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Why Are You Bench Pressing?

How often do you stop and think about how you want to perform an exercise and if that is conducive to your goals?  Our physical therapy patients here in Bethesda often have the goal of learning to train without pain or discomfort. Training clients, most concerned with sports performance may have goals that include becoming stronger, faster, or building muscle mass.

There is not always a “correct” way to perform every exercise.⁣ Let’s take the bench press as an example.

Depending on your goals and capabilities, you may want to play around with the angle of your arms when bench pressing.⁣

Is your goal to build big pecs? Perform the lift with the arms closer to 90 degrees and do not allow the arms to drift past the body as you can see in the video here.

Do you want to lift more weight while keeping your shoulders and lower back healthy? If so, perform this lift with the arms closer to 45 degrees to take the stress off the front of the shoulders. Check out this bench press variation here.⁣

This is just one of many exercises that can be altered to change the focus.

The key is being clear on the outcome that you have in mind!⁣

Image Source

Bench Press” by A. Blight is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

What The End Of My Sports Career Taught Me

Boy have times changed. Look at all that hair! Apparently they couldn’t do anything about the sun on picture day…

“I need to stretch more. Maybe I should try Yoga.”

“I’ve heard Pilates is really good for my core. Maybe I need to check out a class?”

“Strength training is important so perhaps I need to start lifting weights but where do I start?”

Most of us have had thoughts like this when considering different types of exercise.

The world of health, fitness, sports physical therapy and injury rehabilitation is huge and may seem overwhelming. I recall when I felt confused about how to proceed with my fitness journey.

After finishing my college football career, I no longer had coaches to guide my training. No longer did I have prescheduled practice, conditioning workouts, weight training, and recovery workouts (usually a mixture of foam rolling, stretching, yoga and light cardio).

I was unsure of what to do so I simply continued training as I always had. I lifted weights as per my usual off-season program and performed a couple conditioning workouts per week.

After a few weeks of doing this, I decided to ask myself a simple question. “Why?”

What was my training goal now? What were the best ways to achieve these goals? Upon some reflection and jotting down a few notes I quickly realized that my training program was not in line with my goals at that time.

My football career was over. I finally had the opportunity to get healthy and stay that way.

However, I really enjoyed feeling strong and the process of lifting weights. Also, I was studying to become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) so had to practice what I preach (this was prior to physical therapy school).

I decided to create a strength training program that consisted of exercises to promote strength, while also improving my mobility. The goals were to improve my strength and muscle mass, while feeling great overall.

This was the optimal training approach for me at the time and I was only able to realize that by slowing down and asking a few simple questions.

When was the last time you did that? Try asking yourself the following questions.

  • What are the outcomes that I am looking for from my training? Do I want to become stronger? Do I want to live with less discomfort? Become more mobile? The key is being honest here!
  • What are the best ways to achieve the outcomes I am looking for?
  • If I am not sure of #2 above, who can help me figure that out?

As you can see with question 3 above, you do not need to have all the answers yourself. There are many people out there available to help you reach your goals but no one can determine what those goals are.

Once you gain clarity about your goals, our team of Performance Physical Therapists in Chevy Chase would love to help you achieve them. In addition to being Doctors of Physical Therapy, our team of Performance Physical Therapists are Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists that specialize in helping injured athletes get back in the game.

How to “Fix” Rounded Shoulders

As physical therapists, we often answer questions pertaining to “poor posture.” One of the most common reports from our patients in Bethesda and Chevy Chase is having “forward shoulders.”

The solution to this, which is often taught by other physical therapists, is to stretch the muscles in the front of the shoulders. The most common of these muscle groups is the pecs.

The logic goes something like this. “Your pecs are tight and pulling your shoulders forward. If you stretch them, your shoulders can move back and correct your posture.”

While this reasoning isn’t necessarily wrong, it is shortsighted. It fails to question why muscles like the pecs became tight in the first place. Simply stretching these muscles won’t correct the root cause of the issue.

