Abdominal Training & Featured Exercise

Whether it is for improved performance, general fitness, or injury prevention and treatment, training of the abdominal region is an important aspect of any training program.  While there are a multitude of exercises that can be used to strengthen the abdomen, one needs to be aware of how to properly apply loads to this region based on their current abilities.  It is generally preferred for anyone involved in strength training to focus on the ability to use these muscles to stabilize the lumbar region rather than produce large forces and movements

With this in mind, the author in most instances prefers to use abdominal exercises that involve stabilization or low amplitude movements to strengthen this area.   This enables one to condition the torso to provide stiffness through the muscles and abdomen through the low back, which will allow for safe movement that will not stress the structures of the lumbar spine.

In a previous article, some exercises were described that can serve this function.  In a video posted below, there is another exercise that is slightly more advanced that can be used to strengthen the abdomen and train it for stiffness to support the low back.  This exercise is known as the “Stir the Pot” and was taken from Stuart McGill, who is known for his research on biomechanics associated with the low back.

An important point with this, as with any stability based abdominal movement, is to hold and maintain a strong abdominal brace.  This should create tension throughout the torso (low back and abdomen) allowing one to stabilize the spine.  This particular movement also teaches one to resist twisting torque through the torso, which requires further stabilization to protect the spine.

Shoulder Mobilization Strategies Part II: Videos

Here are the videos of the exercises talked about in Shoulder Mobilization Strategies Part I.

Banded Bully

Overhead Banded Distraction

Supine Bilateral Internal Rotation

Shoulder Mobilization Strategies Part I

In my previous post I covered some information about the shoulder, and by how mobilizing the thoracic spine we can help to eliminate many issues with pain and injury at the shoulder.  I would highly suggest you read that post before getting into what is going to be discussed next if you have shoulder issues.  While mobilizing the thoracic spine is important, it does not mean that the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint itself should be ignored.  Rotator cuff tendinopathies and impingement are just some of the chronic shoulder issues that plague active individuals.  By making sure that appropriate posture and mobility is in place, one may avoid these issues.  But before I get into some specific exercises to address this problem, one needs to examine what causes many individuals to develop shoulder pain.

Many of the postural issues that people have are just caused by how we sit; we sit with our upper backs rounded and our shoulders in a forward position, causing individuals to have reduced internal rotation at the shoulder for functional activities.  Over time, this causes shortening of soft tissue around the shoulder.  However, even though we have this shortening of tissue, the body is capable of adapting to this through dysfunctional movement, which eventually causes irritation and damage to the tissue (one of the reason why with many athletes I work with I NEVER do overhead pressing- the risk to me just outweighs the reward of what is a good strength movement).

Most people will exhibit forward shoulder posture either because of natural postures in everyday life (i.e. work, driving) or different sport activities.  One of the changes that occurs with this type of posture is tightening of the pectoralis major and minor.  In particular the pec minor will shorten due to the posture of your scapula (shoulder blades).  This tightening will cause inhibition and weakening of other muscles surrounding the shoulder girdle (see some of my previous posts on shoulder injury prevention). In order to correct this, one will typically need to mobilize both anterior and posterior regions of the shoulder, and then complement this by adding in strengthening exercises to address inhibited muscles in order to help in supporting good postural alignment.

Kelly Starrett in his book Becoming a Supple Leopard describes many different types of mobilizations that can be used to address the shoulder (and for any other body part for that matter).  These exercises can be included in a warm-up prior to activity, or they may be added in as an extra workout in helping to improve mobility.  It is highly suggested to spend at least 10-15 minutes daily working on problem areas to avoid injury.

Part II of this post will include videos of some of the suggested exercises to use to correct these issues.  The following exercises that can be performed to address dysfunction at the shoulder are:

1.  Banded Overhead distraction

2.  Supine (lying on back) internal rotation mobilization

3.  Banded Bully

Future posts on this subject will also include application of exercises to strengthen the region in supporting good postural alignment.

Shoulder Pain- Mobilize the thoracic spine

Many individuals involved in physical activity encounter shoulder pain at one time or another.  Various exercises can be performed to address issues that can cause shoulder pain; exercises to address the rotator cuff and scapular muscles are commonly used for this purpose.  While many of these exercises can be used to address weak areas around the shoulder girdle, mobilization techniques can also be used to both treat and prevent shoulder pain.

While mobilizing the glenohumeral joint may be necessary, people tend to neglect mobility around the thoracic spine which can contribute to shoulder pain as well.  Limited motion around the thoracic spine (mid-back region) will limit the ability of the humerus and scapula to move efficiently during complex movements.

