Home Posts tagged "High Performance Training" (Page 14)

3 Things Everyone Should Know About the Shoulder

A while back, I sent off an email to my good friend Alwyn Cosgrove about our Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD set, and he asked me what I thought were the three most important things that folks - from fitness professionals to regular ol' weekend warriors - ought to know with respect to the shoulder.  Here were the first concepts that came to mind: 1. You should NEVER be intimidated when you hear/see the words "rotator cuff tear" or "labral tear." Why?  Because if you are training clients, you are absolutely, positively already training people who have these issues but are 100% asymptomatic.  Some interesting research: Miniaci et al. (2003) found that 79% of professional baseball pitchers - the people who put the most stress on their shoulders on the planet - actually had "abnormal labrum" features.  They concluded that "magnetic resonance imaging of the shoulder in asymptomatic high performance throwing athletes reveals abnormalities that may encompass a spectrum of 'nonclinical' findings." Meanwhile, rotator cuff tears often go completely unnoticed. Sher et al. (1995) took MRIs on the shoulders of 96 asymptomatic subjects, and found cuff tears in 34% of cases, and 54% of those older than 60.  Meanwhile, another Miniaci study (1995) found ZERO completely normal rotator cuffs in those under the age of 50 out of a sample size of 30 shoulders.

rotator_cuff

What's my point?  Both the people who are in pain AND those who have absolutely no pain can have disastrous looking shoulder MRIs.  So, in many cases, it is something other than just the structural deficit that causes certain people to experience pain.  To me, that difference is how they move. A torn labrum may become symptomatic in a thrower with poor shoulder internal rotation.  Or, a partial thickness cuff tear my reach the pain threshold in a lifter who doesn't have adequate scapular stability. In short, a MRI report doesn't tell you everything there is to know about a shoulder - and you need to assume that a lot of your clients are already jacked up. 2. When assessing a shoulder, everything starts with total motion. In healthy shoulders, total motion - which comes from adding internal rotation and external rotation - should be the same on the right and left side.  This "arc" may occur in a different place on each shoulder, but as long as it's symmetrical from side-to-side, you're off to a good start - and that's when you work further down the chain to see what's going on with scapula stability, thoracic spine mobility, etc.

shoulder-performance-dvdcover

3. 100% of all shoulder problems involve scapular dysfunction. The interaction of the glenoid fossa of the scapula (socket) and humeral head (ball) is what allows the glenohumeral joint (shoulder) to do what it needs to do.  However, most individuals have some form of shortness (e.g., pec minor, levator scapulae) or weakness (e.g., serratus anterior, lower trapezius) of muscles working on the scapula.  These inefficiencies alter glenohumeral alignment and increases stress on the rotator cuff, biceps tendon, labrum, and glenohumeral ligaments.  Identifying and addressing scapular issues is a key step in preventing shoulder pain. For more information, check out the Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD set. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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CP Internship Blog: Can Circuit Training Develop Mental Toughness? – Part 1

This guest blog comes from current Cressey Performance intern, Sam Leahey. Preface A qualification needs to be made first. This debate often times confuses people because they don't take the time to qualify what exactly they're discussing. The overriding issue here is on the use of exercise or conditioning circuits in training to develop "mental toughness" and/or "work capacity." Both capacities are actually pretty different scientifically and practically, but too often get thrown into the same conversation. When we talk about using exercise or conditioning "circuits" in the weight room, most coaches rationale for using them is rooted in one of three things: 1)    To build "mental toughness" in the athletes 2)    To build "work capacity" in the athletes 3)    To build both. I want to be clear here that this article will focus solely on thoughts regarding the first rationale and not the others. This if for clarity's sake, brevity, and quality of analysis. In future blogs, I hope to delve into the other two reasons why coaches/trainers program conditioning circuits and whether or not it has value and/or a desired training effect.

