Archive for the ‘low back’ Category

It seems like our culture is getting worse and worse when it comes to mobility and movement quality. We usually have locked up t-spines, ankles and hips and as a result cannot move the way that we need to stay safe and get the results that we want from our training. One of those issues that we find a lot in our clients and athletes is an obvious lack of the ability to touch ones toes.

This movement pattern is vital for your safety and performance in lifts and movements that require that your hips move in a hinge pattern and at times in hip extension. (Hint, just about everything that utilizes lower body requires these movements.)

But before we go any further, let’s look at these moves so that you can have better understanding of them.

Hip hinging is when you are required to moves your hips back. This is seen in the exercise world in the form of deadlifts, kettlebell swings, broad jumps and other like movements.

Hip extension is the finish of these moves and is also seen in proper running and walking mechanics.
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(Dave knows how to extend his hips!)
Now that you understand in a very simple way what these moves are, let’s discuss how a lack of toe touch can mess up these patterns and lead to less than stellar performance.  You see a lack of toe touch is often a problem of not being able to shift your weight back and as a result your brain fires you hamstrings to keep you from breaking your nose. There are also times that your brain senses that a muscle is inhibited in the movement chain and as a result tightens up muscles to keep us from hurting our precious joints.

So then if stretching isn’t the answer, then what is?

The answer isn’t as simple as a 1, 2, 3 solution and can vary from person to person, but we can give you a few drills to help you:

1. Breathing;
Proper breathing patterns that utilize the diaphragm as the main respiratory muscle has a huge in stabilizing ones midsection and can enable you to move better by causing your brain to release any unnecessary tension in the body and to better stabilize your mid-section.

2. Toe touch pattern drill:

As a stated before an inability to toe your toes is usually a lack of being able to shift your weight back. This drill can helps you re-learn how to do this important movement and give you the ability back to deadlift with proper positioning.

To do this drill find a two inch elevation, such as a book, board or even dumbbells. Put your toes on the lift. Then stick something between your legs right above your knees, reach up to the ceiling, crush the object between your legs; and touch your toes 10 times. It is ok to bend your knees if you have to, in order to get to your toes.

After you have done that direction, stick your heels on the lift and follow the same sequence. You will either be able to touch your toes or you will be closer. Keep on practicing this drill until you can touch your toes, when you aren’t warmed up.

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3. Glute strengthening:

Lastly is if your glutes are weak or inhibited, you will probably not be able to get in the proper position to lift and train safely with good form. Now when people sit often as well as those who are just begin to workout usually have overactive or tight low back muscles and hamstrings and under active glutes as well as being stuck in a flexed or forward shoulder position.


To combat this and to help better position yourself you will want to, release (stretch, foam roll.) The tight areas and strengthen the weak ones. For the sake of this post we will only discuss the glutes. (We will be doing a posture post soon.) Glute development isn’t too difficult, you will just want to do it in a way that doesn’t keep the imbalance though.

1. Lower rolling for glute strengthing:

2. Supermans, birddogs and reverse hip lifts:

3. Bridges, Single leg and 2 legged

4. Glute ham raises:

 https://youtu.be/w0X0Vw6Vu1Y

5: Hip thrusters :

These aren’t the only exercises that train the glutes they are just simple and effective ways to do so.

Having a comfortable toe touch that is controlled is very important for your health and fitness. So it is worth finding out what is limiting you from being able to do so and to take the time to correct this issue if it is present in your life.

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The full pistol or one leg squat is an advanced movement pattern that many would love to progress into and some even train to do. But somehow they never seem to be able to do it or if they do, it looks terrible and may lead to an injury at some point if they keep doing it that way. In light of that fact the goal of this post is to give you my reader some correctives to help you in your journey to a full pistol and to help those with ugly form improve their technique.

The few things that I will cover in this post are a few things that I have seen in my time coaching this move with clients and even in myself. So as always, try the move in this case the pistol, then do the specific corrective and then re-test the move again to see if it improved.

As with any move that involves this much complexity there are any number of things that could go wrong that can negatively affect this move. These qualities are: mobility, especially of the ankles and hips. There is also a need to master breathing specifically power breathing as well as ab strength. Finally, if none of those help it could be a motor-control thing and some re-patterning and regression of the drill could help take care of that as you work on improving this advanced squat.