The shoulder complex rests on top of the rib cage and the pecs attach to the sternum (ribs 1-7 attach to the sternum) as well as the ribs on the front of the rib cage.

As we breath in the rib cage should expand in 360 degrees and as we breath out it should do the opposite.

People with forward shoulders and stiff pecs often have difficulty expanding the front part of their rib cage during a relaxed breath in. This prevents the pecs from lengthening fully and often causes them to remain stiff, pulling the shoulders forward.

If you are looking to improve your posture and “pull your shoulders back”, the solution must include breathing exercises that emphasis relaxation and expansion of the chest/front part of the rib cage.

Here is an example from our YouTube page that illustrates this concept.

If you are looking to improve your posture or shoulder function, contact us now!

Photo Credit

“Orlando’s Poor Posture” by hewy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Does Your Metabolism Actually Slow As You Age?

As we age it is common to feel that it is increasingly difficult to prevent injury or reach our fitness goals. We have spoken to many people in Bethesda that feel the help of a physical therapist is inevitable. Many challenges that are experienced are often attributed to a slowing metabolism.

However, this may not be the case.

There has been evidence that suggests that our metabolism doesn’t slow much, if at all, during adulthood. However, even if we later discover that some of these findings are misleading, a slowing metabolism is not the only reason that it takes longer to recover from injuries or fail to reach our fitness goals as we age.

Many of the challenges associated with aging stem from lifestyle changes.

In modern times humans have become more sedentary as we age. We no longer participate in organized sports, play outdoor games with our friends, and migrate to sedentary desk jobs for much of the day. This results in a large decrease in our daily energy expenditure and increases our risk of injury. Prolonged sedentary activity causes our body to become de-conditioned and less prepared for the rigors of life. As an example, this is why we suggest partaking in a running analysis prior to training for a race.

Another factor we may not realize is that as we get older, we take on a lot more responsibility.

Think back to your teenage years or time in your 20s. Did you have a lot of worries back then? A career? Family commitments? A mortgage? As these “adult things” add up, so do our commitments, resulting in less free time. Less time for exercise, less time for self-care, and less time for sleep.

Countless studies have shown us that as sleep decreases our health is negatively impacted in several ways, including an increased risk of orthopedic injury.

While it may be easy to see all of this as a negative, the good news is that many of the seemingly negative effects of aging are not as inevitable as we may have thought! Furthermore, feeling better and healthier doesn’t require you to be perfect.

As performance physical therapists, we help our patients identify the smallest possible improvement that will make the largest possible impact to overcome an injury.


Image Information

“Tiantan Park-life: The Elderly Exercising in China’s Parks – Parallel Bars” by _chrisUK is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


A Window to Cardiovascular Health

“Casual Runner” by Chris Hunkeler is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Resting heart rate paints a vivid picture of cardiovascular health and impacts the body’s response to sports physical therapy interventions. RHR, or resting heart rate, is the number of times the heart beats per minute when the body is not physically active — such as when sitting.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the “normal” range for a resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM), though resting heart rates vary from person to person based on various circumstances. For example, resting heart rate is significantly influenced by mood, environment, cardiovascular fitness, and stress.

As a rule of thumb — as cardiovascular health increases, resting heart rate tends to decrease. Therefore, athletes often have lower resting heart rates than those that do not regularly exercise. That said, resting heart rate is an important measure for anyone looking to improve their overall health.

What Your Resting Heart Rate Says About Your Cardiovascular Health

The heart is responsible for pumping blood and oxygen throughout the body. An elevated resting heart rate causes increased strain on the heart, often  linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a higher risk of heart disease.

A resting heart rate of more than 100 BPM is called tachycardia, whereas an RHR below 60 beats per minute is called bradycardia.

Other than a few exceptions (for example, medications that lower the heart rate), a lower resting heart rate is an indication that the heart is more efficiently pumping blood, requiring fewer beats per minute to distribute blood throughout the body. Because each beat is more powerful, the heart is much stronger than one with a high resting heart rate.

