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How to Squat – From Diesel Strength

In Fitness, Flute by AngelaLeave a Comment

Diesel Strength and Conditioning | Athletic Strength Training.
This is a comprehensive (read: long and highly detailed) post on HOW to squat.
It’s amazing that something so incredibly simple, something we did as 2-year oldsimages?q=tbn:ANd9GcQp7w411pHfd8cCvoIzgojofKu4 9uPjZnWWDRR0Hoa7Oqhp3TO without a second thought has become so incredibly difficult for us.  Unless your daily job has you squatting (like lots of people who are not in a cubicle-based-computer-obsessed societies do), we have forgotten this most basic of human functions.  Our hips are stiff, we bend at the “waist” because we don’t know where our hips  are, we round at the back and keep our legs straight….it goes on and on.
Just look at the picture of this child squatting and what do you see?  No problems with balance or flexibility, no excess tension, she hasn’t learned any muscle compensations – no, everything works exactly as it should.
Compare this with your typical desk jockey….think this range of motion would be easy?
Not likely.  Attainable yes, but with LOTS of work.  Which tells me there is hope for all of us!  Just because you can’t squat not doesn’t mean you can’t learn and get there.  You can work on your mobility, your flexibility and technique and it can happen for you.
images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRFrdRUleBO NrB 7FkDMI37eq6dd9K8DWNczwVR67MTPPkmfbhsQAnd just because it makes me happy to look at pictures of happy kids squatting with perfect, unadulterated technique, here’s another picture of how we were born to squat….BEFORE we learned to mess it up. Yes, that’s right, we LEARNED to mess it up.  Which means you can un-learn it!
Everything about what this child is doing is right!  His spine is in neutral alignment, his neck is free, his knees are in line with his toes….how did we go from that to all wrong?
We went from this beautiful picture of ease to this:
You get my point.
In fact, let’s get back to the article at hand.  This article put out by Diesel Crew will show you a lot of different ways to squat and coaching cues to all of them.
The take-aways from this post  are EXACTLY what I talked about in my presentation at NFA: the 3 aspects of form you must master if you want to lift.  You must arch your back (keeping your chest tall, towards the ceiling) draw your shoulder blades back and down, and drawing the belly button in toward the spine – also known as “bracing” which they cover in the double breath.
From the article:

How to Squat Video Series Summary

How to Squat – Squat Tip #1 – Elbows Down, Chest Up
How to Squat – Squat Tip #2 – Setting the Lats
How to Squat – Squat Tip #3 – Setting the Lower Back
How to Squat – Squat Tip #4 – Fewest Steps Possible
How to Squat – Squat Tip #5 – The Double Breath

Tip #1 – Elbows Down / Chest Up

how to squat 1
After you unrack the bar and before you even attempt to move into the squat, you must take care of your elbows and chest. You must drive the elbows down. Drive them down until they are facing the ground. As you drive the elbows down, you’ll notice something else; your chest rises. This is a good thing. In fact, you need to accentuate this thoracic extension.
Driving the elbows down will help you engage the lats for more stability and tension. The lats are an important part of the “core“. This, along with pulling your chest up, will keep your head up when you are in the bottom (hole) of the squat.
Because what will happen when your elbows drift up and back?
Your torso will fall forward and the hips will rise too early when you are drive upward. You see this with athletes who don’t have good torso strength or immobile ankles, hips and upper back. This might be ok when the weights are light, but will put a lot of stress on the lower back when the weights get heavier.
Remember “perfect practice makes perfect”, so keep drilling form.

So you’ll notice first off, the chest must be high and the elbows come back.  This CAN help retract and depress the shoulder blades, but what you’ll notice most of all is that you set the bar high on your traps (NOT ON YOUR NECK! 🙂 ) and then only way to do this is to have your hands on the bar in a closer grip so that they are close to your shoulders, not far away.  This can lead to big time instability.

Tip #2 – Setting the Lats

how to squat engage the lats
When the lifter prepares to squat, they must first create tension. This is especially true if the weight is a max or near maximal effort. In the first part of the how to squat series we learned about pulling our elbows down and our chest up. As we do this, the next step is to squeeze the bar very hard. Not only squeeze the bar hard, but engage the lats by pulling the bar into your upper back. This tension is so important for stabilizing the torso, protecting the spine, helping you to remain upright and increasing the amount of weight you can lift.
In fact, renowned back special Stuart Mcgill states that the simple act of engaging the lats during the squat can add 20-30lbs to your squat weight immediately.
Remember, more tension equals more strength.

See that beautiful picture of the back muscles?  Those muscles are HUGE players in helping you play the flute.  If they are weak and can’t stand up to the task of holding the flute up, when they fatigue, your rotator cuff muscles and shoulders take over, even your chest muscles and your neck flexors take over and you wonder why you’re in pain.
If that last paragraph wasn’t enough to convince you, make sure to head over to the article via the link above and check out the videos.  You can see that when performing this squat, the shoulder blades are squeeze together (what he calls setting the lats) and arches the back (lots of lovely good tension there keeping the back in neutral alignment) and the core is safe and protected and stiff – in a good way.  The amount of strength and power to do any kind of squat with good form is immense and translates into being strong enough to handle the demands of playing Beethoven, Tchaikovsky or Debussy.  Squatting will give you a strong core and a strong body, which equals a strong flutist!

