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plank

Real Core Training Part Four

Anti-Rotation

Like everything in the fitness world, core training has evolved.  When I bought my first bodybuilding magazine in the late 90s, the word “core” wasn’t even used.  Instead, you would find ab workouts, oblique workouts, and sometime, low back workouts.  Like pretty much everything in the 90s, muscles were trained in isolation with little concern for how the musculoskeletal system was designed to function as a unit.  We have come a long way in our understanding of physiology, biomechanics, and injury prevention/reduction.

The core used to be trained and often still is through movement: flexion (anterior), lateral flexion, extension, and rotation.  Sit ups, crunches, side bends, and Russian twists aim to strengthen the muscles concentrically and eccentrically.  These build mass and thickness to the core musculature.  The second way we train the core is to recognize it as a stabilizer of the low back and hips.  This involves training this musculature to resist movement.  When it comes to increasing strength, power, speed, and reducing injury, this training is more important than dynamically training the core.  This style of training is referred to as “anti-core training” because we are resisting flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation.  The other benefit of anti-core training is that it involves isometric contractions which are much less likely to create muscle hypertrophy, which individuals typically don’t want in their waist.  I typically recommend that 70-90% of your core training consist of anti-core work depending on your health/injury history and goals.

The key to good core training is understanding what you are trying to accomplish, as well as how to progress or regress the movement.  Here are the some of our favorites that we use at Fenton Fitness for each of the four anti-core categories.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Anti-Rotation

Tall Kneeling Pallof Press: Grab some elastic tubing or a cable (anchored to something sturdy) and assume a tall kneeling position.  Hold with both hands and press outward away from body.  Do not allow your body to twist or rotate.  Increase load or stretch on tubing to increase difficulty.  Work up to 12 reps per side.

Half Kneeling Pallof Press: Set up in a half kneeling position.  Use the same execution as the tall kneeling version.  Make sure that you don’t allow your legs/hips to lean or twist.  Work up to 12 reps per side.

Standing Pallof Press: Assume an athletic stance with your feet just outside of shoulder width, slight bend in the knees, and slightly flexed at the hips.  Execute the same movement as you would for the tall or half kneeling Pallof press. Work up to 12 reps per side.

One Leg Pallof Press: Stand on one leg with the other leg flexed at 90 degrees at the foot, knee, and hip.  Execute the Pallof press the same way as the standing Pallof press. This is a much more a balance and overall body stability drill.  Tension/resistance will need to be reduced.  Be slow and gradual with your increases in load, volume, or frequency to allow your knee time to adapt.  Work up to 12 reps per side.

PUPP with alternating arm raise:  Assume a push up position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width.  Raise one arm out in front of your body while maintaining spine and pelvic positions.  A wider feet position makes the movement more stable and easier, while a narrower foot position increases difficulty.  You can also slow the movement to increase difficulty.  Remember, top priority is no hip/spine movement before trying to increase difficulty.  Work up to 10 per side.

Landmine Anti-Rotations:  Place a barbell in a landmine and assume an athletic position.  Press the landmine away from your body and slowly make a rainbow arching pattern moving the barbell from one hip to the other.  Make sure that only your shoulder/elbow joints move, everything else stays stiff.  Work up to 10 reps per side.

Crawl: Get on your hands and knees with your toes dug into the ground.  Lift your knees slightly off the ground.  Keeping your back flat and stable, move your opposite hand and foot to crawl forward or backward.  Work up to 50 yards.

For video demonstration of these exercises, click here

Real Core Training Part Three

Anti-Extension

Like everything in the fitness world, core training has evolved.  When I bought my first bodybuilding magazine in the late 90s, the word “core” wasn’t even used.  Instead, you would find ab workouts, oblique workouts, and sometime, low back workouts.  Like pretty much everything in the 90s, muscles were trained in isolation with little concern for how the musculoskeletal system was designed to function as a unit.  We have come a long way in our understanding of physiology, biomechanics, and injury prevention/reduction.

The core used to be trained and often still is through movement: flexion (anterior), lateral flexion, extension, and rotation.  Sit ups, crunches, side bends, and Russian twists aim to strengthen the muscles concentrically and eccentrically.  These build mass and thickness to the core musculature.  The second way we train the core is to recognize it as a stabilizer of the low back and hips.  This involves training this musculature to resist movement.  When it comes to increasing strength, power, speed, and reducing injury, this training is more important than dynamically training the core.  This style of training is referred to as “anti-core training” because we are resisting flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation.  The other benefit of anti-core training is that it involves isometric contractions which are much less likely to create muscle hypertrophy, which individuals typically don’t want in their waist.  I typically recommend that 70-90% of your core training consist of anti-core work depending on your health/injury history and goals.

