In today’s installment of Technique Tuesday, Matt goes over how to properly brace your core for optimal function and performance. Bracing does not only apply to core exercises, but to most, if not all, exercises in the gym. Take a look and enjoy!
It’s been a looong time since I’ve done one of these posts, and I’m going to try to make them more regular so you have some great exercises to try out and include in your strength and conditioning program. Today’s exercise is what I like to call the Supine Triple Flexion Pallof Press w/diaphragmatic breathing. It’s a mouthful, I know, but keep reading!
Guess what I am?
I first saw the Supine Triple Flexion Pallof Press done by Dr. Perry Nickelston, a very bright chiropractor out of New Jersey. After some thinking, I realized that this exercise is not only an excellent beginning variation of the Pallof Press, but also a nice place to start integrating low-level core stability and proper breathing patterns. Once your client or athlete has learned how to properly use their diaphragm while breathing in various unloaded positions, this would be a logical next step to begin integrating some core stability with diaphragmatic breathing.
Take a look below as DSC coach Matt Skeffington demonstrates the exercise:
- Begin on your back in a neutral spine position. Your head, scapulae, and sacrum should be in contact with the floor, with your neck packed and chest proud.
- Assume a “triple flexion” position with your hips and knees flexed at 90 degrees, and your ankles dorsiflexed (essentially the 3.5 month position).
- Brace your core and keep your ribcage down (think about pushing it down and to the sides).
- Maintaining this position, grasp a D-handle attached to a cable or band just below chest level, and press straight out, with the goal being to completely lock out your elbows and not allow any rotation.
- Once you are in the top position, while keeping your core braced and ribcage down, take a big breath in through your nose, focusing on 360 degree expansion (sometimes it helps to think about breathing into your back), then slowly exhale through pursed lips, getting all of your air out.
- Return to the starting position, briefly reset, and repeat for 2-3 sets of 5-8 repetitions on each side.
A good cue (courtesy of physical therapist Mike Reinold) to use with your clients when teaching this exercise is “Neutral, Brace, Breathe.” This reminds them to find neutral spine, keep their core braced, and to use proper breathing patterns during the exercise.
Once you’ve mastered this version, begin incorporating iso holds where you hold the top position for a given number of breaths.
A regression for this exercise would simply be to have your client place their feet on the floor.
Try this one out on yourself and with your clients and let me know what you think!
Today’s post is a collaboration between Matt Skeffington and I on how to warm-up for the squat. It is Part One of a three-part series we’ll be doing on how to warm-up for the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Enjoy!
It’s your big squat day. Trust us, we know how you feel. All day, you’re jacked up, ready to get to the gym to move some serious weight. In fact, you’re so excited you get out of your car and immediately head over to the squat rack. You get under the bar and begin your first warm-up set. Big mistake.
Your hips couldn’t be tighter from sitting at your desk all day so you’re only able to get into a quarter squat without your adductors ripping in half. Your shoulders are stiffer than a board and you grimace in pain as you try to get your upper back and hands into a solid position. As you descend into your squat, you tip forward, putting a ton of stress on your low back because your ankles won’t move. Nothing feels good, nothing feels loose, and that 135 lbs. on your back feels more like 500 lbs.
Let’s back things up for a minute. Let’s say you decided to take the extra 10-15 minutes to do a comprehensive warm-up dedicated to getting you ready to squat. You would probably start by doing a little research, because after all, we exercise geeks love research. If you did a few searches on PubMed or the Journal of Strength and Conditioning you would find a variety of studies on various dynamic warm-up protocols and how warm-ups:
- Decrease your risk of injury
- Increase power
- Increase speed
- Increase strength
- Increase body temperature
- Increase motor unit recruitment (especially high-threshold MU’s)
- Increase energy production
- Increase flexibility
Of course the warm-ups done in these studies are very general in nature. We need all the benefits of a sound warm-up listed above, but also want something specifically designed for getting us ready to squat some big weight! Before designing our warm-up it’s important to understand what exactly our joints are doing during a squat so we can target those areas.
Take a look at the video below:
The first thing we want you to notice is foot position. As you can see, Conor sets up with his toes pointed out. Getting into the proper bottom position of a squat takes a considerable amount of hip flexion and internal rotation. Starting with your toes pointed slightly out allows your hips to start the squat in a position of external rotation. This allows gives your hips some freedom when descending into your squat. If your hip external rotators and extensors (glutes, hamstrings, etc.) are tight, we will not be squatting very deep or very safely. Don’t worry though; we will get your hips nice and mobile in the warm-up.
Next up are the ankles. Notice in the side-view how Conor’s ankles allow his knees to slightly glide over his toes as he descends into his squat. Old school bro-science would tell us this is bad for our knees. It’s not.
