4 Mobility Exercises to Improve Upper-Back Pain

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Because of its tendency to be so achy-breaky, your lumbar area usually hogs all the spinal glory, but the thoracic spine (T-spine) is an important link in the chain and is perhaps the most disregarded area when it comes to mobility: Stiffness and lack of extensibility in the soft tissue surrounding the T-spine can cause shoulder strain and promote compression of the nerve roots, which can lead to pain and numbness in your shoulders, neck and fingers. And if you do a lot of chest presses, crunches and even lat pulldowns, you could be tight in your pecs, lats and shoulders. This can affect your overhead position when performing moves like pull-ups and overhead squats because the upper back can’t extend to align the arms overhead.

The following moves are designed to release and retrain your T-spine to extend and rotate freely, correcting posture, decreasing pain and injury potential, and improving your workout results. Do these moves before an upper-body workout or after any long period of flexion — and hit the reset button on your back.

Segmental Flexion/Extension With the Peanut for Mobility

Segmental Flexion/Extension With the Peanut

Lie faceup with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Place the peanut between the floor and your midback just below your rib cage. Loop a towel behind your head and hold an end in each hand to support your head and neck. Start in neutral alignment, then inhale as you slowly lower your shoulders to the ground. Exhale and perform a small crunch, rounding the upper back as you lift. Repeat for two to three slow repetitions, then move the peanut up to the next vertebra. Continue until you reach the base of your neck (T1).

Tip: To release the deeper back muscles like the rhomboids and erector spinae, pinch your elbows together to pull the scapulae apart, allowing for a more concentrated stretch.

What’s a peanut? Make your own peanut by taping two tennis or lacrosse balls together, or purchase one on Amazon.

Iron Cross Mobility Exercise

Iron Cross

Lie faceup with a foam roller along your left side. Bend your right hip and knee to 90 degrees, then cross your knee over your body and rest it on top of the roller. Inhale, then exhale and press your right shoulder blade into the ground, aiming to rotate your T-spine rather than stretching your chest. Hold for three to five seconds, then release. Repeat four times, then switch sides.

Tip: If you can easily get your shoulder blade to the ground, add some dynamic mobility by sweeping your arm up overhead and back again, keeping it in contact with the ground.


Thread the Needle

Get on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips, spine neutral. Keep your hips square as you reach your right arm underneath you as far as you can, and rest your right shoulder on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side. Do one to two sets of four to five reps on each side.

Tip: Make this stretch more dynamic by adding rotation: After threading the needle, rotate the opposite direction and extend your arm straight up toward the ceiling. Repeat for five to six slow reps each side.


Prone Cobra

Lie facedown with your arms at your sides, spine neutral. Brace your abs and press them into the floor, then externally rotate your arms so your thumbs point upward, palms facing away. Draw your shoulder blades down and back and lift your arms to raise your upper body off the floor slightly, keeping your chin tucked and your lower body anchored. Hold for two to three seconds, then return to the floor. Do one to two sets of eight to 10 reps.

Tip: Focus the movement at your shoulder blades to do the lift to prevent compensation at the lower back and hips.

T-Spine Talk

The large, bony protrusion at the base of your neck marks the first of 12 vertebrae in the thoracic region (T1-T12). This area creates a concave curvature in the upper back and it connects your neck and lower back, supports your rib cage and works with your shoulder blades to provide stability to the upper body and coordinate complex movements.

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This Versatile Running Shoe Just Got Better

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One run in the Under Armour HOVR Phantom 3 is all it takes to confirm Under Armour has done it again. The running shoe design team at Under Armour loves to innovate—as evidenced by the entire HOVR line, built on the brand’s trademarked HOVR cushioning technology. That’s why every new feature of the third iteration of the fan-favorite Phantom has purpose. Katie Lau, global product director at Under Armour, says the shoe “delivers continuity with its premium fit and feel, but with thoughtful adjustments.”

HOVR Phantom 3
HOVR Phantom 3 (Photo: Under Armour)

What’s New for the Phantom 3

When making updates to its shoes, Under Armour values feedback from its athletes. In the case of the Phantom, UA tapped its running clubs and roster of athletes to find out what they loved about the Phantom 2 and to get their thoughts on what could be better. One requested change, especially from female athletes: a lower collar height. The Phantom 3 brings the collar height down for a more comfortable fit and with less friction around the ankle bone.

Another popular Phantom feature—the responsive UA HOVR cushioning, complemented by a durable, high-traction rubber outsole—got dialed up in this version of the shoe. “The Phantom always had a high percentage of HOVR, but now it’s 100 percent,” says Lau. “That gives the shoe a plusher underfoot experience.” Where does the increased cushioning fit into an athlete’s shoe rotation? “The Phantom delivers a ride with energy return, stemming from the propulsion of the HOVR cushioning,” says Lau. “The Phantom fits well as a recovery shoe after a long run or for runs up to a 5K distance. It’s also a great shoe for field athletes when they’re out of their cleats and looking to stay fit with running.”

At the Core of Phantom Shoes

If you’re already a fan of the Phantom 2, you’ll be thrilled to hear what the design team kept intact, beginning with the molded midfoot panel. A popular feature that provides added structure and stability, this fan favorite carries over into the Phantom 3 design. Also still there: the external heel counter, which adds stable support.

The same holds true for the UA IntelliKnit upper, which retains its softness but with an evolved feel, says Lau. “We’ve added zonal stretch and zonal containment to the upper, so that the feel is curated to each athlete’s foot,” she explains.

Because aesthetics also matter, the Phantom 3 kept its “on and off the streets” look going. This is a shoe that transfers seamlessly from the gym or track back into the real world. “We recognize we’re tapping into a younger, faster consumer, and we’re listening to their desires,” says Lau. “We wanted the Phantom 3 to be simplified, modern, and progressive.”

