Archive for the ‘Functional Mobility and Flexibility’ Category

This is the second part of the Increasing Athleticism series Brian Dempsey and I are double teaming. Part 1 can be found HERE

When looking deeper into the reasons why it is important to train in all three planes of motion, you have to consider fasciae. Simply put for our purposes, fasciae is the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles and links the kinetic chain together. A good visual that is used to describe fasciae is the skin around link sausage.

There are numerous fascial meridians which connect specific areas of the body to each other. This is basically the body’s system of “highways and interstates” that connect everything efficiently. Because of how these fascial meridians are connected, there are certain movement patterns that assist other movement patterns (kinetic chains). Tom Myers proposes to look at the body not as 650 muscles, but one muscle with 650 fascial pockets. This is why integration is so key when looking at movement and training athletes.

Example of one of the Fascial Lines from the book Anatomy Trains

Superficial Back Line illustrates how the fasciae connects the body. Photo Source: Anatomy Trains

Fasciae has an elasticity property that is similar to a rubber band – the more you stretch it, the more energy it stores up. Therefore when fasciae is loaded, it assists the muscle with the task at hand. Because of the stretch resulting from a functional, full chain movement, an athlete will now maximize his/her power, strength, and explosiveness.

Manipulating Exercises and Exercise Selection for Integration

All training exercises should be executed in all three planes of motion and should be integrated together when possible. Isolation lifts have their place, and are effective in adding strength. However, this should not be the primary focus of an entire program. Rather, the isolation lifts should be supplemented in as remedial exercises as specific weaknesses are identified in the individual. It is very beneficial, especially to an athlete who is inexperienced in the weight room, to include more fully body movements in their program.

One general rule of thumb to use here is general to specific and/or isolated to integrated throughout the workout so the athlete works on his weaknesses separately then learns how to put it all together.

An example of exercise selection that demonstrates this idea is a landmine push press instead of bench press.

With this exercise, the athlete is standing as opposed to laying on their back. This will allow for the athlete to generate power from the ground and up the kinetic chain, through the chest and into the arm. By utilizing the different variations, you can focus on different parts of the chain. The bilateral stance (feet side-by-side) is more strenuous on the chest/shoulder but also is a good anti-rotation exercise for the core. Adding a squat would obviously provide more of a full body explosive exercise. Staggering the feet takes away the anti-rotation challenge, but can allow you to add a small twist to work on explosiveness through rotation (think shot put throw). Med ball throws would also fall into this same category.

Another great example of an integrated exercise is Spidermans. Spidermans require great ranges of mobility and total body strength/stabilization. This is a great example of an exercise where stability, strength, and mobility work together through all three planes of motion. (Video below)

In the Strength for Athleticism video below, Chuck Wolf pointed out that when a person has a lack of stability in an area, the body splints down on that spot to stabilize it resulting in a lack of mobility of the compensated area. If we are able to strengthen and stabilize the compensated area, the body will open back up and regain its proper range of motion (5:30-7:40 in video).

For Part 3, we will begin to examine program design and how to apply the ideas we have discussed.

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I’m sure we have all stretched our hamstrings before or after a workout by bending at the waist, reaching our hands to the floor, and keeping our legs perfectly straight. While this does provide a stretch for the hamstrings, let’s take a look at some added benefits we could get by tweaking the stretch slightly.

For starters, it only stretches in one plane. Since everyone moves in 3 planes of motion (4 if you count diagonal), it makes more sense to stretch in this manner. Think about running. Only in the 100 meter dash do you run straight. Any other sport involves turning or cutting.

Back and Front Superficial Lines

Also, because the hamstring connects to the tibia (lower leg bone) and the gastrocnemius connects to the femur (thigh bone), the myofascia of the upper and lower leg link when the knee is straightened. This is the reason you cannot stretch as far when your knees are locked out compared to when they are slightly bent. The slight bend separates the fascia of the lower and upper leg, allowing for more movement.

To isolate the hamstring when stretching, it is more effective to have a slight bend in the knee and rotate the leg to simulate a movement in different planes. Below is the stretch Chuck Wolf uses to create a more functional stretch. While the biceps femoris is defined as part of the Lateral Line (semitendinosus and semimembranosus are shown in picture above), it too will be stretched using this procedure.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you. Also, please share any other functional stretches you may use for the hamstrings.

No, this article and/or exercise is not a joke. Babymakers may be my favorite ab exercise and is also great for increasing sagittal plane movement in the hips.

