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Ankle Mobility Exercises to Improve Dorsiflexion

Limitations in ankle dorsiflexion can cause quite a few functional and athletic limitations, leading to the desire to perform ankle mobility exercises.    

These types of ankle mobility drills have become popular over the last several years and are often important components of corrective exercise and movement prep programming.  

In this article, I’m going to cover everything you need to know about improving ankle dorsiflexion, including:

  • What causes poor ankle dorsiflexion?
  • Why limited ankle dorsiflexion can be a problem
  • What is normal range of motion for ankle dorsiflexion?
  • How much dorsiflexion range of motion do you need?
  • How to assess your ankle mobility
  • My 3-step approach to ankle dorsiflexion exercises to optimize mobility

What Causes Poor Ankle Dorsiflexion?

Before we get too deep into discussing how to fix poor ankle dorsiflexion, it helps to understand what could cause poor ankle mobility.

In my experience, the most common reason people may have poor dorsiflexion is a past surgery or injury.

This makes sense when dealing with big injuries, such as fractures, Achilles tendon ruptures, and ligament tears from acute sprains.  Anything that requires a period of immobilization of the foot can obviously lead to a loss of ankle mobility.

But you don’t need to have a major injury or surgery, even mild injuries can lead to a loss of ankle mobility.

Ankle sprains, even mild degrees, seem to be an injury that frequently leads to a loss of dorsiflexion range of motion.  

If you look at the anatomy of the anterior talofibular ligament, otherwise known as the ATFL, you can see that it attaches to both the fibula and the talus:

anterior talofibular ligament ankle sprain dorsiflexion
Image from Wikipedia

Any disruption of the ATFL ligament will lead to increased translation of the ankle, and even a more anteriorly positioned fibula.  A 2006 study in JOSPT and a 2014 Study in JOSPT have both confirmed that subjects with chronic ankle instability had an altered position of the fibula.

It’s also been shown that scarring of the ATFL ligament can cause anterior ankle impingement.  This is why people often feel a pinch in their anterior ankle when they dorsiflex.

But even if you haven’t sprained your ankle, activities with repetition dorsiflexion, such as sports that involve a lot of running and jumping, can also lead to adaptive changes and anterior ankle impingement.

As always, another factor can be our postural adaptations and terrible shoe wear habits, especially if high heels.  Remember the body adapts to stress applied and stress NOT applied.  It’s no wonder that so many people have ankle mobility issues.  So the concept of “use it or lose it” can be a factor for those that don’t perform a lot of daily activities that need dorsiflexion. 

Why Limited Ankle Dorsiflexion Can be a Problem

Several studies have been published that shown that limited dorsiflexion impacts many of our functional movement patterns, such as the squat, single-leg squat, lateral step down, and even landing from a jump.  

This is likely due to the kinetic chain effect on the body. Here’s an example of some of the compensations with see with the lateral step down portion of the Champion Performance Specialist movement assessment:

When assessing a wide variety of studies in a systematic review, Lima found that limited ankle dorsiflexion is correlated with dynamic knee valgus angles during functional movements.

This can have obvious implications as a lack of dynamic knee valgus is associated with a variety of injuries, including ACL tears and patellofemoral pain.  In fact, in one study, patients with patellofemoral osteoarthritis had less ankle dorsiflexion than those without arthritis.  

What is Normal Range of Motion for Ankle Dorsiflexion?

The generally accepted normal range of motion for ankle dorsiflexion is 20 degrees as defined by both the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Medical Association.

However, there is a lot of variability if you search the literature.  

Benhamu showed between 13-21 degrees, Rome showed between 8-26 degrees, and Weir showed between 12 and 23 degrees of dorsiflexion their respective studies.

Baggett compared normal dorsiflexion range of motion in a non-weight bearing and weightbearing position, showing 0-17 in non-weightbearing and 7-35 degrees in weightbearing.  Rabin also reported a large difference in dorsiflexion when comparing these two positions, however, they also noted a moderate correlation, meaning that a limitation in either position will likely show up in both.

With such a wide variety of methods of measuring and reported values, the bigger question may be how much dorsiflexion mobility do you need?

How Much Dorsiflexion Range of Motion Do You Need?

The ability to have a proper amount of dorsiflexion isn’t something that is only needed in sports, it’s actually a vital movement to allow normal functional activities.

Walking has been shown to require approximately 10 degrees of ankle dorsiflexion by Dr. Jacqueline Perry in her gait research.  As the body advances, the trail leg needs to dorsiflex as the hip extends right before push off.

Image from Wikipedia

More recent research has reported that up to 20 degrees of dorsiflexion has been shown in subjects during gait analysis.  

More dynamic movements, such as the squat, require even more ankle dorsiflexion range of motion.  A 2006 study by Hemmerich in the J Orthop Res showed that the further you go into the squat position, the more dorsiflexion motion is needed.  Maximal squat depth to just past parallel requires almost 35 degrees of dorsiflexion.

As you can see in the images above, once you get deeper than 20-30 degrees of squat depth, the amount of dorsiflexion needed goes up considerably. The first image is depicting someone with a restriction with ankle dorsiflexion, and how that will impact the depth of the squat. In the second image, you can see how having more dorsiflexion will improve the depth of the squat. The third photo shows an example of modifying the squat by elevating the heels. This take some of the dorsiflexion needs out of the squat to allow her to go deeper.

