Enhance Performance Article Archives

Check out all my articles on optimizing and enhancing performance.  Explore the archives below or click the button to subscribe and never miss another post.

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How to Choose the Right Medicine Ball

Medicine balls are commonly used for plyometric and power development drills.

The two most common types of medicine balls can be categorized by how well they bounce, high bounce or low bounce.

There’s a time and need for both, but choosing the right medicine ball can easily make or break the effectiveness of the exercise.

A medicine ball that bounces can effectively trigger the stretch-shortening cycle of a plyometric exercise, while a medicine ball with low bounce will place the emphasis on the concentric power output.

How to Choose the Right Medicine Ball

In this video, I discuss this more and show the different emphasis that different medicine balls will produce:

Get More Performance Therapy Tips

I’ve really been publishing a ton of great videos on social media lately, including this series of “Performance Therapy Tips.”  Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook to get them all!

 

The Science of Plyometrics

If you want to learn more, check out my Inner Circle presentation that overviews the neurological basis, phases, and science of plyometrics:

To access this webinar:

 

The Right Way, and Wrong Way, to Do Plyometrics

Plyometric exercises have been used for decades in both the rehabilitation and sports performance settings.

I love how plyometrics can effectively be used for power development, but are also valuable in the rehabilitation setting to gradually apply load to healing tissue while working on both force production and dissipation.

To truly perform plyometric exercises and get the most out of them, you must understand the science behind the stretch-shortening cycle.  I talk about this in detail in an Inner Circle presentation on the Science of Plyometric Exercises.

To fully maximize the benefit of the stretch-shortening cycle, you have to quickly transition from the eccentric loading phase to the concentric explosion phase of the drill.

If you perform the drills to slow, you’ll reduce the effect of the stretch-shortening cycle and decrease the efficacy of the plyometric exercise.

 

The Right Way, and Wrong Way, to Do Plyometrics

Watch the quick video below to see what I mean:

The Science of Plyometrics

If you want to learn more, check out my Inner Circle presentation that overviews the neurological basis, phases, and science of plyometrics:

To access this webinar:

The Science of Plyometrics

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on The Science of Plyometrics is now available.

The Science Behind Plyometrics

The Science of Plyometrics

This month’s Inner Circle webinar is on The Science of Plyometrics.  In this presentation, I overview the foundation behind plyometric training so that you can perform them effectively,

This webinar will cover:

  • The goals of plyometric training
  • How the muscles spindles and golgi tendon organs interact
  • The 3 phases of plyometric exercises
  • The right way, and wrong way, to perform plyometric exercises

To access this webinar:

The Best Self Myofascial Release Tools

Self myofascial release tools, such as foam rollers, trigger point balls, and massage sticks, have become some of the most popular tools used for corrective exercises, fitness, and sports performance.  In fact, performing self myofascial release has become almost a uniform component in the majority of fitness and sports performance programs.

You can certainly argue the exact physiological benefit of performing self myofascial release.  Ironically we are likely not really “releasing” fascia.

However, it’s hard to argue the benefits of self myofascial release.

Two recent studies in International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy and Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy have been published that analyzed the current state of research and conclude that self myofascial release:

  • Increases mobility and joint range of motion
  • Reduces post-workout soreness and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness)
  • Allows for greater workout performance in future workouts
  • May lead to improved vascular function and parasympathetic nervous system function

“Simply put, self myofascial release has been proven to help you feel and move better.” [click to tweet]

In order to get started, I wanted to share my years of experience with self myofascial release tools.  There are so many foam rollers, trigger point tools, and massage sticks out there these days.
I’ve tried nearly all of them and these are what I consider the best self myofascial release tools.

Best Self Myofascial Release Tools

Over the years I have tried a ridiculous amount of different self myofascial release tools, some great, some awful, and some just a rip off.  Luckily, new products emerge all the time and continue to improve.

I’ve learned a couple of things that are important:

  • There are different types of self myofascial release tools for different needs, body parts, and intensities.  Building your own “kit” is probably going to be the most effective.  Trying to use just a foam roller on everything is going to not work well.
  • You tend to build up a tolerance to self myofascial release and want to upgrade to more advanced foam rollers, trigger point balls, and massage sticks.  Start with the basics and advance overtime.

Best Foam Rollers

Amazon Basics High-Density Round Foam Roller self myofascial release - amazon foam roller

The first place to is a basic high density foam roller.  This could be the cheapest and most versatile tool you get.  Amazon has started to make their own version, which is a great price.  You’ll find various sizes.  I’ve never personally gotten much use of the large 36-inch versions and tend to favor the 18-inch version.