I have previously addressed my distain for traditional ab exercises like crunches. Most ab work consists of shortening the muscles and placing strain on the back. Babymakers, on the other hand, work to lengthen the muscles of the rectus abdominis and hip flexors as the hips move into anterior tilt. Because the anterior tilt occurs first, this movement pattern fits with the idea of having an eccentric contraction (lengthening) before an concentric contraction (shortening). Needless to say, hip mobility is also improved while no tension is placed on the lumbar spine as it is during a normal crunch. Shoulder stability is also added if you add movement like I did in the video.

The burn generated by crunches is still there so if that’s something you can’t live without, so no worries. Try it out and let me know what you think.

Because of the spike of arm injuries over the past 2 decades, arm care has been a focus of many overhead athletes. There are many different programs that aim to properly train the rotator cuff and other smaller muscles involved in an overhead movement. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on pitching as the overhead movement.

While rotator cuff and other isolated arm care work is important, it should be viewed as auxiliary work when we think about preventing arm injuries. In Anatomy Trains 2nd Edition, Thomas Myers illustrates how the fascial system connects our whole body. One of the main points he tries to convey is how one area of a fascial line can affect the entire line, not just the immediate area around the effected area. One statement Meyers made really stuck out to me when discussing the functional lines:

 “While remedial work on these muscles or their antagonists may be helpful, long-term relief depends on reinforcing the strength and precise timing of the Back Functional Line  (BFL) in throwing, rather than asking the small muscles of the shoulder joint to bear the entire burden.”

 Note: The Back Functional Line is the fascial system that runs from the distal attachment of the latissimus dorsi through the sacrolumbar junction to connect with the lower fibers of the gluteus maximus on the opposite side.

Hopefully by now you know I am a huge proponent of training the entire body together as much as possible. There is certainly merit to isolation work, but the body needs to be taught how to work together. This idea is emphasized throughout Anatomy Trains, especially in the above quote. While there are many other applications to this idea, let’s concentrate on back during a pitch.

This goes beyond pull ups, DB rows, reverse flys, and keeping the golden 2:1 pull:push ratio. While those exercises are important, they are isolated strengthening exercises. They don’t do much for the timing of the BFL. We want to try and get the entire back to work on decelerating the arm and body.

So how is this accomplished?

The simplest way to do this is hold on to the ball, preferably a weighted ball. The thought behind this is if your body can slow down say a 2 lb ball, it can certainly slow down itself after it releases a 5 oz object. Also, your body will not let your arm accelerate any faster than your deceleration muscles can slow it down. If you want to increase velocity, start by improving your deceleration muscles (infraspinatus, teres minor, biceps), along with the integrating the rest of the musculature of the back.

Drill: Start in the “early cocking” position where the arm is going to start accelerating forwards, and the lead shoulder is still pointing at the target, front in the position it would be in if you just landed.

Take your arm through your normal  throwing motion at a slow speed. Finish like you would normally finish a pitch, except keep your back foot down. Keeping the back foot down places more of the deceleration on the back. Once you finish your follow through, rewind the motion taking your arm back through the exact path it traveled when going forward. Return to starting position and repeat. I usually start with just a baseball and 2 sets of 6 and work up to using a 21 oz ball and 3 sets of 10 depending on the athlete.

It all goes back to the idea of training the body as 1 unit. There are several other drills that teach us how to utilize a larger section of the body or the entire body during a specific sports movement. I will cover some of the other exercises I use at another time. It is also important to note that mechanics play a major role in the precise timing involved in a skill like pitching. Your back can be really strong and it won’t help at all if your mechanics suck. Try out this exercise and let me know what you think.

It amazes me how we can make ginormous technological advances over the past 40+ years, but do not change the exercises or training methods used. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing every old school exercise that doesn’t use the fanciest and latest equipment we have today. The pushup is in my top 3 favorite exercises. It is very discouraging, though, that with all the research we have available to us in this day and age people still prescribe the same things they did when they were growing up for no other reason then that’s what they did when they were growing up. Women used to smoke when they were pregnant, too.

So what’s so terrible about crunches or sit ups?

Dr. Stuart McGill, world renown back specialist, has conducted research that shows repeated bending of the spine can, overtime, contribute to damaging spinal discs. Not one of my goals of working out.

Tie the idea of Long and Strong into the rectus abdominis. The abs are not different from any other muscle group. If shortened through improper training, performance will be inhibited and chance of injury will increase. Is there any movement in every day life where we start with our back in a neutral position and contract our abs, rolling our shoulders forward towards the ground? NO! There is always some kind of extension of the abs before the contraction (think stretch-shortening cycle). Let’s look at a pitcher throwing a baseball and a tennis player serving.

