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Functional Stability

The last twenty years have brought about many changes in the fitness industry as our understanding of functional anatomy and evidence based training grows.  Some of these changes have been taken too far, misunderstood, or poorly applied such as stability training. When I was introduced to weights in 1998, exercise programs were built around machines which offer very little carry over to stability, core strength, and function.  Machine based training fails to maximally improve balance/stability, prevent injury, or maximize performance.  Enter functional fitness.  This concept has been popularized by strength coaches and physical therapists such as Eric Cressey, Dan John, Mike Boyle, Grey Cook, and Fenton Fitness owner, Mike O’Hara who saw a gap in training methods and optimal coaching.  Functional training includes better core stability/lumbopelvic control and more unilateral (single limb) exercises that closely mimic human movement. Unfortunately, as with many concepts in the fitness industry, this trend has been taken too far.

Many have latched onto “functional” fitness and incorporated unstable surfaces to challenge the small stabilizing musculature. This gives the illusion of strength and function, but as world renowned strength coach Mark RIppetoe says, these are simply “balance tricks”.  Real life doesn’t involve unstable surfaces like wobble boards, bosu balls, physioballs, etc.  This type of training highly restricts the amount of work the primary movers of the body can do, and doesn’t allow for strength adaptation to occur which should be a primary focus of any solid fitness program.

This Functional Stability series will address the best ways to improve real world function and strength while reducing injury.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Vertical Presses

The vertical press targets the sternal and clavicular head of the pectoralis major to a small degree as well as the anterior deltoids in front of each shoulder. The triceps are the prime movers.  This is a tough movement for beginners to grasp because it requires a certain degree of mobility, but can be very beneficial to overall strength with a huge carry over to other pressing exercises. These movements can be performed kneeling or standing with one arm or two arms. Start from the ground and work your way to standing.

Tall Kneeling Bilateral DB Press: By starting in the tall kneeling position, we remove the hips, knees, and ankles from the equation.  This makes it easier to focus on what the upper body and core are doing along with eliminating common compensation patterns.  Kneel down on both knees with your toes dug into the ground.  Make sure your hips are fully extended (not sitting back on your feet).  From there simply bring the weights up to shoulder level with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).  Squeeze your grip and press upward while rotating your palms forward.  Stop when your elbows are locked and your biceps are by your ears.

Tall Kneeling Alternating DB Press: In this progression, the setup is the same as for the Tall Kneeling Bilateral Press, except you are going to alternate pressing one arm overhead at a time.

Tall Kneeling One Arm DB Press: This movement will require the same setup as the former two movements.  However, you will only use one weight and do one arm at a time.  This will require more rotational and lateral stability out of the core musculature.  Make sure to brace your core and don’t allow yourself to twist or shift your weight to one side.

½ Kneeling Bilateral DB Press: By lowering the center of mass, it is easier to practice moving through the hips and shoulders with less movement through the pelvis and lumbar spine, which is a common mistake and more difficult to fix in the standing position.  Assume a ½ kneeling position with the kneeling side toe dug in.  The front leg should be in line with your hip (not out to the side), and the ankle should be under or slightly behind the knee.  The knee that is down should be under your hip.  Bring a pair of dumbbells up to your shoulders with a neutral grip and press them overhead just as with the tall kneeling press.

½ Kneeling Alternating DB Press: Same setup as the ½ Kneeling Bilateral Press.  This version simply alternates the pressing.

½ Kneeling One Arm DB Press: Same setup as the previous two exercises.  For this version, you will only use one arm.  Grab a weight on the same side that you are kneeling on.  Start with a neutral grip and press overhead.  The asymmetrical loading will place a large stabilizing demand on the obliques and rectus abdominal musculature.

Standing Bilateral DB Press: Standing tall with the feet about shoulder width apart, bring the dumbbells up to shoulder level and press both at the same time. Make sure to keep core engaged and feet grounded. A common mistake is to arch the back and lean back just to get the weights up.  Make sure the weight being used isn’t forcing your body into extension just to lift them up.

Standing Alternating DB Press: The same setup as the previous exercise, just press one arm up at a time while the other stays at shoulder height. Try to avoid tilting in the shoulders.

Standing One Arm DB Press: The same setup as the previous exercise, just use one dumbbell and do one arm at a time.

Contralateral Standing DB Press: For this variation set up with one dumbbell, stand on the opposite leg than the dumbbell side. This movement will require core stability and balance and due to this, the weight used does not need to be heavy, which is ideal for those who suffer with shoulder pain as they can still feel challenged without lifting a heavy weight.

Video of vertical presses can be seen here: https://youtu.be/2-7T0ebGIkM