Posts Tagged ‘functional strength’

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.

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“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.