Pushing Through Fitness Barriers
Pushing For Big Results
Most of us have busy schedules and limited time to exercise at the gym. We want the most benefit possible for our time spent working out. Sled Pushing is a high value activity that can be utilized by almost all fitness clients.
True Core Stability
How our “muscles in the middle” truly work is in a standing position with our legs in contact with the ground. The legs are usually in an asymmetrical stance, transferring force from the ground through our body into the arms. Sled pushing more closely emulates the demands placed on our spinal stabilizers during daily activities.
In sports performance, the development of acceleration—the first four or five strides– is critical. Weight room training with box jumps, barbell squatting, and hang cleans has been shown to produce a better vertical leap number, but not nearly the same gains in 40 yard dash times. It trains the neural pathways that turn on your acceleration muscles. Sled pushing places the body in the forward lean position you need to properly accelerate out of the blocks when sprinting.
The Road to Easy Recovery
Sled pushing is all concentric muscle activity and no eccentric. Eccentric muscle activity (the muscles lengthen against a resistance), creates much of the muscle soreness brought on by exercise. Your body needs more time to recover from eccentric muscle activity. You can perform a greater volume of work with a sled, and not be terribly sore the next day. For older trainees whose bodies require more recovery time, sled work is a valuable training tool.
The Injured Athletes Rehab Training
If you have a knee, lower back, or hip injury, you may not be able to perform squats, lunges, deadlifts, or kettlebell swings. Sled pushing is an alternative rehabilitation exercise for the lower body. I have had great success treating runners with knee pain using sled work as a recovery exercise. The core stability demands of sled pushing are helpful in restoring lumbar function in lower back pain patients.
Scalable to Any Fitness Level
Beginners can start with an empty sled and gradually add weight. I have been able to progress physical therapy patients from 25 pounds to 125 pounds in as little as four weeks time. Pushing is a basic movement pattern that most master after two or three attempts.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
Grip, Rip, And Lift
An Introduction To Sandbag Training
Every training tool in the gym is solid and fixed. Kettlebells, dumbbells, and barbell implements are symmetrical, balanced, and have handles that make for efficient maneuvering of the load. In life and athletics, the forces you face are asymmetrical and come at you from all directions. No convenient handles are attached to your opponent, bag of groceries, grandchild, or grandma. Fitness activities that carry over to real life are what you need in your gym programming. Sandbag training meets all of these needs.
Farm Boy Strong
An implement that is unstable in your hands is more valuable than an implement that is unstable under your feet. Sandbags are inherently floppy–the load moves as you maneuver the bag through space. This requires coordinated recruitment of the core, shoulder, and pelvic girdle stabilizers. Central nervous system (brain) neural recruitment also increases as more muscular coordination and co-contraction is brought into play. Lifting, carrying, and gripping a sandbag is the same type of training that makes the farm boy strong.
Gripping a sandbag works all of the muscles of the forearms and hands. In real life, you must be able to maintain a strong grip in order to express any of the strength you have gained in the gym. Research has linked grip strength to longevity.
All Angles Are Covered
Josh Henkin has created a superior product called the Ultimate Sandbag. These modern sandbags come in a variety of sizes and have a durable vinyl covering. The shape of the bags and the multiple handles enable movement of the bag through all planes of motion. Unilateral and triplanar loading are what happen in the real world.
Be A Better Shock Absorber
In life and athletics, the ability to absorb an impact and remain upright, stable, and uninjured is crucial. Sandbags are much softer than any other implement in the gym. When they impact your body, they do not produce pain or tissue trauma, but your body feels the force as it travels to the ground. Sandbag shouldering, cleans, and snatches are just some of the drills that require you become more efficient at absorbing an impact.
Starting With Sandbag Activities
Start with one or two exercises and work on perfecting your technique. Sandbags work well for metabolic complexes–you perform multiple exercises in a row without putting the bag down. Watch the attached video for some examples of my favorite sandbag training exercises.
At Fenton Fitness we have 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 and 85 pound sandbags. Start with an easy weight and work your way up. See the video for demonstration of Sandbag Training.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
Stability, Mobility, And Better Posture
The squat has been described as the king of all exercises. The large amount of muscle recruited during squatting makes it a very metabolically demanding exercise. In athletics, the capacity to perform a full squat with proper torso, hip, and knee position has been correlated with greater durability–fewer injuries. The overhead squat test is one of the patterns assessed in the Functional Movement Screen and is used in physical therapy and athletic training. Squatting with the load placed on the front of the body is an excellent way to enhance mobility, stability, and strength. Compared to leg presses, seated leg curls, and knee extension, front squatting creates much more carry over to activities of daily living and athletics. The problem is most people do not know how to get started with front squats.
When you squat with the load across the front of the body instead of on the upper part of the back, the stress on the spine is reduced. You can “cheat” a back loaded squat by leaning forward, but you cannot lean forward with a front squat. Leaning forward on the front squat causes the load to fall from your shoulders or hands. Front squatting creates a greater core stability demand and reduces shear force on the lower back. Full depth front squatting will improve your posture and restore mobility in the hips, shoulders, and thoracic spine.
Front squatting is an exercise that is more equivalent to daily tasks and athletics. Lifts in real life rarely place the load across your shoulders. When you lift the grandchild, carry the groceries, or hoist the wheelbarrow, the load is in front of the body. During athletics, the opponent is in front of you, and you must stay upright and tall to dominate the activity.
Front Squat 101
Before loading the squat, practice bodyweight squats to a depth target. I like to use a 12 inch box or a Dynamax ball (12 inches in diameter). You should be able to perform a body weight squat to a thigh below parallel position with a stable spine before attempting a loaded front squat. When you perform a loaded front squat, initiate motion from the hips by sitting down and back. Push the knees out and descend so the thighs travel to below a parallel to the floor position. Keep the chest up and torso tall as you push back up. Finish at the top by contracting the gluteal muscles and keeping the front of the rib cage down.
Choose A Proper Implement
While the barbell offers the greatest loading capacity, many individuals do not possess the shoulder mobility to hold the bar on the shoulders. The Goblet Squat position with a kettlebell or dumbbell works just as well. A sandbag hugged close to the body in the high Zercher position or bear hug hold has a high degree of athletic carry over. Avoid the Smith machine variation. You end up leaning on the machine and this eliminates much of the core stability demands and exposes the spine to greater shear force.
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS