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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 Pulls

Just like the vertical press exercises, vertical pulls can be hard to execute due to their mobility requirements, but are the most effective and efficient movements when trying to build a strong and healthy upper body. The broadest posterior chain muscle in the body, the latissimus dorsi, has the primary actions of humeral adduction, extension and internal rotation, but also contributes to posture due to its attachment points. Vertical pulls also work the arms (brachioradialis, biceps brachii, triceps long head), shoulders/back (trapezius, posterior deltoid, teres major, rhomboids), and pelvic floor (rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques).

Pull Up/Chin Up: Pull ups/chin ups work the majority of the muscles in the mid/upper back and flexors of the arm. The rotator cuff muscles and core musculature play a more stabilizing role.  In both variations, think about keeping the core engaged.  There should not be extension in the lower back and if there is, you will notice yourself swinging back and forth during reps. When pulling up, think about leading with your collarbone and actually touching it to the bar. Another useful cue is to think about pulling the elbows to your pockets. Avoid rounding the upper back over the bar when reaching the top of the movement.  If you are having trouble touching your chest to the bar, it is either a strength or mobility issue.

½ Kneeling One Arm Pull Down
Set up at the Cybex machine or any cable hook up. Grab just one handle and put that same side knee down on the ground with the toe dug in.  Make sure the arm is angled in such a way that you have to reach across your body when the arm is flexed overhead. Your palm should be facing forward, and as you pull down, turn the hand towards the body and keep the elbow close to your side. Concentrate on squeezing the muscles in the back and keeping the rest of the body still with the core braced. Switch legs when you switch arms.

View video of vertical pulls here: https://youtu.be/knAFry9p-LM.