It's hard to believe that we're 20 installments deep on this series, but I'm glad they've been so well received and definitely plan to continue to write them. Before I get to the meat and potatoes, just a quick friendly reminder that the introductory $100 off Elite Athletic Development seminar DVDs ends tonight at midnight.
1. Tall athletes are usually longer term projects.
When you have a 15-year-old 6-6, 150-pound kid with size 17 shoes, you have your work cut out for you.
These athletes are challenging for a number of reasons:
a. Their bone growth has usually outpaced their flexibility (except in kids - usually those who haven't finished puberty - who have preserved their childhood joint laxity). This often means that they have to do a fair amount of "preliminary" work just to get into good positions to benefit from big bang exercises.
b. Their center of mass has rapidly shifted up away from their base of support, creating a constantly unstable state.
c. A longer spine is a lot harder to stabilize than a shorter one.
d. You can put 20 pounds on one of these athletes and barely notice. As a frame of reference, in the picture below, the 6-6 athlete on the left added 31 pounds between September and February (when this picture was taken) to get to approximately 200 pounds. Meanwhile, Greg Robins (the CSP coach in the middle) actually weighs more than him even though his about eight inches shorter.
e. Even if you put that 20 pounds on them, it might not be enough to have a "grounding" effect on the athlete. Unless an athlete is very gifted in terms of reactive ability (as you might see with lighter weight NBA players), you might need to add a lot more weight for them to learn how to properly load the lower extremity to create athletic movement using the stretch-shortening cycle.
f. At younger ages, they're often put in positions that don't require as much movement (first base, DH, or pitcher in baseball; center in basketball; goalie in soccer; etc.). This may rob them of crucial exposure to movement "education."
The take home points?
[bctt tweet="In tall athletes, push patience, consistency, calories, and perfect technique on fundamentals."]
2. It's not your job to have all the answers.
Earlier this week, I sent along a nutrition question to Cressey Sports Performance's first employee, Brian St. Pierre. Brian is now Director of Performance Nutrition for Precision Nutrition and a tremendous resource we have at our fingertips on everything relating to nutrition and supplementation. Within 24 hours, Brian had sent along a 244-word reply that covered his anecdotal experiences on the topic in question, along with some recommended reading in case I was interested in what the peer-reviewed evidence demonstrated.
I'd love to have all the answers, but I simply don't. As such, I refer out all the time - whether it's a question like this on the nutrition front, or sending a client to a physical therapist. Your job is to deliver the best possible outcomes for your athletes/clients, and referring out regularly usually leads to those ends - and creates learning opportunities for you via the collaborative efforts that occur during the referral.
It's not your job to have all the answers; it's your job to know where you can find them.
3. It's important to understand how much relative strength an athlete needs - and that is sport and position specific.
I'll use my experience with baseball to make this point.
Pitching is a combination of absolute and relative strength and power. From an absolute standpoint, more body weight equates to more force to push off the mound, and more momentum moving downhill; that's why gaining weight can have such a profound impact on pitching velocity.
On the other hand, from a relative strength and power standpoint, you eventually have to "accept" all the force you create. We know that there are substantial ground reaction forces taken on by the front leg, and research has demonstrated that they are (not surprisingly) directly impacted by body weight. Additionally, according to 1998 research on professional pitchers from Werner et al., at ball release, the distraction forces on the shoulder are approximately 108% of body weight. You could also make the argument that these forces are even higher now, as average fastball velocity has crept up significantly since 1998, and the subjects in that study averaged only 89mph. As is the case with body weight increases, as arm speed rises, so do shoulder distraction forces.
In hitting, "accepting" force on the front side isn't as stressful because we don't hit downhill on a mound. However, batters have to run the bases, and that's a significant relative strength challenge.
With all this in mind, you it's important to realize that some athletes need to gain weight, some athletes need to lose weight, and some athletes are good right where they are. Obviously, body composition plays into this as well, but speaking in general terms, understanding strength-to-bodyweight ratios in sport-specific contexts is really important for all strength and conditioning coaches.
4. Use upper body drivers in your lower body mobility work.
This video from Mike Robertson got me thinking a lot:
We've done quite a bit of upper body reaching in our warm-ups with drills like the lateral lunge with overhead reach, but typical, this motion has really only occurred in the sagittal plane:
Conversely, if you look at the bowler squat, the upper body reach drives hip internal rotation, adduction, and flexion on the support leg.
Moving forward, I plan to get a lot more creative with using reaching to challenge folks in the transverse and frontal planes during our warm-ups.
Speaking of Mike Robertson, along with Carolina Panthers strength coach Joe Kenn, he's the co-creator of the Elite Athletic Development 3.0 DVD set. It's a fantastic resource that I'd highly recommend, and it's on sale for $100 off through the end of the day today. Click here to learn more.
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Today's guest post comes from Dean Somerset, the creator of the excellent resource, Ruthless Mobility, which is on sale for 60% off through the end of the day on Monday, July 4. Dean is a tremendous innovator and one of the brighter minds in the fitness industry today, and this article is a perfect example of his abilities. Enjoy! - EC
Mobility can be described in a number of different ways, depending on who is writing the story: yoga, flexibility, stretching, movement training, dynamic warm-ups, bendy stuff, and in some cases “how the heck do you even do that?” Regardless of what it’s called or who’s doing it, there are some basic rules and physiologic elements to be aware of when it comes to understanding mobility and how to use it in training programs. Today I wanted to outline the "three big rocks" of developing, using, and maximizing mobility in a safe and progressive manner.
1. Structure Determines Function.
It’s easy to say that genetics are a separating feature for those who can gain a lot of muscle and those who have trouble adding a pound. The same can be said of those who are congenitally lax (via something like a higher Beighton hypermobility score or a diagnosis of Ehlers Danlos syndrome), compared to people who move like the tin man. Some of this could be connective tissue related difference in collagen to elastin ratio, but much of it could also be considered by the shape and orientation of the joints themselves.
In terms of the acetabular angle, D’Lima et al (2011) found in a computerized prediction model for prosthesis implantation that:
a. those with more acetabular anteversion (forward placement on the pelvis) had greater flexion range of motion and less extension
b. lateral placement of 45-55 degrees gave the best overall mobility
c. a lateral angle of less than 45 degrees gave more flexion range of motion and more than 45 degrees gave less rotation capability
d. if the femoral neck was thicken by 2 mm in diameter, it significantly reduced the range of motion in all directions, irrespective of placement.
