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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 Pulls

A horizontal pulling exercise is any exercise that involves moving a weight in towards your torso horizontally from straight out in front of you. A good exercise routine should incorporate both pushing and pulling movements in order to keep a healthy balance, better posture, and prevention of shoulder injuries. Muscles involved in pulling exercises include biceps, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, posterior deltoid, and middle trapezius.

Arm DB Row
There are a couple different variations that could be done with the one arm row. In the first and most common variation, set up with one dumbbell and put the opposite hand and knee on a flat bench. The back should be flat and the weighted arm should be straight with full extension in the shoulder. Keeping the core braced, bring the dumbbell straight up to the side of your chest, keeping your upper arm close to your side. Concentrate on squeezing the back muscles once you reach the full contracted position. In the second variation, we are going to get a little more athletic and functional. It is called three stance row, or straddle stance row. Stand with the legs a little wider than shoulder width apart. Bend the knees slightly and make sure the feet are equally distributed and the back is flat (think linebacker).  Put one arm on the end of the bench or a 16-20” box. The hand with the dumbbell should be directly under the shoulder and centered. Row as described previously.

PUPP DB Row
Set up with two dumbbells in a push-up position plank. Keep the feet further apart to make the exercise easier, keep feet closer together to make it harder. Pull up one dumbbell, keeping the elbow close to the body and avoiding the tendency to dip the opposite hip. The body should stay still throughout the exercise. This variation is going to challenge the core as well as the rowing muscle groups. Alternate arms.

Horse Stance DB Row
This variation of the DB row is going to be more challenging than just a regular row as it is going to test your core stability and balance. Set up with one dumbbell and a bench. Put the opposite hand and knee on the bench and extend the free leg out horizontally, with the ankle dorsiflexed. The other arm is holding the dumbbell straight down as with any other row variation. Keeping the core braced, bring up the dumbbell in the same pattern as previously stated. Avoid the tendency to dip the opposite hip down. The weight used in this variation is going to be lighter than usual.

View the video here: https://youtu.be/gSMvrJGVeN4

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

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

Movement You Should Master

Weighted Carries

Modern medicine is keeping us alive longer, so now we need to put some effort into staying lively longer.  Mastering specific movements will improve our quality of life and help us stay independent and injury-free. I have come up with several exercises you can use to make yourself stronger, more durable, and develop a healthier, more functional body.  An exercise that I have found to be efficient and effective is a Weighted Carry.

Weighted Carries

Very few things are more functional than a carry.  You’d be hard pressed to get through daily life without having to carry something at least a few times per week.  While basic, a carry is an efficient and effective full body exercise.  Depending on the carry you choose, the load is virtually limitless.  Performed for time or distance, carries will always improve gait and core stability.  Depending on which version you use, they can also be an effective tool for improving shoulder mobility/stability, grip strength, balance, and overall awesomeness.  Watch the video and give it try: https://youtu.be/PaP4-IlVAOA

Coach Chad demonstrates my top four carry picks:

1) Farmers Walk (gait, core stability, grip strength, upper back, legs)

2) Suitcase Carry (gait, core anti-lateral flexion, grip, upper back, balance)

3) Waiters Carry (gait, core stability, shoulder stability, balance)

4) Double Waiters Carry (gait, core stability, shoulder mobility, shoulder stability, balance)

-Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, Pn1

 

Two types of exercise that are ignored/skipped by a majority of gym goers are heavy carries and crawls.  This is unfortunate because these are two of the most fundamental and functional movement patterns we have.  Incorporating these two exercises on a regular basis will likely make drastic improvements to your mobility, posture, and work capacity.

In their most basic form, these exercises are incredibly simple, involve minimal technique, and pose relatively low risk of injury.  Heavy carries offer the benefit of strengthening the body from head to toe (particularly the core, upper back, grip, and legs) when the body is moving on both feet horizontally.  Crawls take us back to our first movement patterns as humans and put us in the transitional position between being on the ground and standing.  We must all continue to master this movement if we want to enjoy good quality of life as we age.  Crawl variations challenge and improve our mobility and strengthen the core and the shoulders.  I believe that most people would be well served and pleasantly surprised in the way they look, move, and feel by adding 1-2 sets of crawls and carries to the beginning and end of every workout.

A quick search on YouTube or a look at our Team Training workouts will give you some good visuals.  Here are my top 3 picks for each exercise type:

Heavy Carries*carry

1. Farmers Walks

2. Kettlebell, Dumbbell, Barbell Front Carry

3. Barbell Overhead Carry

*Heavy = a true challenge to complete your desired distance

Crawls

1. Bear Crawl

2. Seal Crawl

3. 4-point Lateral Crawl

 

-Jeff Tirrell, B.S., CSCS

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