Before you continue reading, I'd pose the title of this article to you again and ask that you take a moment to think about your answer - can YOU develop mental toughness of YOUR athletes using circuit training in your programs? What is "Mental Toughness"? The first thing we need to establish is what "mental toughness" really is.  Defining the term alone could be another endless debate, so let's keep things neutral and use good ol' dictionary.com as our trusted resource: Type in the term "mental toughness" and the search comes up empty. Hmm, this has implications. It seems that the term "mental toughness" as a whole is abstract and inherently debatable because there is no established definition in the dictionary. Disagree with me? If so, then I'd point you to the example of the term "Mc Job", which is a term referring to a service industry job that is unstimulating, pays low wages, and offers few benefits. At one point "Mc Job" was an abstract concept just like the term "mental toughness" currently is. It wasn't until enough people settled on its terms that it went from being abstract to a concrete reality which is definable and published in the dictionary itself, see: Mc Job - 2 dictionary results Mc - Job [muh k-job] -noun an unstimulating, low-wage job with few benefits, esp. in a service industry. So, in the same sense, I think the term "mental toughness" will take much longer (if ever) to reach a state of clear and accepted definition. Continuing on, though, what we can establish here is that the words "mental" and "toughness" are separately definable: Men·tal m?n tl/ Show Spelled[men-tl] -adjective 1. of or pertaining to the mind: mental powers; mental suffering. 2. of, pertaining to, or affected by a disorder of the mind: a mental patient; mental illness. 3. providing care for persons with disordered minds, emotions, etc.: a mental hospital. 4. performed by or existing in the mind: mental arithmetic; a mental note. 5. pertaining to intellectuals or intellectual activity. 6. Informal. slightly daft; out of one's mind; crazy: He's mental. -noun 7. Informal. a person with a psychological disorder: a fascist group made up largely of mentals. Tough Spelled [tuhf],adjective,-er, -est, adverb, noun, verb -adjective 1. strong and durable; not easily broken or cut. 2. not brittle or tender. 3. difficult to masticate, as food: a tough steak. 4. of viscous consistency, as liquid or semiliquid matter: tough molasses. 5. capable of great endurance; sturdy; hardy: tough troops. 6. not easily influenced, as a person; unyielding; stubborn: a tough man to work for. 7. hardened; incorrigible: a tough criminal. 8. difficult to perform, accomplish, or deal with; hard, trying, or troublesome: a tough problem. 9. hard to bear or endure (often used ironically): tough luck. 10. vigorous; severe; violent: a tough struggle. 11. vicious; rough; rowdyish: a tough character; a tough neighborhood. 12. practical, realistic, and lacking in sentimentality; tough-minded. 13. Slang. remarkably excellent; first-rate; great. -adverb 14. in a tough manner. -noun 15. a ruffian; rowdy. Combining the first two definitions we could say that "mental toughness" via dictionary.com is a strong, durable, non-tender mind capacity or functioning. So now we have a theoretical foundation from which we can work - and we again arrive at the initial debate: can this "mental toughness" be developed by strength and conditioning coaches using forms of circuit training with their athletes? Acute vs. Chronic Here are some classic examples that coaches and trainers (both good and bad) who subscribe to the theory "you can develop mental toughness through circuit training" use in practice. . . (Each exercise done for 1 minute each, circuit done 2-3 times)(*AMRAP - as many reps as possible) "Death Circuit Saturdays" -          Overhead MedBall Slam (AMRAP) -          Tire Flips (20 yards) -          Overhead Sledgehammer Tire Hits (AMRAP) -          Pushups (AMRAP) -          Farmer's Walk (25yards down and back) -          Rotational MedBall Throws (AMRAP) -          Vertical Jump (AMRAP) "Meat-Head Monday" -          Barbell Bench Press (225lbs x AMRAP) -          Barbell Back Squat (315lbs x AMRAP) -          Pull-Up (BW x AMRAP) -          Conventional Deadlift (315 x AMRAP) -          Chest Supported T-Bar Row (70lbs x AMRAP)