Higgins et al (2014) even showed there was a large difference in anteversion angles bilaterally in the same individual (potentially lending some validity to PRI concepts of inherent asymmetry), with as much as a 25 degree difference in anteversion angle between left and right hip. This could translate to a difference in flexion range of motion of 25 degrees between your two hips, without any other feature affecting the outcomes. Zalawadia et al (2010) showed there’s a big variance in the femoral anteversion angle (whether the head of the femur pointed more forward or possibly backward) as the femoral neck attaches to the acetabulum, with the majority being between 10-20 degrees.
Additionally, some acetabulums have too large of a center edge angle, where the socket faces more inferiorly than laterally, which makes impingement during abduction more likely compared to a smaller center edge angle.
These structural differences are primarily set and unchanging after puberty when bones don’t deform as easily to external forces as with young kids. Baseball pitchers can undergo deformational changes at the proximal humerus (upper arm) to allow a much greater external rotation range on their throwing arm compared to adults who pick up the sport later in life. Eric showed that with his comparison of presidential first pitches HERE.
With advancing age, joint range of motions tend to reduce further with degenerative changes to the structures involved, either with an increase in concentration of cortical bone at contact areas, a reduction of cartilage thickness, or decreased fluid content of the joint space itself. The end result is a tighter joint that doesn’t move as easily.
Most of these types of changes, barring injury or disease, tend to not be limiting factors in mobility until many decades have passed, so if you’re in your 20s and concerned about your lack of mobility, it’s pretty safe to say that it’s likely not related to degenerative changes just yet. If you’re 50 or 60, it’s much more of a likely scenario.
This Canadian study showed that men lost an average of 5 degrees of shoulder abduction and 6 degrees of hip flexion per decade between 55 and 86 years old, while women lost an average of 6 degrees of shoulder abduction and 7 degrees of hip flexion in the same age range, and that this loss sped up after 70 years old and was actually not linked to self-reported activity levels. Being more active is better for everything as you age, but based on this study, not necessarily for keeping your mobility into your golden years.
What this means is that everyone will be different in terms of how much mobility they have and in which directions or movements. One person may be able to press overhead because they have joints that easily allow it, while another may never get there due to specific limitations, and a third may just not be ready to press yet. They may have the specific ability to do the motion, but don’t have the control or strength at the moment to do it effectively, which is where part 2 comes in.
So how do you determine a structural limitation? The best mechanisms are simply to see what the range of motion looks like in a couple of scenarios:
a. passive – have someone move you through the range while you’re relaxed)
b. supported - pull the joint through a range without using the muscles involved in the action. (Think a hamstring stretch with a towel wrapped around the foot and pulling on it with your arms)
c. in a different position or direction – in looking at hip flexion, compare a squat to a rock-back or Thomas test to look at the same range of motion.
If you consistently get the same joint angles in different motions or positions, it’s reasonable to believe that could be the true limit of your flexibility based on structural aptitudes. There’s always a potential that the limitation could be something else, and if you involve some of the training practices and options used later and notice an improvement, it’s a happy bonus. Short of developing X-ray vision, these are some of the best options for determining structure that everyone has available to them, whether we’re talking about the clinician, trainer or average meathead looking to get all bendy and stuff.
2. Can you actually get there?
Now, let's consider shoulder mobility; imagine that we look at an individual in supine and there’s no limitation standing in the way of going through full shoulder flexion.
However, when this same individual is asked to bring their arms overhead in an upright position, they do some wonky shoulder shrug, low back arch, and their upper lip curls for some reason. In short, they aren’t able to access that flexion movement very well, even though they have the theoretical aptitude to get there on their own.
We’re looking for the image on the right, but wind up getting the image on the left:
Now the great thing about the body is it will usually find a way to get the job done, even if it means making illegal substitutions for range of motion from different joints. In this case, the lack of shoulder motion is made up with motion from the scapula into elevation instead of rotation, and lumbar extension in place of the glenohumeral motion.
This by itself isn’t a problem, but rather a solution. It’s not bad to have something like this happen by itself, but it does alter the specific benefits of an exercise when the segments you’re looking to have do the work aren’t actually contributing, and you’re getting the work from somewhere else. There’s also the risk of injury from poor mechanical loading and improper positioning that increases the relative strain on some areas that aren’t meant to be prime movers for the specific exercises.
Now, the big question is whether someone is willing to not do an exercise because they’re demonstrating that they’re not ready for at the moment. If a client wants to squat in a powerlifting competition, but his hip range of motion makes it very difficult to get below parallel to earn white lights without losing lumbar positioning or grinding the hip joints to pieces, how willing would he be to adjust his training or eliminate that possibility to save a lot of hassles? Some people identify themselves by their sport, so telling them not to do what they love isn’t an option. I’ve worked with a lot of runners, and saying “don’t run” tends to go in one ear and out the other.
Back to the overhead example, maybe going right overhead isn’t possible at the moment, but a high incline press can be done easily. This is working in what Mike Reinold calls on Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement “Green Zone vs Red Zone training.” Overhead at the moment is a red zone movement as they can’t get there easily and on their own. Green zone would be a landmine press, where they’re still working on flexion, but not moving into a range they can’t easily access.
One manner that could help an individual access this range of motion if they have shown an ability to get there passively is through what Dr. Andreo Spina calls eccentric neural grooving of the motion. Use either a support or pulley to get into the terminal range of motion, release the support or pulley and try to maintain the terminal position while slowly moving out of the end range as controlled as possible. Here’s Dr. Spina doing ENG work on the ankle and anterior shin for some dorsiflexion work.
Here’s another version with yours truly working on a similar variation via controlled hip abduction:
You could do this for the shoulder easily enough as well by grabbing a rope, pulling the shoulder into flexion, releasing the rope, and trying to maintain the position before slowly lowering the arm out of terminal flexion. Just make sure you’re not letting your low back arch or shrug up your shoulder blades in to your neck.
3. Can you use it with force when needed?
So now you’ve shown you have the joints to do stuff, you can get there on your own without assistance, and you want to train the heck out of it to look like your favorite Instagram bendy people.
One thing to consider when exploring these ranges of motion is that force production tends to be greatest in mid-range positions, likely due to the greatest torque development required to overcome natural leverage elements and also due to spending less time in the end ranges. There’s also the reduction of cross bridge linkages in these positions, limiting sarcomeric action when you’re gunning your biceps in peak flex.
Controlling these end ranges (even if the goal may not be to develop maximal force in them for moving the biggest weight from point A to B) can help expand the usable range of motion where peak torque development occurs, as well as provide the potential for expanding sub-maximal torque percentage ranges of motion. These movements aren’t easy and tend to take a lot of mental energy coupled with physical effort, but if getting awesome was easy, everyone would already be there.