The key to good core training is understanding what you are trying to accomplish, as well as how to progress or regress the movement.  Here are the some of our favorites that we use at Fenton Fitness for each of the four anti-core categories.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Anti-Exension

Supine Bent Knee March

Lay on your back and lift your legs off the ground with your knees and hips at 90 degree angles.  Posteriorly tilt your hips so that your low back is pressed firmly into the ground.  Slowly lower one heel to the ground keeping your knee at 90 degrees and not allowing your low back to lift off the floor.  Bring this leg back up and repeat on the other side.  Work up to 10 reps per side.

Bent Leg Dead Bug

Assume the same position as the previous exercise.  Reach your arms straight up to the ceiling.  Keep your low back pressed into the floor and straighten one leg, getting the heel as close to the ground as possible without touching.  Simultaneously reach the opposite arm overhead without quite touching the ground.

Straight Leg Dead Bug

Lay on your back with your legs and arms all reaching up toward the ceiling.  Keep your leg straight. and slowly lower it toward the ground while simultaneously reaching overhead with the opposite arm.  Don’t allow your foot or arm to rest on the ground, and keep your low back pressed into the floor.

Hollow Body Hold

Lay on your back and press your low back into the floor.  Lift your feet, shoulders, and arms off the floor, keeping your low back pressed into the floor.  Keep your feet and arms as close to the ground as possible while also keeping your low back on the ground.  Hold for up to 60 seconds.

Plank

Lay on your stomach and place your elbows under your shoulders.  Put your feet together and lift your hips off the ground.  Maintain neutral lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine positions. Contract your glutes, pull your ribs down with a forceful exhalation, and try to pull your elbows toward your toes (they won’t actually move) to engage your lats.  Try to create maximum full body tension.  Hold for up to 30 seconds.

Long Lever Plank

Use the same set up and execution as the plank, except that the elbows will be farther out in front of the shoulders.  The farther forward the elbows, the harder this will be.  Work up to 30 seconds.

Body Saw

Use the set up the same as the plank only with carpet sliders under your toes.  Use your shoulders to slide yourself into the long lever position and then slide back.  Make sure you maintain spinal and pelvis positioning during the whole movement.  Work up to 12 reps.

Physioball Rollouts

Start in a tall kneeling position with a Physioball at arm’s length in front of you.  Pull your ribs down and engage your glutes.  Allow your body to fall forward by letting your hands and forearms roll up onto the ball.  Once you feel you are going to break lumbopelvic positioning, reverse the movement to get you back to your starting position.  Work up to 10 reps.

TRX Fallouts

Use the same set up as with the physioball, but use a suspension trainer instead.  Set up with straps at mid-thigh height.  Execute in the same manner.  Lower the strap starting position to increase difficulty.  Work up to 10 reps.

Ab Wheel/Dolly Rollouts

Set up on your knees with your hands on an ab wheel or dolly and place your hands directly under your shoulders.  Begin to fall forward by flexing the shoulder (overhead) and extending the hips.  Go forward as far as possible without losing spinal positioning and then reverse movement back to the start.  Make sure shoulder and hip joints extend/flex at the same speed.

For video demonstration of these exercises, click here

Real Core Training Part Two

Anti-Lateral Flexion

Like everything in the fitness world, core training has evolved.  When I bought my first bodybuilding magazine in the late 90s, the word “core” wasn’t even used.  Instead, you would find ab workouts, oblique workouts, and sometime, low back workouts.  Like pretty much everything in the 90s, muscles were trained in isolation with little concern for how the musculoskeletal system was designed to function as a unit.  We have come a long way in our understanding of physiology, biomechanics, and injury prevention/reduction.

The core used to be trained and often still is through movement: flexion (anterior), lateral flexion, extension, and rotation.  Sit ups, crunches, side bends, and Russian twists aim to strengthen the muscles concentrically and eccentrically.  These build mass and thickness to the core musculature.  The second way we train the core is to recognize it as a stabilizer of the low back and hips.  This involves training this musculature to resist movement.  When it comes to increasing strength, power, speed, and reducing injury, this training is more important than dynamically training the core.  This style of training is referred to as “anti-core training” because we are resisting flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation.  The other benefit of anti-core training is that it involves isometric contractions which are much less likely to create muscle hypertrophy, which individuals typically don’t want in their waist.  I typically recommend that 70-90% of your core training consist of anti-core work depending on your health/injury history and goals.

