Home Posts tagged "Strength Exercises" (Page 2)

Strength Training Programs: 8 Strategies for Easily Maintaining Strength

In a post a while back, I made a comment that intrigued quite a few people:

I'm always surprised at how much volume it takes to attain a level of fitness, but how little volume it takes to maintain that level of fitness.

If you train yourself to run a six-minute mile, then take two months off from running, you can usually come back and get pretty darn close to that same time in spite of the detraining.  However, chance are that you had to bust your butt to get to that six-minute time in the first place.

The same can be said of a 600-pound deadlift, appreciate level of mobility, or world-ranking in water chugging.

In short, once you've hit these milestones, they stick around pretty well, provided you don't completely screw up and allow yourself to detrain.  As a frame of reference, my best deadlift is 660, yet even though I don't pull over 600 all that frequently (my competitive powerlifting days are likely over), I know I can do so just about any day of the week.

I'm always amazed at where my strength levels stand at the end of a long baseball off-season.  I work some absurdly long hours from September through February when all our professional baseball players are around - and this definitely impacts how frequently I do much work in the 1-3 rep range with my lower body training.  And, frankly, I don't squat at all during this time of year because my knees are usually cranky from being on the hard floors all day.  Interestingly enough, when I get some down-time when the pro guys go in-season, my squatting numbers haven't fallen off much at all.

I don't just think this is a valuable lesson for lifters who anticipate life interfering with optimal training dedication; I also think it's a tremendously important message to older lifters who may not be able to load as frequently as they could in their younger years.  To that end, here are some strategies for sustaining the strength one has built up over the years.

1. Avoid significant weight fluctuations (particularly down).

Nothing every sapped my strength more than losing five pounds.  Maybe I was just hyper-sensitive to it because I competed at a lower weight class and always had to monitory my weight to the point of being neurotic, or maybe it was just because it slightly changed my range-of-motion and leverages on the squat and bench press.  Regardless of what it was, a five pound drop in body weight equated to a 30-pound drop off my squat and 15-pound drop off my bench.

To that end, if you're trying to keep your strength up during some down time in your strength training program, make sure to keep your weight up, too.  It's not the time to be skimping on calories (unless, of course, you have a lot of fat to lose as part of your fitness goals).

2. Eat right.

"Eating enough" and "eating right" are two completely different things.  It would be very easy for me to just live on fast food during our busiest season.  Instead, I still set aside time to prepare food for the long work day.  I'm also fortunate to have a cafeteria 100 feet down the hallway, and they'll cook me up whatever healthy food I need on the fly.  I've got Athletic Greens, fish oil, and probiotics in my office, plus beef jerky and almonds in case I need solid food on the fly.  "Busy" doesn't have to mean "unhealthy" as long as you plan ahead.

3. Lift heavy at least once a month.

If you want to get strong, you need to put in at least 2-3 heavy lifting sessions per month for the lift in question. And, if you're trying to trying to bring up a bench press, squat, deadlift, and chin-up simultaneously, you've got a lot of competing demands and overall training stress.

If, however, you want to stay strong, getting in just a few heavy sets of a particular movement each month can get the job done.

4. Get sufficient sleep.

No matter how busy life gets, I am pretty good about getting at least seven hours of sleep each night - and usually a little bit more. I'm typically in bed by 10PM and asleep by 10:30, then wake up between 6 and 7AM each day.  I (like many others) have noticed that sleep before midnight makes me feel a lot better than trying to catch up by sleeping in the following morning.

5. Forget the deloads.

I'm a huge advocate of deloading periods in one's training; in fact, I wrote an entire e-book about the topic!

 However, if you're going through a time when your normal training volume is compromised, you really aren't "loading" enough to require a deload.  You're better off getting in your work whenever possible.

The obviously exception to this rule would be older lifters with appreciable levels of strength; they need to set aside specific deloading periods even if they are training with heavier sets less frequently.

6. Still crush your assistance work.

Just because you're not feeling up to crushing a personal best squat doesn't mean that you can't still get after it with your single-leg work, sled pushing, glute-ham raises, or any of a number of other assistance exercises. Do your best to keep the resistance up on your assistance work instead of just getting your reps in. Sets in the 5-8 rep range are outstanding in this regard, as they're heavy enough to have strength benefits, and the volume can help keep muscle on you, too.