Lau says it’s tempting to describe the Phantom 3 as something of a “Swiss Army knife,” but with a purpose. “We didn’t want to make this shoe different for no reason,” she says. “We wanted to respect its DNA but continue to innovate.”

Under Armour, Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, is a leading inventor, marketer and distributor of branded athletic performance apparel, footwear and accessories. Designed to empower human performance, Under Armour’s innovative products and experiences are engineered to make athletes better. For further information, please visit the Under Armour website.

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The Top-to-Bottom Back Workout | Oxygenmag

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Is your back workout not delivering the results you expect? If your efforts to create a well-defined rear view are leaving you less than impressed, perhaps its time for a new approach — a “friendly takeover” of your regular routine may be in order, shaking non-responsive muscles out of their complacency and into higher levels of performance.

This top-down back workout approach begins with the upright row, which activates the upper reaches of your back muscles, including the trapezius. While women don’t necessarily strive for a protruding, defined trap muscle, that result is not a danger, especially as used here in more of a warm-up role.

Next is the pull-up and kettlebell row, which focus on the latissiumus dorsi — the large fan-shaped muscles that extend from your spine to the back’s outer edges — as well as various muscles of the mid-back, including the infraspinatus, lower traps and erector spinae.

A classic powerlifting movement, the barbell deadlift, follows, although you won’t do it with maximum strength in mind during this back workout. Instead, you’ll use a moderate weight for 8 to 10 reps per set, stimulating a series of muscles in the posterior chain from the legs to the hips to the lower and upper back. You’ll finish with a dynamic posterior chain move, the kettlebell swing, and finally the back extension, a bodyweight move that directly targets the erector spinae of the low back.

All together, these six exercises can provide a comprehensive overhaul, ensuring no key area of the back escapes scrutiny. Give this back workout a month or two — your morale should get a boost next time your back is up for review.

Top-to-Bottom Back Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Upright Row 3 25, 20, 15
Pull-Up 3 As many as possible
Bent-Over Two-Arm Kettlebell Row 3 20, 15, 10
Barbell Deadli 3 8–10
Kettlebell Swing 3 15–20
Exercise-Ball Back Extension 3 20

Barbell Upright Row

Barbell Upright Row - Back Workout
Photos: Cory Sorensen

Setup: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand grip just outside shoulder-width.

Action: Maintaining a slight bend in your knees, eyes forward and core engaged, flex your shoulders and pull the barbell straight up toward your chin, leading with your elbows and keeping the bar close to your body. At the top your elbows will be pointed up and out to the sides. Hold for a second before slowly lowering the bar to the start.

Bent-Over Two-Arm Kettlebell Row

Bent-Over Two-Arm Kettlebell Row - Back Workout

Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and grasp a kettlebell in each hand. Hinge at your hips until your torso is roughly 45 degrees to the floor with the weights hanging straight down, and your head is aligned with your spine.

Action: Drive your elbows up and back and pull the weights toward each you’re your abdomen as high as you can. Hold at the top for one count, then slowly reverse the motion. (If you don’t have kettlebells, you can substitute dumbbells.)



Setup: Grasp a fixed overhead bar with a wide overhand grip. Hang freely, arms fully extended and ankles crossed behind you.

Action: Pull your shoulder blades in toward one another then drive your elbows down toward your sides to raise yourself as high as you can. When your chin rises above the level of the bar, pause briefly then lower back to the fully extended position.

Barbell Deadlift

Barbell Deadlift - Back Workout

Setup: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes turned out slightly and positioned just beneath the barbell. Kick your hips back then bend your knees while keeping a flat back to grab the barbell on either side of your legs with an alternating grip. Your hips should be higher than your knees, shoulders over the bar, shins perpendicular to the floor, head neutral.

Action: With your back flat, lift the bar from the floor by extending your hips and knees. Keep your arms straight as you drag the bar up your legs until you are standing. Squeeze your glutes then lower the bar downward along the same path until it touches the floor.

Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebell Swing - Back Workout

Setup: Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width, holding a kettlebell by its handle with both hands in front of your hips.

Action: Keeping a flat back, swing the kettlebell back between your legs, then snap your hips forward and swing it forward and upward in an arc with straight arms until it reaches shoulder height. Allow the kettlebell to swing back down under control and back between your legs. Continue linking your reps together.

Tip: All the power from this move comes from your hips — the arms are just along for the ride!

Exercise-Ball Back Extension

Exercise-Ball Back Extension - Back Workout

Setup: Lie facedown on an exercise ball with your hips centered on the ballyou’re your legs extended behind you, spaced wider for balance or anchored underneath a stable object. Cross your hands over your chest or place your fingertips lightly behind your ears.

Action: Lower your torso down along the ball as far as you can without rounding your back, then flex your glutes to lift yourself up until your body makes a straight line. Continue, lowering and raising for reps.

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6 Killer Drop-Set Combinations to Exhaust Your Muscles

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“Going in one more round when you don’t think you can, that’s what makes all the difference in your life.” 

We don’t end up quoting legendary celluloid pugilist Rocky Balboa too often at Oxygen, but this one seemed kinda apropos, considering the topic.

That’s because while he may have been making a point about boxing (and beyond), he could have just as easily been talking about weight training. That is, squeezing out just one more repetition when you’re gassed at the end of a set and don’t think it’s possible can make all the difference in your fitness results over the long run.

Sure, someone could punch a hole through that logic by pointing out the obvious flaw: How can you get more reps when you’ve reached utter failure and can’t possibly move the weight without compromising your form and risking injury?

That’s where drop sets come in to deliver just the knockout you need.

Beyond Failure

First up, a quick primer is in order. “A drop set means that after you reach momentary muscle failure with a weight during a set, you immediately lower the amount of weight you’re using by anywhere from 20 to 50 percent and then continue repping until you reach failure again,” explains Dan Roberts, a top U.K. strength and conditioning coach and founder of the Dan Roberts Group. 

