical ability of the body. If we know that having good mobility means having active control of joints, being able to move them into a ton of different positions, and having strength in all of these various positions, then it’s easy to make the case that having mobility in your joints is the single most important prerequisite to any activity that you do in sport or life. Without the ability to move your joints into the positions needed to do a squat, to take a shot in soccer, to reach overhead and paint the walls in your house, or to bend down and pick up your toddler, your ability to perform those activities safely and effectively is severely compromised. No matter how strong you are, no matter how fit you are…if your joints cannot physically get into the positions that you repeatedly ask them to, your performance and your body will suffer.

Mobility is the base of the training pyramid, and it undergirds absolutely every other physical quality that you can train for (aerobic capacity, strength, power, speed). Mobility is what allows you to pursue and train for all of those other qualities without getting injured, without wearing joints down, without spending undue amounts of time and money on trips to the doctor or the physiotherapist. Mobility is what keeps your joints healthy as you age and prevents you from losing the ability to do the activities you were once able to do.

 

 

Maintaining the necessary mobility to do all of your favorite activities into your later years doesn’t just happen on its own, though. Joints don’t maintain themselves – it takes time, intention, effort, and a lot of movement on our part. Consistently challenging and constantly using the active ranges of motion that you currently have in your joints is the key to keeping those ranges over months and years and decades. Think of a person you know who is older than you. Have you ever heard him or her say something like “these knees/hips/shoulders just don’t move the way they used to” or “I used to be able to [insert activity here] but my [insert joint here] just can’t do it anymore”? Most people would chalk this up to simply getting older, but in many cases the main cause is actually disuse rather than age. Losing mobility in your joints is only a consequence of natural aging if you let it be. The best way to prevent this from happening is to never stop using your joints through the biggest possible range of motion you can.

Is training for mobility fun? Not usually. Is training for mobility easy? No, it is in many cases much more difficult than strength or endurance training. Is training for mobility important and rewarding? Absolutely. It should not be overlooked, or skipped, or disregarded as less worthy than lifting weights or going for a run. Mobility training is an investment in your body, a very long-term one. If you prepare your body to its very best ability to handle the tasks that you throw at it, you put yourself in the best possible position to not only crush life’s daily physical demands, but to keep your body as pain-free and injury-free as possible while doing so.

 

Erica Saunders, BPE, CSCS, FRCms

Functional Fitness

All fitness is functional.  All exercise is functional.

All exercise will help you do daily activities with greater ease, and therefore allow you to live a more full and adventurous life.

When most people see the words “functional fitness”, one of two things usually comes to mind:

  • Some type of circus-act exercise that makes you look absolutely ridiculous.
  • Exercise that looks exactly like the movement you will be doing in life.

We have all seen the crazy circus-type exercises on social media. Cringe.  And I am sure you have seen our commercial, where you will see people doing exercises that mimic everyday activities.

Sled pushes will help you mow the lawn, but so will any well-rounded fitness program that includes general lower body, upper body, and core strength exercises.  Landmine squats with a press will help you lift your child over your head, but so will dumbbell presses and squats, performed independently as part of a complete workout plan. Farmer’s carries will help you carry your groceries, but so will planks or chin-ups.  What we are trying to say is – full disclosure – the people in that video do other exercises too! And those other exercises are no less functional than the exercises they so expertly demonstrate for us on camera.

Functional fitness is typically considered to be less about isolation and more about integration –   all the body parts and systems working together seamlessly to accomplish a task. The more you can train your body to work as a whole, the more you will benefit in everyday life and the more injury-resistant you will be.  When you work your entire body in multiple directions of movement and ranges of motion, you can avoid overuse injury in a single direction or range and instead allow your body to be strong and functional in all of them. This style of training prepares you for anything unexpected that might occur in your day-to-day life. It’s about being proactive, rather than reactive.

Isolation exercises such as bicep curls are often criticized for not being ‘functional’, but if your biceps are a weak link in the chain of your body, then they might be an incredibly functional exercise for you. What counts as functional exercise all comes down to the individual – what is functional for one person might not be for another.  Getting an assessment from a qualified trainer to find anything that may be preventing your body from working as a strong, complete unit – and finding out what exercises are therefore ‘functional’ for you – is a great idea.  Eliminate the guessing game, save time and invest in a proper program (Shameless plug: svptfitness.com)

All consistent fitness and exercise will help you fend off those injuries that happen simply because your body is not strong enough or fit enough to handle the activities you are trying to do every day.  For some, like an older population, that means preventing falls and creating physical independence, and for the younger population that might be preventing a knee blowout at a weekend flag football game, or on that impromptu ski trip.

Finally, functional fitness is a bit more fun and a lot less boring than bicep curls!  Exercises that tend to involve more movement, in multiple directions and range of motion, can add more challenge. Because let’s face it, moving all the parts of your body at once is harder! Think about a bear crawl – fun but hard, and working EVERYTHING – co-ordination, legs, shoulders, arms and all the core in the land.  Does a bear crawl translate into everyday activity? Not straight across (unless you have to bear crawl for a living), but all the things happening when you are doing it will help you – carry groceries, play with your kids, go for a hike, help a friend move…all that great stuff.

So is running on the treadmill or sitting on the bike functional fitness?  YES! Cardiovascular health is super important for heart health and the ability to be able to sustain physical activity and daily activities longer (i.e. mowing the lawn without breaks ). Is chest and bicep day functional fitness?  YES! If upper body strength is your weak link, chest and bi’s will certainly help you in that regard. Of course, what would be even more optimal would be to include additional training that ties those muscles in with the rest of your body.

The takeaway point is – all fitness is functional and all fitness will improve your quality of life!

Shara Vigeant, BA, CPT, CFSC