"Functional Friday" -          Single-Leg Box Squats (AMRAP) -          1 Arm TRX Inverted Row (AMRAP) -          Front Plank -          Standing 1 Arm Cable Press (AMRAP) -          Side Plank -          Walking Lunges with Overhead DB Press (AMRAP) -          1 Arm Chin-Up (AMRAP) "Strong-Man Monday" -          Farmers Walk (30yards down and back) -          Seated Rope Pull (20yard rope connected to weighted sled - pull to you once) -          Prowler Sled Pushes (30yards down and back) -          Giant Log Lift (AMRAP in 2 minutes) With this list of random circuits in mind, now let's talk about how and when strength and conditioning coaches implement these circuits into their program(s). If you've been around collegiate strength and conditioning for any amount of time, you'll know these circuits usually get placed at the end or beginning of a training week and sometimes at the end of a training cycle. In the private sector of the strength and conditioning profession (training facilities), there isn't that much separation from that either. You'll find these circuits being sprinkled in to the clients (athletes) programs. The biggest point to consider here is that whenever circuit training is used it's almost never done continually, 100% of the time; it's always used sparingly while the bulk of the training is more traditional. Conclusion - The Carryover Imagine if you yourself or an athlete you know did one of the above circuits. How would you feel? It'd be pretty tough wouldn't it? If I told you that you were going to do it again next week, you would be mentally prepared for it, wouldn't you? After doing it every Friday for two months, would you have mentally adapted to the stimulus and find it less of a mental struggle each time? Of course! However, what happens every other day of the week when you don't have that stimulus present? Are you still as "mentally tough" throughout the week as you are on Friday when you are near puking your brains out and have a coach scream at you and blowing whistles? Even more relevant is the perspective of adding up those single exposure circuit days and compare them to all the days in the off-season and in-season you're not doing a circuit. Which of the two sums has the most potential for developing ANYTHING for that matter? In other words, being "mentally tough" is a LIFESTYLE - NOT A SINGLE EXPOSURE TO SOME DEATH CIRCUIT ONCE A WEEK OR ONCE A MONTH! Are we forgetting the fact that many collegiate teams implement these circuits to only end up with losing seasons? Meanwhile, on the other hand, you have teams doing the same death circuits and getting to the championship. Did one team not do enough "death circuits" and needed more exposures so they can reach post season play? Or, did the team who reached the championship lead a mentally tough lifestyle off the field/court/ice and not just get "psyched up" for a death circuit once a week or month? True athletic team success is the result of all the little things added up throughout the week that culminate on game day, not just a mental victory once and while over some weight room circuit. It's performing every exercise in the weight room with perfect technique that fosters CHRONIC mental toughness in athletes. It's not accepting lousy technique for the sake of putting more weight on the bar that makes the athlete mentally tough. It's showing up to train on time, every time, over the course of the entire macrocycle that gives us sustainable and reproducible mental toughness that carries over into team chemistry and cohesiveness. It's going through the full warm-up without skipping steps just so you can get on to lifting heavy weights quicker. It's only doing the prescribed number of reps and sets that's your given and not letting an athlete do his/her own thing. It's not missing workouts or having athlete find excuses not to come in and train because it's a "light day" or "regeneration day". It's a culture, not a single event! Living a mentally tough lifestyle is what produces long term athletic success. If you want your athletes to reach their full mental potential and, in turn, athletic potential, then find ways to change their LIFESTYLE instead of getting them "psyched up" for your weightroom circuit you worked so hard to design. Furthermore, the mental toughness lifestyle you cultivate in your weight room can carry over into the rest of their lives as well whereas some weekly circuit cannot.

