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4 Things I Learned in 2017

Each year I try to always look back and reflect on what I have learned and changed in my life, both personally and professionally. We really put a priority on personal development at Champion. This helps me to grow and evolve as I learn each year, plus, helps me set goals for the upcoming new year.

If you don’t also reflect back on what you have learned and changed, I think you are missing out on a huge opportunity to grow.  Too many people in our fields spend all their energy defending their beliefs instead of keeping an open mind and evolving.

I’ll share some of the things I learned in 2017, but if you are interested, I’d love to read in the comments what you have learned that has changed your approach this year. By sharing, we can all grow.

Ego is the Enemy

Early in the year I read a great book called Ego is the Enemy, by Ryan Holliday. I thought it was great and had a big impact on my year.

Usually when we think of ego, we think of it in a bad way. But that’s not always the case and not what I took from the book.

Being egotistical all the time can be bad, but often times we just do things for the wrong reasons, that I believe often limit us and inhibit our growth.

I actually used this mindset a lot this year, and said “no” more than any past year in my career. I am a big fan of establishing goals. If a project wasn’t right and didn’t ultimately lead to my goals, I said “no.” In the past I have felt like I have always said “yes” to everything for the fear of missing out. That to me was saying “yes” for my ego.

From a business perspective, think of it this way, rather than building a new service for your facility to make money or gain notoriety, or essentially to boost your ego, build a new service to actually help people achieve their goals.

It’s surprising to me when I clearly see people advertise things that are clearly just for them, not for the consumer. If your motivation behind the program is sincere, things will always work out better for you, and you’ll make that money and gain that notoriety organically.

EliteBaseballPerformance.com is a great example of this concept for me. I started the website because I was sick of all the garbage and marketing around baseball development that I saw online. We needed a trustworthy place for information for players, parents, coaches, and rehab/fitness specialist.

I didn’t start it to make money, in fact I’m well in the hole financially, I did it to help the game of baseball, which I’m passionate about. Will we offer products on it in the future and make money, sure, but we won’t offer these products with the goal of making money, that will be the side benefit. We’ll offer them to help our mission and the game of baseball.

We also did this when we launched our new Elite Pitching Performance Program at Champion this winter. We could have charged triple what we did, but it wasn’t about the money, it was about giving back to the local teams in the area and building what I believe is the best and more comprehensive pitching development program in the country. It wasn’t about my ego, it was about helping these kids achieve their goals, heck their dreams, by taking their baseball career to the next level.

This year I really reflected on my decisions and said, am I doing this for the right reasons, or for my own ego?

Simple is Still Better

Man, are we getting carried away in the rehab and fitness fields with the latest trends and fads. It seems like every day there is a new post on social media that blows my mind by taking such huge leaps in rationale.

I’ve always been complimented on my presentations for one main reason – people have told me I make the complicated more simple.

As social media continues to become a contest of who can make simple things more complicated, I’ve been doing the exact opposite.

Students are graduating school right now with set mindsets and opinions that complicated systems are the definitive answer. Wow, I wish everyone realized there are no definitive answers.

But more alarming to me is that they haven’t learned how to actually treat a shoulder, yet think the first thing they must tackle is diaphragmatic breathing. Sure, that may be important but is that your primary focus? Is that how you want to spend your VERY limited time with your client?

At Champion, we always focus on the low hanging fruit first. You’ll hear us say that a lot.

I’ve talked about this in the past with things like the concept Kinetic Chain Ripple Effect and my post on The Problem with the Kinetic Chain Concept. Sure, it stinks that your left big toes doesn’t extend. But there are about 50 other things I would work on first that will be more impactful for someone with shoulder pain.

Students and new grads – Master the basics first, then expand your approach to focus on the more complicated. You’ll get much better results.

As I look back on the year, I’m focusing on the basics and keeping it simple more than ever, and I believe my outcomes just keep getting better.

Our Assessments Must Have 2 Components

When I first started physical therapy school more than 20 years ago, we were a very “joint-based” profession. We weren’t thinking globally and we were very focused on the person’s symptoms.

Over the last couple of decades, the “functional” approach has taken priority with a focus on movement quality, which is great.