To round things out, understanding and developing mobility comes down to:
a) having the structure to produce the range of motion
b) being able to get into position to effectively use that range of motion
c) building strength and conditioning within that range of motion to keep the ability to use those ranges for a long time, and through as many positions and directions of movement as possible.
Some specific movements or positions may not be possible due to your own unique structure and abilities, but work hard at using everything you do have, build strength throughout the entire range of motion, and enjoy the process as much as the outcomes.
Note from EC: If you're looking for more mobility tips and tricks - and the rationale for their inclusion in a program - I'd encourage you to check out Dean's fantastic resource, Ruthless Mobility. Your purchase includes lifetime updates and continuing education credits. Perhaps best of all, it's on sale for 60% off through this Monday (7/4) at midnight.
Back in my early-to-mid-20s, my focus shifted into powerlifting and away from a "traditional" athletic career. While I got a ton stronger, I can't say that I felt any more athletic. In hindsight, I realize that it was because I trained strength at the exclusion of many other important athletic qualities. Since then, I've gone out of my way to include things that I know keep me athletic, and as a result, at age 34, I feel really good about taking on anything life throws my way. With that in mind, I thought I'd pull together some recommendations for those looking to remain athletic as they age.
1. Stay on top of your soft tissue work and mobility drills.
Without a doubt, the most common reason folks feel unathletic is that they aren't able to get into the positions/postures they want. As I've written in the past, it's much easier to do a little work to preserve mobility than it is to lose it and have to work to get it back. Some foam rolling and five minutes of mobility work per day goes a long way in keeping you athletic.
2. Do a small amount of pre-training plyos.
I think it's important to preserve the ability to effectively use the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC). That's not to say that every gym goer needs to be doing crazy depth jumps and sprinting full-tilt, though. A better bet for many folks who worry about tweaking an Achilles, patellar tendon, or hamstrings is to implement some low-level plyometric work: side shuffles, skipping, carioca, and backpedaling. Here's a slightly more advanced progression we use in The High Performance Handbook program:
The best bet is to include these drills right after the warm-up and before starting up with lifting.
3. Emphasize full-body exercises that teach transfer of force from the lower body to the upper body.
I love cable lift variations to accomplish this task in core exercises, but push presses, landmine presses, and rotational rows are also great options.
4. Emphasize ground-to-standing transitions.
Turkish Get-ups are the most well-known example of this challenge, but don't forget this gem:
5. Get strong in single-leg.
Squats and deadlifts will get you strong, no doubt, but don't forget that a big chunk of athletics at all levels takes place in single-leg stance. Lunges, 1-leg RDLs, step-ups, and split squats all deserve a place in just about everyone's training programs.
6. Use core exercises that force you to resist both extension and rotation.
Efficient movement is all about moving in the right places. The lower back isn't really the place to move, though; you should prioritize movement at the hips and upper back. With that in mind, your core work should be focused on resisting both extension (too much lower back arching) and rotation. Here are a few favorites:
7. Train outside the sagittal plane.
It's important to master the sagittal (straight ahead) plane first with your training programs, but once you get proficient there, it's useful to progress to a bit of strength work in the frontal place. I love lateral lunge variations for this reason.
8. Chuck medicine balls!
I'm a huge fan of medicine ball drills with our athletes, but a lot of people might not know that I absolutely love them for our "general population" clients as well. I speak to why in this article: Medicine Ball Workouts: Not Just for Athletes. Twice a week, try adding in four sets at the end of your warm-up and prior to lifting. Do two sets of overhead stomps and two sets of a rotational drill, starting with these two variations in month 1:
In month 2, try these two:
Trust me; you'll be hooked by the "8-week Magic Mark."
9. Be fast on your concentric.
If you want to stay fast, you need to keep a fast element in your strength training program. This can obviously entail including things like Olympic lifts, jump squats, and kettlebell swings. Taking it a step further, though, you can always just make a dedicated effort to always accelerate the bar with good speed on the concentric (lifting) portion of the movement.
In a given week, on top of my normal lifting, I might catch bullpens, sprint or condition with my athletes, play beach volleyball, or run a few football receiving routes at the facility. The old adage, "Variety is the spice of life" applies to fitness and athleticism, too. Don't be afraid to have some fun.
The longer you've been training, the more you realize that your strength and conditioning programs have to be versatile enough to preserve your athleticism and functional capacity while still keeping training fun. If you're looking for a flexible program that's proven effective across several populations, I'd encourage you to check out my flagship resource, The High Performance Handbook. It's on sale for $30 off through the end of the day today.
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With this week's $30 off sale on The High Performance Handbook, I thought I'd highlight a few of my favorite exercises that are included in the program. I like these, in particular, because they're "anti-isolation" exercises. In other words, they deliver multiple training effects to give gym-goers more efficient training outcomes. Keep in mind that just because I don't include classic compound lifts like squats and deadlifts in this discussion doesn't mean that they aren't absolutely fantastic; I just want to give you a little exposure to some different drills in this post.
1. Kettlebell Crosswalk
Because of the asymmetrical loading, you get some great rotary stability work at the core - on top of the anterior core stability work you get from holding a weight overhead while resisting too much arching of your lower back. You get some outstanding shoulder mobility and stability benefits, as getting the top arm up requires a lot of scapular upward rotation and rotator cuff activation. Finally, an overlooked benefit is the opportunity to reaffirm good neck positioning. A lot of athletes will want to shoot into forward head posture, but if you pack the neck correctly, you'll be able to avoid this.
2. Positional Breathing
I use a wide variety of positional breathing drills as part of The High Performance Handbook program, so this is really more of a "category" than a specific exercise. When you put athletes (especially those with more "extended postures) into a more flexion biased position and encourage them to full exhale, you are effectively training both mobility and stability simultaneously. When you exhale, many of the muscles of inhalation - scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, lats, pec minor (not surprisingly all muscles that have chronic tissue density in many individuals) - all are forced to relax. Concurrently, the rectus abdominus and external obliques fire to get air out - and in the process, establish better anterior core stability.
Here are a few examples:
3. Dumbbell Reverse Lunge to 1-leg RDL
Whenever I put this in an athlete's program, I go out of my way to warn them that they'll be pretty sore in the days that follow. Lunging and 1-leg RDLs constitute different kinds of single-leg work with different training effects, but when you combine them, you can get the best of both worlds.
This can also be done with one dumbbell at a time. As athletes get more proficient with the drill, I look for more "fluid" transitions, as opposed to a lot of stop-and-go movements.