Check out this video demonstration on how to improve the squat with limited ankle dorsiflexion to see how we would coach this:

Ever wonder why weightlifting shows have a large heel lift?  Well, it’s to squat deeper by taking out the need for so much dorsiflexion.  In my experience, a lack of dorsiflexion is one of the biggest reasons why people often squat poorly.

How to Assess Your Ankle Mobility

So based on everything we’ve covered so far, you can see, dorsiflexion range of motion can be variable.  That’s why when assessing ankle dorsiflexion mobility, I like to measure the specific degree, but also include a simple self-assessment that people can do themselves.  This is simply a pass-fail type test.

I’m also a big fan of standardizing a test that can provide reliable results.

One test that is popular and part of our integrated movement assessment in the Champion Performance Specialist program is the half-kneeling dorsiflexion test.   Here’s a video from the program demonstrating:

In this test, you kneel on the ground and assume a position similar to stretching your hip flexors, with your knee on the floor.  Your lead foot that you are testing should be lined up 5″ from the wall.  This is important and the key to standardizing the test.

From this position you lean in, keeping your heel on the ground.  You can measure the actual tibial angle in relationship to the ground with a goniometer, or simply measure the distance of the knee cap from the wall when the heel starts to come up.  

An alternate method would be to perform the same movement and measure how many inches forward your knee passes your toes.  If I am looking to quantify this movement to be able to assess progress, I’ll use this method.

I personally prefer to standardize the distance to 5″ from the wall and simply perform it as a pass-fail test.  If they can touch the wall from 5″, they have pretty good mobility.  

I should note that my photo below has my client wearing minimal heel drop shoes, but barefoot is ideal

Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobilty

This is a great position to assess your progress, and as you’ll see, I’ll recommend some specific drills you can perform from this position so you can immediately assess and reassess.

Ankle Mobility Exercises to Improve Dorsiflexion

There are many great ideas on the internet on how to improve dorsiflexion with ankle mobility exercise, but I wanted to accumulate some of my favorites in one place.  Below, I will share my system for assessing ankle mobility and then addressing limitations.  I use a combined approach including self-myofascial exercises, stretching, and ankle mobility drills.

As I mentioned previously, I like to use a 3-step process to maximize my gains when trying to enhance ankle dorsiflexion:

  1. Self-myofascial release for the calf and plantar fascia
  2. Stretching of the calf
  3. Ankle mobility drills

I prefer this order to neuromodulate tone, loosen the soft tissue and maximize pliability before working on specific ankle joint mobility.  

When looking at the efficacy, a recent study showed that combining self-myofascial release and static stretching had a greater increase in ankle dorsiflexion range of motion than either on their own.

Self Myofascial Drills for Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility

One of the more simple self-myofascial release techniques for ankle mobility is foam rolling the calf.  

Anytime I perform self-myofascial release exercises, I follow a 3-step plan:

  1. Roll up and down the entire length of the muscle for ~10 reps or up to 30 seconds
  2. If they hit a tender spot or trigger point, pause at the spot for ~8-10 seconds
  3. Add active ankle range of motion movements during rolling, such as actively dorsiflexing the foot or performing ankle circles:

A foam roller does a really good job of helping to improve ankle dorsiflexion.  This has benefits as you can turn your body side to side and get the medial and lateral aspect of your calf along the full length.  

Here’s a clip of someone performing this in real-time.  Notice how they hit all aspects of the calf follow my 3-step self-myofascial release system.  Don’t forget to roll the bottom of your foot with a ball, as well, to lengthen the posterior chain tissue even further.  There is a direct connection between the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.

Some people do not feel that the foam roller gives them enough of a release as it is hard to place a lot of bodyweight through the foam roller in this position.  That is why I often use one of the massage sticks to work the area in addition.  You can use a massage stick in a similar fashion to roll the length of the area and pause at tender spots.  I often add mobility in the half-kneeling position as well, which gives this technique an added bonus.

Stretches for Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility

Once you are done foam rolling, I like to stretch the muscle.  A systematic review by Radford has shown that static ankle dorsiflexion stretching can lead to a statistically significant improvement in motion.  A more recent meta-analysis revealed a 5-degree increase in mobility after ankle dorsiflexion stretches.

If moderate to severe restrictions exist, I will hold the stretch for about 30 seconds, but often just do a few reps of 10 seconds for most people.  

The classic wall lean stretch is shown below.  This is a decent basic exercise, however, I have found that you need to be pretty tight to get a decent stretch in this position.

I usually prefer placing your foot up on a wall or step instead, as seen in the second part of my video below.  The added benefit here is that you can control the intensity of the stretch by how close you are to the wall and how much you lean your body in.  I also like that it extends my toes, which gives a stretch of the plantar fascia as well.  For both of these stretches, be sure to not turn your foot outward.  You should be neutral to point your toe in slightly (no more than an hour on a clock).

Simple Ankle Mobility Exercises

I like to break down my ankle mobility exercises into basic and advanced, depending on the extent of your motion restriction.  There are several basic drills that you can incorporate into your movement prep or corrective exercise strategies.

Half-Kneeling Dorsiflexion Wall Mobilization

The first drill involves a simple half-kneeling dorsiflexion movement, which is essentially just a dynamic warmup version of the ankle mobility test we described above:

This tends to be the first dorsiflexion mobility exercises that I tend to give people, as it is super easy to perform, and also easy to gauge progress by your distance from the wall.