We need a good amount of dorsiflexion in our ankles to allow us to squat deep while maintaining a solid neutral spine position. In fact, we need about 20 degrees of dorsiflexion to squat properly. If our calves are too stiff, we cannot properly dorsiflex, and we will compensate by either tipping forward or going into lumbar (low back) flexion. OUCH! Have no fear my squatting friends, we will get those calves ready!
Our next stop on the kinetic chain is the knees. Since the knee joint is mostly a hinge joint (we do have some medial/lateral rotation), the positioning of the knees is determined mostly by the hips. Let’s take a look at Conor’s hips as he squats. From the front you can see how Conor abducts his hips and his knees track out over the toes during the descent of his squat. This keeps his femur and tibia in a strong, neutral position. To get into this position, we need adequate adductor and hip flexor length as well as glute strength and stiffness. In this warm-up, we’ll get your glutes working double time!
Let’s continue up to Conor’s abdomen. We’re going to let you in on a little secret. The key to moving big weights is not in your legs or your back. It all starts with proper functioning of the diaphragm. Notice how Conor finishes each rep by returning to a neutral spine position. What we mean by that is as he finishes each rep, he doesn’t lean back, look up, or over-arch his low back. He finishes each rep by squeezing his glutes and bracing his stomach, leaving his body in a perfectly neutral position. By maintaining a neutral position and keeping his ribcage down, Conor can exhibit good breathing mechanics and preserve a favorable Zone of Apposition.
With this optimal alignment, he can demonstrate rock-solid core stability from the inside-out. Conor now has 360 degrees of stability around his core, kind of like an invisible weight belt. Don’t worry, we’ll be practicing some diaphragmatic breathing in our warm-up.
Finally, we end our journey at the upper back. Watching the video from the back-view, you can see how Conor’s back is tight and engaged. This is due to a couple of things. First, Conor has great extension through his thoracic spine, unlike most of us who are overly kyphotic because we sit all day.
Secondly, Conor’s ability to externally rotate his shoulders and posteriorly tilt and retract his scapulae allows his chest to stay tall and for his elbows to stay down during the squat. This is due to adequate length of his muscles involved in internally rotating his humerus and anteriorly tilting his scapulae. These include subscapularis, pec major and minor, as well as his lats. This is a huge part of a solid squat. Without the ability to keep his chest tall, Conor would be putting a lot more stress on his low back and would be constantly falling forward. And you thought the squat was a just a lower body lift! We’ll attack shoulder and thoracic spine mobility as well as upper back activation in the warm-up.
- If possible, use an elevated surface to foam roll your adductors
- Include Supine Diaphragmatic Breathing (hips/knees flexed, feet flat) x 10 breaths
Mobility/Activation (*If you have a lot of joint laxity, only perform the standing drills below*)
1. Kneeling Glute Mobilization x 8/side
2. Single-leg Glute Bridge w/2 sec ISO at top x 6/side
3. Split-stance Adductor Mobilization x 8/side
4. Side-lying Extension Rotation x 8/side
5. Standing Hip Internal/External Rotation w/mini-band x 10/side
6. Knee-break Ankle Mobilization x 10
7. Forearm Wall Slides at 135 degrees w/OH Shrug and Lift-off x 8
8. Bowler Squats x 6/side
9. Walking Spiderman w/Hip Lift and OH Reach x 5/side
10. Alternating Lateral Lunge Walk x 5/side
A1) Box Jumps – 3×5
A2) Wall Hip Flexor Mobilization (Back Knee Elevated) – 3×8/side
Now let’s say you’re planning on performing your first working set of 5 reps at 315 lbs. Your warm-up sets and reps might look like this:
Bar x 5
Bar x 5
135 lbs. x 5
185 lbs. x 5
225 lbs. x 3
275 lbs. x 2
315 lbs. x 5 (first working set)
Give this warm-up a try before your next squat session. It will keep you feeling good, injury-free, and it will improve your performance so you can continue to get stronger and squat those big weights.
Check back soon for Part Two on how to warm-up for the bench press!
Happy New Year everybody! I hope you all enjoyed the holidays. To start off 2012, here are some things that are currently on my mind:
1. Ok, I need to get something off my chest and I might as well get it over with first. Recently, I’ve heard a few women say some things about strength training that absolutely make me cringe. A couple of women have told me that when they lift weights, they put on muscle “very easily.” As a result of this, I’ve seen them either a) shy away from training with weights, or b) continue to work with light weights and refrain from going any heavier. Along those same lines, another woman felt like she was “putting on too much muscle” while strength training. Give me a minute while I go outside and give out a Phil Anselmo-like scream…
Alright, I’m back. I know that I’ll always be fighting the battle to convince women that strength training won’t make them “big and bulky” and that it’s ok to use something heavier than 5 lb. dumbbells. Even so, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when I hear something as woefully inaccurate as the statements I mentioned above. I’ve thought about this a lot and I feel that something similar to the placebo effect is going on here. You see, women are unfairly bombarded by the media, magazines, popular culture, etc. with this misguided notion that if they so much as touch a weight, they are immediately going to bulk up. Since this idea is planted in their heads, when they actually do touch a weight, they automatically think that they’re getting huge. Like I said, I don’t know what exactly to call this, but it seems similar to the placebo effect: women have a preconceived belief in their mind, which they assume to be factual, that they are sure will cause a certain effect. Maybe it is the placebo effect. I don’t know, but it sucks and is unfortunate. I don’t want to go on an all-out rant about this, but before I move on, consider these points:
- First of all, I think women have a messed up view of what a truly healthy physique really looks like. I recently heard that in a poll, the majority of women thought that Jessica Biel was either “too bulky” or “too muscular.”