7. Stick with multi-joint exercises.

If you maintain your strength on compound movements (e.g., chin-ups), you'll maintain your strength on "sub-category" isolation movements (e.g., biceps curls) just fine.  It doesn't work the other way around, though.

If life is busy and you're dragging when you get to the gym, you're much better off hitting a set of deadlifts than you are doing some leg curls.

8. Consider rearranging your schedule or changing your strength training program split.

One of the biggest appeals of The High Performance Handbook I introduced was the versatility it provided via its 2x/week, 3x/week, and 4x/week strength training program options.  Being able to shift from one approach to another as your schedule gets busier or lighter is valuable flexibility.

Additionally, it may be advantageous to plan your training for your less stressful days.  If you work crazy hours Monday through Friday, try lifting Saturday and Sunday, then picking 1-2 days in the middle of the week for short sessions consisting of just assistance work.

These are eight strategies you can easily apply even when life isn't easy and you want to maintain strength, but there are surely many more.  I'd love to hear your experiences with maintaining strength during busy times in your life in the comments section below!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email
Read more

Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 4

Here are some random tips to help you lose fat, get strong, gain muscle, feel better, and take over the world - compliments of Cressey Performance coach Greg Robins.

1. Swing it!

As a strength coach, you will be confronted by two big issues. One, you will most likely have a budget. Secondly, you will struggle to keep all your athletes consistently in the gym, or on track while in season. A recent study published in the NSCA's Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research provides us with a solution: kettlebell swings. "The results of this study clearly demonstrate that six weeks of bi-weekly kettlebell swings provides a stimulus that is sufficient to increase both maximum and explosive strength offering a useful alternative to strength and conditioning professionals seeking variety for their athletes."

Purchasing kettlebells for your program, or advocating the purchase of kettlebells by your athletes for at home use, is a low cost option to deliver a great training effect. The swing is a relatively easy movement to teach and safely prescribe to your athletes to keep up with, and improve their strength. The kettlebell swing has largely been touted as an incredibly efficient movement, most recently by the king of efficiency himself, Tim Ferriss, in his book, The 4-Hour Body. In this article he talks about his own incredible results, as well as links to a profile of another swinger, who garnered impressive results with as little as 10 - 20min of swinging a week. Not bad!

2. Make food taste better by adding...more food.

Chicken, turkey, and pork all taste great when you eat them right out of the oven or off the grill. However, everyone knows that "so dry that I'm coughing up dust" taste that you can get when you eat them as leftovers. To that end, try chopping the meat up and adding it to an omelet; it tastes great.

This is just one example of how you can "disguise" something that might not taste good. Don't like spinach? Blend it into your shakes. Don't like tomatoes? Grind them up and add some spices and fruit to make a salsa. Your imagination is the only limit.

3. Some small stuff is worth sweating.

More times than not, I am telling people not to sweat the small stuff. However, I would advocate locating small things, that are easily done, that can have a large effect on the bigger picture. When it comes to the gym I can think of a few examples:

  • Learn to, and teach your athletes / clients, to set up, un-rack, and re-rack weights properly. I like to see things done right, from the moment someone gets under the bar, to the moment they put it back. This isn't just the purist in me, these so called "little" things will have a big effect on the quality of the set, and the safety as well. Make sure that you, and those you teach, learn to do it right from the start. I don't usually make videos, but when I do, they are awesome:

  • Ask for spotters and hand-offs. It's always best to perform a lift safely and with a clear mind. If you have someone available to spot you, why wouldn't you ask? Furthermore, if you set up correctly in a bench press (uncomfortably tight, shoulder blades retracted, etc.) You will benefit greatly from receiving a good hand off that keeps you in position. Lastly, if you happen to train around people who know what they are doing, asking for an appropriate spot, or hand-off when they are not busy is a good way to grab a little sage wisdom

4. Always take the bar.

In sticking with the theme of the little things that make a big difference, here's a lesson I learned early in my training history: "Always take the bar." It means exactly what it says. Whether you are squatting, benching, lunging, or pressing always do a set with the empty bar. You don't pick up a baseball and throw it 200ft before you have thrown it 50ft do you? It is always best to ramp up to your working sets and get a gauge on how you feel. Furthermore, repetition is the principal of learning. Even as someone whose working sets are a good distance from 45lbs, I will take anywhere from 5 - 8 sets to get where I am going for that day's big exercise. In this time, don't just go through the motions, it is the perfect time to smooth out any form issues and build a habitual approach to each set.