Half-Kneeling Ankle Dorsiflexion with a Dowel

A progression from the wall mobilization is to use a dowel.  The dowel is an important part of the ankle mobility drill.  You begin by half kneeling, then placing a dowel in front of your 2nd or 3rd toe.  Now, when you lean into dorsiflexion, make sure your knee goes outside of the dowel.  This will help maintain a neutral arch position and avoid compensating by pronating your foot and internally rotating your hip.  You can add the dowel to many of the variations of drills we are discussing.

Half-Kneeling Ankle Dorsiflexion with Your Hand

A slightly more advanced variation of the dowel is to use your hand.  Your arm will act like the dowel, and require your knee to go to the outside.  This movement requires more hip mobility to perform but can be really useful for those that may be struggling to keep a neutral arch during the movement.

Half-Kneeling Lateral Ankle Glides

For some people, especially those with a past injury like an ankle sprain, lateral mobility of the ankle can become limited.  This mobility drill is very popular with my clients, they really like the feeling and ability to move afterward/

 

Advanced Ankle Mobility Exercises

When the person is ready to progress to more advanced ankle mobility drills, I often like to progress the drills by including multiple planes of motion, making the positions more dynamic, or progressing to drills that require more dorsiflexion to accomplish.

Half-Kneeling Dorsiflexion with Voodoo Floss

Chris Johnson shared a nice video using a Voodoo Floss band to assist with the myofascial release and position the tibia into internal rotation.  Restoring ankle dorsiflexion at the level of the talocrural joint is critical and should be established with the knee flexed to mimic the midstance demands of walking and running. The performer will grasp the distal tibia and fibula region and wind into internal or external rotation and then lunge forward and backward. 

Half-Kneeling Dorsiflexion with a Mobility Band

For those that have a “pinch” in the front of the ankle of tight joint restrictions of the ankle in general, Erson Religioso shows us some Mulligan mobilizations with movement (MWM) using a band.  In this video, he has his patient put the band under his opposite knee, however you could easily tie this around something behind you.  In this position you step out to create tension on the band, which will move your talus posteriorly as you move forward into dorsiflexion:

Standing Dorsiflexion Wall Mobilization

The standing dorsiflexion wall mobilization is an advanced version of the half-kneeling position.  But rather than simply leaning in and touching your knee to the wall, we change the start position to that your toes up on the wall and extended.  This essentially combines an ankle mobility drill with a stretch to the calf, Achilles tendon, and even the plantar fascia due to the toes being extended.

This isn’t one of the first drills I use because it’s advanced, but it’s one of my favorites.

Standing 3-Way Dorsiflexion Wall Mobilization

Kevin Neeld shows a great progression of this exercise that incorporates both the toes up on the wall, essentially making it more of a mobility challenge and stretch.  If you look closely, you’ll see that he is also mobilizing in three planes, straight neutral, inward, and outward:

Standing Lateral Ankle Glides

Similar to the above progression from half-kneeling to standing dorsiflexion drills, I like to perform a more advanced version of the lateral ankle glides by performing standing:

Push Up Position Ankle Rocks

As you can see, we’re really progressing to positions that require more and more ankle dorsiflexion range of motion, so you can see the potential progressions.

The push up position ankle rocks drill is a great one, that involves a great stretch of the calf and Achilles tendon.  Most of my athletes will use this ankle dynamic mobility drill at some point in their warm-up.

Functional Dorsiflexion Dynamic Mobility Drills

So far, we’ve covered a variety of mobility drills to perform to enhance ankle dorsiflexion.  As mobility increases, it’s super important that we try to functionally incorporate dorsiflexion into our programming.

Here are some examples that I like to use.

Seated Dorsiflexion Ankle Raises

Once you’ve established dorsiflexion mobility, it’s a good idea to strengthen the muscles that dorsiflex within the new range of motion.  A nice easy drill to start with is seated dorsiflexion ankle raises.  Because you start in the neutral position, any lift of the ground is moving towards more dorsiflexion

Standing Deficit Dorsiflexion Toe Raises

A variation of the seated position, standing up on a weight plate or similar low height box will allow you to need to dorsiflex against any tightness of the gastrocnemius.  By adding the box, you will allow strengthening into a great range of motion.

Knee Extension with Dorsiflexion

In addition to strengthening into dorsiflexion, I also like to work on the endurance of maintaining the position.  An easy way to do this is with a kettlebell around the toes of the foot.  You will need to dorsiflex to hold the kettlebell, and can easily progress to heavier weights.  I often incorporate this with a knee extension movement to include a lengthening of the gastrocnemius.

Toes Elevated Squats

As we’ve previously discussed, the squatting motion requires a lot of dorsiflexion to go deep into the motion.  

One drill I like to do for a dynamic warm-up prior to squatting in someone that is working to increase their dorsiflexion is simple toes elevated squats.  You can slide a small weight plate, or something about 1-1.5”, under the toes and slowly perform some bodyweight squats.

Reverse Bear Crawls

The reverse bear crawl is an amazing exercise for ankle dorsiflexion.  When crawling backward, you’ll need a decent amount of ankle mobility.  The movement includes a dynamic movement into dorsiflexion with the knee bent and toes extended, so acts as a good drill for the soleus and plantar fascia.