You can stop after one drop, or you can go ahead and drop the weight one to two more times depending on just how far you want to push yourself. The key to performing a drop set to perfection, however, is to make sure your first set is taken to true failure. “When doing drop sets, the first set is always a little bit of an experiment,” Roberts says. “When you get to the second round, you’ll want to change the weight, if necessary, so that you’re not doing more than 20 reps in total when counting all the reps within the set, including all drops. I try to aim for 15 reps max — in other words, my 6RM (the amount of weight you can handle for six reps before failure) for the initial reps and then a drop of 30 percent that allows me to get about eight to nine more reps to failure.”

If, however, you can get more than 15 in total, you’ve either gone too light on your initial weight or you cut too much on the drop. With a little practice (and some good record keeping in your training notebook), you’ll get a feel for proper weight selection.

“Drop sets require you to train hard and stay focused,” Roberts adds. “They are really tough on the muscles and on the body’s central nervous system. Because of that, I’ll usually only use them once within a bodypart workout and only about 15 percent of the time in any given month. If you try to do them more often than that, you can burn out fast — it’s that intense. But if used right, it can really spice up your workouts and help you break through any plateaus or ruts you’ve found yourself in at the gym.”

6 Super Drop Set Combos

In addition to using a drop set for the same exercise, another drop technique is to pair two complementary exercises into a superset — the first movement being a bit more challenging, followed by a slightly easier variation in which you incorporate one to two drop sets. This allows you to extend a set further than if you simply just did the first, more difficult exercise to failure and stopped.

Here, Roberts lays out six finisher combos that he thinks best incorporate this technique. Doing them at the tail end of a workout will ensure you’ve thoroughly worked the muscle group, leaving no fiber unturned in your quest for maximum results.

Back: Wide-Grip Pull-Up Followed by Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown

“Wide-grip pull-ups are the best back exercise in my view, so if you can do them, you should,” Roberts says. “After hitting failure on those, you can either switch to a close-grip pull-up, which reduces lat involvement and incorporates more biceps, making them a little easier, or you can do a lat pulldown if the machine is close by — when doing superset-style drop sets, I try to make sure the turnaround between moves is less than five seconds. If you lean back about 45 degrees when doing the pulldown, it’ll hit the teres major and upper lats in a similar way as the pull-up.”

Chest: Flat-Bench Barbell Press Followed by Seated Machine Chest Press

“Chest machines are great for drop sets — they are relatively safe and they don’t require as much from your stabilizing muscles,” Roberts points out. “When doing a drop set after benching, I find my athletes get better results by making the drop less complex so they can just focus on the key prime working muscles. You could also just drop weight from each side of the barbell and continue benching, but I really don’t think you can get the same level of intensity in your pecs, triceps and anterior delts as you do when you can just fully focus on pushing on the machine.”

Quadriceps: Front Squat Followed by Bodyweight Sissy Squat 

“When maxing out on a squat, it’s hard to tackle another exercise right after, but I have had my clients try doing other finishing moves,” Roberts says. “I’m a big fan of a set of 15 plyometric squat jumps, and we’ve also done leg extensions and the leg-press machine, too. But in my experience, sissy squats are the best. Just lock your feet in place and go for full range of motion — you may hit 15 reps or so, which is slightly more than I’d suggest for a typical drop set, but going bodyweight only keeps it very simple and straightforward.”

Hamstrings: Romanian Deadlift Followed by Lying Hamstring Curl 

“After working up to your heaviest weights on an eight- to 12-rep Romanian deadlift, your whole body will be knackered, so pairing it with a lying or seated hamstring curl will provide more than enough stimulation,” Roberts says. “Other free-weight-based hamstring exercises are too difficult in a superset like this, while with a machine, you can more easily control the weight. It’s also easier to do a double drop since you just need to change the pin in the stack.”

Biceps: Close-Grip Supinated Pull-Up Followed by Banded Standing EZ-Bar Curl

“As I mentioned with the back combination, close-grip pull-ups — especially with your palms turned toward your body — really engage the biceps,” Roberts says. “I’ve suggested doing the standing curl with bands around the ends of each side of the bar instead of weights as you stand on the middle of the band to provide the resistance, but you can also just load the bar with weight and skip the band if you prefer. You can also make use of a seated preacher-curl machine, which makes the transition easier and quicker.”

Triceps: Close-Grip Smith Bench Press Followed by Machine Triceps Extension

“Close-grip benches are amazing for triceps development,” Roberts says. “I prefer to use the Smith machine because of the safety aspect it provides — when you max out on close grips, your arms turn into noodles. By using a Smith with the safeties engaged, you can push to your true max, which is essential for great drop sets. For the second half of the superset, the standard cable pushdown is good, but I find that when your tri’s are tired, the traps tend to want to jump in and help, so that’s why I lean toward the machine-based seated extension, where your upper arms sit on the pad and you can keep your form more locked in.”

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10 Simple Swaps to Add More Fiber to Your Diet

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There’s no escaping the constant nutrition headlines urging you to add more fiber to your diet. But why is this message so prevalent? 

Fiber — a type of carbohydrate found in plant foods — appears to help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels, boost immunity and maintain weight, research shows. Fiber also helps add bulk to the stool and prevents constipation, so there are plenty of good reasons to add more fiber to your diet

One unusual thing about fiber is that your body can’t fully digest or absorb it, which is exactly what makes it so healthy. “Because fiber is not fully digested by the body, it moves slowly through the digestive system, helping us to feel full for longer and eat less calories overall,” says Ashley Larsen, RDN, California-based dietitian. 

An active woman consuming 2,000 calories per day needs about 28 grams of fiber per day. But more than 90 percent of women fall short on fiber, consuming only 15 to 16 grams per day. If you’re not one of the 10 percent, don’t double your consumption in one fell swoop; increase your fiber intake slowly to avoid stomach discomfort.