5. Avoid paralysis by analysis.

There is a time for thinking, and a time for doing. Be careful not to let your thoughts interfere with your ability to execute. Additionally, remember that in many cases, "perfect" will be the enemy of "good." In order to achieve more from your training and sport practice, follow these two guidelines:

  • Separate planning and doing. I recently read a fantastic article from Dan John that speaks about managing options in your training. The article closes with a saying: "Plan the hunt, hunt the hunt, discuss the hunt." In other words take the time to formulate an intelligent plan, execute that plan with a full effort, and then review and revise based on the outcome. There are many different ways to achieve the same outcome, the difference maker will often be the effort put forward into whatever that approach may be. With that in mind, do not limit yourself by over thinking what you are doing while you are doing it. Just do it!
  • In the moment, redirect your thought process. In a recent discussion with one of our athletes at CP, I was reminded of something somebody had shared with me a while back. If you are in the "hunt," it is not a time to dwell on mechanical reasons for something not working right. Instead, technical changes and observations should be made during practice, or after the fact during review. While in the moment simplify your adjustment process. If you are throwing up, aim down. If you are coming forward in a squat, stay back. Easy enough, right?

Co-Author Greg Robins is strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA. Check out his website, www.GregTrainer.com, for more great content.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email
Read more

Training the Rotator Cuff and Scapular Stabilizers Simultaneously

I'm always surprised when I see "arm care" portions of baseball strength and conditioning programs that attempt to break rotator cuff exercises and scapular stability exercises into different categories.  In my eyes, while you can certainly prioritize one over the other, treating them as mutually exclusive means that you're missing out on a great opportunity to educate an athlete on "positional stability."  Here are a few examples to demonstrate my point:

In Band Distractions w/Rhythmic Stabilizations, you'll see that Orioles prospect (and Twitter phenom) Oliver Drake, actively counteracts the distraction force created by the band by pulling the scapula back onto the rib cage.  Then, we challenge the rotator cuff with rhythmic stabilizations.

Likewise, in this Half-Kneeling 1-arm Manual Resistance External Rotation, Sam needs to make sure to position the scapula appropriately on the rib cage to make sure that he's in the best position to create eccentric strength for the cuff.  This is of particular importance in guys with low shoulders who may be very lat-dominant; gravity will have an additional downward pull on the scapula, so many guys need to intentionally activate upper trapezius prior to starting the set.

Or, consider a Prone External Rotation (one of our old Strength Exercises of the Week). This is definitely viewed as a rotator cuff exercise, as the goal is to learn to externally the humeral head in the socket without the "ball" migrating forward (preventing anterior instability). However, you also have to appreciate that gravity is forcing the scapula forward into anterior tilt, so the lower trapezius must be turned on to counteract it.

Likewise, just about every time you do any exercise that involves holding weights in your hands, your rotator cuff is firing reflexively.  

With all these examples - and surely many more - in mind, we realize that "categorizing" arm care exercises can be pretty difficult, as we're always looking to find a balance between doing enough and doing too much.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email
Read more

5 Quick and Easy Ways to Feel and Move Better: Installment 2

I'm excited to announce that new Cressey Performance employee Greg Robins is going to be helping me out with this series moving forward.  Greg brings a unique skill set to to the table, and I think that the two of us together will kick out some great content in this weekly post moving forward.  With that said, here are five quick and easy ways to feel and move better to get you week off on the right foot:

1. Focus on less.

Too often I see people make the mistake of doing too much in the gym. Additionally, many folks jump from strength and conditioning program to program, or change strength exercises too often. Make it a point to do two things.  