Improving Dorsiflexion Mobility

As you can see, there are many different variations of drills you can perform based on what is specifically tight or limited.  You may have to play around a little bit to find what works best for each person. However, these are a bunch of great examples of ankle mobility exercises you can choose to perform when trying to improve your dorsiflexion.

Performance Physical Therapy: Why Our Profession Needs to Progress

Physical therapy can span a wide spectrum, ranging from injury rehabilitation, to injury prevention, and even performance enhancement. To truly help people get the most out of their bodies, we need to focus on all three of those.

But many of us don’t, and if you’re one of them, I think you may be really missing the boat.

I’m not completely sure why this happens, but if I had to guess, I think there may be two main thoughts holding us back:

  1. The vast majority of the physical therapy profession is focused on injury rehabilitation, this includes both our college curriculums and most workplace settings, which is really limiting our potential to help people maximize their function and performance.
  2. We spend the majority of time focusing on “function” and not “performance.”

Perhaps this is just terminology, but I know when I was in school and early in my career, “function” was people’s activities of daily living, and “performance” was sports. Would you agree? That was my perception at least.

I couldn’t disagree with these definitions more. Here is how I would define them now:

  • Function is an activity. Sure, this could include things like bathing and getting dressed, but I would also say running, jumping, throwing, and just playing a sport, in general, is also a function.
  • Performance is how well you perform that function.

Performance is not something that only athletes do. We all need to perform at whatever function we want with our bodies. This is probably the most important concept to understand, and one of the main things that people have said have helped them most after going through my Champion Performance Specialist course.

The Need for a Shift Towards Performance Physical Therapy

Here’s what I suspect is the most common vision of the performance spectrum to most physical therapists. At any point in time, you have your baseline. Most people then focus on either restoring or enhancing performance based on that baseline.

restore and enhance performance

We sit back and wait for someone to get injured, then help them restore themselves back to baseline.

Well, what if their baseline was part of the reason why they got injured in the first place?

If we just focus on restoring their function back to their baseline, we’re completely missing the boat on helping them optimize and enhance their performance.

I can’t help but think that this is one of the reasons why so many people have recurring injuries, chronic pain, and failed surgeries. Restoring people back to their baseline isn’t enough, we need to build their capacity and enhance their baseline.

As we all know, many things can predispose a person to injury, including weakness, mobility concerns, and imbalances.

There has been a recent uptick in criticism on social media that too many physical therapy interventions are either ineffective, transient in nature, or both. Rightfully so.

But maybe it’s not the physical therapy treatments that are the concern, but rather the overall strategy? Maybe we are focusing too much on just restoring function, and not enough on optimizing and enhancing performance?

If you have limited shoulder range of motion overhead, and you have pain in your shoulder every time you overhead press in the gym, then we can do a great job reducing that pain with physical therapy. But don’t you think that pain will likely just come back when they get back to overhead pressing? We reduced their pain, restored them to their previous baseline (which wasn’t optimal), but we didn’t optimize their mobility.

Their long term outlook can’t be great, right?

The Goal of Performance Physical Therapy

The goal of performance physical therapy is to raise the capacity of the body, not just restore their function. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should watch our podcast episode discussing our vision of performance based physical therapy.

It’s not enough to simply try to restore someone to their previous baseline. That’s “traditional” physical therapy if you ask me. Performance physical therapy not only restores function, but also works on optimizing and enhancing performance. That’s the key difference to me.

If you add optimizing performance to the spectrum, it could look like this:

restore optimize and enhance performance

But I still don’t think that’s enough, we can do better.

If you are working on restoring or enhancing performance, you should also be working on optimizing performance. Realistically, there is an overlap between these concepts.

performance physical therapy restore optimize enhance

This changes our focus in a couple of ways:

  1. It shows that these concepts all overlap. We can restore and optimize performance, and we can optimize and enhance their performance. Thinking of them as independent factors, is not ideal
  2. It shifts our thought process from retrospective, to prospective. When you know the endpoint isn’t just to simply restore their baseline, but also to optimize and hopefully even enhance their performance, it changes your entire outlook on the injury rehabilitation process from day 1.

Our Profession Needs Performance Physical Therapy

I have good news for you.

Physical therapists are really good at diagnosis and treating injuries. All of the assessment and diagnostic skills that allow physical therapists to evaluate and treat an injury can easily be adapted to also assess someone’s function and level of performance.

Think about it, what’s the difference between an evaluation of someone with an injury and someone that is healthy that wants to enhance their performance?

Special tests. That’s kinda it, right?

Special tests were designed to help diagnose a specific injury. If this special test, or cluster of tests, is positive, then you may have this injury.

But everything else other than special tests essentially evaluate someone’s level of function, right? Strength, mobility, balance, movement. These are all things that we can evaluate to help develop a complete performance therapy and training program for a person. We can then work on optimizing and enhancing each of those qualities.

How do you blend all this together? Treat the injury and optimize the body.

All it takes is a shift in your perspective.

How Do You Get Started?

If you’re interested in learning more about my approach to performance physical therapy, you should check out my free Introduction to Performance Therapy and Training online course.

Introduction to performance therapy and training - laptop mockup

When we started our facility at Champion PT and Performance, one of our biggest goals was to develop a simple system for our physical therapists and strength coaches to help people move and perform better.

