Hamstring injuries are on the rise. In this month’s newsletter, Mike O’Hara, PT provides information on preventing hamstring injuries and includes videos of the recommended exercises. Learn what it is to be “farm boy strong” and what you can do to become a “functional farmer”.
In this issue, Mike O’Hara, PT gives ten reasons to love lunges. Video of lunge exercises/progressions are included. In Going Grizzly, Mike presents the exercise combination of Crawls and Sandbag Carries; a combination that helps you train more efficiently and move better. Watch the video for instruction on these exercises.
Crawl and Bearhug Sandbag Carry
When designing programs for rehabilitation patients and fitness clients, I often pair up exercises. This practice is commonly called super-setting and it has multiple benefits:
Train efficiently—You get much more work done during your training time.
Abolish performance deficits—Most physical therapy and fitness clients need to work on glaring right vs. left movement asymmetries, postural restrictions, and stability limitations.
Lose weight—Fat loss is a primary goal of most fitness clients. Pairing exercises ramps up exercise intensity and creates the hormonal response that improves body composition.
Move better—Training neurologically related movement patterns improves motor control.
Crawl and Bearhug Sandbag Carry
A finisher is a short but intense, high metabolic cost, training event performed at the end of an exercise session. The best finishers create carry over to real life activities and can be made more challenging as you become more fit. When linked to proper diet, finishers produce the “metabolic hit” that stimulates fat loss. As the name implies, you always perform finishers at the end of your workout because, afterwards, you will not want to do anything else.
Crawling is all about the spiral, diagonal force connection that happens through the middle of the body. Crawling is the primal exercise that enabled us to stand and walk. The “core muscles” neurologically connect the left hip with the right shoulder and the right hip with the left shoulder. They stabilize the pelvis and spine so you can transfer force from the hips to the shoulders. Crawling keeps that connection healthy and strong.
Bear Hug Sandbag Carry
The bear hug sandbag carry is the cure for the epidemic of device disability syndrome (DDS). This exercise reverses all of the weakness that is created by endless hours planted in a chair, staring into a screen. Sandbag carries are functional core stability work. The abdominal muscles interact with the muscles in the legs and shoulder girdle to hold a stable upright position. Walking with a sandbag kicks starts your postural reflexes, the neural feedback mechanism that holds us up against gravity. Do not go too heavy on the sandbag. You should be able to stay tall and not stagger or lean forward.
The routine is simple: Crawl for twenty yards—ten yards down and ten yards back. Try to keep the knees close to the floor and the back flat. Immediately after finishing the crawl, pick up the sandbag with a bear hug hold- no hands linked- and carry it for twenty yards. Rest as needed and repeat. Start out with three circuits and increase to five. Try to keep the rest periods under thirty seconds. Once you get up to five circuits, add a weight vest and then a heavier sandbag. Modify the distance, load, and cycles to suit your needs. Give the crawl/bear hug carry combo finisher a try and let me know how it goes.
View video of Mike performing sandbag carries here: https://youtu.be/Ygg2vbf-Uoo
-Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
Halos And Around The Worlds Are The App For That
Much like the collision avoidance computer systems built into automobiles, our brains run neural software that prevents us from overloading and damaging the spine. If we are unable to adequately stabilize the spine, our neural injury avoidance system prevents us from loading the arms and legs in positions that will produce a spinal injury. Developmentally, we master the capacity to control the muscles in the middle of the body first. What this means for the average fitness participant is that hip/shoulder exercise activities have little value if we do not possess adequate spinal/pelvic girdle stability. Training that enhances the coordinated control of the “muscles in the middle” enables our neural system to produce more efficient, graceful, and pain-free movement.
Halos and Around the World drills improve the coordinated control of the pelvic girdle and spinal stabilizers. They act as a “neural reboot” of the software that controls stabilization of the spine and pelvic girdle. These exercises are easy to learn and require minimal equipment. An Airex pad under the knees makes the exercise more comfortable and you can use a kettlebell, sandbag, or an Iron Grip weight plate for resistance.
Kettlebell Halos in Tall Kneeling
Assume a tall kneeling position on the Airex pad. The knees are under the hips and the toes should grip the floor. Grip the kettlebell by the horns in an inverted position. Make the shoulder girdle muscles active by pulling out against the horns of the ‘bell.’ Brace the gluteals and abdominal muscles and maintain a tall and stable posture during the exercise. Start with the ‘bell’ in front of the chest and circle the kettlebell slowly around the head in the shape of an angel’s halo. Perform three to five halos in clockwise and then three to five counter clockwise.
Sandbag Around the World
Assume a half-kneeling position on the Airex pad. The left knee is under the hip and the toes of the left foot should grip the floor. The right knee is in front of the hip and the foot is flat on the floor. I like the unstable “shifting resistance” provided by a sandbag for this exercise but you can also use an Iron Grip weight plate. Make the shoulder girdle muscles active by pulling out against the handles of the sandbag or Iron Grip plate. Brace the gluteals and abdominal muscles and maintain a tall and stable posture during the exercise. Start with the bag or plate in front of the body at belly button level. Take the implement around the body in a very slow and steady fashion. Each repetition should take at least six seconds to complete. Do not permit the body to shift or shake. Perform three to five cycles in clockwise and then three to five counter clockwise. Switch the leg position and repeat with the right knee down and the left leg forward.
For the next six weeks, perform one of these exercises at every training session. It is surprising how many people report improved capacity to squat, lunge, overhead press, and get off the floor with some dedicated neural retraining of the “muscles in the middle.”
Video demonstration of kettlebell halos and sandbag around the worlds can be seen here: https://youtu.be/LGodn9ImRqc
Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS
For the last three months, I have been performing a workout finisher recommended by Strength Coach Dan John. This event consists of only two activities: a bear hug carry with a sandbag and a crawl. I worked this routine into my training once a week and the results have been great. My recovery capacity has improved, and I have been able to progress to wearing a weight vest during this finisher. Every spring, I return to sprint intervals and this year I had none of the hamstring and old man hip soreness that bothered me in the past. My kettlebell swings have improved and I travel through a series of snatches with less fatigue. I attribute this to my ongoing performance of the crawl-carry finisher.
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