Fortunately, there are many ways to improve resting heart rate, thus improving overall cardiovascular health.

How To Improve Your Resting Heart Rate

This is where cardiovascular exercise comes in handy. A recent study conducted at the University of Lousiville concluded that regular exercise effectively lowers resting heart rate, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

We think of cardiovascular exercise as strength training for the heart. Aerobic workouts, like walking, jogging, or swimming, train your body to use oxygen more efficiently, which gradually reduces your resting heart rate and breathing rate — both of which are important factors of cardiovascular health.

A more efficient heart can even help athletes recover quicker between grueling workouts. Plus, it allows many of our physical therapy patients in Chevy Chase and Bethesda to better adapt to the physical demands of their lives.

Final Thoughts

Resting heart rate is an important measure of cardiovascular health. A significantly high resting heart rate often correlates with many health problems such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Conversely, a low resting heart rate indicates a strong, healthy cardiovascular system.

If you’re struggling to improve your resting heart rate, try adding in regular cardiovascular exercise to gradually improve cardiovascular efficiency. Resting heart rate will improve as a byproduct.

If you’d like to work directly with a physical therapist in Chevy Chase or Bethesda to help you with this, please contact us today to schedule a free consultation!

Is Mobility Overrated?

Mobility has become a popular buzzword in the sports physical therapy community in Bethesda and Chevy Chase. While it is an important aspect of health and fitness, could mobility be getting more attention than it actually deserves?

What Is Mobility?

The term “mobility” refers the quantity of available movement — and how freely and efficiently you’re able to do so. Popularized by the sports physical therapy and training community, mobility is important for everyone, whether you’re an elite athlete or a busy working Mom.

Mobility is an important part of a well-designed injury rehabilitation and prevention program. It is also used to improve the quality of life for our physical therapy patients in Chevy Chase and Bethesda.

While very important, many experts feel that the booming popularity of mobility overshadows several other key health factors. In particular, the added focus on mobility often leads to a lack of attention on other important health factors, such as strength, cardiovascular health, and other global health behaviors.

What The Mobility “Craze” Makes Us Overlook

Although mobility is an important aspect of a healthy body, mobility alone won’t provide the quick fix you might be looking for. Instead, there are several complex contributing factors that need to be properly managed to improve your overall health.

Strength Training

Lean body mass and strength are some of the greatest indicators of the overall health of an individual. In fact, according to a study done by Harvard University, something as simple as grip strength can help measure an individual’s risk of heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular disease.

Focusing on mobility alone overlooks the importance of strength training. According to The Mayo Clinic, strength training can help you manage or lose weight, increase metabolism, protect your joints and ligaments, and improve your ability to do everyday activities.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Another important measure of the overall health of an individual is cardiovascular fitness. A simple way to gauge cardiovascular health is by measuring your resting heart rate — the number of times your heart beats per minute when not physically active.

Although the normal range of a resting heart rate is between 50–100 beats per minute, a resting heart rate greater than 90-100 BPM can put unnecessary strain on the heart. A high resting heart rate has even been linked to high blood pressure, cholesterol, and even heart disease.

By solely focusing on mobility, cardiovascular health may be overlooked.

Global Health Behaviors

Outside of strength and cardio training, there are several other important contributing factors to an individual’s health — specifically sleep, nutrition, and social connection.

Sleep plays a crucial role in your physical health. Not only does sleep heal and repair your muscles, heart, and blood vessels, but a recent study discovered done by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute discovered a link between sleep deficiency and an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Final Thoughts

All in all, mobility is only one aspect of staying healthy and active — it isn’t the only thing that should be focused on. Health is achieved through the successful balance of multiple variables, including mobility, strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and various other global health behaviors.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive program to improve your health, fitness, and quality of life, our physical therapy team in Bethesda and Chevy Chase can help. Contact us today for a free consultation!