Know Your Weaknesses

This week on Office Worker Health I’m delighted to welcome a guest post from my old University class mate Mark O’Brien. Mark is a Cert 4 qualified personal trainer and physical therapist. His qualifications include a Diploma in Physical Therapy, a Diploma in Remedial Massage and he is currently completing an Advanced Clinical Diploma in Myofascial Release from his new base in Sydney, Australia.

Mark aims to stop clients training to their strengths and rather to focus on their weaknesses. Knowing your weaknesses and balancing to your strengths is his training style. In this article Mark gives us an introduction to this philosophy from an office worker’s perspective and provides video examples of the exercises he discusses so there’s no excuse for not giving them a try! 

Mark O'Brien - Personal Trainer Ireland and Australia

When a new member joins the gym they are asked to complete a ‘Pre exercise questionnaire’ and in this file is an area where they can highlight what parts of the body they would most like to improve. Of course for a large percentage the rear end and stomach is a popular choice.  It’s also fair to say a lot of the members are office professionals, sitting on their bums all day - the exact area they want to tone!

For me it’s less about the idea of training the glutes and more importantly teaching people how to train their body out of the ‘flexion bias’ they find themselves in all day. So what does this mean exactly? Well as a result of sitting at the desk, at home, on the bus / train commute to work you are constantly in a state of flexion – our backs our bent and our hips constantly flexed. We lose the ability to easily extend our hips.

The problem with this is when you go to exercise most people want to jump straight into the ‘sexy’ exercises and completely bypass the basics - corrective exercises. This isn’t their fault, in many cases it’s the industry, poorly qualified trainers that ignore or don’t even understand the foundations themselves.

Back Pain

So where do you start – how do you go about the basics? Well before you do any exercise from now on you should know how to find your neutral pelvis. Here is a video I created with a colleague of mine. Start by practicing this. 

Next – you need to know how to extend your hips properly and start using the correct muscles to do this. Start by performing the glute-bridge before progressing to the next exercise.  

Here is a video to a brilliant exercise that is a pre-requisite for more important and complex exercises such as the deadlift.  Don’t be put off by the word ‘deadlift’. For me it’s one of the best exercises out there but only if it’s taught correctly. This exercise is not just a prerequisite to deadlift – it’s an essential exercise to straighten your posture, take some stress out of your lower back and strengthen your two favourite muscles – abs and glutes – who doesn’t want to train these areas correctly? It’s obviously difficult to teach an exercise without being there in person but when performing the exercise you must engage your lower abs and squeeze your glutes when coming up from the flexed position. You shouldn’t feel the exercise working your legs or lower back. This may take some time getting used to but perseverance is key!

In the video I used a high step – if your gym doesn’t have some steps then ask them to get some or try to improvise with another piece of equipment such as low bench or stool.  I also use a powerbag or sandbag – if your gym doesn’t have one then tut tut…request them – functional training is all the rage now and if this type of equipment is not available then your gym is doing you an injustice! Aside, if you’re not a member at a gym, join one – I know they are not everyone’s cup of tea and some of us prefer training outdoors but let’s face it, in Ireland you simply don’t get the weather to really train effectively outdoors and the gym offers the right environment to tap into all the basic components of fitness – strength, flexibility, muscle endurance, cardio and body composition. Gyms have evolved in the last few years to make them much more enjoyable. If you find them a struggle then why not invest a few quid in a personal trainer – they’ll clear up any ambiguities you might have and make it a more enjoyable experience.

Personal Trainer Australia and Ireland

Once you have mastered these first two exercises and know how to activate your glutes and lower abs this movement is recycled for exercises using kettlebells, bags, deadlifts, sleds, medicine balls and much more.  When you have mastered these first two exercises then progress to this exercise. This works your lower abs while maintaining your pelvis/ hips in extension.

So what have these exercise got to do with office workers? Absolutely everything! If you are an office worker and are sitting all day you are sitting on your biggest muscle and one of the most important for protecting your back. This is precisely why I end up treating lower back pain every week. Your glutes and abs are weak from doing this all day, your lower back muscles take on the extra load and then often poor training habits are applied or even worse no exercise and it’s a recipe for disaster. These exercises are just a few of many that will help you activate muscles that have been ‘switched off’ for too long. Follow the progressions from exercise one to three. Spend the first week just doing the glute-bridge. Try to hold the final position for 3 seconds, progressing to 5 and then to 7 and do this for a minute repeating 3-5 times twice a day. Make sure you’re using your glutes and not your lower back when raising your hips off the ground. When you feel you have mastered the glute-bridge progress to the next exercise with the powerbag and step. Complete 15-20 reps of all three variations as described in the video. Finally move on to the final exercise, perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps and after a couple of weeks of implementing all three exercises try progressing the exercises by doing single leg versions - this can be done with exercise number 1, the glute-bridge and the third exercise ‘prone hip extension’.

Until next time, yours in health!

Mark O'Brien


Thanks Mark for the great insight and practical exercise examples, I'm looking forward to trying them out. If anyone would like to contact Mark he can be reached on his Facebook or Twitter pages. As well as his personal training and physical therapy work, Mark also runs an online store called FitPlusWell that sells products that empower people to ‘complement their health’ so be sure to check it out.  

Good luck with completing the course in Australia and we’ll see you back in Ireland soon!