Read on to discover how easy it is to add more fiber to your diet through whole grains, fruits, in-season vegetables, beans, nuts and legumes. 

1. Bake with fruit.

Use pureed fruit as a replacement for added sugar in recipes. “Pureed fruit provide a great source of fiber and can be used in a 1:1 ratio to replace added sugar in baked goods while maintaining all the sweetness,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDCES, New Jersey–based diabetes expert, author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet and consultant to the Hass Avocado Board.

Avocado boat tuna melt
(Photo: GettyImages)

2. Add an avocado.

Avocados contain 3 grams of fiber per serving (one-third of a medium avocado). Eat a few avocado slices on top of scrambled eggs, on a sandwich or on a salad. Mashed avocado can even replace butter with a 1:1 ratio in recipes. “Adding avocado to smoothies is a nondairy hack that adds a thick, creamy texture plus an additional fiber boost,” Palinski-Wade says.

3. Power up pasta.

“Increase your fiber intake by swapping a more refined grain or starch with a whole grain,” Larsen says. “You can swap a cup of white rice for a cup of quinoa or barley to increase your fiber intake from zero grams to 6 grams per cup.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

4. Nosh on nuts.

Nuts are also a good source of fiber. “I like to snack on pistachios and add them to everything from overnight oats to fruit-based nice cream,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, plant-based registered dietitian. Top nuts for fiber include almonds (4 grams), hazelnuts, pistachios and pecans (3 grams each per 1-ounce serving). 

5. Just add beans.

Research shows that people who regularly eat beans are 22 percent less likely to be obese, when compared to people who don’t eat them. “If you aim to go meatless at least once a week, use beans or lentils as your protein source,” Larsen suggests. “Not only are beans high in protein, [but] they are also one of the highest sources of fiber.” To add more fiber to your diet, use beans and lentils instead of meat in dishes like enchiladas, chili or quinoa bowls — 1 cup of black beans provides 15 grams of protein and 15 grams of dietary fiber. 

6. Fill cookies with fiber.

Did you know you can enjoy a sweet treat and still fill up on fiber? When crafting your next batch of cookies, add chopped nuts or a cup of nut butter, use oats instead of white flour or try a bean-based energy ball recipe. Yes, beans in cookies are a thing, so don’t be scared!

(Photo: Getty Images)

7. Give breakfast a boost.

“Start your day with a boost from a good source of whole grains and fruit,” Larsen says. “A bowl of bran cereal topped with a ½ cup of blueberries can provide around 14 grams of fiber, which is already 56 percent of the Daily Value.” A high-fiber breakfast also helps keep you satisfied until lunch.

8. Sub in seeds.

Don’t underestimate the tiny seed. A tablespoon of a high-fiber seed like flaxseed or chia seeds are easily blended into a smoothie or sprinkled on a salad or oatmeal. Larsen recommends making a protein smoothie with 1 cup of fruit and vegetables and a tablespoon of flaxseeds or chia seeds for a quick and satisfying meal. 

(Photo: Getty Images)

9. Have hummus on hand.

Store-bought or homemade hummus is a versatile and delicious way to add fiber. Use it as a dip for vegetables and whole-grain crackers or spread it on a sandwich in place of mayonnaise. 

10. Snack on fruit.

Whole apples, bananas and oranges are easy-to-grab snacks that deliver a couple of grams of fiber. Add some filling fats — and a couple more grams of fiber — to your snack with a spoonful of nut butter or a handful of nuts.


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How to Improve the Mind-Muscle Connection

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Think back to your last lifting workout — were you 100 percent focused on the task at hand, or were you contemplating what to make for dinner, stewing about work or daydreaming about a vacation? It’s easy to let your mind wander while doing an activity you’ve done a thousand times before (more biceps curls — zzz …), but switching your brain to autopilot could be negatively impacting your results and may be making that elusive mind-muscle connection even harder to establish.

“Some fitness enthusiasts are skeptical about the mind-muscle connection and think it’s bro-science quackery,” explains kinesiologist Jessica Kasten, MS, NSCA-CSCS, CPT. “But it’s been used for years by bodybuilders who swear by its effectiveness, and new research backs up their claims.”

They’re Called “Concentration  Curls” For a Reason

Visualization is used by athletes of all levels, and the pros spend a lot of time mentally improving their performance by seeing the basketball go into the hoop, feeling their skis carve perfect turns and watching themselves cross the finish line first to win their 5K. A mind-muscle connection is a little different, however, and occurs when you actively think about and focus on feeling a target muscle contract and extend as you are actually doing a movement.

“The mind-muscle connection brings conscious awareness to a working bodypart or movement pattern that is free of distraction,” says Matthew Zanis, DPT, physical therapist at the U.S. Olympic Performance Center. “For example, directing your attention to flexing and squeezing the biceps [in a curl] focuses your brain on that exact muscle, resulting in the body pumping more blood, making neural connections and releasing chemical mediators that set the stage for higher levels of performance in the form of strength, size and power.”

This is also known as an “internal focus of attention” and is a beneficial skill if you’re looking to develop size and strength. An external focus of attention, on the other hand, is task-oriented and involves cues such as driving through the floor with your heels or moving the weight as slowly as possible. These are more beneficial for motor control, performance and athleticism.

Where Focus Goes, Chemistry Flows

So how does all this work, exactly? Imagine that your muscles and nerves speak different languages; a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine is the translator that helps them communicate. The better the communication, the more muscle fibers are recruited and the greater the muscular contraction. “Acetylcholine is released into the neuromuscular junction, a small space between a nerve and a muscle fiber, telling the muscles to turn on,” Kasten says. “This molecular signaling … contributes to greater muscle growth and adaptation.”