Tip #3 – Setting the Lower Back

Setting the lower back is as easy as slightly arching the lower back (into it’s natural curve) while taking a huge breath and isometrically contracting the abdominals simultaneously.
neutral pelvic alignment
When you first watch the video it might look like Ryan is overarching his lower back. He is in fact, just setting it hard into its natural position and holding it. Most times when lifters unload the bar from the way they assume a posterior pelvic tilt under the weight. This position isn’t optimal especially when we talk about stabilizing the lower back and pelvis prior to squatting. He has to consciously move his pelvis back to neutral and “set it”. And like we stated, this is a dual effort with the bracing of the abdominals and his breathing pattern.
how to squat setting the lower back vectors

Coaching Cues

how to squat instructions
Remember, don’t just squat down. You will lose tension!!! Move the hips slightly back (loading the hamstrings and glutes and setting the back) and spread the knees. The act of spreading the knees will lower you (under tension) into the hole.

I didn’t go into too much detail with this at the convention.  Arching the lower back is good, and you should not do it to the point of lordosis (as you can see in the picture) but what it does is that it forces the spine to stay in neutral alignment and stay safe. Practice these basics of form without weight until your are comfortable, because as you can see by now they are crucial to safety and strength.
Something else they touch on is the hip hinge.  This is something I really talked a lot about in my presentation and if you’ve ever gone to any body mapping or Alexander Technique classes, you’ll know what it is.  The hip hinge is basically understanding where your hips are and bending from that place while keeping your spine in neutral alignment.  In layman’s terms?

  • put your fingers in the crease between your leg and body
  • Push
  • your butt should go back
  • if not, 1) you are pushing in the wrong spot 2) you are not pushing hard enough 3) your body doesn’t know what the heck you’re doing because you haven’t bent this way in so long and is trying to bend from the middle of the spine like usual.
  • as your butt goes back, you should feel a pulling stretch in the back of your legs
  • Keep your shoulder blades back and down, neck looking down or slightly in front of you and lower back arched – thus, keeping your back in neutral alignment.

You MUST master this before attempting any kind of big lifts like squats or deadlifts, or even Romaninan Dealifts, Good Mornings or split squat.  You truly need to understand that the body should bend at the hips (which are not the body things that stick out of your body at the top of your legs – that’s the top of your pelvis, your hips are the JOINT) and your butt and hamstrings should do the work of pulling you upright again.  We’ll get into this in a later article
To end the article I really like how they talk about mobility exercises for the upper AND lower body, because the squat is truly a full body exercise, not just a lower body one.  If you have lousy upper body mobility (aka, your arms don’t go backwards much, chest is tight, etc.) you will not squat well.  Period.  Give some of these exercises and stretches a shot and see how they work for you.  The favorites are the upper body mobility work, shown below.  This, believe it or not DOES have to do with your squat, but they are all excellent exercises/stretches to do:

  • before your workout
  • before your practice session
  • in the morning or before bed
  • any other time of day – the more you do them the more flexible you become!

NFA Convention Recap

In Fitness, Flute, Travel by AngelaLeave a Comment

So I’ve been back from the convention for a few weeks already, and I haven’t found the time to be able to write anything!  My head has been swimming with thoughts and ideas, but, fortunately for me, business has picked up in a big way and, well, I had a lot to catch up on.  You see, the last day of the convention, an article about me and my boot camp class was run in the Sunday paper.  A full page full color spread in the Lifestyle section!  I’ve seen an increase in personal training clients from that, so I’ve been up to my eye balls in writing planseditbeachbootcamp106, training clients, running my boot camp classes and responding to the emails and questions I got from NFA.  I have put out a newsletter since then, which gave a big update on the convention, and if you aren’t signed up for my mailing list, you can do so in the bar to your right where it says “sign up for our newsletter” and I will send you the latest one!
Oh yes, and if you want more information about my boot camp classes (the one to the right was taken at our beach location) you can check out the new website! It’s at  I’d love it if you left a comment and can give me your feedback.
So what happened at the NFA?
As stated in previous blog posts, I was very blessed to have been able to give two presentations.  The first was on Friday at 5 PM and was a panel discussion titled “Injury Prevention and Pain Management”.  My fellow panel members, Dr. Susan Fain, Karen Lonsdale and Lea Pearson along with myself all spoke on different topics relating to playing the flute and some suggestions on overcoming the special health challenges it presented.  Lea talked about breathing and body mapping, Karen talked about the ergonomics of the flute and how to set up for practicing be it solo or in a band setting and Susan talked about some common injuries and solutions to them with posture and stretching.  I, of course, gave a quick overview on the benefits of strength training for flutists.  I had so much to say and sadly, I ran out of time – 10 minutes just isn’t long enough!
We had a really wonderful turnout and I did not have enough handouts for everyone to get one, so if you would like a copy of my handout for this presentation and did not receive one, you can download it here:
Using Strength Training to Prevent Injury and Improve Pain
My second presentation was just me and it was on Sunday at 8 AM.  I went far more into depth about the benefits of strength training for flutists, and then demonstrated proper weight lifting form (which we all did together), did a little body mapping in finding where our hips are (here’s a hint, it’s not the bone that sticks out) and then we did some sample stretches and some activation exercises.  It was a lot of fun, and again, I ran out of time.
The easiest way to for me to remedy my problem is for flute clubs and associations to hire me to come out for a day or a weekend to give a workshop and then we can really go  in-depth about how things work, and do some exercises together!  In fact, I had a few people approach me about doing that very thing so be on the lookout to see me coming to your area and if you would like me to come to your area, you can get in touch with me by emailing me at or via the contact link on my website:
Again I had a great turn out and ran out of handouts so if you would like a handout and didn’t get one, you can download it here:
Lift, Play, Love : Basic Weight Lifting for Efficient Flute Playing
I also had a “muscle man” image that I used that went along with both handouts. You can get him here: muscular anatomy
Career Development Workshop
I am very grateful to have been selected as a participant in the 2nd Annual Career and Artistic Development Committee’s Career Development Workshop.  The room was not nearly big enough to hold all the people and we had people spilling out into the hallway trying to get in!  We learned a lot of things: from how to write a mission statement, to a bio, to a cover letter, to how to take a good publicity photo and what NOT to do.
In addition, I and two other people got to present our business ideas to the group and ask for help on certain parts of our projects.  I presented my business Music Strong, and while it is not exactly in its fledgling stages and I have a lot of the work done, my biggest problem is in reaching my audience.  I needed help finding out how to go to where the flutists are and where the people who need me are.
I got a LOT of positive feedback from people who heard me; compliments on the business concept, comments on how excited people were that I was doing this and overall enthusiasm for my business.  I also got asked to come give a presentation in Texas, so be on the lookout for information there!
Other wonderful happenings
I had a lot of great things happen at the convention.  Besides my name getting out there and being recognized, I was also asked to help man the Performance Health Committee’s booth.  I was more than happy to do so – not only for the opportunity to socialize and network with my fellow health professionals, but to answer questions and help the myriad of people who came by with health questions.  It is so rewarding to be able to look at someone, listen to their problems and even if you cannot diagnose or fix their problems, you can give them HOPE and that is super exciting.
I made a lot of new connections, new friends and got a lot of great music I hope to be performing soon.  The convention was a success in every way and I’m very blessed to be able to have been a part of it. Now I’m working on presentation proposals for next year for Vegas!
If you went to the convention, if you got the chance to come to these presentations, workshops or even if you didn’t, I’d love to hear your comments about it and if you have suggestions on future articles or presentations, I am welcome to those as well.
Meanwhile, here are some pictures from the convention.  I hope you enjoy!
[slideshow] See you in Vegas!