First, pick a few big movements that you can execute correctly, and continually work to become great at them. Second, settle on a specific outcome for your training. Are you trying to lose fat, gain muscle, or get strong? While your approach may have elements that address all of these, prioritize one or the other for an extended period of time. Allowing yourself time to get better with movement, and eliminating competing demands from your program, are both great ways to maximize your efforts. 

2. Declutter your life.

"Spring cleaning" is a hackneyed expression, but that doesn't mean it isn't an incredibly worthwhile project to undertake!  Let's just say that I filled a trunk with trash from my home office last week.

Considering that my home office is only 13'x13', I expect my productivity to increase quite a bit.  Think about ways you can "declutter" your life; it should help you focus on the task at hand.

3. Carry heavy stuff with friends.

Dan John has put out some great content with respect to how valuable carrying variations can be.  They are easily learned, don't make you ridiculously sore, and provide a great whole-body training effect.  One thing we like to do as a staff is set up our farmer's walks in a group format.  Our turf is 40 yards long, and each set is either one or two trips.  One person goes, then the next person goes, and so on until everyone has finished all their sets.  It keeps you accountable to strict rest periods, builds in the motivation of competition (who wants to be the one guy who can't finish his trip?), and distributes the loading/unloading responsibilities among several people!  Here's an old video of us on this front:

4. Get every rep.

Nobody makes progress by missing lifts. Check your ego at the door, and take a more patient approach to your training. The most beautiful lesson in training is one of delayed gratification. To succeed in the gym, you need to do what is necessary in the training session in order to make the subsequent training sessions beneficial. Nobody can set personal records for themselves every day, so focus on executing each and every rep smoothly. Over time, add to the bar, add a rep, or do a little more work in the same time period. It will all add up, and a year from now you will marvel at what you accomplished. However, if you choose to blow it out every session, in a year, you will be lucky to have made minimal progress.

5. Spend less time down at the bar.

It drives me bonkers when lifters spend too much time down in the bottom position of a deadlift.  I always encourage people to get their minds right while they're standing around, and then get right to it when they get up to the bar.  Spending too much time in the bottom position of your deadlift technique means that you'll lose any benefit of the stretch-shortening cycle, and run the risk of becoming an overly pensive, weak schmuck.

 

Co-Author Greg Robins is strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Performance in Hudson, MA. Check out his website, www.GregTrainer.com, for more great content.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email
Read more

5 Great In-Season Lower-Body Strength Exercises that Won’t Make You Sore

One of the biggest concerns players have when it comes to in-season strength and conditioning programs is whether or not a particular exercise will make them sore.  It's a valid point, when you consider the profound effect soreness can have on a baseball athlete's performance - both physically and mentally.  As such, it's important to select exercises that provide a great training effect, but won't necessarily create a lot of soreness for a player.

The first important point to recognize is that strength exercise familiarity will minimize soreness.  In other words, if an athlete has already done an exercise in the previous 7-10 days, it shouldn't make him very sore (if at all).  This is one reason why I like to introduce new exercises in the week prior to the start of the season; we can "ride out" those exercises through the first 4-6 weeks of the season without worrying about soreness.

Of course, once you get past that initial stage, it's a good idea to change things up so that athletes will continue to progress and not get bored with the strength training program.  One way to introduce new strength exercises without creating soreness is to minimize eccentric stress; so, essentially, you're selecting exercises that don't have a big deceleration component.  This is tricky, as most athletic injuries occur from poor eccentric control (both acutely and chronically).  So, we can't remove them completely, but we can shoot for a 50/50 split.  To that end, we'll typically introduce our more intensive lower-body eccentric strength exercises (e.g., Bulgarian Split Squats) on a day when an athlete can afford to be sore (e.g., the day after a pitcher starts) for a few days.  If that isn't a luxury, we'll simply go much lighter in that first week.

To that end, here are five "general" strength exercises I like to use in-season with many of our athletes.

1. Step-up Variations - I'm normally not a big fan of step-ups for off-season programs because they don't offer a significant deceleration component, but they can be useful in-season when you're trying to keep soreness out of the equation.  Anterior-Loaded Barbell Step-ups are a favorite because they still afford you the benefits of axial loading without squatting an athlete.