Here are three exercises you can include in a routine either prior to training or an extra workout to work on mobilizing around the thoracic spine:

Foam Roll Upper Back

Cross your arms in front to move your scapula out of the way and roll up and down you mid-back (thoracic) region.  You may also lean to one side or the other to focus on each side separately.

Cross your arms in front to move your scapula out of the way and roll up and down you mid-back (thoracic) region. You may also lean to one side or the other to focus on each side separately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foam Roll Thoracic Extension

Foam Roll Extension/Rotation (This movement incorporates movement at the thoracic spine and shoulder joint).

Combining these movements while addressing other weak areas around the shoulder should assist in eliminating or preventing shoulder injuries.

Misconceptions of Strength in Athletics and General Fitness II

1.   Strength training will make you slow and inflexible.

Herein lies a situation which again is dependent upon how training is implemented.  I can attest (from my experiences in training when I was younger) that if you don’t implement mobility and corrective exercise as a part of your routine, your mobility will decrease and your chances of injury will increase.  The same idea is applicable when saying that heavy strength training will make you slower.   If speed and power are important components of your training, then you need to accommodate this.  And in order to be powerful and explosive, there is something you need to consider: you need to be able to apply force.  So getting stronger is absolutely a vital training component in a speed and power athlete.  There are countless ways to do this in your training; again the important thing is understand the process and how all training modes will help you achieve your end goal.  So while you can sit there and cite bodybuilders (particularly the ones that compete in heavier weight classes) who wouldn’t be able to run and move on a football field, remember that is NOT their goal in training

If you are worried about maintaining your movement while undergoing training the slow component of strength (i.e. lifting heavier weights), utilize mobility drills and corrective exercise prehab movements to prevent injuries.

2.  If you want to lose weight, cardio is all you need.

I would think in the internet age that most people are probably past this one, but I will address it anyway because I know there are people out there that still believe this.  I am also going to lump into this discussion all of the various types of group training “classes” that don’t include any significant level of resistance training into their workouts with the intent to “tone” muscles (For the record, there is not such thing as muscle tone in the way it is described by infomercials. Tone is a function of the central nervous systems in regards to muscle activity; the tone people are usually aiming to get through training involves having low body fat and MUSCLE MASS).  Yes that is correct, you need muscle in order to have tone.  How do you do this?  Strength Training.  Now this is not to say that some type of conditioning is not important.  Everyone at some point in their training should do various types of cardiovascular/aerobic/anaerobic conditioning as a part of their exercise for overall health and well-being; and if you are an athlete, training these energy systems is all the more important in training for your sport.

In summary, if you want a complete exercise plan regardless of your fitness goals, strength training should be included.

If you get this and want to post a question on how to incorporate these variables in your training, post in the comments.

Misconceptions of Strength in Athletics and General Fitness

All you need is a barbell and plates . . . . . . .

Bodyweight training is the only thing you really need . . . . . . . .

A kettlebell and an open field will be all that is necessary to make you strong . . . . . .

Strength training will make a female bulky. . . .

If you have been into reading anything about physical preparation or fitness,  you may have come across statements such as these.  There are professionals in the field of exercise that will tout certain training modes over others, especially if it is their “thing”.  What is going to be discussed are some issues as they relate to strength training that individuals commonly perceive to be absolute truths.  Falling into some of these thoughts could hamper some of your progress as far as your fitness goals are concerned.

However, there are truths to the above statements.  For instance, if someone where to do push-ups, pull-ups, bodweight squats and lunges everyday, they would get stronger and achieve a certain level of conditioning.  The same can be said for any of the above methods in the initial statments; there are countless stories of athletes, strongmen, and bodybuilders who had nothing but a barbell and some rusty plates in their garage to train with.  Without getting too deep into this, the human body will adapt to a stress which will cause changes to the body.  The problem is that once the body adapts, one will cease to see changes occur.  If you do limit yourself to one execise mode or another, it is definitely important to some how vary your stimulus with your exercise to continue to progress.  This becomes all the more important for competitive athletes who limit their training to certain types of training.  As a for instance, I knew a coach once who had his athletes performing a plyometric (or a jump program as individuals who understand this stuff would refer to it) and thought (no, he knew for a fact according to him) that this was all his athletes would need to make themselves better on the field.  What he failed to realize is that without some level of strength, the benefits from this type of routine would be limited– it’s that whole needing to be able to apply force thing.

So without going any further with this I will just address some of the issues as it relates to how people understand strength development.  What I don’t address here will be discussed in a future post.