kickingscreaming

If you develop a culture of mentally tough athletes in your weight room via the little things, their ability to reproduce that (which is the whole point, anyway) can certainly be carried over into the way they approach the sport skills practice and whatnot. If they're showing up to the weight room on time, every time, how much more likely will they be to show up for practice on time, every time? If they're habitually not cutting corners in the weight room and choosing to not take the easy way out, will they make the same decisions on the field/court/ice where they know it has more direct carry over to game day? You can see that the evolution of leading a mentally tough lifestyle eventually can translate into habitual changes in personal character and discipline. I struggle to see how a weekly circuit or once a month event can have even a remotely similar effect. It is the responsibility of the coach to instill this aforementioned mentally tough lifestyle through cultivated weight room culture. So the argument is essentially a fundamental disagreement, but I think the answer is quite clear. Even though the term "mental toughness" lacks a true definition, can we as coaches instill what most would agree on as "mental toughness" in our athletes via the weight room? The answer is "yes," but it's not through doing "death circuits." Doing things habitually RIGHT breeds a lifestyle that makes you mentally tough. This chronic mental toughness cannot be accomplished with a sparingly used weight room circuit of exercises. The Exception I wrote this article/blog knowing full well that someone out there would come up with the question: "What if I have my athletes do circuit training EVERY time we train then, for an entire off-season. This way we're getting the "mental toughness" stimulus constantly. Would that work?" In response, I would say there is only one man I know of on the entire planet who was inherently ingenious enough to implement circuit training EVERY SINGLE WORKOUT and still not have his athletes overtraining. This way, they were constantly pushing the mental envelope and eventually they went from being a good team to the winning the national championship of college hockey. The strength coach's name is Michael Boyle. Unless you have the ingenious capability of.... -          engineering circuit training day in and day out for an ENTIRE off-season, -          having no one get injured doing so, -           have most everyone on the team get stronger, -          and most importantly find a way to have these mentally tough workouts carry over into the players habitual lifestyles, ....then I suggest you don't even both trying. If you've read the book Outliers you'll understand there's only one Mike Boyle for a reason and you're NOT him.

outliers

For the rest of us, I think it's best to stick to the above rationale if we want develop true mental toughness in our athletes that will last a lifetime of athletic competition. Sam Leahey, CSCS can be contacted at sam.leahey@gmail.com.
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Stuff You Should Read: 4/4/10

I'm about to head out to go to Fenway Park for the season-opening Red Sox vs. Yankees game.  So, with the baseball season officially underway, I thought it'd be good to kick this week off with a collection of baseball-related recommended reading material.  Of course, you can certainly always find plenty of great stuff on the Baseball Content Page here at EricCressey.com.  That said, here are just a few personal favorite articles that I've written (it was tough to just pick a few, as I love writing about this stuff!): Crossfit for Baseball Developing Young Pitchers the Safe Way Risk-Reward in Training Pitchers Weighted Baseballs: Safe and Effective or Stupid and Dangerous? And a few baseball books that I'd highly recommend: License to Deal (great look at the sports agent/representation industry)

license-to-deal

Moneyball

moneyball

And some favorite baseball-related DVDs:

The 2009 Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp DVD Set

Optimal Shoulder Performance (just released last week, and only around at the introductory price for a bit longer)

shoulder-performance-dvdcover

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Want to Get Strong? Quit Switching Strength Training Programs Every Week.

Day in and day out, I see loads of athletes and regular fitness enthusiasts who have hit plateaus in their quest to get stronger, bigger, and leaner - or run into injury issues.  Each situation is unique, but one thing that I am always especially attentive to is learning whether someone has recently altogether overhauled their approach to training.

As is the case in so many things in life, "Slow and steady wins the race," "Rome wasn't built in a day," and "Don't run sideways on treadmills while wearing jeans."  Actually, that last one wasn't all that applicable to what I'm getting at, but it's probably still good advice to heed for some of our easily distracted teenage readers.

I come across a lot of "program hoppers" in what I do.  These are individuals who might do four weeks of Sheiko, four weeks of 5x5 workouts, four weeks of Crossfit, four weeks of German Volume Training, and then four weeks of Tae-Bo DVDs in spandex.  At the end of this five month journey, they are somehow more fit - but literally have no idea what training principles were key in them achieving that end.  Everything was too muddled; they overhauled the entire strength and conditioning program rather than keeping the valuable stuff.

About 8,000 strength coaches before me have used the line, "The best program is the one you aren't on."  Well, I would agree with that - unless, of course, it means that this new strength and conditioning program leaves out all the important stuff that you learned from previous training experiences.