“When the mind is connected well with the body, high levels of three important neurotransmitters are released: brain-derived neurotrophic factor, vascular endothelial growth factor and fibroblast growth factor,” Zanis adds. “Together, these help develop bigger and more connected nerves and enhance neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to adapt, grow and evolve with new movement patterns — making us more coordinated, stronger and better movers.”

Honing in on your mind-muscle connection also can ingrain stronger muscle memory, which can work to your advantage if you’re injured or are forced to be sedentary. “Consciously thinking about moving and engaging a target muscle can actually strengthen that muscle with no exercise at all,” says Kasten, citing a study in the Journal of Neurophysiology in which participants wore surgical casts on their wrists for four weeks: Half were instructed to imagine flexing their wrists for 11 minutes per day, five times a week. The other half did nothing. When the casts were removed, the group who imagined flexing their muscles had double the strength of the control group.

A study published in the European Journal of Sport Science compared the effects of applying an internal (mind-muscle) versus an external focus of attention to resistance training on muscle adaptations such as hypertrophy and strength. After eight weeks, subjects in the internal focus group demonstrated significantly greater biceps growth — 12.4 versus 6.9 percent — than those with an external focus.

Practice Makes Perfect

Improving your mind-muscle connection is all about repetition. Here are Kasten’s tips to help you construct a strong connection, starting from ground zero.

  • Begin with a single-joint exercise. Practicing with a move such as a biceps curl or a leg extension makes it easier to identify and isolate a specific muscle on which you should focus.
  • Use a moderate load. Going too heavy automatically shifts your focus from internal to external, negating your potential benefits. Choose a weight that is 60 percent or less of your one-rep max, and complete between 12 and 20 reps for best results.
  • Perfect your form. Sloppy technique requires additional muscles to engage in order to perform an exercise, which ultimately distracts you from paying close attention to the movement of the target muscle.
  • Focus on each rep from start to finish. As you begin your lift, consciously activate and shorten the muscle on the way up (concentric), squeeze it hard at the top (isometric), then consciously feel it engage and resist on the extension as it lengthens (eccentric). Move slowly to best pinpoint your focus.
  • Limit your distractions. Put away your phone or pause your music so you can give your full attention to the exercise.
  • Flex between sets. Contracting and focusing on the target muscle helps improve the mind-muscle connection by allowing you to feel it and activate it even while you’re not lifting. It also gives you a bit more of a pump and allows you to sneak a little more volume into your workout.

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8 Tips to Build Better Glutes

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Warmer weather is just around the corner, which means we’ll be trading our jeans and sweatpants for bikinis and shorts. Sure, having shsapely glutes is great when you peel off some layers, but there are plenty more reasons why growing those muscles is important. Hello, fitness longevity.

For starters, strong glutes can help make sure the rest of your lower body and your back stay stable and injury-free. When you have strong glutes, you have better stability during exercises and won’t put as much strain on your lower back or knees to compensate during squats, for example. Working those glutes can take your athletic performance up a notch. The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the human body and has the potential to increase speed and power during high-intensity exercise.

Considering how popular glutes are, there’s a lot of information out there about how to fine-tune them. But sometimes, you just want straight-to-the-point advice. IFBB Bikini pro and Olympia and Arnold champion Ashley Kaltwasser has eight tips to train your glutes, plus a workout to try.

1. Use Your Mind-Muscle Connection

Don’t just go through the motions. Think about the exercise you are performing. It’s easy to lose focus when you’re on your last few sets. Concentrate on which muscle you should be activating and where you are feeling the burn.

2. Vary Your Feet Placement

Instead of keeping your toes forward, place them out at an angle. Try widening your stance as well as narrowing your stance. These will work exceptionally well with squats and deadlifts! You also can do one-legged reps. When lunging, don’t forget to try diagonal lunges and curtsy lunges.

3. Pre-Exhaust Your Glutes

Try a quick high-rep, low-weight set of a glute exercise before you begin your workout. An example would be doing 20 cable kickbacks (each leg).

4. Vary Reps and Weight

Don’t let your glutes become accustomed to a certain weight/rep amount. It’s always good to switch things up and surprise your body. This is also great as a mental refresher, too, leaving you far less bored with your regimen.

5. Keep Weight in Your Heels

You may not be thinking much of it, but focusing on pushing your weight through your heels can significantly increase the activation of your glute and hamstring muscles for certain exercises such as squats, lunges and deadlifts.

6. Incorporate Glutes Into Your Cardio Regimen

Instead of standard running on the treadmill, why not try walking lunges on an incline on the same machine? You may find that this will take less time, and you will certainly feel the burn. You could also try the StepMill (don’t hold on) and Jacobs Ladder. These machines do a fantastic job of activating the glutes if used properly.

7. Keep Your Toes in Line With Your Knees

Take this tip to prevent injury and get the maximum result from your lifting. Make sure your knees don’t bend in or out. If this happens, consider lowering the weight so that your form doesn’t suffer.

8. Incorporate Plyos in the Mix

Plyometric exercises are great for tightening and toning your glutes. Not only are they convenient to perform, they also can be done almost anywhere and can get your heart rate up. Plyos can be an efficient pre-exhaust exercise, as well.

Use These Tips in This 10-Step Glute Workout

*Pre-exhaust your glutes with 20 cable kickbacks on each leg.

Exercise Sets Reps
Leg press (shoulder-width stance, feet high on the sled) 4 10
Prone hamstring curl (each leg) 4 10
Pistol squat (each leg) 3 10
Straight-leg deadlift (wide-leg stance) 3 10
Sumo squat with dumbbell (wide stance) 3 10
Plyo box jump 3 10
One-leg deadlift with dumbbell 3 10
Curtsy lunge (each leg) 3 10
Vertical leg press 3 10
Glute bridge on stability ball 3 10

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6 Plank Variations for a Killer Core Workout

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Even if you’re the most disciplined lifter around, it can be tough to make the humble plank exercise fun. Many would even argue that nothing makes time go by more slowly than holding a plank. There’s also a common misconception that the indicator of a solid plank is simply being able to perform them for a much longer period of time – and that notion couldn’t be more wrong, particularly if you don’t use proper form. 