Mobility:

Ankle:
Having a tight or restricted ankle can lead to poor pistol performance, in things such as: moving too much through your lumbar spine to make up for your ankle restrictions and or ending up on your toes and having a wobbly and later on a painful knee.

Below are some drills that you can use for your ankle to see if it helps you overcome this mobility deficit in your ankle if that is a problem for you.

In addition to these drills Goblet squats and practicing your pistol with a plate under your heel could help with this problem as well.

Hip flexors:
Tight and overactive hip-flexors can lead to crappy pistol technique. Use these two stretches and activation drills below to deal with this problem and then once again re-pattern the move with low reps and better form.

Tension:

Another important component of this move is the ability to create your own stability using an ab brace, power breathing and muscle tension. This increases your control and strength throughout the move and of course as you train this move, to decrease your usage of this ability to progress. The video below shows you how you can use the plank to develop this quality and increase your strength.

Ab strength:
Ab strength can be very helpful in owning this movement pattern as well as deep core stability. Use these two moves below to help build both in your program. I recommend doing the half-kneeling chop and lift as a warm up and the ab drills in your workout.

Counter balanced pistol:
Adding a counter balance on your pistol is a great way to help develop better form as you practice and it if you have a long femur, it could help you be able to do this move as well.

Heel lift:
If you have a bit of restricted ankle or lack core stability this regression can help you with being able to learn and earn this move. Watch the video below for demonstration of both.

Door pistol: 
this is one of my favorite drills to help my students achieve their full depth without overlying on an external help. This also requires that you create tension as a means to progress.

Box pistol:
this is another simple progression to build strength specific to the move and to pattern it as you train.

The next few moves are designed to help you build strength for the full pistol. Take a look at them and utilize them to help you build the force needed to help you get through the bottom to the lock out of the squat.

Step ups for pistol strength:

Split squats:

front squats:

You now have a good amount of information to work on and to develop the pistol. Get to work on it, try a corrective and then see if your form get better and stronger as you go along. I would almost recommend to get a friend or coach to watch you as you train and if you can’t do that, then you can video yourself to make sure that you are on pace to develop a pistol squat with good form for longevity and performance.


One of my friends and co-workers wanted to increase her upper pulling power expressed in the chin-up.  So we did some specific drills regarding this movement pattern. (Which, I will show you as this series progresses.) I loved her surprise and amazement as she achieved her fist and more chin-up in a matter of minutes. Now because she was already strong, she was able to apply her force to this movement. Some of you will be able to do the same as you apply this concepts’ others will have to build a some strength before you can and that is ok, just be ready to hit the bar! (Pull-up bar that is!) (If you haven’t read it yet, click here for part one.)

Now due to the nature of the chin-up and its primary movers the lats, a few things can happen in your body that won’t help your cause long-term wise. The first one of those issues is:

The rib cage flair or what we dubbed at the gym I work out of as, “The rib cage erection.” As I stated earlier because of the fact that the lats are the primary mover in this motion they have a tendency to pull back on the rib cage and bring you into spinal or lumbar extension and this is not the strongest position to be in.  So your first step is to learn how to keep your rib cage down and abs engaged. Now that doesn’t mean the certain exercises that do have you extend are bad. But just that if you want to boost your pulling performance, you will need to not extend on your reps.

wpid-20150704_085901.jpgNo, no!
wpid-20150704_085851.jpgYes , Yes!

Some anti-extension ab exercises:


Hard roll and x roll: 

Ab wheel roll out :


Hanging leg
raise to boost performance

As you can see that these drills are anti-extension drills and train the abs to help you in your chin-up practice you will want to do these pretty frequently without going crazy. Now get to work on building your strength in these moves above and begin to apply them to your pull-up training and you may just get your first one before you know it!

Stay tuned for next week’s post in this series!

While I was training two friends that worked out together with me and were doing Romanian Deadlifts with dumbbells; a very overweight gym goer approached us and then told one of my clients, that they would hurt the student’s back. As a result of this well-meaning ladies exhortation, I had to virtually talk this lady off a proverbial ledge and re-assure her of this particular exercise’s safety for her lumbar.

That was over ten years ago and these fear still plagues gym goers everywhere and that is what this post is about. So read on friends.