4. 1-arm KB Turkish Get-up
This one is just too obvious. To do a good get-up, you need everything from a hip hinge, to anterior core control, to shoulder mobility, to single-leg stability.
Let's face it: nobody really enjoys mobility warm-ups. Fortunately, for those of you who dread these drills and prefer to get to the lifting as quickly as possible, there are some combination drills that speed up the process a bit. Check out these two examples from the program:
If you're looking to learn more about how all these different pieces fit with an overall strength and conditioning program "puzzle," then I'd encourage you to check out my most popular resource, The High Performance Handbook. It's on sale for $30 off this week, and offers programs versatile enough to accommodate a wide variety of training goals.
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Today's guest post comes from Physical Therapist Chris Leib. Enjoy! -EC
Recently, there has been plenty of discussion regarding the efficacy of the idea of posture and whether attempting to improve it is a useful tactic for decreasing pain. This discussion has been perpetuated by research indicating that there is a surprisingly poor correlation between pain and posture. The evidence seems to be pretty damning on this topic, which raises questions about whether looking at pain as an outcome measure actually makes sense when discussing posture. Moreover, even more basic questions still need to be asked regarding the very definition of posture.
When discussing these inquiries, it’s important to understand that the current research has demonstrated that pain is far more complex than previously thought, and that a single model of physiological stress will not be sufficient to demonstrate why some people experience pain and some do not. A discussion of pain science is too complicated to be brushed over in the present discussion; however, it must be understood:
Just because proper posture hasn’t been highly correlated with pain doesn’t mean it’s not important.
When looking deeper into the studies cited above, it becomes clear that there is not a consensus definition of posture. Instead of looking at the constantly changing nature of posture, many of these studies defined posture by using various markers of static structure. Taking this fact into consideration, one must ask the following question: If no agreement is reached as to what proper posture is, how can it be well studied?
In my experience over the past decade as both a strength and conditioning professional and physical therapist, my own definition of proper posture has evolved considerably. Utilizing these years of clinical experience and the current research, I would like to set forth the following 4 Rules of Posture.
Rule #1: Posture May Not Cause Pain, But Improving Posture Can Help to Decrease Pain.
Although there is poor evidence that various definitions of poor posture are associated with increased pain, it’s obvious through clinical assessment that a change in posture can decrease pain when it is present. Go to any physical therapy clinic and you will find patients in pain getting education regarding postural changes that improve their symptoms on the spot. Pain can be a great indicator of what the body feels is a stable position. Often, immediate positive changes are made just by getting the person into a different position.
A common example is the individual with neck pain who has pain when sitting slouched with his or her head forward. Frequently, a combination of education and ergonomic adjustment can abolish this excruciating pain in shorter order. Now, this isn’t to say that the quick fix always “cures” the problem, but it does gives the person more feelings of control over making change with regard to their pain, which actually goes a long way. This sense of control has been demonstrated to be a positive indicator of recovery from and the ability to cope with chronic pain .
Rule #1 is the only rule in which we’ll discuss pain. As I noted, the research on pain indicates that the science is far too complex to discuss isolated associations. Clinically, pain can be a good feedback indicator of postures and positions that a person’s body finds unsafe. This feedback helps determine the best positions for the person to train in and, with time, adopt.
The subsequent three rules will discuss posture in relation to functional and physical performance-based movement quality.
Rule #2: Support Yourself Actively and Passively.
This rule will illustrate the difference between passive and active postural stability, as well as the appropriate balance that’s needed between the two. Let’s get some definitions out of the way first.
Generally speaking, passive stability is using something other than balanced muscular effort to adopt and maintain a desired position. Passive stability can either be anatomical or external in nature. Anatomical passive stability utilizes one’s passive stability structures such as joint capsules, cartilage, and ligaments to find stability in a position, while external passive stability utilizes an external item for extra support when attempting to maintain a position. When dealing with passive stability of any type, the common denominator is finding a stable position while decreasing relative muscular effort.
Active postural stability, on the other hand, refers to the use of muscles to maintain a desired position. In order to optimize muscle activity during static and dynamic postures, the attachments of the muscles must be positioned so that the muscles contract in a balanced way. In addition, the position should minimize energy expenditure against the pull of gravity.
For clarification on how best to determine optimal positioning based on the above definitions, let’s illustrate a common static and dynamic example.
i. Static postural stability: Sitting in a chair
No matter what, this common static position will never be ideal for postural stability due to the severe muscle imbalances inherent to sitting with your hips and knees in 90 degrees of flexion. However, sitting with the head and shoulders substantially in front of the line of gravity makes a bad situation even worse. The further forward the head and shoulders travel out in front of this line, the more effort the muscles that hold up the head and trunk must exert. More importantly, because the muscles in this case are overstretched and in a poor position to function in a balanced way, less resilient structures such as ligaments and joint capsules/cartilages are forced to pick up the slack.
Thus, the most optimal default position in sitting is the one that minimizes the effort of your muscles and stress to your other more passive structures by allowing the head and shoulders to balance effortlessly in the line of gravity. (Feel free to take this opportunity to observe your own posture. Are your head and shoulders neatly stacked or forward like the pass from the 2000 Music City Miracle?)
ii. Dynamic postural stability: Deadlifting a heavy load from the ground
In this dynamic example, the muscles of the hips, lower back, abdomen, and thorax will be in the most balanced position to lift the load when the pelvis is in a neutral position. That is to say, the lower back should neither be flexed nor extended. In this position, the muscles of the lower back are well balanced with that of the abdomen, and the hip extensors have a better opportunity to contract during the lift.
If the lift were initiated with the lower spine in an extended position, the position can still indeed be stable; however, the stability would come from passive anatomical structures such as the lumbar facet joints and ligaments of the anterior spine. This position increases compressive forces to the lower back and decreases the contractile ability of both the abdominals and hip extensors, as both of these muscle groups are now in an over-lengthened position.
Therefore, the optimal position for the dynamic movement of deadlifting is the one that allows for the hip/trunk flexors and hip/trunk extensors to work in the most balanced fashion (see video below). Moreover, setting up the movement and transitioning the bar in such a way that the load stays as close to the body as possible minimizes the downward pulling effects from gravity much like the head and shoulders staying over the midline of the body in the previous sitting example.
When attempting to understand how best to balance active and passive stability within a specific task, we must take into consideration four factors: (1) the available tissue mobility in order to get into the position required; (2) the external objects manipulated or used for positioning; (3) the duration of the task; (4) the intensity of the task.