Exciting Announcement!

In Flute, Travel by AngelaLeave a Comment

After my NFA panel presentation on “Injury Prevention and Pain Management” I was approached by Mary O’Brien from about writing for her website on a regular basis.  I gladly said yes so keep a lookout for my articles there.  My first post is going to be about that very panel presentation topic.  I am very excited to be writing for on a regular basis and I hope to see many of you over there leaving comments and benefitting from the great articles on that site.  Please share with your flute friends, and if you have a specific topic you would be interested in seeing me write about, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at or leave a comment in the comment section below.
Be on the lookout very soon for a convention recap, complete with pictures and handout links.  There has been so much gong on I have not been able to do the recap yet, but it will be going out very soon!

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Into the Headwind

In Uncategorized by AngelaLeave a Comment

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcR99qdGLq UGa2xPUGjmbOMNiRSZMgXgMdQeI63SXr dW QEsCLoQI had a LOVELY bike ride today. By some standards it would not be considered as such. Why, do you ask?
Simple, because of the 22 miles, 11 of them were INTO the wind. And not just any wind. Tropical something-or-other Lee blew through here the last few days. I rode down Hwy 98 and up 30-A, which for those who don’t know is right along the Gulf of Mexico the whole way. The waves are up and the wind was blowing big time in my face.
Why would I like that? Well, besides the fact that I knew that I would get to FLY back (oh and I did, it was fun!) was because I knew that mother nature was providing the resistance. It was like a Drill Sergeant: you never knew how long the challenge would last or what it would be. Just when I thought that I was going to get a break, I’d upshift to make it a little higher and I’d be hit with a 15mph gust that almost threw me off the bike. I’d put my head down and push through it…and the wind would let up long enough for me to enjoy the scenery.
Riding your bike outdoors forces you to challenge yourself. You have to peddle yourself back one way or another because no one is going to come get you! And you can’t just get off, like on a stationary bike. Besides this, you get scenery.
I guess that’s it, the challenge is what I’m after. I like being challenged, and the road does that. I don’t know what the wind will do, if I’ll have to be on my toes for potholes, or what, but it’s a challenge to take yourself out so far only to know you have to get yourself back and no amount of whining or complaining will change that.
It’s easy to get yourself off a piece of gym equipment, to walk out of the practice room, to just get up and leave things, but when you are out cycling, running, maybe even swimming if you aren’t in a pool, there’s no one but yourself to depend on to get yourself back.
In the Army, we call that INTESTINAL FORTITUDE.
I like it, but I also like to call it inner strength, and finding out that you really are made of more than you thought you were.
So find your method of challenge – and go discover your own amount of intestinal fortitude! 🙂
images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTlnEEFjnKF5oEoU7K6COuWVm7C63AeArhfuJuXOG9AlMRCM wOaQ

The Joy of a Deadlift Well Done

In Boot Camp, Fitness, Motivation and Success by AngelaLeave a Comment

Cookie Monster

Image by nickstone333 via Flickr

I came across this video the other day in a post I read from a girl powerlifter.  She also LOVES cookies, and calls herself the “Cookie Monster”.  She is living proof of 3 things:

  1. You can be a female powerlifter and still be feminine
  2. You can be a female who lifts a LOT of weight (like over 200 lbs.) and not get “bulky” – um, she’s TINY, but with fantastic curves (she’s very proud of them).
  3. You can still enjoy cookies and not give them up for life, when you lift and enjoy them occassionally. :)  Read her blog sometime (watch out for her language though, sometimes she’s unedited, and she does that on purpose) and get inspired.