Are you shitting me?!
- Women have roughly 1/10 the amount of testosterone, the body’s primary muscle-building hormone, than men do. So, um, I hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to be putting on slabs of muscle in a matter of weeks.
- What gives your body “curves” and that “shapely” look? Yup, muscle does.
- Is it any wonder that most of the strongest women I’ve seen in the gym are also the leanest? I think not.
- Women squatting and deadlifting appreciable weight is incredibly sexy.
True story: when I met my girlfriend, I knew for sure I had to ask her out when I saw her front squatting at the gym. Total turn-on!
- Oh yeah, on a similar note, ladies: stop worrying about what the scale says! It is an A-R-B-I-T-R-A-R-Y number!
Aaaaahhhhh, I feel much better now. On with the randomness…
2. Cue the glutes! Not too long ago, Eric Cressey was taking me through a new variation of forearm wall slides. While coaching me, he told me to activate my glutes. This was an excellent reminder to not only cue the glutes in exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, and hip thrusts, but also in standing, half-kneeling, tall-kneeling, etc. exercises where you might not think to activate them. The glutes tend to remain dormant in many people and I feel that they help to promote a more neutral pelvic alignment when activated, so it’s important to get those babies firing!
3. Belly breathing. Within the past several months, I’ve learned more about the importance of breathing patterns. Physical therapist Phil Plisky gave an excellent lecture on this when I attended the 2011 Midwest Performance Enhancement Seminar last summer and it’s something that the Postural Restoration Institute has also been stressing as important. Dr. Plisky defined normal breathing as the “outward movement of the abdomen combined with an elevation of the thorax during inspiration and reverse during expiration.” The diaphragm needs to be used properly in breathing; this is done by “breathing through the belly.” Rib cage breathing, on the other hand, indicates a faulty breathing pattern and that the diaphragm is not being used properly. I’m certainly going to be more cognizant of breathing patterns in my programming.
4. Speaking of programming, I just began my first program from Tony Gentilcore. Let’s just say it’s really difficult to get on and off the toilet seat right now. I wonder…could it be the deadlifts vs. chains? Giant Cambered Bar Squats? Single-leg hip thrusts vs. chains? Glute-ham raises? Yeah, all of the above. I’m going to be really getting after it and doing a lot more volume than I’ve been used to lately for the next 2-3 months. The goal is to get stronger and add some more muscle before I start to dial things in for my next powerlifting meet, which is the first weekend in June. I’ll keep you updated on my progress!
5. Stop stretching the lumbar spine. This promotes lumbar mobility and an increased range of motion, which is the exact opposite of what is needed. The lumbar spine requires stability, not mobility, which leads to instability. If you suffer from low back pain, do not resort to stretching the lumbar spine, even if it temporarily makes the pain go away. Instead, focus on other areas up or down the kinetic chain where you may in fact lack mobility, like the hips and thoracic spine, and your condition may improve. So from now on, I’m going to lay The People’s Elbow on anybody I see performing the stretch below.
Put a shirt on, bro.
6. Biotest Superfood. I’m a minimalist when it comes to supplements, but I’ve been thinking lately of adding a greens supplement to my repertoire. I’ve made a concerted effort to include more fruits and vegetables in my diet, but I just want to make sure I cover my bases. I’m a big fan of the Biotest line, so I decided to give Superfood a try. I’ve put it in my protein shake the last two mornings and it wasn’t too bad. It made my shake a little more bland, so it’s going to take a little getting used to, but I’m thinking it’ll become a mainstay in my supplement regimen.
7. Staying on the topic of food, I’ve mentioned before that I love Trader Joe’s. They have a lot of very nutritious selections that many larger grocery store chains don’t carry, but they also have a lot of sweets that are insanely good. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall victim to them every so often. Lately, they started selling this stuff I’d never heard of called Cookie Butter.
Man, you could put this stuff on a dog turd and I’d eat it…well, not really, but you get what I’m saying…it’s freaking awesome! They sell it with these little caramel-filled wafers from Holland. Dip the wafer in the cookie butter, put it in your mouth, and thank me later.
8. The New Balance Minimus MX20 is the best training shoe I’ve ever worn. Ever.
9. I hate Bosu Balls.
Thanks for reading all of my randomness and best wishes for an AWESOME 2012!