The static plank and other isometric exercises are anaerobic, meaning “without oxygen.” (And no, that doesn’t mean without breathing, although breathing is something people sometimes forget to do when holding an exercise!) Other anaerobic exercises like weight training, sprints or plyometrics tend to be done in short bursts because the body uses glycogen stores as its main energy source during these moves. That’s why you’ll find your muscles will start to fatigue and technique will break down no matter who you are — even if you already have great muscular endurance. 

For that reason, a 10-minute plank hold would serve little purpose in properly training the body during typical workouts. It makes more sense to keep planks shorter in duration and add variety depending on your skill level. That’s why the following plank progressions can be worth their weight in gold as you bring your plank game to the next level. Plus, they do a great job at killing the monotony of classic planks. 

The Basics: How to Plank Properly

The plank is an exercise that places all hands — or should we say muscles — on deck. Your hands or forearms are positioned on the floor, with the only other points of contact being the toes. The body should form a generally straight line from shoulder to heel, with little to no arch in the lower back for a neutral spine. Squeezing your glutes as hard as possible and keeping your abdominals engaged will help you achieve this. 

A good plank should be hard to hold — 30 seconds, in truth, should be plenty to make your muscles tremble if you haven’t been regularly training for it. If that sounds laughable to you, then you’re probably ready to move on to something bigger and better, like the following variations. 

6 Ways to Pump Up Your Planks

1. Iron Cross Plank 

The only thing that makes the iron cross plank different from a standard plank is the fact that your hands are now facing outward and the distance between them is twice as wide as a typical push-up or plank. That wider base of support seems innocent, but it’s a game-changer when it comes to difficulty level of the plank, and immediately incorporates the chest, shoulders and arms into the picture (along with even more demand on the core to keep proper positioning). 

Not to mention, it takes you one step closer to the coveted planche – one of the most rockstar movements in all of calisthenics. 

2. Body Saw Plank

Making a simple change to the levers of the plank is a great way to train a key component of abdominal strength: anti-extension. The truth is, your core isn’t only responsible for creating motion, it’s also responsible for resisting unwanted forces, too. That’s the main reason planks are a recommended movement in to begin with and the reason why this variation takes things to the next level. 

Set your feet up in a TRX or suspension system, keeping your body straight from shoulders to ankles and allowing your legs to hang while your arms push your body away. Even a six-inch range of motion is a massive ask for your abs to keep this position and prevent your spine from overarching or extending. The second you let that tension go, you’ll feel your back get too involved – and that’s your sign to tighten things back up and reduce the range of motion to one you can control. Focus on sets of 10 slow reps. 

3. Wall Mountain Climber Plank 

For this variation, you’ll get set up in a typical plank on your forearms, except with your feet pressed into a wall. Then, slowly perform a mountain climber movement one foot at a time while maintaining the tension with your other foot. (Check out a demonstration here.)

The simple addition of pressure with your feet pushing into a wall instead of the flat ground drastically changes the plank and gets more muscles involved. Not only is it harder on the abs since the feet are now elevated and in motion, but it requires isometric tension from the shoulders, chest, and traps to maintain pressure so your feet don’t slide down off the wall. 

Of course, this movement is meant to be performed slowly and under control so the core remains engaged, the spine remains as neutral as possible, and the foot placement maintains precision. It’s easy to let the feet creep upward on the wall to make the lift easier. Don’t let that happen. Start with sets of 8 strides per leg.

4. Single-Arm Plank

This is probably the most accessible progression to the plank on this entire list: Simply remove one base of support from your standard plank and be sure to remain strict with the form. That means no twisting or leaning to the supported side, keeping the hips square. It’s surprising and amazing just how much of a challenge this can be when done with purpose. 

If that’s a piece of cake for 30 seconds per arm, up the ante by using a BOSU ball for a little extra stability work. 

5. Chinese Plank with Pullover

Many core exercises place most of the focus on the front of the body, and maybe the sides. Abdominals and obliques receive all of our attention, but that’s not the full picture when it comes to a strong core. Truthfully, the core includes the muscles on the back side of the body like the spinal erectors and the quadratus lumborum (QL), which is your deepest abdominal muscle.

Flipping things over into a Chinese plank, in which you place your shoulders and feet on raised surfaces (demonstrated here), forces the entire posterior chain to hold the body up without any sagging at the hips. It’s very easy to lose form on this humbling exercise, so pay close attention while you execute it. Adding a pullover pattern to this exercise adds anti-extension into the mix.

As your arms move further over your head, the tendency will be to extend your spine, and it asks a whole lot of the abdominals to brace and keep the spine neutral and the stomach from flaring. Focusing on the reps performed if you add a pullover helps distract from the focus on time here, so doing sets of 10-12 reps is a good place to start. 

6. Plate Transfer Plank 

Similar to the single-arm plank, the plate transfer plank removes a base of support from a typical plank while asking the body to remain square. The only difference here: Now you have a load to move from one side of the body to the other while doing it. 

Piling up 3 to 5 light weights on one side of the body is all you need; 2.5 pound plates work best.  With the hand furthest from the weights, reach across, grab a plate and pile them to the other side, one by one. Then, repeat with the opposite hand. Once you put all the weights back where they started, that counts as one rep. Make it your goal to perform 3 reps without losing form or touching the knees down to the floor for a break. Rest for 60 seconds after each set of 3 reps, and perform 3 to 4 sets. 