Musings of a Powerlifter « Munchies, Muscles, and Mischief.
Ok, but the point of this post is the video I found of Benedict Magnusson performing, get this, a 1015 lb. deadlift!  I believe he holds the title of world’s strongest man.
[youtube=] There are a few things to notice in this video:

  1. The Power of the Crowd – do you think he could have done this without all the cheering, yelling, encouragement and yes, even the yelling he did himself to psych himself up for the lift?  I seriously doubt it.  Studies have been done on this very effect.  Studies aside, think about it. When you are doing something, anything that’s difficult, don’t you feel like you have the power to outperform even your own expectations because of the encouragement of the people around you?  Now think of a library, or a tennis court; it’s quiet, almost awkard it’s so quiet.  Imagine trying to perform this lift in that kind of atmosphere.  I seriously doubt it could happen.  This is why classes  like my Boot Camp Class are so good for you: you feel motivated, encouraged and you NATURALLY end up doing more because of the people around you.
  2. His form was spot on.  He didn’t “hump” the weight.  No rounding of the back, waggling back and forth, compensating by putting his hips up first, scooping or anything else.  No.  His form was exactly the way it should be with his spine in neutral alignment and his body using the muscles God intended to be used for this lift: his posterior chain,  not his upper back, quads and hip flexors but his hamstrings, glutes and back muscles.  He didn’t have to compensate to look good in front of other people by sacrificing his form to get the weight up.  No, he did it exactly right on the way up AND down.  Did you notice that?  He set it down with perfect form, too!
  3. He set it down with perfect form. He didn’t feel the need to drop the weight from that high instead of setting it down under control (1000 lbs. would probably have left a hole in the floor anyway).   How many people in the gym do YOU see, lifting more weight than they can with good form to convince themselves they are really stronger than they are (when all they are really asking for is a slipped disk) [youtube=] I mean, I can’t even watch this video all the way it makes me cringe so bad. This guy is asking to be paralyzed.  But I see it in the gym every time I go in there.  He’s trying to make himself feel like he’s strong when he has no idea what he’s doing, and he WILL get hurt doing it.  What are the differences between him and Benedikt?  Can you see it?
  4. The smile of satisfaction.  My favorite part of this whole video is when he got the weight locked out at the top and he looks around and smiles; the crowd goes nuts.  That is the look of a man who is satisfied with knowing he didn’t cheat, didn’t compensate, he lifted an INSANE amount of weight without hurting himself and he has every right to gloat.  The guy in the last video has no right to anything but a broken back.

I plan on posting a deadlifting post later, but for now, I just want to share this one because it makes me laugh with happiness everytime I watch it.  Everything about it is what’s good about lifting weight: you’re strong, you’re confident, you’re competent, you have no NEED to gloat about anything because you have control over your body.
Lift on. 🙂

When Was the Last Time You Took A Break?

In Fitness, Flute, Motivation and Success by AngelaLeave a Comment

Like most siblings, I grew up driving my brother crazy, and him doing the same to me.  He’d try to hug me, I’d get grossed out, he’d get mad, I’d cry, you know, the usual.  Then I went to college and left him at home with mom and dad and the coolest thing happened: we became friends.
Me and my little brother
I count my brother among one of my best friends now.  He knows me unlike few others (save my husband and parents) and can relate to me on a large scale.  We both love music (though in different ways), LOVE lifting and can talk for hours about nutrition, psychology and our workouts.
One of the funniest things that happens between us happens over and over again.  One of us will call the other looking for advice about some aspect of nutrition or asking some question about “why is my strength stalling?  I can’t bust through my plateau!” etc. and invariably, one of us will ask the other
“When was the last time you took a break?”
It never fails, give us a few months and one of us will be calling the other complaining about something and that question will arise from the other one of us.  That’s one of the neat things about having a sibling with which you share a lot of common traits: we undersand that both of us

  • overanalyze things to death
  • are dead-set of getting things right the first time
  • When we get into something we go in 110% – we don’t dabble….which invariably leads to burnout

All of these traits can be seen in a positive or negative light.   On the positive side, the analyzation leads to greater self-awareness and discovery with deeper understanding for future struggles and the perfectionism and enthusiasm belie a FANTASTIC work ethic.  On the negative, the analyzing will drive our friends and/or significant others crazy, we tend to lose out on the learning process by perfectionism and by ceasing to dabble in something, burnout occurs a lot faster.  I’m willing to bet that a lot of you reading this can relate to me on one, if not all of those personality traits.
So the question invariably comes up
When was the last time you took a break?
From dieting?
From training?
From practicing?
The list can go on and on.  We all need times of solitude, times of respite, of quiet.  We need times to break out of our routines and habits – which is why we go on vacations.  But sometimes, you don’t necessarily need a vacation from life, you need a vacation from your workout or your diet.

Two Take-Home Points

1. If you find yourself asking “when was the last time I took a break” and have a hard time answering definitively, that’s your first clue it’s time for a break
2. There are warning signs everywhere

  • you are not sleeping well
  • you have no desire to workout
  • you are frequently tired
  • You DREAD going to practice and when you are there, you get very little done, you have little stamina
  • You are in pain more often
  • The things that used to bring you joy now cause you dread
  • just thinking about your workout makes you tired
  • you suffer physically.  This can be seen in any number of ways, be it lack of sleep, lack of interest in things, joint pain, muscle pain, headaches, feeling “wired but tired”, hair becomes dry or falls out, you get sick more often and take longer to recover (sick can mean anything from viruses to allergies, because your immune system becomes cocmpromised)

The gym is for tearing down, rest is for repair and building
When you lift weights, you aren’t going to build or strengthen your body, you are literally tearing your body down.  You cause low-grade (sometimes mid-grade) inflammation and during REST is when your body repairs the damage you’ve done, creating new tissue, stronger or bigger tissue.  If you are constantly working out, going heavy 6 days a week and not giving your body a chance to repair, pretty soon you’re going to hit a wall.
Rest is underrated and you desperately need it.  If you’ve been lifting 5-6 days per week for years, I beg you to stop.  Switch to 3 days a week and work your whole body.  Do the big lifts: deadlifts, squats, bench press, pull ups or rows and throw in extra stuff for mobility and stability like lunges on top of it.  It will feel weird at first, but I dare you to do it for 3 months and see if you don’t grow more during that time than you ever have since you started.
Sometimes, you need a break from your diet.
We have break times like this at Christmas, Thanksgiving and maybe your Grandma’s birthday party, but if you have been anal retentive about your diet or even been gung-ho and “on your diet” for months and can’t remember the last time you just let yourself eat….it’s time.  You have to be willing to trust yourself that you will do yourself no harm by not tracking and weighing your food.  If you’ve been dieting for months and can’t remember the last time you ate at maintenance calories, then today is the day.  Stop today and take 2 weeks, starting today, and eat at maintenance calories.