1. Bodyweight exercises are all you will ever need

I think bodyweight strength movements are outstanding for helping to develop strength and just overall conditioning of the body.  As a matter of fact, I think most young athletes would all be better served is they could actually perform bodyweight movements (I could have counted way to many athletes I dealt with at the college level who would not perform ONE good push-up).  The problem here again lies in functioning in absolutes.  If you are a competitive athlete (no matter at what level) you at some point will have to add external resistance to your exercise, or for that matter, work on the development of MAXIMAL strength (which depending on your sport or chosen activity, can become very important to your overall development).

While anyone who is a football fan has heard the legendary stories of Herschel Walker (who was an athlete at a level that most people cannot even dream of getting to) doing is regimen of push-ups, pull-up, and sit-ups, there will be other things that have to get done, most notably using resistance.  This also means that athletes at some point should train HEAVY.  Now there are right and wrong ways to go about training to get to that point, but notheless it is something that eventually is necessary for athletes to do.

2.  Strength training and females

Everyone has dealt with the issues of females not wanting to strength train heavy for fear of getting “bulky” or too muscular.  While I am not looking to get into a discussion of physiology for the purposes of this post, females (yes, I am saying females as in all, don’t start telling me about your “genetics”) don’t have the capability to add on muscle mass due to lower resting levels of testosterone.  This means females resort to limiting themselves to spin classes, the lates froms of dance aerobics (I refuse to mention any by name), or the next “bootcamp class”.  Meanwhile, much of the complication with their training and meeting their fitness goals may be achieved by doing some basic strength training with RELATIVELY heavy weight.  This means not only doing high rep sets which do not tone muscles, but rather doing even some 3-5 reps sets of basic compound exercises.

The strength training issue is something that particularly needs to be addressed with young female athletes.  While working at the collegiate level, it amazed me at how when some athletes just dedicated themselves to basic strength training how their performance improved and the number of injuries they experienced decreased; or, when they did get injured how quickly they recovered.  It almost made things easier for me when I worked with these athletes because just about anything that covered working on their strength seemed to help them.  The bottom line is that for females to improve in their sport, they need to train to improve their strength.

I will address some of the other issues in a future post.  For now just remember that everything as it relates to strength training is a tool to be used to achieve a goal; their is not one perfect training modality that works best for everything.

Abdominal and Low Back Training

With injury prevention being a high priority in strength training and conditioning programs, much attention should be paid to the low back.  Low back injuries are both common and quite debilitating, but what most individuals don’t realize is that their exercise routine can be contributing to their low back problems.  This is due to the fact that many individuals begin with exercises that their bodies are not prepared to handle (even though from a movement perspective, they can complete the movement through an inappropriate motor pattern).  It is not until one beings to experience pain that something is wrong.

There are many novel approaches for individuals doing abdominal or “core” work.  The issue becomes that people begin an exercise program using many novel approaches without a basic understanding of how to move and use the musculature appropriately.  An example of this is the common use of the swiss ball for exercises.  While I believe the swiss ball does have a place in training and exercise, it is many times utilized by individuals who do not know how to perform basic movement patterns to maintain a healthy spine.

While there is not one ideal execise approach for all individuals, there are some basic exercises that should be appropriate for most individuals.  The following 3 exercises are advocated for by Stuart McGill, spine biomechanics expert at the Univeristy of Waterloo.  While they are very simple movements, they are very effective in strengthening the torso.

McGill Crunch

**NOTE:  Most people do not need to do the more advanced version with the hands by the head (notice, the hands are in front and not supporting the back of the head.  Many individuals who hold the back of the head end up pulling up with their arms putting added strain on the cervial region).  And, before I get any corrections on technique, I actually lift by upper body a little higher than needed on the second version in the video (although I still keep my rotation pretty much isolated to the thoracic region).

Side Plank

Side Plank V2

Birddog

Birddog OneBirddog Two

 

 

 

 

 

 

These three exercises activate all of the appropriate musculature for the core, while simultaneously sparing the lumbar spine from increased stresrses commonly seen with many other abdominal exercises.  It would benefit most individuals undertaking a fitness/conditioning program to implement these exercises as a way to strengthen the abdominal and low back regions.  While they may look simple, if performed correctly, these exercises can be challengening.

Most trainees need to understand that they do not fall into an advanced category, and that by doing abdominal and low back exercises that cause added stress to the spine can result in injury.  Even some individuals that do fall in the advanced classification can benefit from exercises like this if they have succumb to muscle imbalances due to their chosen activities.  In another post I will further get into these exercises, along with variations that can be implemented, and also how to incorporate these exercises into a training regimen.  In closing, the referenced text below is a must read.