Let’s return once again to our two examples:
i. Static postural stability: Sitting in a chair
For static sitting, we must first assess ranges of motion like thoracic extension, shoulder internal/external rotation, and scapular retraction/depression/posterior tilt. In doing so, we’re able to determine whether the desired position can be assumed without pain or excessive compensatory muscle effort. Moreover, we must know the type of seat the client will be utilizing and what activities he or she will be doing while sitting (i.e. typing, driving, etc.).
In terms of duration and intensity, sitting will typically fall under the category of a low intensity activity done for long durations. The longer the duration, the more muscular endurance necessary to maintain a desired position. If any of the above factors are not optimal, external passive support in the form of a lumbar cushion, posture shirt, or corrective tape may be necessary to enable the client to attain a more favorable posture without excessive effort.
(Passively elevating the hips to decrease the effort to maintain an upright torso)
ii. Dynamic postural stability: Deadlifting a heavy load from the ground
With deadlifting, mobility limitations in the hips and trunk can often limit an individual’s ability to adopt and maintain the optimal stable position described above. In addition, the intensity of the load or duration of the set must not exceed the amount of muscular force the individual is able to generate, or else even a solid initial position will be lost.
In cases where mobility restrictions are a limiting factor, passive support can come in the form of apparatuses that decrease the range of motion of the movement (i.e. elevating the load onto blocks or a rack). When approaching maximal loads or durations, passive support may take the form of stability belts and braces in areas most susceptible to positional failure.
3. Posture is the Product of Your Movement Variability.
Posture is often discussed as a single static element that represents one’s lack of mindfulness or genetic misfortune. Clinical experience and the current scientific literature say this belief is not only wrong, but also a harmful notion to the process of making postural change. One shouldn’t feel guilty or unfortunate that he or she is demonstrating an unskillful posture. Instead, there should be an understanding that posture is not a single static entity, but rather task dependent and constantly changing.
The secret to good posture is that you shouldn’t need to work for it when you are at rest. You see, your static postures during sitting, standing, and walking are a product of your cumulative movement throughout the day. Our bodies are built to adapt to the positions and activities we take on most frequently. If any of these positions and activities are done is excess, all our positions and movement can become imbalanced. This imbalance is what is deemed by many as poor posture, but in reality it is just the body doing what it does best: adapting.
In order to prevent postural imbalances, it is unwise to attempt to simply make ergonomic adjustments to the positions we sustain too frequently. Instead, we must consider our whole body of movement throughout the day. If we focus on proper positioning in training, it will inevitably transfer to our static postures. In this way, programming for any strength, conditioning, or fitness routine must involve a strong focus on developing positions that promote muscular balance (active postural stability) and task transference, as opposed to simply task completion.
For example, there are many ways to push yourself up from the ground when doing a push-up, but there are positioning subtleties that can either promote balanced muscular stability or feed habits of chronic positioning that we already practice too frequently throughout the day (see video below). Thus, an individual’s movement practice should be about movement quality and variability as much as about cultivating strength and conditioning.
Mindless prescription of physical activity (i.e. 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercises; 3 sets of 10 of machine based resistance exercise) prioritizes strength and conditioning capacity over movement capability and variability, hoping that by blindly improving one’s quantity of routine movements the quality of movement will also improve. Don’t get me wrong, in moderation, more movement is better than less movement. However, too much of the same movements can create similar problems as too little movement.
4. Counterbalance Your Life.
The idea of increasing movement quality and variability goes way beyond one’s time at the gym. To allow for increased ease of active postural stability, the common patterns of one’s entire day need to be understood so that behavioral change can be implemented. This is not to say that if we sit all day at work then we need to get a new job. That’s just not practical. Nor does it mean that we must be obsessed with maintaining an upright posture or “drawing our abdomens in” all day long. It simply calls for awareness — awareness of the positions that are most frequently adopted and strategies for counterbalancing them.
Guidelines for this awareness are three-fold:
i. Understand the chronic positions you adopt.
Often postural counterbalances are subtle and developing improved body awareness becomes much more important than simply adjusting your position. This improved body education can come in many forms, such as independent reading on anatomy and physiology, advice from a movement professional, or cultivation of a versatile movement practice as discussed above. It’s important to know that ultimately YOU have the best opportunity to understand your own body. It can be a gradual process to refine this body awareness, but once developed, understanding the positions and movements that are healthy versus harmful to your specific body becomes much easier.
ii. Separate times you must be stationary and times you choose to be stationary.
It’s important to have a plan of attack for positioning throughout your day. Practically speaking, if you sit all day at work, acknowledge it, and then minimize the time you sit when in the comfort of your home. Likewise, if you are on your feet all day, don’t be afraid to spend some time vegging out on the couch. One stationary position is not necessarily better than the other (i.e. standing is not better than sitting). It’s the one that you do most frequently that will usually lead to problems.
iii. Expand your positional repertoire.
When attempting to adopt positions different from those in which you are most comfortable, it is important to have other positions at your disposal. For example, sitting in a chair is a completely different mechanical stress than sitting cross-legged on the ground, just as standing stationary on two legs is different than weight shifting effortlessly from one leg to the other. Similar to the idea of developing more movement variability in an exercise practice, it’s important that you’re able to adopt positions besides those you do most frequently. This may be another area where the help of a movement professional is necessary so that you can become comfortable with the mobility and stability necessary to adopt different variations of sitting and standing positions.
See the video playlist below regarding positional variations for sitting (chair and ground) and standing:
In conclusion, there is plenty of disagreement and misunderstanding around the topic of posture. In my experience, this controversy is unnecessary and overblown. Any respectable strength and conditioning professional would agree that proper positioning and technique is vital when undertaking various movements in a strength and conditioning program. Why should the importance of positioning be any different in our movements throughout the day? We must understand that our bodies are constantly changing; therefore, posture should be viewed as a dynamic, ever-changing journey — not a fixed destination. Hopefully the 4 Rules of Posture set forth above allow you to better understand how to embrace this journey!
About the Author
Chris Leib of MovementProfessional.com is a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with nearly a decade of experience in treating movement dysfunctions and enhancing human performance. He has written for many popular training and rehabilitation websites, and has a versatile movement background with a variety of certifications as both a physical therapist and fitness professional. Chris considers physical activity a vital process to being a complete human being and is passionate about helping others maximize their movement potential. Be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.