What about practicing?

So what happens when you take a break?
You might find out that a host of good things happens.  Not only does your enthusiasm for the sport or the instrument return, in regards to lifting: you might have gotten stronger, or bigger or even leaner, depending on what you were trying to accomplish in the first place.  When the inflammation response goes down, water drops, muscle repairs and hormones stabilize, good things happen and suddenly, what you were training for, actually starts to work the way you were hoping.

My brother's amazing calvesCalves like these are grown OUT of the gym.  Just ask my brother, they belong to him and he works out 2 DAYS A WEEK.

In regards to practicing, I assure you, your technique does not fly out the window, your tone does not disappear, nor do you simply lose everything you worked for in the last decade. On the contrary.  Just like in lifting, good things can happen.  Your tone, your technique, your memory, whatever you’ve been working on can actually IMPROVE!
Point in case…
Let me tell you a story.  At some point during my first year of graduate school I said to myself “I want to be principal flute of USO” (the top university orchestra).  I thought this thought once and filed it away in my subconscious.  I worked very hard on my excerpts and worked all year to improve.
Then came the summer.  I knew I should practice, and I did, in fact, but I practiced piccolo mostly.  I didn’t practice that much.  A few hours a week, maybe, not a few hours a day.  I began practicing in earnest about a week or two before auditions for the next school year, just to see how things were.
I stepped into the practice room and to my amazement,

  • my tone was better
  • my technique was spot on, better than during the school year and more accurate
  • my excerpts, while certainly not flawless, were better than I had ever played them, even without working on them all summer.

I went in to the audition room, played the Debussy the best I ever had (in one breath no less!) , nailed William Tell FLAWLESSLY, had FUN in the audition and guess what?  I got 1st chair.
What happened?
What happened was that I gave my body, my mind and my abilities time to rest.  I worked hard all year on improving my technique, my tone and my excerpts, then I basically took 2-3 months OFF.  It allowed my brain and my body to actually absorb and process what I had learned.  You see, you don’t necessarily get better when you are in the middle of practicing, the results show up later.  What they forget to tell you is that it’s partly a result of rest.
So, take heart from my story, and take a break.  Your body will thank you. 🙂

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Activating the Lower Traps

In Fitness, Flute by AngelaLeave a Comment

Muscles connecting the upper extremity to the ...

Image via Wikipedia

What are the lower traps and what do I mean by activate?  This is by no means an exhaustive, comprehensive post, but this should give you a general idea.
There are three parts of the trapezius muscle: the upper fibers (used to bring your shoulders to your ears), the middle fibers that bring your shoulders up and also inward, just like the rhomboids, and the lower fibers (that pull your shoulder blades downward.) If you will, try a little exercise with me for a minute: pull your shoulder blades down.  Kind of an odd feeling, isn’t it?

When was the last time you remembered performing this kind of action?  Probably not very recently, as we don’t spend a good deal of time with our shoulder blades back and down….unless we’re doing a good stretch because we’ve been sitting at the computer for too long.

Now, lift your shoulders towards your ears – fairly easy?  This action is performed readily when the “fight or flight” syndrome is engaged; pulling our shoulders towards our ears is a protective mechanism.  What else feels tight when you hold your shoulders there? Well, if you hold your shoulders there long enough, you might feel several things

  • tightness at the base of your neck
  • a pain or pulling in your rhomboids or that vague area somewhere “in between my shoulder blades”
  • your chest feels sore from contracting
  • you begin to feel a pulling soreness along your rib cage

and several other things.  What happens all too often is that the “shrug mechanism” is seen in a lot of people’s posture today.  Our more sedentary lifestyles coupled with movements that encourage a protruding head and neck and arms forward posture have led to an epidemic of sorts of “bad posture”.  I say “bad” because really, what we get is altered posture due to muscle compensation.
This is one of the reasons I do not advocate anyone (except bodybuilders who are training for size and symmetry) include shrugging movements in their weight training regimens.  Most of us, who train for function and stability (and even those of us training for size) need to be focused on the middle and lower fibers of the trapezius.

When the upper traps are chronically activated, this can lead to dysfunction in the form of the lower (and possibly middle) traps becoming weakened to the point of “sleeping”.  This term is used not in a literal sense but to describe the problem of muscle imbalances caused by the upper traps being chronically activated, which causes the lower trapezius muscle fibers to not fire properly.
What to do: Activation Exercises
First off, as stated in several previous posts, you must first stretch what is tight.  In this case, that can be several muscles: the pectoralis major and minor muscles (chest), levator scapulae and scalenes (muscles in the neck) are the ones I would stretch first.  These can be accomplished with a doorway stretch (at 90 degrees to hit the pec major and with the arm extended to hit serratus and pec minor) and the specific stretches for levators as seen in the previous post: The Flutist’s Pain Points

Once the tight muscles have been stretched (also called autogenic inhibition – or static stretching) one can move into activation exercises: which could also be called active-isolated stretching.  This is done by a process called Reciprocal Inhibition which uses agonistic and synergistic muscles to dynamically move the joint into a range of motion.  These stretches are done for 1-2 sets of each exercise and hold each stretch for 1-2 seconds for 5-10 repetitions.