2. Deadlift Variations - It goes without saying that I'm a huge fan of the deadlift (check out this tutorial if you need suggestions on How to Deadlift), as deadlift variations afford a host of benefits from strength, power, and postural perspectives.  They're also great because there isn't much of an eccentric component unless you're doing stiff-leg deadlift variations.  With that in mind, we utilize predominantly trap bar and sumo deadlift variations in-season.

3. Sled Pushing/Dragging - A lot of people view sled training as purely for metabolically conditioning guys, but the truth is that it actually makes for a great concentric-only strength exercise while helping to enhance mobility (assuming you cue an athlete through full hip extension on forward pushing/dragging variations).

Just make sure to keep the load heavy and distance short.

4. 1-leg Hip Thrusts off Bench - This is a great "halfway" exercise with respect to eccentric stress.  For some reason, even if you lower under a ton of control and with additional load (we drape chains over the hips), this exercise still won't make your posterior chain sore. A big shout-out goes out to Bret Contreras for bringing it to the forefront!

5. 1-arm DB Bulgarian Split Squats from Deficit - The asymmetrical load to this already asymmetrical (unilateral) exercise allows you to get a training effect without a ton of resistance (especially with the increased range of motion provided by the deficit).  It'll still create some soreness, but it's another one of those "halfway" exercises where the soreness isn't as bad as you'd expect, especially if you phase it in a bit lighter in week 1 of the new strength training program.

These are just five of my favorites, but a good start, for sure.  Of course, we still need to do a better job of educating "the masses" about how important it is to even do an in-season strength training program!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email
Read more

Strength Exercise of the Week: DB Goblet Lateral Lunge

It goes without saying that poor adductor length is a huge problem in many of the athletes I encounter, particularly those participating in sports (e.g., hockey, soccer, baseball) involving a lot of extension and rotation.  As a result, we always spend a lot of time with self myofascial release, static stretching, and mobility exercises for the adductors.

As I've written in the past, though, after you transiently reduce stiffness in a tissue, you want to build some stability through that newfound range-of-motion.  Unfortunately, it isn't exactly easy to load folks up in the frontal plane, and some folks still won't be able to get in to a lateral lunge position without pitching forward.  Enter the Dumbbell Goblet Lateral Lunge, which borrows the "counterbalancing" benefits we see with a traditional goblet squat to allow us to get back "into" the hip and build some longer-term mobility in the frontal plane.

I don't worry about folks really loading this up; in fact, form tends to break down a bit if you go heavier than 40 pounds with the dumbbell.  We'll usually include it as the last exercise on a lower-body day, for 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps.

We spend a lot of time focusing on building strength and power, but a lot of times, movement quality gets overlooked.  Here's an exercise that helps you to improve the latter without forgetting the former.  Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
Name
Email
Read more

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 3/27/12

Here are some recommended strength and conditioning readings for the week: Recovery: Athlete vs. Average Joe - Patrick Ward summarized some great research on how it takes a lot more to negatively impact performance when you reduce the outside stress in one's life. Force of Habit - This article by Lindsay Berra just ran in ESPN The Magazine.  Lindsay interviewed me for the piece on Tommy John surgery (ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction), and while I wasn't mentioned in the final version, I thought she did an outstanding job of outlining some complex topics - everything from the mechanics to the politics - in the piece. 21 Strength Exercises for Injury-Free Mass - Bret Contreras provides some great options - and the rationale for them - for those looking to make their strength training programs a little more joint-friendly over the long-term. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
Name
Email
Read more

Strength Exercise of the Week: 1-arm Dumbbell Floor Press

I'm out of town for a few days, but fortunately, Ben Bruno was kind enough to write up this guest blog.  I enjoy Ben's writing - particularly his ability to constantly innovate - and I'm sure you will, too. Common sense tells us that the one arm dumbbell bench press is an upper body exercise (duh!), but if you’ve ever done them with considerable loads, then you know that the legs aren’t just passive players in the mix. They don't just help to provide a little bit of leg drive; more importantly, they help to create a stable base so you don’t tip clear off the bench. Don’t believe me? Try doing a set with your feet in the air and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Just make sure to put padding on the floor around you first. To mimic this effect in a safer fashion, try one arm dumbbell floor presses with your legs straight.