1. Grundy, Roberts (1984) Does unequal leg length cause back pain? A case-control study. Lancet. 1984 Aug 4;2(8397):256-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6146810
2. Pope, M., Bevins, T., Wilder, D., & Frymoyer, J. (1985). The Relationship Between Anthropometric, Postural, Muscular, and Mobility Characteristics of Males Ages 18-55. Spine, 644-648. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4071274
3. Grob, D., Frauenfelder, H., & Mannion, A. (2006). The association between cervical spine curvature and neck pain. European Spine Journal Eur Spine J, 669-678. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2213543/
4. Nourbakhsh, M., & Arab, A. (2002). Relationship Between Mechanical Factors and Incidence of Low Back Pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 447-460. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12322811
5. Dieck, G., Kelsey, J., Goel, V., Panjabi, M., Walter, S., & Laprade, M. (1985). An Epidemiologic Study of the Relationship Between Postural Asymmetry in the Teen Years and Subsequent Back and Neck Pain. Spine, 872-877. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2938272
6. Franklin, M., & Conner-Kerr, T. (1988). An Analysis of Posture and Back Pain in the First and Third Trimesters of Pregnancy. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 133-138. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9742469
7. Lederman, E. (2010). The fall of the postural-structural-biomechanical model in manual and physical therapies: Exemplified by lower back pain. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 131-138. http://www.cpdo.net/Lederman_The_fall_of_the_postural-structural-biomechanical_model.pdf
8. Christensen, S., & Hartvigsen, J. (2008). Spinal Curves and Health: A Systematic Critical Review of the Epidemiological Literature Dealing With Associations Between Sagittal Spinal Curves and Health. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 690-714. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19028253
9. Evidence-Base for Explain Pain, Second Edition. (n.d). Retrieved October 2, 2015. http://www.noigroup.com/documents/noi_explain_pain_2nd_edn_evidence_base_0813.pdf
10. Control, culture and chronic pain. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2015.
11. Garber, C., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M., Franklin, B., Lamonte, M., Lee, I., Swain, D. (2011). Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1334-1359. http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2011/07000/Quantity_and_Quality_of_Exercise_for_Developing.26.aspx
It goes without saying that some athletes pick up new movements faster than others. Usually, this occurs because they have context from which to draw.
As an example, an athlete might have a great hip hinge because they've done it previously while playing defense in basketball. Having that hip hinge proficiency helps the individual to efficiently learn a deadlift pattern (among many other athletic movements).
Establishing context is just one of many reasons that children should be exposed to a wide variety of free play and athletic endeavors. The more movement variability we have at younger ages, the broader the foundation we build. The wider the base, the more we can stack specific skills on top of it once the time is right.
It's foolish to think, however, that every individual we encounter in personal training, strength and conditioning, or rehabilitation settings will have this broad foundation of context from which to draw. This is where appropriate training progressions become so important. You select exercises with which individuals can be successful not only to build confidence and achieve a training effect, but also to establish context for further progressions.
As an example, if you want to be able to do a quality lateral lunge with overhead reach as part of your warm-up, you've got to be able to string together several movement proficiencies: full shoulder flexion range-of-motion; sufficient thoracic extension and scapular posterior tilt/upward rotation; hip adductor range of motion; hip hinge proficiency; and good stiffness in your anterior core and deep neck flexors to prevent low back arching and forward head posture, respectively.
When I'm teaching this pattern for the first time, I'll always say, "It's just like your back-to-wall shoulder flexion, but with a long lunge to the side."
Back-to-wall shoulder flexion is big-time "context creator" for me because I can teach it to just about anyone really quickly. In fact, I've taught it to seminars with 100+ people without many challenges. More importantly, it creates quality movement from the core all the way up (five of the seven movement prerequisites I noted earlier) - and that has big payoffs later on when one wants to teach anything from a push-up, to a landmine press, to a snatch, to an overhead medicine ball variation.
A lot of folks will read this article and think, "But these is just common sense progressions." I'd agree. However, as we've learned in recent years, in the world of larger group training without individualized programming, common sense isn't so common anymore - and as a result, folks wind up skipping steps and advancing to exercise for which they aren't ready.
Perhaps more importantly, though, being able to effectively sequence coaching progressions will, in my opinion, become even more important in the years ahead. With the trend of early sports specialization, we're getting "less athletic athletes;" they don't have as much context in place, and wind up having to back-track. Additionally, we have an increasingly sedentary society, which certainly robs individuals of context.
All that said, just remember that if you want to have an exercise in your program, you have to think about how you're going to coach it with all the individuals that may come your way. And, that coaching might involve devising some exercise regressions that build context from which to draw.
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If you've read EricCressey.com for any length of time, you're surely aware that I'm not a fan of distance running for pitchers. I've published multiple articles (here, here, here, and here) outlining my rationale for the why, but these articles have largely been based on theory, anecdotal experience, and the research of others. Today, I wanted to share with you a bit of data we collected at Cressey Sports Performance - Florida last week.
First, though, I should make a few important notes that "frame" our training recommendations and
1. Athletes absolutely must have a well-developed aerobic system in order to recover both acutely (during the training session or competition/games) and chronically (between training sessions and competitions/games). It's relatively easy to improve if approached correctly, and can yield outstanding benefits on a number of physiological fronts.
2. As long as the intensity is kept low enough during aerobic training initiatives, it won't compromise strength and power development. I wrote about this all the way back in 2003 with Cardio Confusion, but many industry notables like Alex Viada, Joel Jamieson, Mike Robertson, Bill Hartman Eric Oetter, Pat Davidson, Charlie Weingroff have done a far better job describing the mechanisms of action in the 12 years since that article was published. Speaking generally, most folks put the "safe zone" intensity for aerobic development without strength/power compromise at approximately 60-70% of max heart rate (Zone 2, for the endurance savvy folks out there).
3. It might be a large amplitude movement (great ranges-of-motion achieved), but baseball is a low movement variability sport. Pitchers are the most heavily affected; they do the exact same thing for anywhere from 6-9 months out of the year (or up to 12, if they're making bad decisions by playing 12 months out of the year). Distance running to me does not offer significant enough movement variability to be a useful training option for developing the aerobic system.
4. The absolute best time to develop the aerobic system is early in the off-season. For the professional baseball player, this is Sep-Oct for minor leaguers, and Oct-Nov for major leaguers. This is one more strike against distance running; after a long season of being on their feet in cleats, the last thing players need is a higher-impact aerobic approach.
With these four points in mind, two years ago, I started integrating aerobic work in the form of mobility circuits with our pro guys in the early off-season. The goals were very simple: improve movement quality and build a better aerobic foundation to optimize recovery – but do so without interfering with strength gains, body weight/composition improvements, and the early off-season recharge mode.