The key to good core training is understanding what you are trying to accomplish, as well as how to progress or regress the movement.  Here are the some of our favorites that we use at Fenton Fitness for each of the four anti-core categories.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Anti-Lateral Flexion

Bent Knee Side Plank

Lay on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder and line your knees up below your hips.  Lift your hips off the ground and hold.  Work up to 45 seconds.

Side Plank

Lay on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder and straighten your legs out.  Stack your legs on top of each other and lift your hips off the ground.  Hold for up to 60 seconds.

Side Plank with Top Leg Elevated

Position yourself in the same set up as the side plank.  Once your hips are lifted off the ground, you will move your top leg away from the bottom leg.  Make sure that you don’t flex either hip when raising the top leg.  Work up to 30 seconds.

Side Plank with Top Leg on Bench

Lay on your side and place your elbow under your shoulder.  Place your top leg on top of a bench.  Lift your hips off the ground.  The bottom leg can squeeze the bottom of the bench or dangle in the air.

Suitcase Hold

Grab a KB/DB in one hand, stand tall, and maintain a neutral lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine position. Make sure your shoulder blades stay down and back.  If possible, watch yourself in the mirror to ensure you aren’t leaning.  Hold for up to 60 seconds.

Suitcase Carry

Assume the same set up as the suitcase hold.  Start walking with a normal gait.  Make sure to not lean excessively.  Start with 20 yards per side and work up to 100 yards.

For video demonstration of these exercises, click here

Triathlon Success: Hamstring And Glute Togetherness

To keep a triathlete healthy and resilient, the hamstrings and gluteal muscles must work together as a team.   The athlete fires the gluteals and hamstrings simultaneously to stabilize the pelvis and produce force through the lower leg.  When you run, bicycle, or swim, these muscles work at a team to produce efficient propulsion and reduce stress on the lumbar spine and knee.  A triathalon is the ultimate long duration physical endeavor.  Triathletes need hamstrings and gluteal muscles that can stay on and strong for a long time.

Most fitness programs do not properly train the muscle of the posterior chain.  Fitness center exercise generally involves training the hamstrings as knee flexors on some type of “leg curl” machine.  Gluteal training rarely occurs past neutral hip extension, with little effort on improving overall hip range of motion.  Any type of seated gluteal training is inappropriate for an athlete.

The term physical therapists and strength coaches use for butt muscles that are non- responsive is “gluteal amnesia”.  Our sedentary lifestyle involves very little of the glute recruiting sprinting, deep squatting, and climbing that activates the gluteal muscles.  We mistreat our gluteal muscles with hours of compressive sitting and little in the way of full range hip movement.  Many fitness clients and most physical therapy patients need some remedial gluteal training.  Give these three drills a place in your triathalon training program.

Single Leg Bridges

Lay supine with the arms braced against the floor to stabilize the upper body.   Bend the knees and place the feet flat on the ground.  Lift the right leg up off the ground.  Using the muscles in the back of the left leg, lift the hips up off the ground.  Push up through the heel of the left foot and drive the left hip into full extension.  Hold at the top for three seconds and then lower in a controlled manner.  Perform ten repetitions on each leg.  Common mistakes are allowing the pelvis to tilt and not fully extending the hip.  Hamstring cramping is an indication that you are not using the glutes enough and need to focus on creating a better mind to butt connection.

Goblet Squat

The squat movement pattern is a skill that is easier to teach if you add some load.  You can use either a dumbbell or a kettlebell for this exercise.  It has been my experience that the exercise is easier to learn with a kettlebell.  Hold a kettlebell by the horns, with the elbows down, and the kettlebell close to the chest.  Keep the chest proud and pull the abdominal muscles tight.  You may have to experiment with foot placement as everyone has different hips.  The position you would place the feet if you were going to jump is a good starting point.  Initiate the squat by pushing back the hips.  Keep the torso tall and descend.  Let your pelvis fall between the hips. The elbow should drop down between the knees.  Nothing will inhibit your progress more than thinking about how you are moving during goblet squats.  Keep your brain quiet and get in some repetitions.  Effort has amazing capacity to improve motor control.   Perform ten repetitions.

Mini Band Monster Walk

Your will need a mini resistance band–a nine inch loop of resistance band, (two dollars from performbetter.com).  Most fitness clients will do well with a green or yellow mini band.  Place the mini band loop around both legs just above the ankles.  Assume an athletic stance with the feet straight ahead, knees bent, and hips flexed.  The band should be held taught throughout the exercise.  Imagine your feet are standing on railroad tracks.  Walk forward for ten steps on each side, keeping the feet over the railroad tracks.  Walk backward for five repetitions on each leg.  Try to keep the hips and shoulders level throughout the exercise.