You’ll find there’s a tendency for your torso to want to rotate towards the arm pressing the weight and for the contralateral leg to want to shoot up off the floor as the weight gets heavier or you get further into a set.  As such, you have to be cognizant of that and squeeze your glutes and brace your core to prevent that from happening since you can’t rely on your feet to provide the base of support. It’s a great exercise because it’s self-limiting and reflexively teaches you how to create total body tension—no cueing needed. It’s also a nice shoulder-friendly alternative for people who might experience pain with full range of motion dumbbell pressing, or for people with lower-body injuries that won’t allow them to push through their feet. Start with your legs wider and move them closer together as you feel more comfortable. Similarly, you can start with the non-working arm resting at the floor at first to give some additional stability, but work towards placing your hand over your abdomen as you improve. You’ll need to start with a substantially lighter weight than you’d use for regular dumbbell presses (I’d say 60% would be a good starting point), but your numbers will climb back up quickly as you get the hang of it. Give it a try! Ben Bruno publishes a free daily blog at www.BenBruno.com. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
Name
Email
Read more

Strength Training Programs: Are Pull-ups THAT Essential?

The pull-up is among the most sacred strength exercises in the history of weight training programs, ranking up there with squats, deadlifts, and bench and overhead presses.  This is one reason why I expect there to be burning Eric Cressey effigies in various strength and conditioning circles after they read the following sentence:

Some people would be wise to leave out pull-ups - at least temporarily.

Before you rip me a new one, please give me a few minutes to explain.

First off, I get it: pull-ups train the lats, and the lats are huge players in athletic function and the quest to get strong and gain muscle.  They're the biggest player in force transfer between the lower and upper body, and play key roles in core stability and breathing.  Specific to my baseball work, lat recruitment is higher during acceleration in professional pitchers than amateurs, showing that reliance on this big muscle helps generate increase pitching velocity, too.  I actually wrote an entire article back in 2006 about just how extensive the lat's role is, if you'd like to read more: Lats: Not Just for Pulldowns.

However, the "expansive" presence of the lats - running from the thoracolumbar fascia all the way up to the humerus - can make them a problem as much as they are a solution.  To that end, here are four reasons you may want take a break from pull-ups/chin-ups/pulldowns in your strength training program:

1. Heavy pull-ups can make the elbows very cranky - This is really the shortest and least complex of my arguments, so I'll get it out of the way early.  My personal best three-rep max chin-up is 321 pounds, at a body weight of about 188 pounds (so, the external load was 133 pounds).  My best raw three-rep max bench press is about 330 pounds, but what you might find surprising is that going heavy on the bench press is dramatically easier on my joints (particularly my elbows) than pull-ups/chin-ups are.  What gives?

First, when you bench press, you're doing a full-body movement.  There is leg drive and loads of core stability involved on top of the upper extremity activity that's taking place - so the stress is more easily distributed.  When you do a pull-up, your upper extremity is relatively isolated, so the stress is more concentrated.

Second, a pull-up is a traction exercise; it pulls the humeral head out of the socket, and essentially pulls the lower and upper arm apart at the top. When you lose bony congruence - one of the most important, yet overlooked components of joint stability - you have to pick up the slack with the active restraints (muscles/tendons) acting at the joint.  Low-level traction can be tremendously helpful in situations like external impingement at the shoulder, or intervertebral disc issues.  However, under extreme load, it can be pretty darn stressful to the soft tissue structures around the joint.  Conversely, a bench press is an approximation exercise, so you can actually draw some stability from the joint alignment itself to take some of the stress off the soft tissue structures.

I remember Jason Ferruggia writing recently about how heavy chin-ups/pull-ups can really beat up on older lifters - and it's safe to say that the reason isn't so much tissue degeneration, but simply that it took time for them to build appreciable enough strength to get to the point where the overall stress was too much.