My Introduction to Performance Therapy and Training program will teach you our 4-step system at Champion to assure you have everything you need to start helping people move and perform better.

Do You Want to Learn More About Optimizing Movement and Enhancing Performance? 

I’m really excited to be launching my brand new course for rehabilitation and fitness professionals looking to help people restore, optimize, and enhance performance.   It’s my Introduction to Performance Therapy Training course.

And you know what the best part is???

It’s absolutely FREE!

Check out the information and video below, and click the link below to enroll today!

Introduction to Performance Therapy and Training

If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’d love to work with more highly motivated people, and even athletes, that want to focus on improving their performance.

But I remember not really feeling prepared for this or knowing how to get started, I really felt overwhelmed. We all learned the basics, but no one really teaches you how to optimize movement and enhance performance.

Over these years, I’ve learned a ton. Good and bad! But everything I have learned has shaped what I do, and it took some time and experience to realize this.

There so much info out there, but people tell me all the time they’re still confused and that they feel like they just start treatments and training programs and aren’t even confident that they choosing the right ones!

Check out this video for more of what I mean:

Enroll in My Course for FREE

I want to help.  When we started our facility at Champion PT and Performance, one of our biggest goals was to develop a simple system for our physical therapists and strength coaches to help people move and perform better.

My Introduction to Performance Therapy and Training program will teach you our 4-step system at Champion to assure you have everything you need to start helping people move and perform better.

Introduction to Performance Therapy and Training

Best of all, it’s absolutely free to anyone that signs up for my Newsletter. You’ll get all my best articles straight to your email, and immediate free access to the course.

Thank so much, hope you enjoy!

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5 Common Core Exercise Mistakes and Fixes

We’ve come along way over the last decade when it comes to training the core.  Not too long ago, training the core consisted of mainly exercises like sit ups, with no specific attention to how the core functions.

One of the key areas of core training that I focus on to enhance movement quality and performance is stabilizing the core while the arms and legs move.  Essentially proximal stability, with underlying distal mobility of the extremities.

However, don’t forget that the body is amazing at compensating to get the job done.

Any lack of mobility or motor control will often result in compensatory movements.  Many people want to fly through their core program, but often times don’t focus on the quality of the movement.

Here are 5 common core exercise mistakes that I see, along with some suggestions on how to fix them.  I posted these as a series on Instagram, if you want to see more posts like this, be sure to follow me there.

Front Plank

A common error I see when people perform a front plank is over relying on the hip flexors to hold the position. You sometimes see them tighten their core but also come up into a bit of hip flexion.

If you hold planks for too long, you may also notice that you slowly creep up into this position as your core fatigues and your hip flexors take over.

There are two easy ways to improve this:

1. Focus on tightening your core AND your glutes.  This should help hold the neutral pelvic position.
2. Perform sets of planks with each rep being ~8-10 seconds, with no break, just a quick reset, instead of sustained holds.⠀This will keep the focus on the core before the hip flexors take over.

Side Plank

Similar to the front plank, the side plank is easy to use larger muscle groups to compensate.  One easy way to ruin a good side plank is simply to lift the body too high off the table. You’ll see too much side bend and will make this a lateral bend motion instead of a core stability exercise.

To fix this, try performing with a mirror so you can see your form. Your body should be in a straight line with a nice neutral spine.

Dead Bug

One of the common faults we see with the dead bug core exercises is a loss of neutral spine when the arms or the legs are full extended. ⠀The person tends to focus on getting there hands and feet extended, rather than keeping their core stable.

Remember the goal of the exercise is to brace and stabilize the core while moving the extremities.

Be sure to keep that brace, but also realize that it’s often better to reduce your arm and leg motion a bit if you are struggling and arching your back.⠀I’d rather you make the exercise less challenging, but performed well, then slowly progress over time.

Bird Dog

I’m a big fan of the bird dog exercise for two main reasons:

1) It’s great exercise to work on driving hip extension with proper core stability. A lot of people hyperextend their back instead of extending their hip.
2) Because you use alternate arm and leg for advanced variations, it also provides some rotational stability through the core.

But people LOVE to perform this exercise poorly by compensating and arching their back.  Many people struggle to extend their hip while keeping their spine stable.  Be sure to keep your core stable and just work on reaching with arms and legs.⠀Similar to the dead bug, I’d rather you reduce the quantity of your motion, and focus on the quality of the motion.

Glute Bridge

A common flaw with the glute bridge exercise (and hip thrusts) is thinking that you need to go as far as possible, as far as your body will go.

But keep in mind, the goal here is the glutes, not the low back. So the exercise should really be performed to extend you hips and NOT your back.

To help with this, really tighten your anterior core during the exercise and focus on squeezing your glutes. Then, simply stop the motion when the glutes are done squeezing. Many people want to keep going.  They tighten their glutes, but then keep pushing the body higher over the ground.  Resist the urge to continue by hyperextending at your back.

FST DVD Cover COREWant to Learn More About How I Train the Core?

Check out Eric Cressey and I’s Functional Stability Training of the Core program.  We discuss the core in detail and how we rehabilitate and train the core.

5 Exercises You Should Perform If You Sit All Day

Do you sit all day? Don’t worry you are not alone.