Before I begin my rant on low-back safety and health, I want to talk about the lumbar spine and  its function . First of all, in movement our body works in a concept called the joint by joint approach or regional interdependence. This concept is a pretty simple one; when it comes to movement, some parts of our system should be more mobile and others more stable. In this science, we find that the lumbar are is one that requires more stability than mobility although it is made to move as well. (More on that in a bit)

So many times we end up injured in my opinion due to the fact that we don’t understand and apply this concept to our fitness and lives.

Just before I completely begin this rant and its application to our training, let’s discuss the low back and how it should be treated during our training and life. The lumbar spine consists of 5 vertebrae and at connects to sacrum an area that has five fused vertebrae and finally ends at the coccyx which is often referred to as the tail-bone.

Spine-anatomy-12[1]

The muscles of this area are a force couple known as the lumbar erectors and are multifidi, longissimus thoracis, Iliocostalis lumborum and others these muscles are very small in comparison to the neighboring glutes and lats above and in our lifting should be treated as such.

The movements that the low back can do are as follows:

Extension, flexion, rotation, and lateral flexion or bending; these movements are and can be relatively safe within reason. However, too much of these and or with loading can lead to injury and pain. Yet, on the other side of this coin, one should be able to do these moves in order to have a healthy spine and to keep their movement vitality.

There is also another issue that needs to be dealt with as well; most of us have not so good to terrible posture due to excessive sitting or standing. This places us in either a forward head or an excessively extended posture and can cause things to get shortened and tight that shouldn’t as well as cause muscles that should be active to be under active.

Now that you understand the anatomy and function of the low back, we can begin to understand how to train in a way that will make your chances of injury lessen even if you have been injured in the past.

Let’s go back to few a paragraphs ago and review a concept that we already stated. That being that the lumbar area is built to be mostly stable. This does not mean that there is never motion in it as we move, in fact the opposite is true, as you move, so does your spine. The problem comes into play though when it moves too much and we go too often into the end ranges of the spine as we move.

This includes too much rotation through the low back and way too much extension and flexion. So you see when it comes to low back pain, in most cases it is not necessarily the movement and how it may look to the outsider without the training needed to identify what is potentially dangerous and what is not. It is more a matter of not being able to control the lumbo-pelvic complex as we move and as a result going into hyper-extension and so-on.

Does this mean that everything is safe for everyone all of the time and people should just go crazy and do whatever? The answer of course is no, because of the simple fact that what doesn’t hurt one person, could injure another. This is why some sort of assessment should be administered before a person begins to embark on their fitness journey. This should find any limitations in movement, any potential pain provoking movements and a referral should be given to a qualified medical professional if there is pain present during the performance of a movement pattern.

Then as we go along any issues with mobility and stability can and should be dealt with as well as the avoidance of any pain provoking moves until the issue is dealt with if at all possible. Also as we train, in order to maintain a healthy lumbar spine, we must pay attention to our hip position and spinal position in our movements.

If one can do that and stabilize as their spinal column they can most likely do movements that may be potentially dangerous, if they have not developed the mobility and control that is needed. An advanced trainee not only has arrived to higher than their peers levels of strength and work capacity, but  have also learned how to control themselves in movement and as a result can do the movements that require higher levels of awareness.

Another important aspect to this whole concept is the need for the muscles involved in a pattern to be firing both unconsciously and consciously  in a movement in order to keep the neighboring muscles form being overworked and creating pain and undue stresses to the joints in that exercise. In the case of the low-back it is often the glutes and some of the ab muscles.

This is why any good program will have built-in it proper progressions and regressions in order to make sure that the requisite muscles are firing quick enough to do an exercise safely. Another example of this is just yesterday a man was doing a high bridge and the gym and someone commented on how he was hurting his back as he did it. My response was the opposite of what he expected, “not as long as he is using his glutes!”

These also goes for every move that requires hip extension from the rest/ rack position in KB sport, to a bench pressing power lifter and the hip extension moment on a good Olympic lifter’s snatch and clean.

If you take away anything form this post and all its science sounding jargon and voodoo. Let it be that exercise tolerance and ability is an individual thing and should be treated as such. As well as the fact that just because something may cause one person pain, doesn’t mean that it will do the same in another. Just make sure to be assessed before you begin to train and follow a progressive strength and conditioning program that will meet your needs and weaknesses as a person. Lastly if something hurts you don’t do it. However, don’t try to make others do the same as you and write off a sport or exercise as dangerous to all!