2. The lats overpower the lower traps - The overwhelming majority of the baseball athletes I see (and most extension/rotation sport athletes, in general) live in lordotic postures.  The lat is a strong extensor of the spine - but it also attaches to the rib cage and scapula on the way to the upper extremity.  The end result is that many lordotic athletes wind up with a very "gross" extension pattern.

The rib cage flairs up, and the lower traps do little to pull the shoulder blades back and down on the rib cage - because the lats have already gotten an athlete to the position he/she wants to be in via lumbar extension.  You can see from the picture below that the line of pull of the two muscles is actually very comparable - but given cross sectional area and length, the lat will always have the upper hand, especially if it's constantly being prioritized in a strength training program due to exercise selection and faulty lifting technique.

Effectively, we need to learn to move our scapulae on our rib cage, as opposed to just moving our entire spine into extension.  Interestingly, you'll find a lot of flexion-bias in the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) and Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) schools of thought because they clearly appreciate that getting folks out of "gross extension" is a way to get/keep people healthy.  Having ultra short/stiff lats can cause issues ranging from extension-based back pain (e.g., spondylolysis) to shoulder pain (e.g., external or internal impingement).  As I've written previously, too, this global dysfunction may also be the reason we're seeing more femoroacetabular impingement in athletes.

As another interesting aside, I see a lot of throwers with low right shoulders and incredibly short/stiff lats on that side.

This is secondary to faulty rib positioning and the scapular anterior tilt that ensues (as per the PRI school of thought), but one additional thing we've found (thanks to great feedback from physical therapist Eric Schoenberg) is that overhead shrugging variations on the low shoulder have helped these throwers to not only feel better, but minimize these asymmetries.  Effectively, creating a bit more stiffness in the upper trapezius helps it to counterbalance the aggressive downward pull of the lat on the scapula.

These folks sit in scapular depression, and for that reason, we'll often leave out any exercises (e.g., deadlifts, dumbbell lunges) that involve holding heavy weights in the hand until scapular positioning is better controlled.

3. The humeral attachment portion of the lat is part of a significant zone of convergence at the posterior shoulder - The back of your shoulder is another one of those claustrophobic areas in your body.  You've got tendons for the lat, teres major, teres minor, infraspinatus, long head of the triceps, and posterior deltoid all coming together in a very small area, creating friction over each other as their individual forces come together (regions like this are called "Zones of Convergence" by myofascial researcher Luigi Stecco.

The latissimus dorsi is, without a doubt, the largest and strongest of all the involved structures.  It also has the longest tendon, which makes it the biggest candidate for nasty tissue quality in the region.  The problem is that muscles/tendons don't deform evenly; rather, they move a lot where the tissue quality is good, and very little where it is dense.  So, when you're super dense in the posterior shoulder and try to go do pull-ups, as I noted earlier, the entire shoulder girdle wants to move (humeral extension and internal rotation, and scapular depression) together, as opposed to a nice synergy of the humerus with the scapula on the rib cage.  When some is stiff in the posterior shoulder and wants to use the lat for everything, a seated cable row looks like this.  Notice how the elbow winds up behind the body, and the scapula anterior tilts - and also how old the video is; I look like I am 12 years old and weigh 120 lbs.

Rowing like this over time will eventually irritate the anterior shoulder.  However, watch this standing one-arm cable row where the humeral head (ball) maintains a good alignment with the glenoid fossa (socket) as the shoulder blade moves on the rib cage.  The humerus doesn't extend unless the scapula moves with it.

4. Overactive lats can decrease the subacromial space - The lat extends, adducts, and internally rotates the humerus.  In order to get overhead the right way, we need flexion, abduction, and external rotation of the humerus.  So, you can see that it's a direct antagonist to healthy, overhead movement.  If you think about your biggest players for pain-free overhead movement, two of them have to be the posterior rotator cuff and lower trapezius.  The lat overpowers both of them in a "gross" extension pattern.

Here's a test: position yourself supine, bend the knees, flatten the lower back, and then let your arms hang freely overhead.  Then, have someone take a picture looking down at the top of your head.  A "pass" would be full shoulder flexion with no arching of the back, and no shoulder pain along the way.  A fail would be pain, or something that looks like this:

If your photo looks like this, you better hope that you have outstanding posterior rotator cuff and lower trapezius function (adequate stiffness) to overpower some very short lats if you intend to train overhead pain-free (especially with overhead pressing).  Otherwise, your shoulder flexion will really just be lumbar extension and forward head posture substitutions (this one has a nice left rib flair, too).