The results were awesome to the naked eye – but it wasn’t until this week that I really decided that we ought to quantify it. Lucky for me, one CSP athlete – Washington Nationals pitching prospect Jake Johansen – was up for the challenge and rocked a heart rate monitor for his entire mobility circuit. A big thanks goes out to Jake for helping me with this. Now, let’s get to the actual numbers and program.
Jake is 24 years old, and his resting heart rate upon rising was 56 beats per minute (bpm). If we use the Karvonen Formula for maximum HR (takes into account age and resting HR) and apply our 60-70% for zone 2, we want him living in the 140-154bpm range for the duration of his session. As you can see from the chart below – which features HR readings at the end of every set during his session – he pretty much hovered in this zone the entire time. The only time he was a bit above it was during an “extended” warm-up where I added in some low-level plyo drills just to avoid completely detraining sprint work (he’d already had a few weeks off from baseball before starting up his off-season).
When all was said and done, Jake averaged 145bpm for the 38 minutes between the end of his warm-up and the completion of the session.
He bumped up a little bit high in a few spots, but that’s easily remedied by adding in a slightly longer break between sets – or even just rearranging the pairings.
To that last point, I should also note that this approach only works if an athlete is cognizant of not taking too long between sets. If he chats with his buddies and heart rate dips too much between "bouts," you're basically doing a lame interval session instead of something truly continuous. Jake did 44 sets of low-intensity work in 38 minutes. You can't get that much work in if you're taking time to tell a training partner about the cute thing your puppy did, or pondering your fantasy football roster.
Think about the implications of this....
What do you think this kind of approach could do for the foundation of movement quality for a typical high school, college, or professional pitching staff?
Don't you think it might make them more athletic, and even more capable of making mechanical changes easier?
Don't you think they'd be less injury-resistant performing an individualized mobility circuit instead of one-size-fits-all distance running?
Do you think that maybe, just maybe, they'd feel better after an 11-hour bus ride?
Don't you think they'd bounce back more quickly between outings?
What is difficult for some coaches, though, is admitting that distance running to "build up your legs" is like changing the tires on a car with no engine, or studying for the wrong test. Just because "that's how it's always been done" doesn't mean that's how it has to stay.
Give some of these a try in the early off-season - and even during the season in place of "flush runs." They'll be a big hit with your athletes both in terms of performance and health.
And, for those of your looking for another Z2 training option, look no further.
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With 2014 wrapping up soon, I’ll be devoting this week to the best content of the year, based on traffic volume at EricCressey.com. I’ll kick it off today with my five most popular articles from the past year.
5. The 10 Laws of Meatball Mastery - If you like meatballs, this article is for you. And, if you don't like meatballs, this article is still for you, as you'll surely find a recipe you like - and hopefully a lot more clarity for how to truly enjoy life.
I'll be back soon with another "Best of 2014" feature. Up next, the top videos of the year!
In the meantime, you might be interested to know that Rick Kaselj just put the entire Muscle ImbalancesRevealed series on sale at a huge 60% off discount to celebrate Boxing Day. I'm a big fan of this series, so if you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity here. You'll learn a ton!
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Today's guest post comes from Dean Somerset, the creator of the excellent resource, Ruthless Mobility, which is on sale through the end of the day today for 60% off. Dean is a tremendous innovator and one of the brighter minds in the fitness industry today, and this article is a perfect example of his abilities. Enjoy! - EC
Mobility is one of those nebulous concepts that get thrown around the fitness industry a lot. You either have it or you don’t, and if you’re one of those lucky Tinman stiff-as-a-board folks who can’t touch their toes without a yardstick, you’re told to stretch and do more mobility work, which seems akin to carving out Mount Rushmore with nothing more than some sandpaper. We might be here a while if all you have available to you is simply stretching to make your mobility improve.
What we forget to do is ask a very simple question: Why do you feel tight in the first place? Muscles are incredibly dumb and won’t contract on their own. They’re usually told to contract, and they’re good soldiers that do what they’re told. You could cut a muscle out of the body and hook it up to a car battery and have it contract until either the proteins are ripped apart or until you turned off the battery. Also, muscles can’t get confused, so let’s stop using that term while we’re at it, shall we?
Typically a muscle will tense in response to a few different things. The first is the desire to produce movement, which means the normal shortening response happens and people awe and admire the massive weight EC pulls on a daily basis.
The second is as a protective means. A joint that may be unstable or a step away from being injured could cause the body to contract muscles around it in a protective “casting” method that restricts movement in the joint and calls up muscles that may cross more than one joint. An example of this would be the psoas tensing in response to anterior lumbar instability. The runners with chronic hip flexor pain and a forward lean when they pound the pavement, but who stretch their hip flexors (usually poorly and into spinal extension) 3 times a day for 20 years and still have tight hip flexors are a prime example of this. They stretch but don’t improve stability, so the psoas continues to hate life.
The third is in response to nervous system tone, specifically sympathetic and parasympathetic tone. Sympathetic is best exemplified by that one kid who is always bouncing and tapping their foot, can’t seem to sit still, and always wants to run and jump everywhere, whereas parasympathetic would be the stoner who looks perennially half asleep. If you’re constantly jacked up like a cheerleader on a mixture of crack and RedBull, flexibility won’t be a strong suit of yours, even though you could probably pull a tractor with your teeth or scare old women and small children.
The Ultimate Warrior was definitely NOT parasympathetic, nor was he likely to be hitting the splits anytime soon, but he could always bring the house down.
If you’re constantly a ball of stress, your muscles will be in a constant state of “kind of on,” which is to say their contraction is like lights on a dimmer switch. They’re not all the way on, but they’re not off either, they’re just “kind of on.” Being all jacked up all the time might sound cool, but in reality it tends to cause some issues if you can’t turn it down once in a while.
Lastly, and one of the most simple of all, is alignment. If you have a muscle held in a stretched position, it’s going to reflexively increase tension to prevent the muscle from stretching too far and potentially creating an injury.
I know it’s kind of counterintuitive that a chronically stretched muscle would be tight, but consider the effects of something like low back erector muscles and posterior pelvic tilt. If your pelvis is tucked under like Steve Urkel (I’m dating myself here, but it’s a fun game trying to confuse the 20 year olds), the erectors are already on stretch without having to do anything, plus they’re contracting to keep your spine from sliding further into extension. Trying to touch your toes will result in embarrassing results.
So now that you know why muscles can be tight, we can work on them and produce much better results.
Strategy #1: Change your breathing.