TriggerPoint GRID Foam Rollerself myofascial release - grid foam roller

The basic high density foam roller is a great place to start to get used to foam rolling, but quickly gets pretty easy.  You’ll want to upgrade to a more firm foam roller in increase the intensity.  My preferred choice is the GRID foam roller from TriggerPoint.  I’ve been using this foam roller for years with continued success.  It has a rigid hollow core that increases the intensity very well.  This is worth the extra investment as it will likely be your main foam roller for some time.

Mobilitas Mobility Sphere
self myofascial release - mobility sphere foam roller

Somewhere between a foam roller and a trigger point ball, I actually really like using 5” mobility balls.  Because of the round shape, the contact area is smaller so the amount of force to the area is larger.  Plus, you can use into in multiple planes of motion because it is a ball instead of a roller.  This is something I personally use.  You can get into smaller areas, like your chest, but I use this just as much as a standard foam roller.  There are a few but the one I use and recommend is the Mobilitas Mobility Sphere.

Acumobility Eclipse Foam Rollerself myofascial release - acumobility foam roller

I was recently turned onto the Eclipse Foam Roller from Acumobility and have been impressed.  I was intrigued by the design and wanted to try it myself.  I’m not a big fan of foam rollers with ridges, as I just feel they don’t do much and concept is more of a marketing gimmick.  But Acumobility has a made a great advanced foam roller that includes a firm middle section that can encompass a body part really well.  It’s a really unique design and a great tool for advanced foam rolling.

Best Massage Roller Stick

While foam rollers are the primary self myofascial release tool for most needs, there are body parts that simply don’t do as well and need a massage stick tool.  The next tool you should add to your self myofascial release tool kit is a massager stick roller.  There are a few popular massage sticks on the market, and as it is with most things, I actually don’t prefer the two most popular massage sticks.

TheraBand Roller Massager+self myofascial release - theraband massage stick roller

The original massage stick began with plastic pieces and did a fairly well job, but newer tools have used a more grippy surface that I feel is far more effective. A plastic roller is just placing pressure downward on the tissue, where the grip on the TheraBand Roller Massager+ seems to also create a tissue traction with the friction produced.  This is a great product for areas like the forearms and feet, but also areas where you want to apply more pressure than what you can with just body weight, like the quads, hamstrings, and calves.  Plus, this has been the massage roller featured in many of the research reports.

Best Trigger Point Release Tools

In addition to foam rollers and massage sticks.  Trigger point release tools are another must have addition to your self myofascial release tool kit.  Essentially, these just tend to be smaller self myofascial release tools that can get into tighter areas.

Lacrosse Ballself myofascial release - lacrosse ball trigger point tool

Yup, that’s it, just a lacrosse ball.  People have tried to make better versions of trigger point balls, but nothing beats the affordable lacrosse ball.  Great material, density, and durability.  This is a great place to start.  Get a couple so you can use two at once one places like your spine.

Acumobility Mobility Ballself myofascial release - acumobility ball trigger point tool

Acumobility, the maker of the Eclipse Roller above, has another great tool, their Mobility Ball.  This is made from a great dense material, but has a flat bottom that allows you to keep this in one spot on the floor or even against the wall.  This really helps to provide firm pressure while performing movements of the muscle group.  This is a great upgrade from the lacrosse ball.

Trigger Point Wandself myofascial release - trigger point wand

Sometimes an area is hard to reach, such as your neck or back.  That’s where sometimes a trigger point wand comes in handy.  I would definitely consider this a speciality tool, however a very popular choice.

Foot Rubz Massage Ballself myofascial release - foot rubz massage ball

Another speciality tool, but something that I wanted to include as I really love, is the hand and foot massage ball from Foot Rubz.  This is a smaller trigger point ball perfect for the hands and feet.  You can use a lacrosse ball or even the TheraBand Massage Roller above for these areas, but I feel this is slightly better and worth it for many.  (I’m literally using one as I type this haha…)

Create Your Own Self Myofascial Release Tool Kit

All of the above options are great choices.  I would recommend getting one of each of the foam rollers, massage sticks, and trigger point tools.  Together, these cover pretty much all of your self myofascial release needs.

If you are interested, I also have an Inner Circle webinar on how I perform self myofascial release.