At Champion this year, we took a big step back and assessed our own evaluation process. We essentially said, each of our evaluations must have two components:

  1. A structural examination
  2. A movement assessment

Our treatment sessions and our performance programs all focus on both. If you are still focused on only one of these, you are really missing the boat.

As with anything, pendulums shift and we are probably starting to lean more towards the movement side of the assessment on our profession.  But, I think this will come back to the middle at some point.

You must look both structurally and functionally.

The Right Way to Use Social Media

I’m really proud of so many young professionals getting themselves out there on social media. I believe that sharing our knowledge is a key component of our own personal growth.

But, I’m not sure most are doing it right, or least what I would consider “right.”

I’m not sure we need another post on the plank, and I’m not sure we need to be making our own “quotes” as if we are all brilliant prophets.

I want to see more people educating and making posts for their clients.

This year I tried to keep it simple and not about my ego, make it more about helping people (see the recurring themes from above?). Remember, we are in a service industry.

Want some examples of people I think doing it right?

Here are some links to Instagram profiles you should follow and model yourself after, like I have:

  • @achievefitnessboston – My friends Jason and Lauren Pak may have the best IG account going right now, with excellent quality content.  Their approach to things like making strength training less intimidating to the masses is a great example of people doing it right through education and focusing their posts on helping people, not themselves.
  • @shiftmovementscience – Dave Tilley shares his passion about improving gymnastics.  Not 1 ounce of what he does is about his ego, it’s about the athletes he helps and the sport he loves.  
  • @fitnesspainfree – Dan Pope has been sharing his knowledge and walks the walk about high level fitness athletes.
  • @syattfitness – It’s been fun to watch Jordan build his online presence, sharing a TON of simple but impactful content
  • More of our crew at Champion, and some newbies to the online world are @lenmacpt, @kieferlammi, and @mikescadutodpt, who are building their online presence the right way with great educational content from the start.

What Have You Learned?

Now’s a great time to reflect on what you have learned this year. Again, I would love to hear about it in the comments below, but even if you don’t share I encourage you to reflect on the past year on your own.

Good luck in 2018!

 

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:

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.

 

 

The Kettlebell March Drill for Functional Core Stability

We’re big fans of farmer carries and suitcase carries at Champion.

Carries do a great job of developing functional core stability by adding an offset weight to the center of rotation of the body. But carries also offer so many other benefits – from grip strength, to upper body development, to overall athleticism.

Often times, clients with poor core strength or control will compensate during the carry.

If the core can not stabilize the trunk with the added load of the carry, it will compensate by relying on the static stabilizers of the body and rocking back into hyperextension of the back or leaning to the side.

In the below video, Kiefer Lammi, our Director of Fitness at Champion, shows how we have started to modify the carry in these individuals by adding a march. Not only does this promote better core control, it also facilitates training the trunk to remain stable while the distal extremities move functionally. This is one of the fundamental principles to enhance how well people move and perform.

Follow Champion For More

If you enjoyed this video, the team at Champion and I have been producing a ton of great content on Champion’s social media profiles, including regular content for #MovementMonday and #TechniquesTuesday, plus a ton more:

 

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.  Don’t get me wrong, sedentary lifestyles are not healthy, but let’s get one thing straight:

It’s not sitting that is evil, it’s NEVER moving that is evil. [Click to Tweet]

By putting all the blame on sitting, we lose focus on the real issue, which is lack of exercise.  So we see 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.

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.

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 EMG 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 used 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.  

sitting isnt bad for you

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.

It’s OK to sit all day, 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 calling a spade a spade.  It’s lack of movement and exercise that is the real concern, not sitting.

 

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 hour long 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 fitness tracking devices, which can remind you to stand up and move around at set times.

 

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:

Chin Tucks

Shoulder W’s

Thoracic Extension Exercises

View one of my past articles for several more great thoracic mobility drills.

Bridging Exercises

True Hip Flexor Stretch

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.  

I also often tell people to perform the prone press up exercise, cobra yoga poses, or to simply lay on their stomach in the evening while reading or watching TV.  

fig 1 - sitting isnt bad for you

 

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.