I mean, honestly, I've heard of guys going to strength training programs where they only squat, bench, and deadlift.  They don't even do warm-ups;  nothing else stays!  Then, after six weeks of this program, they email me to ask why their shoulders, back, and knees hurt.  Uh, maybe become the only thing they kept from your old program was specificity?  With no single-leg work, no horizontal pulling, and no mobility work, it's a surprise that they have only been diagnosed with a musculoskeletal injuries - because they probably should have been institutionalized for being so dumb that they're a harm to those around him.

For instance, rather than tell this individual to stop squatting (he actually kept a pretty good neutral spine on the way down), I'd encourage him to a) get a squat rack, b) get a training partner/spotter, and c) put on some clothes.

Major kudos for rocking "The Final Countdown," though; seriously.

Where am I going with this, and how does it apply to you?  Well, the message is very simple: never overhaul.  Instead, tinker, fine-tune, adjust, or whatever else your thesaurus recommends as a synonym.  Good strength and conditioning programs all share certain things in common, and anything that deviates from those qualities isn't worth it.  It's something that I really tried to take into account when I wrote Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.


To take it a step further, I encourage you to be leery of those who encourage you to adapt an entire discipline and change everything that you're doing.  I find that even in the most injured and hopelessly weak folks that come to me for help, I can always find several things that they're doing correctly that deserve to stay.  This is something I've seen in some of the best physical therapists and strength and conditioning coaches with whom I've worked in the past, too.  A good professional should work with athletes and clients to meet halfway on what works, not simply pass judgment on a strength training program and overhaul it altogether.

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Back Squatting with a Posterior Labral Tear?

Q:  I'm a baseball pitcher who was diagnosed with a posterior labral tear.  Since I was young and the doctor didn't feel that the tear was too extensive, he recommended physical therapy and not surgery.  I'm still training the rest of my body hard, but am finding that I can't back squat because it causes pain in the shoulder.  Any idea why and what I can do to work around this? A: It isn't surprising at all, given the typical SLAP injury mechanism in overhead throwing athletes.  If there is posterior cuff tightness (and possibly capsule tightness, depending on who you ask), the humeral head will translate upward in that abducted/externally rotated position.  In other words, the extreme cocking position and back squat bar position readily provoke labral problems once they are in place. The apprehension test is often used to check for issues like this, as they are commonly associated with anterior instability.  Not surprisingly, it's a test that involves maximal external rotation to provoke pain:

apprehension-test

The relocation aspect of the test involves the clinician pushing the humeral head posteriorly to relieve pain.  If that relocation relieves pain, the test is positive, and you're dealing with someone who has anterior instability.  So, you can see why back squatting can irritate a shoulder with a posterior labrum problem: it may be the associated anterior instability, the labrum itself, or a combination of those two factors (and others!). On a related note, most pitchers report that when they feel their SLAP lesion occur on a specific pitch, it takes place right as they transition from maximal external rotation to forward acceleration.  This is where the peel-back mechanism (via the biceps tendon on the labrum) is most prominent.  That's one more knock against back squatting overhead athletes. If you're interested in reading further, Mike Reinold has some excellent information on SLAP lesions in overhead throwing athletes in two great blog posts: Top 5 Things You Need to Know about a Superior Labral Tear Clinical Examination of Superior Labral Tears The solutions are pretty simple: work with front squats, single-leg work (dumbbells or front squat grip), and deadlift variations. If you have access to specialty bars like the giant cambered bar and/or safety squat bar, feel free to incorporate work with them.

And, alongside that, work in a solid rehabilitation program that focuses not only on the glenohumeral joint, but also scapular stability and thoracic spine mobility. Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive a Copy of the Exact Stretches used by Cressey Performance Pitchers after they Throw!