Hip Variations and Why My Squat Isn’t Your Squat

Today’s article is an AMAZING guest post from my friend Dean Somerset.  I’ve been talking a lot lately about how hip anatomy should change your mechanics and why exercises like squats should be individualized based on each person, but Dean blows this topic out of the water with this article.  If you love this stuff as much as I, check out the link at the bottom for Dean and Tony Gentilcore’s new program, The Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint.  This is just the tip of the iceberg of what is covered in the program.

 

Hip Variations and Why My Squat Isn’t Your Squat

In a recent workshop, I had a group of 50 fit and active fitness professionals and asked them all to do their best bodyweight squat with a position that felt good, didn’t produce pain, and was as deep as they could manage. As you can imagine, looking around the room produced 50 different squats. Some were wide, narrow, deep, high, turned out feet or some variation all of the above.

Did these differences mean there was a standard everyone should aim for, and those who weren’t there had to try to improve their mobility or strength or balance in that position? Maybe, but there’s probably a bunch of other reasons as to why 50 people have 50 different squats.

A standard requirement for powerlifting is to squat to a depth that involves having the crease of the hips below the vertical position of the knee. That’s probably the only known requirement for squat depth out there. The universal recommendation of “ass to grass” depth being the best thing since sliced bread may sound nice on paper (or in Instagram videos or Youtube segments), but it might be something that’s relatively difficult for some people to achieve, and for others it could be downright impossible, regardless of how much mobility work or soft tissue attacks they go through. The benefits of a deep squat seem to only be reserved for those who have the ability to express those benefits by accessing that range of motion without some other compensatory issue.

Let’s just consider simple stuff like anthropometric differences between individuals. Someone who is taller will have a bigger range of motion to go through to hit a parallel position than someone who is shorter, and someone with longer femurs in relation to their torso length will have a harder time maintaining balance over their base of support compared to someone who has shorter femurs. A long femur could be any femur that comprises more than 26% of an individual’s’ total height. So someone who is tall and long femured will have trouble getting down to or below parallel due to simply having the limb lengths to allow the bar to stay over the base of support during the squat motion without losing balance one way or the other.

Not as commonly known is the degree of retroversion or anteversion the femoral necks can make. The shaft of the femur doesn’t just always go straight up and insert into the pelvis with a solid 90 degree alignment. On occasion the neck can be angled forward (femoral head is anterior to the shaft) in a position known as anteversion, or angled backward (femoral head is posterior to the shaft) in a position known as retroversion. Zalawadia et al (2010) showed the variances in femoral neck angles could be as much as 24 degrees between samples, which can be a huge difference when it comes to the ability to move a joint through a range of motion.

hip variations squat

The acetabulum could itself be in a position of anteversion or retroversion, and this difference itself could be more than 30 degrees. This means the same shaped acetabulum would give someone who has the most anteverted acetabulum 30 extra degrees of flexion than someone who had the most retroverted acetabulum, but would give them 30 degrees more extension than the anteverted hips.

There’s also the differences in centre-edge angles, or the angle made from the center of the femoral head through the vertical axis and the outer edge of the lateral acetabulum. Laborie et al (2012) measured this angle in 2038 19 year old Norwegians, and found that it ranged from 20.8 degrees to 45.0 degrees with a mean of 32 in males and 31 in females.

hip anatomy squat

Now to throw even another monkey wrench into the problem, there’s the simple fact that your left and right hips can be at different angles from each other! Zalawadia (same guy as before) showed that the angle of anteversion or retroversion of the femur could be significantly different from left to right, sometimes more than 20 degrees worth of difference.

squat anatomy

All of this can have a direct effect on their available range of motion. You can’t easily mobilize bone into bone and create a new range from that interaction, so if one person has hips where the bony alignment and shape doesn’t causes earlier contact in a specific direction compared to someone else who has a different shaped and aligned hip structure, it’s going to show in their overall mobility.

Elson and Aspinal (2008) showed that there can be a massive variation in both passive and active movements of the hip across age ranges and gender differences. They showed a true hip flexion range of between 80-140 degrees (mean of 25)with no lumbar rounding, a strict active straight leg raise with no lumbar rounding range of 30-90 degrees (mean of 70), and active leg raise with lumbar rounding of 50-90 degrees (mean of 86). This means someone in their sample managed to get 60 degrees more hip flexion than someone else in the sample. There was also a range of between 5-40 degrees of hip extension too, and across an age range from 19-89 years old, that’s a notable difference, especially if you work in general populations where everyone walks into the gym and over to the squat rack.