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The 7 Most Dangerous Gym Practices

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Although it’s unnerving to see paramedics rush into a exercise facility, it does happen on occasion. Exercisers who pass out from not eating enough or who insist on “working through the pain” with an injury that hasn’t quite healed — among other dangerous gym practices — may find themselves taking the quick route to the emergency room. Fortunately, most gym injuries are minor mishaps and result only in wounded pride, like when you trip over your own step in an aerobics class.

Following a few simple guidelines, however, may help you avoid becoming a more serious statistic. Here are seven potentially dangerous mistakes that well-meaning exercisers often make at the gym and tips to prevent them from happening to you.

7 Dangerous Gym Practices That Could Get You Injured

1. Not Using Proper Form

Many people push too hard, especially when they first start out. “In the beginning, do less than you think you’re able to do,” says Richard Cotton, exercise physiologist and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise. “You can’t ‘go to failure’ on an exercise if you have less than a six-week strength training base. Inactive muscles are not as tough as active muscles.” If you have a pencil-pushing job, don’t expect to hit the gym and dive into a no-holds-barred exercise routine immediately — more isn’t necessarily better.

Your solution: Allow yourself six weeks of weight training to establish a base before pushing hard. Hire a certified personal trainer to learn proper form and progression or take a weight training group class.

2. Ignoring a Weak or Injured Area

“Some people use exercise as punishment for not having exercised,” says Cotton, “so they’ll often ignore pain and end up injuring themselves.” Someone with a weak back will get on a rowing machine, for example, instead of something more accommodating, like a recumbent bike.

Your solution: Modify your exercises and/or start back slowly when you’re recovering from an injury. Seek the help of a physical therapist or an experienced trainer for ways to modify your routine to accommodate a weak or lagging area. Avoiding the chest flye and performing only a partial chest press, for example, may be recommended if you’re recovering from a rotator-cuff strain. If you injure yourself in the same areas regularly, you may need to completely avoid certain exercises until you’ve completely healed.

3. Not Consuming Enough Calories

Exercisers who combine a difficult workout with poor caloric intake in the hopes of losing weight are setting themselves up for dizziness, fainting and sometimes nausea. “It’s a fallacy that working out on an empty stomach burns more calories,” says Karen Brewton, a registered dietician for Methodist Hospital Wellness Services in Houston, Texas. “You’re not fueling your body when you need it. The first meal of the day jump-starts your metabolism.”

Your solution: Don’t skip meals and eat every few hours. “Yogurt makes a great pre- and post-exercise meal,” says Brewton. And it’s a good opportunity to get the calcium you need to prevent osteoporosis. “When you’re watching your weight and reducing calories, you need to pay attention to good-quality calories.”

4. Not Going for That Medical Checkup

“Most people get a health checkup before starting an exercise program only if they’re older or have symptoms,” says Duncan. “Young women who feel okay think they’re immune, but they may not be.” If you have a family history of heart disease, a routine stress test may not even be enough to detect a problem.

Your solution: Know your family history. “If someone in your family has heart disease at a young age [less than 55 for men and less than 60 for women] — especially a parent or sibling — you’re at increased risk no matter what your weight and blood pressure,” says Dr. Dennis Goodman, a senior board-certified cardiologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital. “Early testing for at-risk individuals should start at 18. Everyone should have cholesterol screening starting at 20, regardless of their risk.”

5. Not Paying Attention to What You’re Doing

Talking on your cell phone while walking — or running — on a treadmill or turning your head to speak to a friend can send you flying off the machine with a wrenched back or broken wrist — or worse. “The tragedy is that this injury may be enough to prevent you from exercising for six weeks,” says John Duncan, an exercise Physiologist and founder and CEO of ViaScan in Irving, Texas. “Injuries are the number one reason why people discontinue their exercise programs.”

Your solution: Focus on the task at hand. Prior to getting on a treadmill, check to be sure that the last person didn’t leave it running. (This exact accident occurred at a local gym recently, resulting in a head injury.) Look around for puddles of sweat or other “road hazards.” Leave your cell phone in your locker or at home. If someone starts a conversation with you while you’re lifting weights, ignore them until you finish. Better to explain afterward why you can’t talk in the middle of hoisting weights over your head than to have to explain it to your orthopedist.

6. Copying Another Exerciser’s Form

Variety is key if you want to continue to see progress in your fitness routine — that is, unless you’re getting your new exercise ideas by watching other people at the gym who may not know what they’re doing.

“You have no way of knowing if it’s that person’s first week at the gym or not and if you’re emulating someone who is doing the moves incorrectly,” notes Duncan. Also, avoid unsolicited advice unless it’s from a qualified professional.

Your solution: Some exercises, like deadlifts or squats, should be relegated to those who really know what they’re doing or who have had professional instruction in performing the moves correctly. Hire a certified, experienced personal trainer to help you perform the exercises with correct form to reap the full benefits of any routine and avoid injury.

7. Not Taking the Necessary Time off for a Cold or Flu

For your sake and the sake of other gym members, stay home if you’re hacking, sneezing or coughing. Leaving a trail of unwanted microbes on benches and equipment and in the air is a detriment to the healthy people around you. In addition, you may make yourself worse with a strenuous workout.

Your solution: If your symptoms manifest from the neck up (such as sneezing or a runny nose) in the absence of fever and body aches, the general rule is that you’re probably well enough to perform a modified workout.

“Although the infectious stage has passed [you’re most infectious just before the symptoms become overt], it’s wise to wait a week before returning to the gym,” says Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, medical director of the Fibromyalgia & Fatigue Centers. “Then work your way back up to your previous workout level over one or two weeks.” Otherwise, if you have a fever, muscle aches and other flu-like symptoms that are “below the neck,” physicians recommend resting until the symptoms subside.