 

 

 

How Pelvic Tilt Influences Hamstring and Spine Mobility

how pelvic tilt influences hamstring and spine mobilityHow many people come to you and complain that they have tight hamstrings?  It seems like an epidemic sometimes, right?  I know it’s pretty common for me, at least.  

Many people just tug away at their hamstrings and aggressively stretch, which may not only be barking up the wrong tree, but also disadvantageous.

I have really gotten away from blindly stretching the hamstrings without a proper assessment, as I feel that pelvic position is often the reason why people think they are tight.  This is pretty easy to miss.

In the video below, I want to explain and help you visualize the how pelvic tilt influences hamstring mobility and spine position.  Often times the hamstrings feel “tight” or “short” when in reality their pelvic position is just giving us this illusion.  I talk about this a lot with clients at Champion and often find myself making these drawings on our whiteboard.

Keep this in mind next time you think someone has tight hamstrings or has too much thoracic kyphosis.  Often times the key is in the hips!

 

How Pelvic Tilt Influences Hamstring and Spine Mobility

 

Strategies for Anterior Pelvic Tilt

If you are interested in learning more, I have a couple of great webinars for my Inner Circle members that you may find helpful:

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!

large-learn-more

 

large-learn-more

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:

Working Core Training in 360 Degrees

The notion of core training has been around for years and years.  As far back as I can remember, people have been doing crunches, sit-ups, weighted side bends, and more.  You could walk into any gym in the world and probably see someone doing some sort of “core” exercise.

core training sit ups

Photo credit

Even today, there are still people performing sit-ups or some other variation in their training program.  But as we continue to learn more about the spine, these traditional core exercises may actually be disadvantageous.  According to Dr. Stuart McGill, a noted spine biomechanist from the University of Waterloo:

“The spine may be more prone to injury when they are in a fully flexed posture.”

Last time I checked, when someone is performing a sit-up, they are in a great deal of flexion.  

Many other studies by McGill and other researchers have been published on the increased risk of high repetition and/or loaded lumbar spine motion.  Since this research has been published, there has been a pendulum swing towards performing more neutral spine movements such as planks.

core training plank

In another study by Cholewicki and McGill in Clinical Biomechanics:

“One important mechanical function of the lumbar spine is to support the upper body by transmitting compressive and shearing forces to the lower body during the performance of everyday activities. To enable the successful transmission of these forces, mechanical stability of the spinal system must be assured.”

By performing some type of plank or neutral spine exercise, this can potentially train the core to transmit force from the upper body to the lower body or vice versa without compromising the spine.

Performing plank variations is great, but as humans, we move in multiple planes of motion.  Therefore, we need to train the core to function in all planes of motion.

 

Core Musculature

360 degree core trainingThere are many muscles that contribute to the functioning of a stable core position.  These muscles include:

 

  • Rectus Abdominis
  • Internal Obliques
  • External Obliques
  • Transverse Abdominis
  • Multifidi
  • Quadratus Lumborum
  • Diaphragm
  • Pelvic Floor
  • Latissimus Dorsi

There have been studies performed over the years saying that transverse abdominis or multifidi are the main stabilizers of the lumbar spine.  Study after study, many by McGill, have refuted that 1 or 2 muscles are the primary stabilizers of the spine.  McGill et al. in the Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology found that:

“The collection of works synthesized here point to the notion that stability results from highly coordinated muscle activation patterns involving many muscles, and that the recruitment patterns must continually change, depending on the task.”

Therefore, when we are training or treating our clients, we should not be attempting to isolate one muscle we performing lifting tasks.  Some muscles may be more active than others in one task as compared to another.  Instead, we should be working to maintain a neutral spine position and to resist motion through the lumbar spine.

The McGill Big 3

McGill came up with a series of 3 exercises, entitled “The Big 3” to help teach and re-educate patients or clients returning from a low back injury on how to properly stabilize their spine.

They include:

McGill Curl-Up

Key Points:

  • Place finger tips under low back.
  • Maintain a neutral spine position at low back and neck.
  • Slightly lift shoulders off ground while maintaining spine position.