Sitting throughout the day, and a more sedentary lifestyle in general, has dramatically increased over the last several decades as desk jobs have become more popular and our devices have taken over as our form of entertainment.

The media loves to tell you that “sitting is the new smoking.” This is backwards in my mind, and something I’ve discussed in detail in a past article Sitting isn’t bad for you, not moving is.

In the article, I listed 3 things you should do if you sit all day to stay healthy:

  1. Move, Often
  2. Reverse your posture
  3. Exercise

For those looking for some specific exercise, here are 5 great exercises to perform to combat sitting all day.

5 Exercises You Should Perform if You Sit All Day

I’ve been talking about the concept of Reverse Posturing for years. The concept is essentially that we need to reverse the posture that we do the most throughout the day to keep our body balanced and prevent overuse.

Sitting involves a predominantly flexed posture, so doing exercises that promote the posterior chain would be helpful. These will depend on each person, but if I had to pick a basic set of exercises these would be the 5 exercises to combat sitting all day.

Thoracic Extension

The first exercise is for mobility of your thoracic spine. This is the portion of your back that becomes the most flexed while sitting all day. This is probably the biggest bang for you buck exercises in my mind:

If you are looking for more drills, you should view one of my past articles for several more great thoracic mobility drills.

True Hip Flexor Stretch

The second exercises is another mobility drill, this time for the pelvis. We always perform mobility drills first to maximize range of motion. This exercise is called the true hip flexor stretch, something I termed several years ago after seeing so many people do this stretch poorly.

This exercise will help prevent your hips from getting too tight, as well as put your entire spine in a better position.

Chin Nods

Now that we’ve done a couple of mobility drills, let’s try to reinforce a few movement patterns to reverse your sitting posture and activate a few select muscle groups.
The first is the chin nod, which is great for the neck muscles and forward head posture. Many have heard of the chin tuck exercise, but the chin nod exercise is a little different in my mind.

Shoulder W’s

The next exercise builds off the chin nods, and now combines the chin nod posture with retraction of your shoulders. This will help turn on your posterior rotator cuff and scapular muscles all in one drill.

Glute Bridge

Lastly, we want to focus on the glutes and their ability to extend the hips, and taking some pressure off your low back. This glute bridge exercise, in combination with the above true hip flexor stretch, will be a great combo to help with your overall posture and core control.

How to Integrate These Exercises into Your Day

An easy way to start and keep it simple is to perform each of these 10 times. These should take less than 5 minutes to perform and will make a big impact on how you feel throughout the day.
Many people ask, “how many times a day should I perform these?” Or even, “do I need to do these every day?”

You don’t need to do these every day. Just on the days that you sit… :)

But seriously, remember these are 5 exercises you should do if you sit all day, so doing them at the end of each day to reverse your posture is a great idea. Many people who sit for a really long time like to perform them during the day as well.

As you get comfortable with them, you may find that certain ones help you feel better than others. Feel free to add repetitions to those as needed.

Want a Comprehensive Online Training Program?

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We’re super excited to now offer our amazing online training programs.  You can now train from a distance using the same programs we use at our gym Champion PT and Performance with many of our clients.  We have a ton of options to choose from based on your goals.  All of our programs are designed to give you a comprehensive program to follow at the gym that focuses on helping you look, feel, move, and perform better.

We’re really proud if it. Click below to learn more and sign up for less than $1 a day:

Sorry, Sitting Isn’t Really Bad for You

Over the last several years, the health concerns surrounding sitting have really been highlighted by the health and fitness crowds, as well as the mainstream media.  In fact, there have been entire books published on this topic.  I’ve seen articles with titles such as “Sitting is Evil,” “Sitting is the New Smoking,” and even “Sitting will kill you.”

Wow, those seem pretty aggressive.  We’ve been sitting since the beginning of time!  I’m going to really shock the world with this comment…

Sorry, sitting isn’t really bad for you.

Yup.  There is nothing wrong with sitting.  I’m actually doing it right now as I write this article.  You probably are too while you read this article.

Don’t get me wrong, sedentary lifestyles are not healthy.  According to the World Health Organization, sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality and raises the risk of health concerns such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and even depression and anxiety.

But let’s get one thing straight:

It’s not sitting that is bad for you, it’s NEVER moving that is bad for you.

By putting all the blame on sitting, we lose focus on the real issue, which is lack of movement and exercise.  We are seeing a shift in people switching to standing desks at work, still not exercising, but thinking that they are now making healthy choices.

This is so backwards it boggles my mind.

It it all begin with the negative myth that “sitting is the new smoking” and completely ignores the true issue.

The body adapts amazingly well to the forces and stress that we apply to it throughout the day.  If you sit all day, your body will adapt.  Your body will lose mobility to areas like your hips, hamstrings, and thoracic spine.  Your core is essentially not needed while sitting so thinks it’s not needed anymore during other activities.  And several muscles groups get used less frequently while sitting and weaken over time, like your glutes, scapular retractors, and posterior rotator cuff.

Your body is a master compensator, and will adapt to the stress applied (or not applied) to make your efficient at what you do all day.

Unfortunately, when all you do is sit all day, and you never reverse this posture or exercise, your body adapts to this stress to make you the most efficient sitter.
That’s right, you get really good at sitting.

For example, think about what happens to the core when you sit all day.