In both cases, the lengthening of the abs is clear immediately before the transition from loading to acceleration occurs. Even if you know nothing about exercise physiology or biomechanics, it doesn’t make sense logically to train your abs in a way where you start with your rectus abdominis in a neutral position and shorten it when this motion doesn’t happen in sports or life really. Most of America spends 8 hours of their day slouched over in a chair. 8 hours of muscle conditioning a day is a lot to overcome.

Extreme kyphosis. The spine should be more “S” shaped, not “C” shaped.

Give your body a chance and train in a way that combats poor back health instead of encouraging it. For the average person, this will help align the rib cage in its proper position and thus put the lower back in a more favorable position as well.

As related to sports, specifically baseball, it is much more beneficial to train the lumbopelvic control (lumbar=lower back). Research has shown that pitchers with better lumbopelvic control had a lower WHIP (walks+hits per innings pitched) and more innings pitched in a year.

What should I do instead of crunches? 

Planks: Make sure your lower back does not sink, but maintains its proper curvature while holding the plank. This might mean holding it for a short period. I like doing a plank for 15 seconds followed by a 5 second break and repeating instead of holding it for 45 seconds or a minute. You can also progress to 1 leg and/or 1 arm planks which will really challenge the lumbopelvic control as you try to keep your hips level.

Bird dog: Kick one leg back with your toes pointed down while extending 1 arm until your body is completely extended like a hunting dog. Again, make sure your hips are not rotating, but your butt is remaining flat throughout the whole ROM.

Rollouts: This is an advanced exercise that I probably wouldn’t prescribe to many non athletes. Start on your knees with your arms on a ab wheel or barbell. Roll forwards keeping your back in a neutral position as far as you can go. When you hit your end point, pull the bar or wheel back towards you and return to an upright position.

 

 

 

These are only 3 of countless exercises you could do instead of traditional crunches. For additional information, you can check out Mike Robertson’s blog or this article with Dr. Stuart McGill. Try these exercises out and let me know what you think.

“Bro, when you tack on mass, you sacrifice flexibility. That’s just a straight up fact.” -Mac, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

This is one of my favorite quotes from the show, and one of the bigger myths in the fitness industry today. I also thought it was appropriate after the Strength for Athleticism series that hopefully gave you a better idea of what I mean when I talk about functional strength.

We’ve all seen guys in the gym or pictures of Ronnie Coleman or Arnold Schwarzenegger that are huge and basically waddle when they walk. While they might be strong in the sense of the numbers they can put up in the gym, but I don’t see them being able to do much in any athletic setting.

Unfortunately, many athletes train in a similar fashion to body builders. They want to see how much weight they can put on a bar and sacrifice technique and range of motion (ROM) to do so. In this case, Mac would probably be right. You would add mass at the cost of your flexibility. This causes the muscle to shorten over time, which would put you at greater risk for injury.

When performing a high-speed movement, think of your muscle as a car. You want to speed the car up to go as fast as possible, but at some point the car has to slow down. Your ROM is the distance the car has to slow down. If you have a greater ROM, then you have a greater distance to decelerate the muscle. If the muscle is short, you have to slam on the brakes, putting more stress on the muscle fibers during an eccentric motion. Chuck Wolf mentions this in part 3 when he is talking about a pitcher’s biceps. The biceps contribute to the deceleration of the arm after release of the baseball. If the biceps is shortened, the window for slowing the arm down becomes smaller and the chance of an injury (probably biceps tendonitis) increases. The same idea applies to the legs for running or jumping. Long and strong is much preferred over short and tight.

So how do you lift weights and not decrease flexibility?

There are several answers to this question, but I believe the most important factor is concentrating on going through the full ROM while completing your lift. This might require you to lower the weight. No one is impressed with your 400 lb quarter squat anyways, or half biceps curls. Get your butt down to parallel so you are working your hamstrings and glutes instead of just your quads, and try extending the elbows all the way instead of keeping them at 90 degrees and swinging your shoulders.

Another suggestion would be modifying exercises to create a larger possible ROM. An example of this would be to take a reverse lunge and turn it into an elevated reverse lunge. Start by standing on a stable, elevated surface (only needs to be a 3-6 inches high) and proceed to step backwards in a lunge while your front foot remains on the box. Your knee will have a further distance to travel which will increase the difficulty and should get a better stretch in the hip flexor/ quad of the leg stepping back. Make sure to keep your chest tall or that stretch will be negated.

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Whether you are a weekend warrior or a professional athlete, train in a manner that will give you the best results and keep you healthy. Try out these tips and let me know what you think.