Once you have mastered all three exercises, build your gluteal and hamstring performance by traveling through the program for two or three trips.

  1. single leg bridges  R and L x 10
  2. goblet squats x 10
  3. mini band monster walk x 10 each leg

View video of the exercises here: https://youtu.be/QeteeLPF4AU

Kat Wood, DPT, ATC

Triathlon Success: Core Connection

In the fitness world core stability training has gained a solid foothold and more people are getting away from spinal damaging resisted twisting machines and the ever present sit up gizmo.  Most people know how to perform a “plank” exercise and have added this drill to their fitness routines.  Learning how to properly brace the core stabilizers and perform a sustained plank type isometric exercise will resolve back pain, improve the hip to shoulder girdle connection, and make you a better movement machine.  The problem is most people never advance beyond the basic plank exercise.  Triathletes need significant anti-rotation and anti-extension core strength and endurance.  I have three drills that will help keep you strong and resilient in your quest to complete you first tri.    Read the directions and give these activities a place in your fitness program.

Alternate Single Arm Planks

Position the body in a toes and elbows plank, but separate the legs so the feet are wider than the shoulders.  Lift one arm up at a 45 degree angle in relation to your body and hold for five seconds.  Lower the arm back down and try the other arm.

If you are unable to perform the alternate arm plank on the floor, regress the exercise by placing the hands on a bench in a push ups position.  Lift one arm up at a 45 degree angle in relation to your body and hold for five seconds.  Lower the arm back down and try the other arm.  How many and much?  Perform three to five repetitions on each arm.  Work up to longer hold times instead of more repetitions.  Five repetitions on each arm with a ten second hold is a good goal.

Pallof Press

You need a cable machine or resistance tubing set at mid torso level.   Position your body at a 90 degree angle in relation to the pull of the cable.  Assume an athletic posture with the feet at least shoulder width apart and the spine neutral.  Push the hips back a little and keep a slight bend in the ankles and knees.  You should look like a tennis player preparing to return an opponent’s serve.  Use a strong overlap grip on the handle and set the hands in the middle of the chest.  Brace the midsection and hips and move the handle out in front of the body and then back to the chest.  Select a resistance level that permits execution of all repetitions without losing the set up posture.  If one side is more difficult, start the exercise on that side.  Perform fifteen repetitions on each side.

Many of us have terrible respiratory patterns.  We are unable to fully inhale and exhale when under any physical stress.  The Pallof Press can be used to improve respiratory control.  Use the same set up and press the cable out.  Hold the cable with the arm fully extended while inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six seconds.  Bring the arms back in and then repeat.  Perform four of five inhale / exhale respiration repetitions on each side.

View the video here: View Video

 Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Progression Know How

Carries, Crawls, and Core

If I could kill a word it would be “workout”.  People who are into fitness love to talk about working out, but seldom do you hear people talk about training or practicing movements.  “Workout” tends to infer any form of structured exercise with the sole purpose of expending energy or making you tired.  It focuses on today and perhaps a feeling (tired, sore, or getting a pump, etc.), but has no thought of tomorrow.   Our focus at Fenton Fitness is always on training or practicing movements.  The focus is always on the future–reducing injury risk, becoming more durable, performing better at sports or life, or just feeling better.  Our focus is on skill acquisition, not feeling tired.  Just imagine if we treated education the way we treat exercise.  Think of the difficulty of  learning a new subject every day, rarely repeating something, with the sole purpose of making it difficult.  That would be crazy, yet that is more and more of what we see in the fitness industry.  In workouts, exercises tend to change just for the sake of changing.  In training, the movements are not random and serve a direct purpose, and are therefore performed for a minimum of 3-4 weeks.  We progress these movements by performing them with more control, increasing the number of sets or reps, increasing load, or reducing rest intervals.  Here are some benchmarks that we like to use with some basic exercises to do before progressing on to the next movement.

Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CSFC, Pn1

Carries, Crawls, and Core

Push Up Position Plank: Goal of 1 minute

Plank: Goal of 30 seconds

Side Plank: Goal of 30 seconds/side

Side Plank w/ outside foot elevated: Goal of 30 seconds/side

Side Plank w/ inside leg elevated: Goal of 30 seconds/side

Anterior Baby Crawl: goal of 15 yards with stable torso

Anterior Crawl: Goal of 30 yards with stable torso

Farmers Walk: Goal of 60 yards with body weight

Turkish Get Up (¼): Goal of 8/6kg (men/women) for 10 reps/side

Turkish Get Up (½): Goal of 10/12kg (men/women) for 6 reps/side

Turkish Get Up (full): Goal of 25% body weight for 4 reps/side.