Bird Dog

Key Points:

  • Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Imagine you have a drink on your low back. Don’t let it spill

Side Plank

Key Points:

  • Start on your side in a hip hinged position (hips slightly flexed).
  • Bring hips forward, not up.

These exercises are great implements to add into the beginning of a strength and conditioning program or during a rehab program for someone returning from a low back injury.  But, these exercises are a foundation for movement.  If we are going to build core stability throughout, thence need to have a solid foundation as well as solid “walls and a roof.”

 

Core Training Progression

There are typically two functions of the core:

  1. Transmit force from the lower body to the upper body or vice versa.  
  2. Resist motion.  

For example, if you are a baseball player and are throwing or swinging a bat, you want to have some motion through your lumbar spine, but predominantly through the hips and thoracic spine.  If we try to stop motion at the lumbar spine, your effectiveness as an athlete will be subpar.

Don’t forget…  the spine needs to move.  This is something Mike has covered in his article Are We Missing the Boat on Core Training?

Regarding the other aspect of resisting motion, if you are going to pick something heavy up off the ground, you want to maintain a neutral spine posture so that your core can transmit force from your legs and into your arms as you lift to the implement.

We need to appreciate these two different situations as we program for our clients.

The three planes of movement that the core musculature works in is the:

  • Sagittal Plane
  • Frontal Plane
  • Transverse Plane

The sagittal plane is lumbar spine flexion and extension. The frontal plane is lateral flexion or sidebending.  The transverse plane is rotation to the right or left.

The following progressions are a big part of Mike Reinold and Eric Cressey’s Functional Stability Training For the Core program.

 

Anti-Extension Core Training

Anti-extension core training consists of the body’s ability to resist movement into lumbar spine extension or to slow down motion from a flexed position to neutral, or from neutral to extension.

Exercises that focus on anti-extension stability are:

RKC Plank

Key Points:

  • Pull your elbows toward your toes.
  • Squeeze your glutes as hard as you can.
  • Maintain a neutral spine.

TRX Fallouts

Key Points:

  • Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Tuck tailbone/bring belt towards chin.
  • Slide arms out while keeping neutral spine.

Farmer’s Carries

Key Points:

  • Hold relatively heavy weight in each hand.
  • Ribs down/neutral spine.
  • Walk.  Don’t lose neutral spine posture as you walk.

Dead Bugs

Key Points:

  • Flatten low back to ground so that spine is neutral.
  • Bring right arm overhead and left leg out away from body.
  • Do not lose neutral spine position.  Return to starting position.
  • Repeat on other arm/leg.

Tall Kneeling Anti-Extension Press

Key Points:

  • Setup cable at head height when in tall kneeling.
  • Maintain a neutral spine and press cable overhead.
  • Cable will try to pull you into extension.  Don’t let it.
  • The only thing moving should be your arms.

Anti-Lateral Flexion Core Training

Anti-lateral flexion core training consists of the body’s ability to resist movement into lumbar spine lateral flexion to the right or left or to slow down motion from a flexed position to neutral, or from neutral to the opposite laterally flexed position.

Exercises that focus on anti-lateral flexion core stability are:

Suitcase Carries

Key Points:

  • Hold weight in one hand.
  • Do not let weight pull you out of a tall, neutral posture.
  • Don’t overcompensate to and flex to the opposite side.
  • Walk.

Side Planks

Key Points:

  • Start on your side in a neutral spine, slightly hips flexed position.
  • Maintain neutral spine and bring hips forward.
  • Maintain a straight line from your head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees, and ankles.

Racked Carries

Key Points:

  • Maintain a tall posture similar to the suitcase carries.
  • Walk.

Anti-Rotation Core Training

Anti-rotation core training consists of the body’s ability to resist movement into lumbar spine rotation to the right or left or to slow down motion from a rotated position to neutral, or from neutral to a rotated position.

Exercises that focus on anti-rotation core stability are:

Anti-Rotation Press

Key Points:

  • Start behind cable arm.
  • When you press your hands away, don’t let the machine rotate you.  Maintain a neutral spine.
  • Perform facing both directions.

1/2 Kneeling Chops

Key Points:

  • Leg closest to the machine should be up.
  • Bring arms down and across your body to you far side hip.
  • Only move head and arms.
  • Perform on both sides.