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Add 300 Pounds to Your Deadlift

Q: What BASIC methodology did you use to get your deadlift up over 600? Did you deadlift heavy, do similar exercises like pulls from different heights, or use different exercises like good mornings and rows? A: I have used a lot of different ones - and things changed as I got stronger and stronger. Early on, like everyone, my deadlift went up no matter what I did. I actually laugh at some of the silly stuff that I used to get my pull up to the 300-350 range. I was training six days a week, doing sets of 20, 5x5 workouts, lots of leg curls, you name it. Not the brightest stuff in the world, but when you’re untrained, it all works. Pushing things to 400 took a lot more dedicated work in lower rep ranges (3-5) – and without a bunch of goofy accessory work. This got me to a 430-ish deadlift by the time I got to graduate school in the fall of 2003. In that first year of grad school, I played around with a ton of stuff – everything from clusters to wave-loading (which I don’t think did anything) to straight sets, to 8x3 type-stuff. I hit 484 in the gym around March of 2004, and in my first meet (June 2004), I pulled 510 on a fourth attempt at a body weight of 163. So, I guess you could say that in my first dedicated nine months of powerlifting, I put about 80 pounds on my deadlift. I flat-out blew the “conventional” strength-training induced gains from previous years out of the water at a time when progress was supposed to be slowing. It was about this time that my buddy Steve turned me on more to the Westside school of thought – and I also made some great friends at the meets I did. The summer of 2004 – when I was on campus in Storrs just working with athletes, reading a ton, and training – was a great summer for information exchange and trial and error. Over the 2004-05 school year, I really started hitting max effort days and dynamic effort days. In July of 2005, I pulled 567.5 at a body weight of 161. So, there’s another 57.5 pounds in a year. After graduate school, I started training at South Side Gym in Stratford, CT alongside some great lifters. Every session was a mix of crazy efforts and information exchange in an awesome environment. It’s when I really started pulling more frequently: twice a week, in most case. It was without a doubt the best training year of my life, and I detailed some of the training ideas I implemented in an article called Frequent Pulling for Faster Progress. Speed deadlifts made a huge difference for me not only because my bar speed off the floor increased, but also because they allowed me to practice technique without always pulling heavy and, in the process, breaking down. By the time I left South Side at the end of July 2006 (moved to Boston), I had hit a 628 deadlift. Now, I’ve pulled 650 (although it isn’t really the main focus anymore).

I really never did much good morning work until I was already pulling mid-to-high 400s. For me, the good morning wasn’t nearly as effective as deadlifting or squatting; I guess specificity holds true again, as I got really good at good mornings. That said, it likely has to do with my body type, as I’m a long-limbed, short-torso guy who already is very strong in the lower back relative to the legs. Guys who have more squat/bench-friendly builds (short limbs, long torsos) generally respond really well to good mornings. I am a huge believer that lots of rows not only kept my shoulder healthy, but helped my deadlift along. Chest-supported rows seemed to have the best carryover, in my experience. Yes, I have done my fair share of rack pulls. I don't think that they directly help the deadlift as much as people seem to think, but they are a fantastic way to make lifters comfortable with heavy weights. Here's a photo from back in 2005 of a 705x5 rack pull from just above the knees. It's certainly not for the beginners in the crowd, but pushing the envelope is necessary sometimes for getting to the next level. I wouldn't recommend this for the overwhelming majority of lifters and weekend warriors - so don't be stupid and try it at home. They're also great for building up the upper back - particularly when performed with a snatch grip. A lot of these experiences shaped the way that I wrote up the program in my new book, Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better. Effectively, I touch a bit on everything that took me from 350 to 650 over the course of the four phases in the program.

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Why I Don’t Like the 5×5 Strength Training Programs…

Actually, this post should have been entitled, “Why 5x5 Workouts Works for Some People, but Not for Others.” That title would have been long and not “black and white” enough to get your attention, though. The 5x5 workout (or 4x6, for that matter) approach works relatively well for taking people from beginner to intermediate. When all you’ve been doing is 3x10-12 (because the bodybuilding magazines said that was the way to do things), lifting heavier weights for continued progress makes perfect sense. I feel strongly that not working below five reps on the main strength movements in your program is a huge mistake for lifters who are intermediates (or more advanced) – whether the goal is size or strength. You see, in an untrained individual, you get strength gains on as little as 40% of 1-rep max (1RM). As someone gets more trained, that number goes up to 70%. However, you need at least 85-90% of 1RM in intermediate and advanced lifters to elicit strength gains. For the average intermediate, 85% of 1RM corresponds to about a 5-rep max. In other words, only your heaviest set of five would be sufficient to stimulate a strength improvement. Now, what happens if you do a 5x5 workout? You’ve done 25 reps – and maybe five of them (the first set) were actually performed at a high-enough intensity to elicit strength gains. As I show in my new book, Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, if you want to get stronger faster, you need to spend time below five reps – and above 85% of 1RM (and preferably 90%). This isn’t just physiological; it’s also psychological. You’ll get more comfortable handling heavier weights.