Activation Exercises
The lower and middle traps are vital for shoulder stability, so doing exercises to ensure they are doing their job is vitally important.  The first rule of strength training form is to retract and depress the shoulder blades.  This not only ensures that the middle and lower traps (as well as the rhomboids) are active and functional, it inhibits upper trap, levator and other compensatory muscles from taking over.  Use this motion any time during the day as an exercise on its own, and then use it during strength training sessions to make sure your shoulder girdle is stable and lower traps are activated.

Some excellent exercises for activating the lower traps (and rhomboids – as by now you can see they can be synergists) are wall slides, soup can pours, Face Pulls, Prone lower trap raises and LYTP’s.  The primary movements, as discussed before, are Adduction (retraction) and depression.  This website lists some excellent exercises, shows their movements and gives more anatomical descriptions.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a few suggestions on some exercises you can do to “wake up” those lower traps.

For a warm-up, I might do something like this:

  • Active Pectoral Chest Stretch (major and minor – 90 degrees and extended) 1-2 setsx5-10 reps each. Hold 1-2 sec.
  • Wall slides 1-2 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Arm circles 1-2 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Scapular pushups or dip shrugs 1-2 sets of 5-10 reps
  • LYTP’s on stability ball or bench
  • Prone lower trap raises on incline bench

By now, your lower traps should feel a pleasant “burning” or tingling sensation, letting you know that the muscles are beginning to fire.  After this, I would probably follow up with a few rotator cuff exercises to help with shoulder stability.  In fact, Diesel Crew has put out an excellent circuit for “shoulder rehab” that you might want to check out.  You can sub it in for the circuit above. (Always check with your doctor or a qualified medical professional if you have any shoulder injuries, issues or concerns before attempting any of these exercises.)

(By the way, I LOVE the pull up retractions!)  And flutists (and other musicians) you should pay special attention to this video!  These are great exercises to perform before practicing, or any other time of day you want to counter balance the effects of playing your instrument.

From there, with whatever workout I was doing, I would make sure to include exercises that engage the lower traps and throw in one or two exercises to help strengthen the shoulder girdles, my favorite exercise being face pulls.  These are very easy to do incorrectly if the shoulder blades are not depressed and retracted.
The list goes on…

There are lots and lots of exercises to increase shoulder stability and when you make a regular habit of incorporating these activation exercises into your programs, you will not only see increased stability, but an increased range of motion, a possible decrease in pain and a possible improvement in upper thoracic posture.

Make sure to include lower trap activation exercises in every warm-up if not each workout!  Please let me know how these exercises worked for you and your own experiences!

Off to NFA!

In Flute, Travel by AngelaLeave a Comment

It’s finally here!  Hard to believe it but today I am leaving to go to the National Flute Association Convention.  I will have a JAM-PACKED schedule and that doesn’t even include just going around to the things I WANT to visit!
So far:
Wednesday: Meet up with Flute Specialists and see if I can help them set up their booth.  This is after checking in, of course. 🙂
8AM “You on the Page” Career Artistic Development Mini-Conference participant
9 AM: “You in Pictures” CAD mini-conference Participant
5 PM: Presenting  “Practical Steps Towards Injury Prevention and Management”
8 AM: “You in Your Work” CAD mini-conference participant
9 AM: “You, learning from others” CAD
8 AM: Presenting “Lift, Play, Love: Basic Weight Lifting for Efficient Flute Playing”
That, of course, doesn’t include going to the other lectures, exhibits, classes and playing!  I hope to do a good bit of reading and playing with others and I’m really looking forward to it.  If not there, you just might find me hanging out around the Flute Specialists table, maybe even in the gym doing my own workout or helping others.
Want to see the entire schedule?  Check out my previous post with a link to it!
If you’re there, I really look forward to meeting you- come say hi!  When I get back, I fully intend to write up a nice recap of the experiences with links to my handouts.  See you in Charlotte!

The Most Annoying Part of Exercising

In Fitness, Motivation and Success by Angela2 Comments

Male pelvis

Image via Wikipedia

You know what annoys me most about exercising?
It isn’t getting up early or making time for it in my day, it isn’t the study and research involved in my job, it isn’t the educational aspect, it isn’t the soreness or the dedication or any of the obvious things.
It’s the increased oxygen flow to the brain that causes me to come up with so many great ideas (future blogs, articles, business ideas, etc) and the sucky thing is that well, I’m exercising and I can’t exactly write them down.  It’s next to impossible to write your ideas down when you’re on a bike or in the middle of a run, and of course, they leave you when you stop.
Now, can you make that work to your advantage?

Of course!

The case obviously can be made that the mild annoyance of not being able to record things as easily in the middle of a workout is far offset by the fact that 1) your brain is getting more oxygen 2) your blood is becoming more oxygenated 3) your lymph system is flowing better 4) your cardiovascular system is improving 5) you are getting stronger physically and mentally and because of all those wonderful things that come with movement 6) you are now getting better ideas than you would have had if you had just been sitting in front of the TV, computer or steering wheel.

A personal update:

Have I mentioned I suck at running?  If you recall my previous post about “Do What You Suck At” you’ll realize that since I said that, there’s a good chance I do it anyway….and you’d be partly correct.  See, I really despise running….mostly because I don’t do it well (isn’t that how it always goes?), however, that’s only part of the reason  I’ve had problems running ever since I joined the Army.  I started running right before I joined because I thought “I’m going to basic training, and they run constantly, from what I’ve heard, and I don’t want to get injured or not be able to keep up”.  So I started running pretty regularly and actually started to enjoy it.  However, it’s been kind of a love/hate relationship since then.