One of the functions of your core is to maintain good posture and essentially to keep the bones of your skeleton from crashing to the floor.  The core is engaged at a low level of muscle activity throughout the day for postural needs.

The problem with sitting is that the chair also serves this function, so your core isn’t needed to keep you upright, the chair serves this function. If sitting is all you do, then when you stand up, your core essentially isn’t accustomed to providing this postural support so you rock back onto your static stabilizers by doing things like standing with a large anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar extension.

bad sitting posture isnt bad for you core control

Unfortunately, this becomes the path of least resistance, and most energy efficient, for your body.  Your core gets used to relying on the chair to function, then when you need it, gets lazy.

Despite what you may read in the media, it’s OK to sit all day.  That is, as long as you are reversing this posture at some point.  This can be as specific as exercises designed to combat sitting and as general as simply taking a walk in the evening.

 

3 Strategies to Combat Sitting All Day

I want to share the 3 things that I often discuss with my patients and clients.  You can apply these yourself or use them to discuss with your clients as well.  But if you sit all day, you really should:

  1. Move, Often
  2. Reverse your posture
  3. Exercise

But the real first step is to stop blaming sitting and start focusing on the real issue.  It’s lack of movement and exercise that is the real concern, not sitting.

 

Step 1 – Move, Often

The first step to combatting sitting all day is to move around often.  The body needs movement variability or it will simply adapt to what it does all day.

I get it, we all work long days, and sitting is often required in many of our jobs.  But the easiest way to minimize the effects of sitting all day is to figure out ways to get up and move throughout the day.

This doesn’t need to be 10 minutes of exercise, it could simply be things like getting up to fill up a water bottle or taking quick 2 minute walk around the office.  When I am not in the clinic or gym, I personally tend to work in my home office.  What I do is try to work in one hour chunks, so I will get up and walk around in between chunks to get a glass of water, snack, or use the bathroom.

This works well for me, but you need to find what works for you.  I know of others that use things like Pomodoro timers, or even some of the newer fitness tracking devices, which can remind you to stand up and move around at set times.

 

Step 2 – Reverse Your Posture

I’ve been talking about the concept of Reverse Posturing for years.  The concept is essentially that we need to reverse the posture that we do the most throughout the day to keep our body balanced and prevent overuse.

Sitting involves a predominantly flexed posture, so doing exercises that promote the posterior chain would be helpful.  These will depend on each person but a basic set of exercises may look like:

  • Thoracic extension
  • True hip flexor stretch
  • Chin nods
  • Shoulder W’s
  • Glute bridges

reverse your posture

I have another article you should check out on the 5 Exercises to Perform if You Sit All Day.  Perform each of these for 10 reps.  These should take 5 minutes to perform and will make a big impact on how you feel throughout the day.

 

Step 3 – Exercise

Remember going back to some of the past concepts above, the body adapts to the stress applied.  To combat this perfectly, a detailed exercise program that is designed specifically for you and comprehensively includes a focus on total body and core control is ideal.

This will assure that the muscle groups that are not being used while sitting all day get the strength and mobility they need, while the core gets trained to stabilize the trunk during functional movements.

If you want to get the most out of your body and stay optimized, you need to do things like work on your hip and thoracic spine mobility, strengthen your rotator cuff, groove your hinge pattern, and learn how to deadlift and work your glutes.

 

Sitting Isn’t Bad For You, Not Moving Is

As a profession, we need to get away from blaming sitting as the enemy and labeling it evil.  Our society is sitting more and more each generation.  We need to be honest with ourselves and realize that sitting isn’t the problem, it’s not moving enough that is the concern.  We need to stop pointing fingers and get to the root of the problem.

Go ahead and sit, just move more often and use these 3 strategies to combat sitting all day.

 

Want a Comprehensive Online Training Program?

champion strong online training - multiple devicesWe’re super excited to now offer our amazing online training programs.  You can now train from a distance using the same programs we use at our gym Champion PT and Performance with many of our clients.  We have a ton of options to choose from based on your goals.  All of our programs are designed to give you a comprehensive program to follow at the gym that focuses on helping you look, feel, move, and perform better.

We’re really proud if it.  Click below to learn more and sign up for less than $1 a day:

 

 

The True Hip Flexor Stretch

The hip flexor stretch has become a very popular stretch in the fitness and sports performance world, and rightly so considering how many people live their lives in anterior pelvic tilt.  However, this seems to be one of those stretches that I see a lot of people either performing incorrectly or too aggressively.  I talked about this in a recent Inner Circle webinar on 5 common stretches we probably shouldn’t be using, but I wanted to expand on the hip flexor stretch as I feel this is pretty important.

I’ve started teaching what I call the “true hip flexor stretch.”

I call it the true hip flexor stretch as I want you to truly work on stretching the hip flexor and not just torque your body into hip and lumbar extension.  It’s very easy for the body to take the path of least resistance when stretching.  People with tight hip flexors and poor hip extension often just end up compensating and either hyperextend their low back or stress the anterior capsule of the hip joint.

I explain this in more detail in this video:

The good thing is, there is a simple and very effective.  Once you adjust and perform the true hip flexor stretch, most people say they never felt a stretch like that before, hence the name “true hip flexor stretch.”