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To Squat or Not to Squat

To Squat or Not to Squat?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: not all our athletes squat, and the older and more banged up they get, the less they squat.

We’ve all been told that “squats are king” when it comes to leg development, and the carryover of squat variations to athletic performance cannot be overstated. Squats even have a place in corrective exercise settings; I’ve frequently used box squats to help iron out quad-dominant vs. hip dominant imbalances. And, the eccentric strength attained from squatting is of undeniable importance in active deceleration in sports – thus taking the stress off of the passive restraints like menisci, ligaments, and discs. The list of benefits goes on and on.

As with anything in life, though, there’s a downside: you get some pretty crazy compressive loads on the spine when you get stronger:

Cappozzo et al. found that squatting to parallel with 1.6 times body weight (what I’d call “average” for an ordinary weekend warrior who lifts recreationally) led to compressive loads of ten times body weight at L3-L4 (1). That’s 7000N for a guy who weighs about about 150.

Meanwhile, in a study of 57 Olympic lifters, Cholewicki et al. found that L4-L5 compressive loads were greater than 17,000N (2). It’s no wonder that retired weightlifters have reduced intervertebral disc heights under MRI.

The spine doesn’t buckle until 12,000-15,000N of pressure is applied in compression (or 1,800-2,800N in shear) – so it goes without saying that we’re playing with fire, to a degree.

Fortunately, our body can adapt reasonable well – but not if you train like an idiot and ignore marked inefficiencies. Think of it this way:

Roughly 3/4 of all athletes have disc bulges/herniations that go completely undiagnosed.

It’s estimated that 4.4% of six-year olds have spondylolysis (lumbar fracture[s] (3)).

Presence of spondylolyis is estimated at 15-63% in ordinary athletes (highest is among weightlifters) – yet only 50-60% of those diagnosed under imaging actually report lower back pain (4).

This isn’t the only place in the body where this happens. If you’re a pitcher, you’re going to have a ripped up shoulder labrum – but that doesn’t mean that you’re symptomatic. If you’re a pitcher with a junk labrum AND a lack of internal rotation range-of-motion, though, chances are that you’re hurtin’.

What does this tell us? Inefficiency is as important – and possibly MORE important – than pathology.

So, let’s assume for a second that everyone in the world had spondylolysis, disc bulges, and explosive diarrhea (just for shits and giggles – pun intended, if you’d like). To take it a step further, though, let’s say that everyone insisted that they squat and we didn’t have the option of saying “no.” What would I do, in this instance?

1. Avoid Lumbar Flexion. The aforementioned Cappozzo et al. study demonstrated that as lumbar flexion increased under load, compressive load also increased (1). In other words, if you aren’t mobile enough to squat deep, you need to squat a little higher. I’ll use light “tap and go” (to a box) variations in my strength training programs to teach proper depth to those who lack flexibility.

2. Optimize hip range-of-motion. If your hips are stiffer than your lumbar spine, you’ll move at your spine first. Those who move at the lumbar spine get hurt; spine range of motion and power are highly correlated with injury risk. Some schmucks named Cressey and Robertson made a DVD called Assess and Correct that seems to help on this front… I incorporate these in all of my weight lifting programs.

3. Optimize ankle range-of-motion. Those with poor ankle mobility will turn the toes out considerable when they squat in order to make up for a lack of dorsiflexion ROM. When they can’t externally rotate any more, they’ll start to flex at the lumbar spine (mostly because their hip mobility is also atrocious).

