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Ask EC: Installment 1

Written on January 27, 2008 at 9:35 am, by Eric Cressey

By Eric Cressey

Q: I know that you’re a proponent of DB Isometric Split Squats for extended periods of time. I can only manage 15 seconds on both legs with no weights. I feel that this is pretty pathetic in light of my performance on other exercises, which tends to be quite good. So, to get that time up more and to start using weights, should I simply hold the position as long as I can and look to get up to 60 seconds? Or would I be better off doing ski-squats against the wall more often until the hold strength builds up?

Also, when I’m doing the exercise, I feel the exercise more in the elevated leg in the quads. It’s not up that high ,but I am sinking pretty low to get the required angle. I’m 6′ 2″.

A: Definitely stick with the Bulgarian EQIs; your endurance will pick up in no time. Remember, although muscular endurance is an added bonus of the exercises, this is more about working on active flexibility. I work with several guys each week that are 7-feet tall or very close to it, and they can all get it done; at 6-2, you shouldn’t have a problem once you find the right position. You should feel it in your hip flexors on the elevated leg; if you’re feeling it in the quad of that leg, it means that you’re exerting too much force on the foot on the bench instead of allowing your hips to sink down while keep the back leg extended (or close to it). Drive your front heel into the ground and contract your glutes hard, pulling the chest up and shoulder blades back and down. Make sure that your knee is directly above your foot and your weight is on the heel.

Q: Thanks to your advice on taking care of primary subacromial impingement, my pain is gone and I’m ready to get back to work on my pressing strength. I’m not sure how to reintegrate benching and overhead pressing. I definitely don’t want to reaggravate the injury; any suggestions?

A: You’re correct that it isn’t a good idea to jump right back into things with full range of motion and loading. I favor the following progession (although slight medications in rapidity of progression are always made based on symptoms):

Body Weight Push-up > Weighted Push-up > Cable Crossover from Low Pulley > Cable Crossover from Hip Height > Neutral Grip DB Floor Press > Neutral Grip Decline DB Press > Pronated Grip Decline DB Press > Barbell Floor Press > Decline Barbell Press > Flat DB Press > Incline DB Press > Barbell Bench Press > Barbell Incline Press > DB Military Press > Barbell Military Press/Push Press > Behind the Neck Presses

Note: Some trainees don’t even need to go as far as the end, as the cost:benefit ratio for loaded behind-the-neck exercises is way out of whack for some people post-injury.

The rationale for these progressions are:

a) The scapular and humeral stabilizers are most effective in closed chain positions.(justifying the push up).

b) Impingement symptoms are most likely to be aggravated with flexion and/or abduction of the humerus beyond 90-degrees.

c) Traction (pulling the humeral head away from the glenoid fossa, as with a cable crossover) is less traumatic to the previously injured muscles than approximation (forcing the humeral head into the fossa).

d) Internal rotation (as seen with pronated grips) mechanically decreases the subacromial space, increasing the risk of re-injury.

With this progression, I like to start recovering trainees off with long eccentrics in the 6-8 rep ranges. In many cases, high-speed movements like speed benches and push jerks can be the most problematic, so I avoid these early on. It’s important to pay attention to not only how the shoulder feels during the exercise, but also what you feel in the 12 or so hours afterward. If you’re hurting, you’ve likely jumped the gun on your rehabilitation.

During this time, keep up working hard to strengthen your scapular retractors and depressors and the external rotators of your humerus. In fact, your volume on these exercises should still be greater than that of internal rotations and protractions. Ice post-exercise and don’t do too much too soon, and you’ll be back on track in no time.

Q: I’m working my back from a shoulder injury, and wanted to know if you think it would be feasible to do a little external rotation and scapular retraction work each day? While I’m not feeling any pain, I can still tell that my stabilizers are pretty weak.

I have been alternating between rowing movements and face pulls each day as of late along with doing some sort of RC work each day (external rotations, 90 degree prone rotations, prone trap raises, band work, etc). Is this too much in your opinion or is it fine?

I’m talking like 3×15 of rowing/face pulls and maybe 3 exercises of 3-4×15 of RC work per day (light weight obviously). Or would it be better to just do everything 3-4 times per week. I just figured I would divide the volume up throughout the entire week.

A: I think it would definitely be advantageous to do some every day, although your loading and set/rep parameters could use some revisions. Try loading the movements in the 6-10 rep range once a week, and then hitting them with lighter weights in the 12-15 rep range on another day. On the other five days, just do some work with the theraband and/or light dumbbells to get the blood flowing. These are really small muscles, so you have to go out of your way to promote bloodflow and, in turn, healing. It certainly won’t hurt to get them “activated” so that they’re firing on all cylinders when you get back to your compound movements down the road.

Q: After reading your article in the October issue in Rugged, I have a question or two.

In healthy individuals, are you saying you do NO “direct” local (deep) ab work. i.e. plank, “thin tummy?” It seems as if the trainee gets plenty of local ab work w/ exercises like the DL, squats etc, but I don’t know if “direct” ab work is mandated. I am still confused about this, even know I’ve read countless articles relating to this topic.

A: Be careful with your classification scheme; I wouldn’t classify tummy sucking with plank exercises. The cues I give to my athletes on plank exercises are to brace as if someone is about to kick them in the stomach (much like you would push out when squatting and deadlifting). The training effect is markedly different with this approach than with sucking in the tummy. In short, bracing makes you strong, and tummy sucking makes you look and perform like a wanker.

You are, however, correct in saying that I think attempting to isolate the TVA in healthy individuals is a bad idea from both a training economy and potential harm standpoint. This training time would be better spent on other things, most notably multi-joint exercises and mindlessly gawking at gorgeous women in sports bras and spandex shorts.

Q: First of all, let me tell how much I enjoy your no-nonsense, information filled articles. It’s great that people like you are writing about various posture related, biomechanics issues.

I have a problem to which I have not been able to find a solution here in India. I have over-pronation in both feet, resulting in low reactive force output plus patello-femoral pain if I run long distances. Aside from getting orthotics, is there anything else I can do about this over pronation.

A: It really depends on whether the cause is structural or functional. You state that you have over-pronation in both feet, but don’t allude to whether the feet have been flat for your entire life or if it’s something that’s kicked in as a result of movement dysfunction.

From a structural standpoint, orthotics are really your only bet; the structural abnormality will dictate how the orthotic is shaped.

From a functional standpoint, you need to determine if you have weakness in a decelerator elsewhere that’s forcing the extra pronation in order to compensation. The external rotators of the hip (especially the gluteus maximus) and quadriceps are notable possibilities. Don’t forget the dorsiflexors, either.

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