D’Lima et al (2000) found that hip flexion ROM could be as low as 75 degrees with 0 degrees of both acetabular anteversion or femoral anteversion, but as high as 155 degrees, with 30 degrees of both acetabular anteversion or femoral anteversion. An increase in femoral neck diameter of as little as 2mm was able to reduce hip flexion range by 1.5 – 8.5 degrees, depending on the direction of motion.

So essentially, your ability to achieve a specific range of motion is as much up to your unique articular geometry as it is to your strength and mobility. In many cases, it’s entirely independent of your strength and mobility, and no amount of stretching, mashing, crushing, or stripping will improve it. In many cases, trying to achieve that range of motion that’s outside of your joints ability to achieve will cause less desirable results, like bone to bone contact and irritation (potentially leading to things like femoroacetabular impingement), or compensatory movement from other joints like the SI joint or lumbar spine.

So with as much involved with the structure as I’ve presented here, and how impactful it can be to the end result of total motion of the hips during exercises, how can you determine whether it’s a limiting factor or not? If you happen to have X-ray vision you can do a good job of this, but you’d likely be charging a heck of a lot more money than you are right now for your services.

What we have available is a detailed assessment that focuses on a combination of features.

Involving a passive assessment to assume a theoretically available range of motion and shape of movement capability, an active assessment to see how they can use that range and whether there’s a difference between the two, and then determining strength or motor pattern aptitudes for the movements can be the best tools we have at our disposal, and then coaching the movement until their face sweats blood.

By using multiple approaches to assessing available and usable range of motion, you can get multiple views into a room that can paint a broader picture of what’s available. If the person has the ability to easily let their knee drop to their chest on your treatment table and squat to the floor, there’s obviously no restriction to their range of motion. If they have trouble breaking 90 degrees, even if they move wider through abduction and external rotation, their active range is limited through multiple tests, and their ability to show you a squat shows a lumbar flexion at around 90 degrees of hip flexion as well, the odds of you mobilizing that tissue to produce a significantly bigger range may be limited.

 

Passive Assessment of Hip Structure

 

Active Hip Flexion Capability Against Gravity

 

Active Rockback for Hip Flexion without Gravity Influence

 

Supported Squat Assessment


If all of these tests show a specific limitation to the range of motion consistently across all situations, it could be assumed that there would be a structural limitation versus passive insufficiency, weakness or other considerations. If active testing is limited but passive or supported assessments are fine, there could be a strength or motor pattern limitation holding the movement back.

Now sure, there’s a lot of brakes that could be restricting that range, from things like scar tissue to guarding and some soft tissue restrictions. Doing some work to help reduce that can help improve overall range of motion, but in some cases will be limited to just minimal gains. In some situations, trainers or therapists may work on improving range of motion for weeks or months and see no improvement, and in many cases the deck would be stacked against them seeing any improvement at all.

customized squat pattern

As mentioned earlier, there could also be an asymmetric structural element at play, which may necessitate an asymmetric setup for the movement where one foot is either turned out more, held slightly forward or back, or even turned into something like a one-heel elevated squat. The difference between this and a lunge is merely how far back that elevated foot is relative to the other foot, but again it’s taking advantage of potential asymmetries in structure and allowing an asymmetric set up to be more congruent with the individual.

Another way to think of it is if we have a potentially asymmetric structure yet force a symmetric set up on it, we may be creating an imbalance or compensative element in our training versus preventing it.

The Complete Hip and Shoulder Blueprint

complere shoulder and hip blueprintThese and many more elements are discussed in Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint, a new continuing education resource from Tony Gentilcore and Dean Somerset. This digital video product is 11 hours of lecture and hands on where they break down pertinent anatomy, considerations for program design, and delve into assessments, corrective options, and training considerations for these 2 highly involved complex structures.

The series is currently on a launch sale pricing, and the entire package is available for only $137 versus the regular pricing of $177. The sale is on from November 1 through 5, so act quickly to get your copy.  Click below to learn more or check out the below preview video!

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Should Everyone Deadlift?

Many people have called the deadlift, “the king of all exercises.”  And rightfully so, as there may not be a bigger bang-for-your-buck exercise out there.

In my opinion, the deadlift is the most underutilized exercise in rehabilitation.  Perhaps the move is intimidating?  Perhaps people are afraid of barbells?  Perhaps people are worried patients may hurt their backs?  Perhaps rehab professionals don’t know enough about strength and conditioning?

I always say that I am a much better physical therapist because I am also a strength coach, and always keep learning from many great strength coaches.

As the gap between rehab and performance continues to narrow, the deadlift may be the final exercise to cross the chasm.  We shouldn’t be afraid of the deadlift, however, we also need to understand the the conventional deadlift is not for everyone.