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Running, Coaching, and Living with an Autoimmune Disease

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One day while waiting for the bus, Mireille Siné noticed her hands were freezing. This was strange because she happened to be holding a thermos of hot coffee, and it was a warm summer day in Southern California. Siné, who at the time was 21, shrugged it off—a weird one-off occurrence. But this incident was just the beginning. Throughout that summer, Siné’s hands felt cold more often, and sometimes they even got so cold they looked blue. Other symptoms began to appear: her hair shed more than usual, her joints hurt, and three fingers turned black. Siné took to wearing gloves so as not to freak people out. Her hands were so sensitive that running cold water over them caused pain. Sometimes, the pain got so intense she went to the ER, but doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her.

Finally, a year and countless tests later, a diagnosis: lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that affects a person’s joints, skin, and organs, including the kidney and heart. Siné took a semester off from her studies at Cal State Long Beach and endured six months of chemotherapy (used for severe cases of lupus to suppress the immune system and help manage the condition). She was sidelined from physical activity for two years as she underwent a slew of medications and dietary adjustments to get her condition under control. For the exercise science major who had always loved movement—ballet as a child, track in high school, and short-distance running and the gym in college—losing access to physical activity was difficult.

Mireille Siné running in Under Armour apparel
When Siné was finally cleared to exercise in 2015, she started running again. (Photo: Under Armour)

Returning to Running

When Siné was finally cleared to exercise in 2015, she started running again. Her first runs took place around Walter Pyramid, her school’s bright-blue sports arena. Running was initially so painful Siné could only run one side of the pyramid at a time. That was 345 feet. Run. Walk. Run. Walk. But over time, the running distances got longer, until finally she could run three miles. She started attending group runs, too, finding the support and camaraderie of other runners invaluable to rebuilding a strong, healthy version of herself.

The following fall, Siné decided to run a marathon. She knew the intensity of training to run 26.2 miles would be a challenge for anyone, but particularly for someone with lupus. Stress is the biggest trigger for lupus, which can go into remission when managed, but can always flare again. She wasn’t sure if she could train sufficiently without triggering a flare. But she knew she had to try. For Siné, pulling it off—and running the race—would be akin to beating her condition. And she did, completing the L.A. Marathon in the spring of 2017. 

Siné loved training and learning about endurance running—how to fuel, how to do speed work, when to recover, and more. It all felt so wonderfully distant from life as a sick person, which had been full of doctor’s appointments and tests and medications. She loved the training process so much that she signed up for a second marathon before she even ran her first. 

A Coach and Role Model

Since then, Siné has run ten marathons and numerous trail ultramarathons. She’s also become an ambassador within the sport, pushing for more representation for Black runners, and has been profiled by running publications, such as Trail Runner. Last year, she began coaching and quickly picked up a full roster of athletes, many of them women of color. Instead of a massive social media following, Siné’s appeal as a role model seems to come from the authenticity and storytelling on her Instagram account, where she openly shares her experiences as an endurance athlete with an autoimmune condition, and an ambassador for diversity and inclusion.

Both callings are rewarding, though not always easy. In late October, Siné ran in her first multi-day race as part of a group of women attempting to run 340 road and trail miles from Boston to New York over 11 days. Siné was drawn to the physical challenge and also the opportunity to represent Black women for this momentous run. 

There were many empowering aspects of the experience, she says—like learning she could run 15- to 32-mile days back to back. But the trip was at times isolating, too, as the group ran through small, conservative towns along the Appalachian Trail, where locals flew Blue Lives Matter flags. As the only Black runner in the group, Siné wondered if these sights affected the other runners like they did her. On the trail especially, she missed the familiarity of a diverse urban environment, though she wasn’t quite sure people understood the complicated reasons why she said “I really just want to see skyscrapers” in one video segment. When she got a cold partway through the trip and had to take a day off, she struggled with the sense that she was letting people down. “Knowing I’m the only Black girl, there’s that fine line between being the first and having that be enough,” she says, “and just wanting to kill it ‘cause you are the first.” Ultimately, she would run 197 of the 340 miles. She laughs when she’s reminded that in a single day she was running distances it takes most people months to train for. “I guess that’s true,” she says.

Running with an Autoimmune Disease

In the past year, Siné has had to grapple with a new flare-up of her lupus, and what that means for her as a runner. She’s now trained for two marathons—the California International Marathon in fall 2021 and Berlin this September—while struggling with the gained weight and loss of both endurance and speed that have accompanied her condition. At times, she’s had to go back to the run-walk method, and she’s back on medications after successfully weaning herself off of them years ago. One particular challenge is that her disorder, like many autoimmune conditions, is invisible to others. At group runs, she says, “to other people I look fine, but internally I’m just gasping, suffering, just trying to just make it through the workout.” All of this is frustrating after so much progress in both running and overall health since her diagnosis. 

Siné is learning to shift her mindset. “I had to slowly move away from the identity of being that fast, always-fit athlete,” she says, “towards the idea that showing up is going to have to be enough for now.” On days she isn’t keeping up with the group, she tells herself she’s just building back up. She doesn’t know how long it will take to get back to where she was, or if she’ll ever get back. Maybe she’s on her way to becoming a different kind of athlete, she says. 

No matter what, she’ll always be a runner. Next year, Siné looks forward to spending some dedicated time training for 5Ks and 10Ks, in part as a way to build her speed back, but mostly because training for those shorter distances is something else she’s never done before. As an athlete she’s curious, she loves to try new things. “That’s the fun part,” she says.

Being an athlete with a chronic condition that can come roaring back at any time has helped Siné overcome a tendency to be more timid and reserved in her decision making—something she struggled with in her youth. Now, she says, “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so I may as well do the things I like now.” This is a truth, she says, not just for people who have lupus, but for all of us. “Anything can change tomorrow,” she says. “Say what you gotta say, do what you gotta do. Do it now.”

Under Armour, Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, is a leading inventor, marketer and distributor of branded athletic performance apparel, footwear and accessories. Designed to empower human performance, Under Armour’s innovative products and experiences are engineered to make athletes better. For further information, please visit the Under Armour website.

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