4. Optimize thoracic spine range-of-motion. Look at the guys who are lifting the biggest weights injury-free, and examine the way their erector musculature is “allocated.” You’ll notice that the meat is in the upper lumbar and thoracic regions – not the “true” lower back.  Why?  They subconsciously know to avoid motion in those segments most predisposed to injury, and the extra meat a bit higher up works to buttress the shearing stress that may come from any flexion that might occur higher up.  Novice lifters, on the other hand, tend to get flexion at those segments – L5-S1, L4-L5, L3-L4, L2-L3 – at which you want to avoid flexion at all costs.  Our body is great at adapting to protect itself - especially as we become better athletes and can impose that much more loading on our bodies. Just ask Olexsandr Kutcher, who’s pulling close to 800 and squatting close to 900 at sub-200 body weights.

5. Stabilize the @#*$_@^ out of your lumbar spine. This does not mean sit-ups, crunches, sidebends, hyperextensions, or the majority of what you’ll encounter in yoga (although some variations are sufficient). Lumbar rotation, flexion, and hyperextension serve to make the spine less stiff relative to the hips. Your back may feel tight, but stretching it is quite possibly the silliest thing you can do, as you’d be encouraging more problems long-term in the process. Tony Gentilcore likes to talk about how it’s like picking a scab; it feels good in the meantime, but only hurts you in the long-run. Yeah, I think Tony is odd, too.

If I can get my act together, I’ll have a full detailed progression ready for you in a few weeks.

6. Deload the spine once-a-month if you’ve been at this a while. There’s nothing wrong with dropping squatting for a week each month to focus on extra single-leg work, movement training, pull-throughs…you name it. I know of a lot of powerlifters who do it for 3-4 weeks at a time, so one week won’t kill you. Having a balanced workout routine is key to healthy lifting.

7. Avoid training first thing in the morning. Because we’ve decompressed overnight, our spines are “superhydrated” when we first wake up in the morning; this places more stress on the ligaments and discs and less on the supporting musculature. As a little frame of reference, full flexion reduces buttressing strength against shear by 23-43% depending on the time of day – meaning that your spine might be 20% safer later in the day even if exercise selection is held constant. Give the spine a bit of time to “dehydrate” and you’ll be much better off.

8. Get Lean. Ever wonder why pregnant women are always having lower back pain?  Could it be that they're hyperextending (overusing the lumbar erectors) to offset the new weight they're carrying in the abdomen?  Beer bellies work the same way.

9. Keep moving throughout the day. It takes about 20 minutes for "creep" to kick in with your muscles - and the less you let that happen, the better.  The best posture is the one that is constantly changing.

10. Fix asymmetries. Okay, so we know that compression is probably a necessary evil. And, we know that flexion + compression is even worse. And, wouldn’t you know? We can actually make things worse by adding in an element of lumbar rotation. Who rotates at the lumbar spine? Usually, it’s those with asymmetries in mobility or strength at the ankle, hip, or thoracic spine. Compare ROM side-to-side and check side bridge endurance time; fix what’s out of whack.

Obviously, a lot of this requires some more involved functional tests, a solid background in functional anatomy, and an understanding of how to fix what’s wrong. In my most recent product, The High Performance Handbook, I've outlined a Four Phase System that incorporates a self-assessment, proper strength routine, mobility exercises, and de-loading phases for healthy, rapid results. If you're ready to take a good hard look at your routine, you can find more information here.

HPH-main

References:

1. Cappozzo A, Felici F, Figura F, Gazzani F. Lumbar spine loading during half-squat exercises. Med Sci Sports Exerc.1985; 17:613 -20.

2. Cholewicki J, McGill SM, Norman RW. Lumbar spine loads during the lifting of extremely heavy weights. Med Sci Sports Exerc.1991; 23:1179 -86.

3. Morita T, Ikata T, Katoh S, Miyake R. Lumbar spondylolysis in children and adolescents. J Bone Joint Surg Br. Jul 1995;77(4):620-5.

4. Soler T, Calderon C: The prevalence of spondylolysis in the Spanish elite athlete. Am J Sports Med 2000 Jan-Feb; 28(1):57-62.

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