1/2 Kneeling Lifts

Key Points:

  • Leg closest to machine should be down.
  • Same cues as chops, but bring cable to far side shoulder.

TRX Anti-Rotation Press

Key Points:

  • Feet should be in tandem.
  • Maintain a neutral spine position.
  • Don’t let your body rotate or sidebend during press.
  • Perform on both sides.

 

Multi-Planar Movements and Rotational Sport Athletes

Once the body has mastered the basic core progressions and anti-movement-based drills, it is important to incorporate multi-planar and rotational movements.  These movements work on incorporating movement through the hips and thoracic spine versus some of the movements before where basically no movement was occurring.

As mentioned before, these exercises will help the athlete and client to control themselves going from one position to another.  As a rotational sport athlete, we don’t want to completely limit any spine motion.  We want the body to be able to control and decelerate the body using the musculature versus passive restraints (ie. bone, ligament, etc.) at end range.  These can also be used by non-rotational sport athletes as well.

Sledgehammer Hits

Key Points:

  • Bring the sledgehammer up over one shoulder.  Don’t let it bring you into lumbar extension.
  • Hit the tire while maintaining a neutral spine.
  • Alternate per side.

Medicine Ball Overhead Slams

Key Points:

  • Raise the medicine ball overhead.
  • Avoid going into lumbar extension.
  • Slam the ball to the ground while maintaining a neutral spine.

Medicine Ball Overhead Rotational Slams

Key Points:

  • Bring the ball up overhead.  Don’t let it bring you into lumbar extension.
  • Throw while maintaining a neutral spine.

Medicine Ball Scoop Toss

Key Points:

  • Load your back leg with your weight.
  • Transfer weight quickly from back to front leg.
  • Majority of the motion should be coming from the thoracic spine and hips.
  • Perform on both sides.

Medicine Ball Shotput Toss

Key Points:

  • Load medicine ball at shoulder height.
  • Load back hip/leg.
  • Quickly drive off back leg and twist through hips/thoracic spine.
  • Perform on both sides.

 

Breathing and Core Training

Implementing breathing with core training is very important.  If we are constantly holding our breath while performing core exercises, then we are compensating using the valsalva maneuver versus training the musculature to have to stabilize throughout the exercise.

Related Articles:

*Disclaimer*: if you have heavy weight in your hands or on your back in the cases of a deadlift or squat, then I am a proponent of using the breath to brace the core and spine.  When it comes to core exercises as mentioned above, remember to breath.  

With the said, here are a couple of exercises where implementing the breath adds another component to the movement.

Anti-Rotation Press with Full Exhale

Key Points:

  • Same as before with Anti-rotation Press.
  • Complete full exhale when hands are out in front of your body.
  • Maintain proper form during exhale and inhale.

Prone Plank with Full Exhale

Key Points:

  • Same as before with Plank.
  • Complete full inhale and exhale without losing form.

 

Strength Training and Core Stability

Lastly, we can’t go through an entire article and not discuss the use of core stability and strength training.  I am a firm believer that just performing squats and deadlifts are not enough to improve core and trunk stability.  Adding some of the movements mentioned above can add another component to create a well-rounded training program.

When it comes to performing squats, deadlifts, etc., maintaining a neutral spine during the lifts is extremely important.  Yes, there are some elite level lifters out there who can sway away from a neutral position in one direction or the other.   For the vast majority of people performing strength movements such as these, a neutral spine should be maintained.

There you have it.  By incorporating core stability exercises throughout all planes of motion, it will allow your clients and/or athletes to reduce their risk for injuries as well as improve their performance.

 

Learn More About Core Training

If you want to learn even more about functional core training, check out Mike Reinold and Eric Cressey’s Functional Stability Training for the Core.  The program goes over many of these progressions and a whole lot more to help you completely understand the true role of the core and how to incorporate functional core training into your rehab and strength training programs:

 

About the Author

andrew_millettAndrew Millett is a Boston-based physical therapist in the field of orthopedic and sports medicine physical therapy.  He helps to bridge the gap between physical therapy and strength and conditioning.  Visit his website at AndrewMillettPT.com.