 

Why Everyone Should Deadlift

should everyone deadliftOne of the most important trends in rehabilitation and strength and conditioning over the last decade or two has been the move away from muscle-based exercises and shift towards movement-based exercises.  Rather than work on quad strength, work on squatting, for example.  (Photo credit by the man, the myth, and the deadlift legend Tony Gentilcore)

The deadlift is essentially a hip hinge pattern, which is extremely functional and equally elusive for many people.

Put simply, people can’t hinge anymore!  It’s amazing.

As our society changes and relies more on poor posture patterns, prolonged seated periods, and things like excessive use of smartphones, I’m amazed how it seems even kids can’t touch their toes anymore.

Working on a poor hip hinge pattern is extremely helpful for so many different issues that I see every day.  From back pain, to knee pain, to even poor sport performance.

We have become so anterior chain dominant.  Luckily, the deadlift hits the entire posterior chain in one big lift.  

So the the deadlift really helps with the hip hinge pattern, but there are so many other benefits including working on better posture, glute development, lower extremity power development, a stronger core, stronger lats, and even enhanced grip strength.  

You can see why it’s such a big bang-for-your-buck exercise.

 

Why Everyone Shouldn’t Deadlift

Wait a minute…

I just spent the first half talking about how beneficial the deadlift is for so many people.  Why shouldn’t everyone perform a deadlift?

Let me clarify – I’m talking about the conventional barbell deadlift.

Take a step back and remember that we are more concerned about movements, than muscles, right?  So luckily there are many variations of hinging, and even deadlifts, that can be utilized to achieve all the above great goals.

Perhaps the deadlift is so underutilized in the rehab setting because everyone just looks at the conventional barbell deadlift.  That’s like going straight to the top, saying that there is no way you can perform that exercise, then just scrapping all forms of deadlifts and hip hinge exercises.

Most people that walk into the door at Champion have no chance at being successful at a conventional barbell deadlift.  Among other things, you need:

  • Good mobility
  • An understanding of the hinge pattern neuromuscular pattern
  • The ability to load, essentially lift a weight with intent

Most people don’t have at least 2-3 of these qualities.

We’ll try to get them there with the right blend of mobility drills, corrective exercises, and manual therapy, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait to start deadlifting.  We just need to start at a more regressed level.

So, don’t immediately scrap the deadlift, find a way to incorporate it.  Work within your mobility and limited range, try a variation using a kettlebell or sumo stance, and use submaximal loads until you can groove a proper hip hinge pattern.

deadlift variations

One of my favorite resources on deadlift technique and variations is this excellent article by Mike Robertson.

As you improve, you can incorporate more advanced forms of the deadlift, but don’t simply scrap the deadlift until then, modify!

 

3 Ways to Modify a Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform

If you want to learn more, I have an Inner Circle webinar on 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform.  In this presentation, I break down the 3 most common reasons why people often don’t perform a deadlift, the inability to load, poor hinge patterns, and altered hip anatomy.  Deadlifts are great, and really underutilized in rehab, but with these 3 modifications, anyone should be able to perform them.

To access this webinar:

3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform is now available.

 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform

3 ways to modify the deadlift so anyone can performThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform.  In this presentation, I break down the 3 most common reasons why people often don’t perform a deadlift: the inability to load, poor hinge patterns, and altered hip anatomy.  Deadlifts are great, and especially underutilized in rehab, but with these 3 modifications, anyone should be able to perform.


This webinar will cover:

  • Why deadlifts are so important
  • The 3 most common reasons why people can’t deadlift
  • How to regress and vary the movement
  • How to include at any stage of the rehab and performance spectrum


To access this webinar:

What Exactly is Optimal Movement Quality?

What exactly does optimal movement quality mean?

Have you ever thought of that?  How do you define “optimal” movement?”  I would argue optimal movement is slightly different for everyone as we are all unique.

However, I usually think of optimal movement as simply two things:

  1. Do the right joints move (and the wrong ones don’t)?
  2. Do the right muscles work (and the wrong ones don’t)?

Simple.

Watch this video below, which is a clip from my product Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement, to learn more about what I mean.

What is Optimal Movement Quality?

Functional Stability Training Optimizing Movement LogoLearn Exactly How I Optimize Movement

Want to learn even more about how I optimize movement?  Eric Cressey and I have teamed up on Functional Stability Training: Optimizing Movement, to show you exactly how we both assess, coach, and build programs designed to optimize movement.

Click the button below for more information and to sign up now!

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