While at basic training, I suffered a muscle strain in my left hip that left me limping for probably 6 out of the 9 weeks and running was painful.  The most I got was “no running, take ibuprofin and ice it”.  So I got out of running sometimes, though I tell you this, at basic, you run whether you are injured or not because 1) you don’t want to be seen as weak 2) you don’t want to let your comrades down or fall behind and 3) if the Drill Sergeants see you giving it your all if not 110%, they’ll let up on you a little bit, out of respect.  When my platoon had to run, even though I was on a profile, I ran with them, till the drill sergeants yelled at me because I wasn’t supposed to run.  But I refused to just sit there while everyone else had to do things.

I digress….

It wasn’t until later when I had a car accident that I went to a chiropractor who found out the probable cause of my hip pain: my pelvis is twisted….in 3 directions.  Your pelvis is supposed to face forward and be level.
  Mine?  It’s tilted forward (top more forward than the bottom), twisted to the left AND one side is higher than the other, making one leg shorter than the other.

This translates, obviously to muscle imbalances: my hip flexors are not carrying equal load, nor are my low back muscles, glutes, piriformis, etc.  The hip complex has a whole host of muscles attached to it, and if things are not as they should be you are begging for problems.

What does this mean for me?  Well, it means that I have had all kinds of major problems from running, even with chiropractic adjustment: bursitis of the IT band, hip strains, calf strains, mysterious pain that originates on the side of the hip, shoots through the knee and down into the ankle and overall, and what ailed me after last year’s PT test, a mysterious hip pain on the right side that ended up being several causes: right side overstretched, left side understretched, a psoas weakness and a possible strain in the illiacus.

Sadly, this is genetic.  My mom has the same condition, so there was nothing I could do to avoid it.
There ARE things I can do to help, with today’s successful running venture a testament.

Combating Muscle Weakness, Pain and Imbalance with Proper Stretching

First of all, I made the foam roller a major friend today.  Knowing the left side is under stretched, I concentrated on foam rolling my TFL (tensor fascia latae) 250px Anterior Hip Muscles 2.  The TFL, if you notice, is a little difficult to get to, right on the outside side of the pelvic crest and can be extremely painful, as was my case today.  I concentrated on finding the most tender (aka painful) spot and sat on it, and then rolled around, trying to get it to relax.  From there I foam rolled all the hip flexors in front, especially on the left side, which this morning, were particularly painful.  They’re also a little difficult to get to, but what I noticed was that it was the origin points of the muscle (where they begin and attache to the  pelvis) that was the most painful: the quad origins, TFL, pectineus were all bothering me.  My piriforms muscles were also very tight today.  After rolling these, I made sure to hit my adductors and as I suspected, they also had trigger points and tender spots, most notably towards the knee.  When foam rolling, you will tend to find the most painful spots will be not in the middle of the muscle, but towards the ends: either the origins or the insertion points.  This is where the golgi tendon gets excited and gets “stuck” in contraction, causing the “knot”.  Foam rolling applies pressure to the middle of this knot, causing the golgi tendons to relax and the muscle to better reach its full range of motion.  This is why foam rolling is so important.

The rather technical description is as follows: Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique that is used by athletes and physical therapists to inhibit overactive muscles. This form of stretching utilizes the concept of autogenic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility, thus relaxing the muscle and allowing the activation of the antagonist muscle. (Gossman MR, Sahrman SA, Rose SJ: Review of Length-Associated Changes in Muscle: Experimental Evidence and Clinical Implications. Phys. Ther. 62:1799–1808. 1982

The Stretches
Before attempting my jog this morning, I made sure to notice which muscles felt tight.  I already knew my hip flexors would need adequate stretching, glutes and hamstrings would need activation, but I moved around and noticed that my calves were rather tight as well.  So, this was my warm-up:

  • Static Ankle Stretch
  • Wall Ankle Mobility active stretches
  • Active TFL stretch (crossover toe touch)
  • External hip rotator stretch (put leg bent at 90 degree angle on railing and bent forward, then to side, letting hip musculature relax, then squeezing buttocks)
  • Standing warrior stretch (also known as active psoas stretch – stretches hip flexors, activates glutes)
  • Leg swings
  • Standing hip outside swings (like doing fire hydrants standing up)

I then set out walking, making sure to notice how my body felt: was I tight anywhere still?  Not noticing anything excessively tight, I leaned forward and began an easy jog.  I felt good!  I kept up this self-observation as I went, sometimes walking, sometimes jogging – not pushing myself too hard, being more focused on how my body felt and was reacting.  Normally when I stop jogging to walk, going back to jogging triggers pain, and being aware of this I kept in mind “I’m just getting back to this.  There is a time and a place to push yourself, right now is not it, you can build speed and endurance, today you will just observe and be proud”.  And I was.  There was no pain after I resumed running each time and I noticed that my cardiovascular endurance was much improved (most likely due to my boot camp class where I am constantly out of breath – and my regular cycling that has me huffing and puffing; no machine for me!), so it was hugely encouraging for me 1) to know that my lungs were ready to run and my cardiovascular system had improved, even without regular running and 2) mentally, I was there  and 3) that my body was starting to cooperate.

When I finished I cooled down by walking and repeating the above stretches with more focus on static stretching.  I feel good now, but will definitely foam roll a little later and make that a regular part of my routine while getting back into running.

But Back to Being Annoying
Even though I’m proud of myself for running (ok jogging) and not being in pain….I still don’t like it.  I won’t like it till it’s easy.  In face, I am considering taking up triathalon training for that very reason: because while I like cycling, I’ve got a long way to go and I’m not very good at the other two disciplines – so why not give them a go?  No idea how well I swim, but if it keeps me in shape well enough to pass my PT test every year without wearing myself out and making my muscle imbalances worse, then why not?

