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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

Horizontal Presses

The Horizontal Pressing variations primarily work the pectoral musculature, anterior deltoid, and triceps.  The rotator cuff musculature plays a stabilizing role.  As we progress through this series, the core musculature, particularly the anterior core and glutes play even more of a stabilizing role.  The strength of the stabilizers will be your limiting factor on these movements, not the prime movers.  These movements can be performed on the floor, bench, or incline bench.

DB Bench Press: Set up with both feet planted firmly on the floor, slightly wider than shoulder width apart.  Lie down on the bench bringing the dumbbells to your shoulders as you do.  As soon as you are lying down, press the dumbbells straight up.  Try to keep your elbows at roughly 45 degrees from the side of your body.

Alternating DB Bench Press: With the same setup as the DB Bench Press, start with both arms extended straight and dumbbells touching. Lower one arm at a time keeping the other arm fully extended. This variation builds endurance and promotes stability in the chest, triceps, and shoulder muscles.

One Arm DB Bench Press: Performing a DB Bench Press with one arm really engages the core and stabilizer muscles in the chest. This is a great exercise for athletes as they are often required to throw, shoot, or hit a ball with one arm and this variation mimics that motion. Set up in the same position as the previous variations except only use one dumbbell. The other arm can extend out to the side or rest on the stomach. Lower the one arm down slowly and make sure to extend fully at the top, avoiding the tendency to lean to the opposite side.

Contralateral DB Bench Press: This variation of the dumbbell bench press requires the core to brace and stabilize while having one hip flexed and the other extended (just like it would be when throwing a ball). With one dumbbell that is lighter than one you would usually use for pressing, lay flat on the bench and bring the leg up on the same side as the dumbbell. Bend the knee at a 90 degree angle, flex the hip, and dorsiflex the ankle. The other foot is firmly planted on the floor. Place the free hand on the stomach or straight out to the side for balance. The core should be braced and the low back should be pressing into the bench as you press the dumbbell straight up just as in the other variations.

Watch video of press progressions here: https://youtu.be/4ihkyIOXi4g