True Hip Flexor Stretch

To perform the true hip flexor stretch, you want to de-emphasize hip extension and focus more on posterior pelvic tilt.  Watch this video for a more detailed explanation:

Key Points

  • There is a difference between a quadriceps stretch and a hip flexor stretch.  When your rationale for performing the stretch is to work on stretching your hip flexor, focus on the psoas and not the rectus femoris.
  • Keep it a one joint stretch.  Many people want to jump right to performing a hip flexor stretch while flexing the knee.  This incorporates the rectus and the psoas, but I find far too many people can not appropriately perform this stretch.  They will compensate, usually by stretching their anterior capsule too much or hyperextending their lumbar spine.
  • Stay tall.  Resist the urge to lean into the stretch and really extend your hip.  Most people are too tight for this, trust me.  You’ll end up stretch out the anterior hip joint and abdominals more than the hip flexor.
  • Make sure you incorporate a posterior pelvic tilt.  Contract your abdominals and your glutes to perform a posterior pelvic tilt.  This will give your the “true” stretch we are looking for when choosing this stretch.  Many people wont even need to lean in a little, they’ll feel it immediately in the front of their hip.
  • If you don’t feel it, squeeze your glutes harder.  Many people have a hard time turing on their glutes while performing this stretch, but it is key.
  • If you still don’t feel it, lean in just a touch.  If you are sure your glutes and abs are squeezed and you are in posterior pelvic tilt and still don’t feel it much, lean in just a few inches.  Our first progression of this is simple to lean forward in 1-3 inches, but keep your pelvis in posterior tilt.
  • Guide your hips with your hands.  I usually start this stretch with your hands on your hips so I can teach you to feel posterior pelvic tilt.  Place your fingers in the front and thumbs in the back and cue them to posterior tilt and make their thumbs move down.
  • Progress to add core engagement.  Once they can master the posterior pelvic tilt, I usually progress to assist by curing core engagement.  You can do this by pacing both hands together on top of your front knee and push straight down, or by holding a massage stick or dowel in front of you and pushing down into the ground.  Key here is to have arms straight and to push down with you core, not your triceps.

I use this for people that really present in an anterior pelvic tilt, or with people that appear to have too loose of an anterior hip capsule.  In fact, this has completely replaced the common variations of hip flexor stretches in all of our programs at Champion.  This works great for people with low back pain, hip pain, and postural and biomechanical issues related to too much of an anterior pelvic tilt.

Give the true hip flexor stretch a try and let me know what you think.

3 Popular Exercises I Am No Longer Using

It’s almost 10 years since I wrote one of my most popular articles on this website, My Top 5 LEAST Favorite Exercises.

I still dislike all of those exercises, and today I wanted to share 3 more exercises that I am not going to use anymore. These are pretty popular exercises, so I expect many to disagree with me. I actually have no problem with you using these exercise, I just wanted to share some reasons why I have started to critically assess the value of them, and have considered not performing them anymore

Side Planks

Woah, I’m starting by throwing out a haymaker! Side planks?!? But everyone needs side planks!

Side planks are actually a great exercise for the core, and fairly common staple in people’s core programs. But over the years I have found that many people have complained about the impact the side plank position has on their shoulders.

So I would modify their programs. And then it would happen with someone else. And someone else.

I think the position has the shoulder abducted slightly below 90 degrees of abduction and then puts full body weight through the joint in a super orientated force vector:

Mike Reinold reforming the side plank

So I’ve added side planks as an exercise I’m not going to be using much in the future. There are variations that may work that place less strain on the shoulder, like the feet-off-the-bench variation, but other functional activities like weighted carries can likely provide a similar treatment or training effect, while not irritating the shoulder.

Now, realize I am biased. I work with a lot of people with shoulder pain and hypermobility. So perhaps my population tend to not handle them as well. But if my population doesn’t, maybe your population won’t either.

TRX Y’s

Next up is the TRX Y. I love the TRX, and the TRX Rip Trainer, two great devices. But I’ve always felt uncomfortable when performing a shoulder Y exercise using the TRX.

The shoulder Y is designed to incorporate upward rotation of the scapula, protraction, and posterior tilt of the scapula. It’s a great exercise for the lower trapezius.

However, when performed on the TRX, the Y exercises is drastically different, involving more scapular retraction and upward shrugging. Plus, the Y exercise is much more subtle, using your body weight, even at an angle, simply overloads the exercise and causes compensation. I think this promotes poor habits.

Just because two exercises may look the same, like the TRX Y and the Prone Y, doesn’t mean they have the same effect on the body.

Hip Flexor Stretch

My 3rd exercise is the wall hip flexor stretch. I’ve been pretty vocal on the fact that many people do this stretch poorly, hyperextending their back and placing more stress on their anterior hip capsule than on their hip flexors.

I popularized the use of the True Hip Flexor Stretch to help people shift focus on the right structures.

But even I sometimes felt that some people were Ok to do the standard wall stretch if they were “loose enough.”

You know what, I think those loose people actually just compensated more, like in the below video. So if we are really working on the flexibility of the hip flexors or on anterior pelvic tilt, I think we should all probably be sticking to a variation of the true hip flexor stretch and maybe just leaning forward more, than going back to the wall.

I really want to hear what you think, hit the comments below and let me know if you agree, disagree, or have more to add to this list! I don’t hate these exercises for everyone, but for now, these are a few I’m going to use less frequently.