Speaking of muscle imbalances, if your hips or low back give you problems, I highly recommend checking out this article put out by Critical Bench: Lumbo-Pelvic Hip Imbalances.  He does an excellent job of explaining muscle imbalances and giving stretches to counter-act them.  What I REALLY like about this article is that he breaks the benefits of those stretches and corrected muscle imbalances down into disciplines.  Meaning, that if you’re a cyclist, power lifter or just a regular adult, you will have specific benefits from doing these exercises.  To quote him:

Runners (all levels – beginner to marathoner):

    • Improved mobility at the hip allows for better gait and stride efficiency
    • Decreased braking during transition of foot strike to push off
    • Increased stability at the ankle, knee, and hip
  • Decreased rate of injury throughout lower body


    • Improved activation of gluteus muscles providing for increased strength in pushing
    • Decrease in lower back pain or discomfort
  • Helps prevent chronic hip pain associated with high mileage over years of cycling

Adults (especially those with young kids):

    • Fewer aches and pains from picking up and putting down children
    • Improved lifting mechanics
  • Decreased chance of “throwing out your back”

Keying in on your Goals
Incorporating these stretches and resistance exercises into your fitness program will provide better movement through the hip complex with increased gluteus muscle activation, reduce the risk of injury, and help to decrease the amount of anterior pelvic tilt you may be experiencing.
This improved posture will allow you to come closer to all of your fitness goals, whether they be muscle endurance, size, strength, or power; injury prevention or rehabilitation; or decreases in lower back and hip discomfort.

I hope this article has been helpful for you – I would love to hear your comments!

It’s a Wild Ride…

In Fitness, Flute, Motivation and Success by AngelaLeave a Comment

So life has been crazy, lately.  I know, I know, I was on a roll, posting a few new blog posts every week, and believe me, I have more than a few drafts in the works, but I just haven’t been able to get to them.  I could put something out just for the sake of generating content, but I don’t feel that serves much of a purpose.  I like to spend time on my articles; researching the content, searching for the right images and references and working to make it something I can stand behind.  So, I’m afraid you’ll just have to bear with me for awhile as life gets even more hectic for me in the next two weeks.

So What the Heck Have I Been Doing???

Well, let me lay it out in bullet point format…I like bullet points. 🙂

  • I travelled to Tennessee to spend two weeks with the Army National Guard Band.  We were engaged daily with the TN Arts Academy Conducting Symposium.  While there I got to play woodwind trios, organize the Army Band library (I’m in awe at the amount of music we have) and network.
  • I bought a road bike!  I’d like to introduce you to my new friend, Lexa:
    My new bike!
  • With a new bike comes a lot of work – learning how to ride, acquiring the proper gear, skills and logging miles.  I went on a 40 mile ride yesterday and while it was fun, it was humbling to be with a group of people who rode faster than me – I found out just how far fitness-wise I have to go!
  • I’ve been working like a mad-woman on my NFA  presentations I can’t believe it’s 2 weeks from now!!!  It’s crunch time now – getting all my presentation thoughts, handouts and ideas together.  I’ve also got the great news that I’ve been selected to participate in the NFA Career and Artistic Development Committee Mini-Conference, where I will be presenting Music Strong as my business and being mentored by great people in the flute world: Eva Amsler, Alberto Almaraz, Stephanie Jutt, Laura Barron,  and Jill Felber – so I’ve been getting those materials together, too.  In addition, I will hopefully be assisting Flute Specialists at their booth at NFA.  So it’s going to be a BUSY convention!  Oh, and did I mention my birthday is the 12th?  Right in the middle of the convention – not a bad present. 🙂
  • I’ve been promoting Music Strong like crazy and have gotten a lot of work done!  We now have T-shirts for sale!! You can order them on the Music Strong website .  I’ve also gotten new business cards, been sending out announcements for my NFA presentations, and I’ve launched the PC Beach Boot camp!  We’re having a great time so far and if you’re interested in coming, we welcome all age and ability levels – you can tailor the class to your needs and what you can do.  We meet every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 5:30 at the PC Beach Pier Public Access.  And speaking of promotion, you might find some “Groupon” type deals for me in the Panama City newspaper, soon – they’re launching something called “Deal of the Day” and I plan to be a part of it!  So be on the lookout for that!

Ok, are you tired reading all this?  I am! So to finish up, I’d just like to let you all know that I WILL be posting soon, and I fully intend to do a NFA recap.
In the meantime, I’d like to wax poetic about my bike for a minute.
Why do I like it?  This thought has come to me more than once while riding and that is, I like it for the challenge. The mental challenge.  More often than not it’s not the physical challenge that is what is a struggle, it’s that it’s a mental challenge.  When you ride on a stationary bike, you can get off any time.  You can cite any excuse you like just to get off and quit.  When you ride a bike in the great out doors, you log a lot of miles and suddenly, you are in the middle of nowhere with no choice but to ride back.  Sure, you can get off and quit, but no one will come pick you up, you’ll have walk back, and who wants to do that when you’ve got a perfectly good bike?
My boot camp class is the same way, in a way: you can “get off” and quit at any point.  But you won’t.  Why? Because you’re there with a lot of other people and THEY aren’t quitting, and you don’t want to be seen as a quitter, right?  So you end up going farther, going harder, pushing yourself beyond where you THOUGHT you could go and that makes you stronger and can boost your confidence in a way you didn’t think was possible.  With every class I get sore and then I get stronger, physically AND mentally, and so do my “campers”.  With every ride, I can go longer, my cardiovascular endurance increases and my mental toughness increases because no matter how far back it is, no matter how hard the wind is blowing in my face and making it a struggle to go forward – I don’t have a choice, I HAVE to keep going.  Besides the fact that the scenery changes, THAT is why I love bike riding (and boot camp class).
So I hope to see you all at my class on Tuesday.  It really is a fun experience and who doesn’t love that feeling of accomplishing more than you thought possible?