See video demonstration of these exercises here: https://youtu.be/5OkXbOWx4mw

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

Lower Body

Split Squat

To set up for the split squat, put one foot in front of the other with the heel of the back foot off the ground. 85% of the weight should be on the front foot. An airex pad can be placed under the body for the knee to come down on when lowering to the floor. When in the bottom position of the exercise, the front knee should be in line with the toe creating a slight shin angle. Make sure to push through the front heel on the way up instead of the toe. This exercise can be made easier by holding onto a railing, or can be made harder by adding weight such as a kettlebell in a goblet hold. The split squat displays greater hamstring, external oblique, and gluteus medius muscle activity than the back squat, but less quadriceps muscle activity.

RFE Split Squat: RFE stands for “rear foot elevated”. With this variation of the split squat, set up with the back foot elevated on a bench or a padded stand created for this exercise. An airex pad can be used under the knee if necessary. Squat down, touching the knee to the floor or airex pad.  When in this bottom position, the shin angle should be angled forward just as before, not straight up and down. Common errors include sitting too far back on the rear foot, touching the glute to the heel, or the back foot can tend to roll off the padded stand on the way up and move more onto the shin. Avoid this by putting more weight into the front leg and dropping the knee straight down instead of back. This exercise can be made more difficult by adding dumbbells in each hand, a kettlebell in the goblet, racked, or double racked position, or a barbell in the front or back position. Make sure to descend slowly, creating an eccentric load instead of dropping down fast.

FOB Hip Lift: FOB stands for “feet on ball”. Lay on the floor or table on your back and place the arms out to the side. Push down into the floor with the arms to stabilize the body. Keep the feet together and brace your abdominal muscles. Use the glutes and hamstrings to lift yourself up off the floor, making sure to keep everything tight at the top of the movement. Hold 3-10 seconds at the top and lower slowly and controlled. You can remove the arms from the floor and rest them on your stomach or behind your head to create more of a challenge.

One Leg FOB Hip Lift: Same setup as before except one leg will be used. The other leg will be pointed up to the ceiling as the other presses into the ball to lift the body. This creates more of a stability challenge.

FOB Leg Curl: This variation starts out just like the FOB hip lift, except at the top of the movement when the body is raised, the knees are bent and the ball is pulled in towards the body creating more work for the hamstrings. Keep the hips extended by activating the glutes and moving the hips upward, avoiding the tendency to bend at the hips. It should look like your hips move up and then return to a straight body position.

One Leg FOB Leg Curl: The hardest variation for the FOB series is the one leg curl. Use one leg instead of two, extending the other leg up to the ceiling. Make sure to still avoid bending at the hips in this variation as well.

One Leg Deadlift: When starting out with this exercise, it is best to just use bodyweight. Stand with 95% of your weight on one leg. Extend the arms and free leg out to a “T” position, bending the standing leg slightly. The extended leg should be reaching backwards as far as it can go.  Think about sitting into that hip just as you would during deadlifts. As this exercise becomes easier and balance is not an issue, it can be progressed by holding a kettlebell. The kettlebell should be held in the same side as the leg extending back. Reach the kettlebell straight down by the big toe; the weight should not go in front of the toe but rather by the instep of the foot. If you have progressed pass the kettlebell, two kettlebells can be used or a barbell with weight. The primary muscles being used in this exercise are the posterior leg muscles including the glutes and hamstrings.

One Leg Squat: Stand in front of a 12-18” box (start higher, and work your way to a lower box).  You will want to have 5-10# of weight to use as a counter balance (dumbbell, plate, or med ball).  Standing on only one leg, slowly lower yourself to the box.  As you descend, reach forward with the weight to help with balance.  Control the descent until your butt taps the box and then stand back up.  Work for 3-12 reps before switching legs.  Over time, try to get to a lower box so that your hip is slightly below your knee at the bottom position.

Watch video of these exercises: https://youtu.be/SqFqf81UnIk

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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Learn how to keep your spinal stabilizers strong by performing side planks.  Mike O’Hara explains this in his article, “Learning to Lean”, and includes video demonstration and explanation of the importance keeping your stabilizers strong to stand up to the demands of daily life. It’s time for another Fenton Fitness Love Your Jeans Challenge–see page 3 for more information. In his article, “The Periodization of Nutrition”, Jeff Tirrell gives tips on optimizing dietary intake.

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