In other words, you need adequate anterior core stability and good recruitment of the deep neck flexors, too, but those are blogs for another day.

Closing Thoughts

This post has gone on far too long, and to be honest, I've probably just used the last 1300+ words to piss a lot of you off.  You'll be happy to know, however, that we still use a ton of pull-ups/chin-ups in our strength training programs at Cressey Performance.  In fact, they're a mainstay.  Here are some modifying factors, however:

1. The risk:reward ratio gets a little out of whack once you get very strong with pull-ups.  You'd be better off adding sets and reps, as opposed to adding load - and you may want to push the heavy stuff less frequently than you would with compound exercises.

2. Get regular manual therapy at the posterior shoulder and entire elbow to stay on top of tissue quality. At the very least, make sure you're foam rolling a ton and using The Stick:

3. Strengthen the anterior core and deep neck flexors so that you don't substitute lumbar hyperextension and forward head posture, respectively, for shoulder flexion.

4. Strengthen the lower traps so that the lats can't overpower them.  I like wall slides at 135 degrees abduction, as it allows one to work in the direct line of pull of the lower traps.  Make sure to cue "glutes tight, core braced" so that folks can't substitute lumbar extension ("gross extension") for movement of the scapulae on the rib cage.  Make sure there is no forward head posture, too.

Prone 1-arm trap raises off the table are also a popular one.  Just make sure you continue to cue "glutes tight, core braced, and no forward head posture."

4. Maintain adequate length in the lats. In warm-ups, I like the bench t-spine mobilizations and side-lying internal external rotation as a means of getting some shoulder flexion.

In terms of static stretching, a lat stretch in the power rack is great.

If this gives you an impingement feeling, regress it a bit, stabilize the scapulae with the opposite hand, and gently dip into a wall lat stretch with stabilization.

Many folks will also benefit from this classic overhead stretch in order to reduce stiffness in the long head of the triceps, a synergist to the lats in humeral extension.

5. Make sure you're including plenty of horizontal pulling (rowing) strength exercises as well - and executing them with the correct form.  This means moving humerus and scapula together on rib cage, not just yanking the humerus into extension on a fixed scapula.

6. If you have terrible shoulder flexion and can't get overhead without substituting forward head posture and lumbar hyperextension, spend some time addressing the underlying issues before you start cranking on pull-ups.  We actually don't do any pull-ups/chin-ups with some of our professional baseball players for 4-8 weeks following the season, as we need to spend time building rotator cuff, lower trap, and anterior core strength. I like to use the back-to-wall shoulder flexion exercise as a "pass/fail test." If you can get the thumbs to the wall without losing the flat-back posture on the wall or bending your elbows, then you can probably start going to pull-ups.

7. Above all else, listen to your body, and hold back if pull-ups/chin-ups hurt.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post and your experiences with heavy and/or high-volume pull-ups/chin-ups in the comments section below.

For more information on the role of the lats in upper extremity health and function, I'd encourage you to check out our Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD Set.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!

Name
Email
Read more

Strength and Conditioning Stuff You Should Read: 2/3/12

Here's this week's list of recommended strength and conditioning reading: The Art of Nutrition Coaching - I thought this guest post from Dr. John Berardi at PT on the Net was outstanding.  He highlights a counseling approach called Motivational Interviewing. I'm anxious to look into it myself. Strength Exercise: DB Bulgarian Split Squat from Deficit - Since my "Strength Exercise of the Week" column has been very popular over the past few weeks, I thought I'd highlight an old one that has slipped to the archives. 6 Questions About Tempo Training - Mike Robertson published this at T-Nation recently, and it made me realize this commonly misunderstood strength and conditioning topic has never really gotten the in-depth analysis or explanation it deserves. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
Name
Email
Read more
Page 1 2 3 4 11
LEARN HOW TO DEADLIFT
  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series