One of the first things I usually see when someone tries to stretch into a bigger range of motion than they’re used to is that they wind up holding their breath. This works against you in two ways. First, when you hold your breath, you crank up your sympathetic system, which drives more neural tone to all muscles of the body and causes reflexive tensing. Second, by not breathing you pressurize the entire thoracic spine: all of the intercostal muscles between your ribs, your diaphragm, and even your obliques tense to help increase intrathoracic pressure against that held breath. This causes muscles to hold tension even more.
In many instances, people will hit an end range of motion while holding their breath, and I tell them to breathe. They, in turn, gasp like they just surfaced from diving with Jacques Cousteau, and wind up getting another few inches into their range.
When trying to get range of motion, long deep inhalations and exhalations where you reach on the exhale makes a massive difference. The length of the breath increases stimulation of the vagal nerve, which is responsive to the heart and drives cardiac rate and parasympathetic stimulation into the medulla oblongata, and as a result muscle tension reduction through the whole body. Lower heart rates means a less energy demanding system, which is commonly results in lower arousal, meaning less tense muscles at rest.
Here’s a simple breathing drill you could do to help increase your overall mobility through your shoulders and hips.
Timely to give Eric a baby breathing exercise, huh?
Try this out: Test your toe touch ability and range of motion bringing your arms up over your head. Make a note of both how far you get and also how easy they both felt. One way to gauge overhead range is to stand against a wall, then bring your arms up overhead without arching your low back, and either mark the wall or make a mental note as to how high you bring your arms. Try the breathing drill and then retest your mobility and see whether it resulted in any changes.
Strategy #2: Build stability to create mobility.
As I noted earlier with respect to stability, if a joint is perceived as unstable and potentially about to be injured, the body will clamp down muscles around it. One way to see this in a graphic manner is to look at hip rotation and core function.
Try this out and see what happens: From a seated position, turn your hips side to side and see whether you have good rotational range of motion through both external rotation (where you look at the inside of your knee) or internal rotation (where you look at the outside of your knee). If you find you have poor external rotation, try doing a hard front plank and then retest. If you find you have a poor internal rotation, hit up a side plank and see what happens. Here's the test:
Here's the front plank:
Here's the side plank:
If you noticed a big increase in mobility, you likely had your hips putting on the brakes and donating some stability up to the lumbar spine. By reinstating some of that stability, the hips opened up and had lots of freedom since they weren’t working double time anymore.
Strategy #3: Change alignment from the bottom up.
Foot position can play a massive role in how well you move. Most people who tend to be flat footed wind up with tibial internal rotation, which results in internally rotated femurs. This rotation increases tension through the anterior hips and up the chain further which reduces the range of motion for overhead movements. It also reduces the force production capability through the legs, which makes you less awesome.
If you roll to the outside of the foot, more supination, you increase tension through the posterior aspect of the hip and pushes you into more external rotation, which reduces the amount of internal rotation your have available, and also reduces your ability to move freely down into hip flexion.
Use this little test and see what happens: stand up and roll your feet so that you put most of your weight on the inside, in line with the big toe, and bring your arms overhead and then touch your toes. Make a not of how high and low you go and also how easy they felt. Then roll to the outside of your feet, more weight on the baby toe side of the foot, and see what the movement results are looking like. You might find it’s different in each example, and will showcase how foot position can affect your overall mobility.
Strategy #4: Change alignment from the top down.
Neck position can play a HUGE role in not only arm movement but also hip mobility, and it plays down in a couple of simple anatomical means. For the shoulder, every muscle that holds the shoulder to the body and keeps it from falling down, is held up by the neck. If the neck is in a forward head posture, muscles like the sternocleidomastoid, scalanes, levator scapulae, and upper traps will be all jacked up. If you stand with your head jammed into the back of your neck, you’ll have some smashed up pteryhyoid and stylohyoid muscles, which will alter (not necessarily improve or decrease, but alter) the ability to move the arms around.
Secondary to this, head position will play a role in hip mobility due to the anatomical link to the spinal chord. The chord has the ability to slide up and down in the spinal canal in order to adjust for different positions. Since the nerves can’t stretch, they accommodate range differently by moving along with the rest of the body. When you’re in standing and you tuck your chin to your chest, the spinal chord moves up in the spinal canal. When you look up, your give some slack to the chord and it moves slightly lower.
What this means is that if you were to bend down to grab a bar for something like a deadlift, and you tucked your chin, your available range that the spinal chord could allow movement to occur before it was stretched would be less than if you had a neutral neck, and much less than if you were to look ahead slightly. Additionally, if you have any restrictions through areas like the sciatic arch, it will prevent movement of the nerve through this area and make your range of motion somewhat limited.
Try this out: stand tall and tuck your chin to your chest, then try to touch your toes. Right after, keep your head level with the horizon and try to touch your toes again and see where the change in range of motion comes from. If you noticed a pronounced change, it's time to get cracking on "packing the neck" during your training and everyday life.
Strategy #5: Clean up cranky fascial lines.
This is where some voodoo starts creeping in. The body is more than a collection of individual muscles that all connect to bones and do stuff. They have lines of action where multiple muscles along specific pathways will contract and relax together to produce movement. These pathways are visually represented through the work of Thomas Myers in his outstanding book Anatomy Trains, but can be shown in real time with some simple tricks.
One fun fascial line to work with is the spiral line. It’s a really cool powerful series of tissues and muscles that runs from one foot around the spine and connects to the opposing shoulder, both on the front and the back. By “tuning” fascia in the leg, you can see some pretty immediate changes in range of motion at the shoulder.
I showcased this with a live demo in a recent workshop in Los Angeles, where a participant had some shoulder issues. I had Tony Gentilcore of Cressey Sports Performance fame stretch him into external shoulder rotation, then applied some light pressure to his opposing adductor group to simulate what he would do with foam rolling. Within 5 seconds, he started to get more external rotation, all without me doing anything at his shoulder and with Tony only holding his arm in a position and letting gravity pull him down.
Try this out: If your shoulders are restricted through external rotation (like laying back to throw a baseball), foam roll your inner thigh, spending time hating life and breathing deep to try to get them to reduce tension and pain, then retest the shoulder external rotation. If you’re restricted through internal rotation, try rolling out your IT bands and see what happens.
These methods aren’t guaranteed to work for every single person, but they are simple tricks that seem to work well with a lot of people. The good thing is if one of them works really well for you, you could use it on a regular basis to keep your mobility high and to use it in a new way you never had before.
Note from EC: If you're looking for more mobility tips and tricks - and the rationale for their inclusion in a program - I'd encourage you to check out Dean's fantastic new resource, Ruthless Mobility. Your purchase includes lifetime updates and continuing education credits. Perhaps best of all, it's on sale for 60% off through the end of the day today (7/4).
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