 

McGill, S.  (2006).  Ultimate back fitness and performance (2nd ed.).  Waterloo, Ontario:  Backfitpro Inc.

Energy System Training and High Intensity Continuous Training

Conditioning the energy systems is a vital component for training athletes and to achieve general fitness.  The problem with most applications of conditioning is that most coaches or trainers are more concerned about constantly taking their clients to maximum fatigue through constant inappropriate application of exercise intensity.  This has become the trend pariticularly in “bootcamp” style fitness classes where individuals perform various circuits and exercises to exhaustion.  And while this approach will work for a certain period of time (particularly with those that have general fitness goals such as losing weight), at some point the intensity at which you work at with these modes of conditioning will level off and you will have a dimishing level of returns.

So is there something better than just doing burpees until you vomit?  The problem with an appropriately designed program that promotes improved levels of conditioning (or biological capacity and power), is that most individuals don’t understand one basic principle: it takes time.  This process should have long-term benefits and goals for your training to truly be effective.  Before getting into the means of how to condition, I just want to give a brief mention of the 3 energy systems:

1.  Alactic or ATP-PC system (immediate energy system)

2.  Glycolytic or lactic system (intermediate energy system)

3.  Aerobic system (long term energy system)

Over the past few years I have been reading a great deal of information from Joel Jamieson’s website on training the different energy systems, and I would highly suggest some of his articles for anyone to read who is interestested in this topic.  One of the main errors that many people make is the overtraining of the intermediate system, or the glycolytic.  There is this belief by many that individuals need to overload this system to condition when in many sports/activities, this system actually doesn’t contribute as much.  I can remember running gassers during football practice 2-3 times per week in-season, and always remember them being hard to run regardless how often we did them.  The same can be said for individuals with general fitness goals.  Molly Galbraith makes this point in an article she wrote when she referred to the misinterpretation of the Tabata research; these four minute rounds of exercises were suppose to work wonders for fat loss and conditioning (after all, who wouldn’t want to just do something for 4 minutes).

As I stated before, anything performed in the short term will yield benefits (law of adapatation).  The problem comes in (and is typcially a problem for non-competitive athletes looking for more general fitness goals) is that you reach an intensity barrier where you can no longer get the benefits from exercise, and raising the intensity to try and achieve further benefits becomes pretty much impossible.  This is typically when injuries set-in, or the individuals just looks for the next training fad to work its magic.

This brings in the importance of using conditioning to both establish an aerobic base (yes, I said aerobic) and for recovery puposes and establishing a base level of conditioning.  No matter how difficult you want to make you training to work hard and achieve goals, everyone needs to follow these principles in order to have long-term improvements and avoid injuries.  This is not to advocate for just long-distance running (which is also misused and abused).  There is absolutely no point in worrying about timed miles unless you run cross country or marathons.  But some forms of aerobic training should not be left out of your training regardless what your conditioning goals are.

High Intensity Continous Training

This is a conditioning mode that I learned about from reading information by Mark McLaughlin.  What this bascially entails is utilizing high intensity work over a prolonged period of time to facilitate recovery and improve the oxidative capacity at the muscles.  An important item to note is that while it is high intensity, you need to stay below your anaerobic threshold.  What you essentially do is pick an exercise and perform a repetition of it approximately every 2 seconds, with a resting pause in between each rep.  The resting pause is a vital elemet to this as it reestablishes blood flow to the muscles.  Mark likes to use a the spin bike with a high level of resistance to acheive this effect.  Using a high resistance, he has an athlete peddle and pause doing it continuously from anywhere from 5-20 minutes.  Now for individuals who don’t have a spin bike, I will outline methods for achieving  this below:

1.  Walking Lunges

This is a variation that I use many times, particularly for onlin clients because it is an easy one for them to follow.  This involves performing lunges continously for 5-20 minutes with a brief pause between each repetition.  It is important that during the pause that your muscles are completely relaxed.  I would recommed starting with looking to get in 20-60 minutes of total work, beginning with 5 minute rounds with 2 minutes between each round.  You can keep the rest periods active by performing abdominal work, push-ups, mobility work, or small rehabilitation based exercises during the rest periods.  It should be noted that you can, and probably should, add resistance to this exercise (dumbbells, barbel, weighted vest).  Just be careful not to overload it and begin working over your anaerobic threshold.

2.  Step-Ups

This variation involves just doing a weighted step-up for time in the same manner as the walking lunges.  You need to set the step at an appriorpriate height.  One way to do this is set the step to align with the bottom of your patella.  The perform step-ups for the allotted time with complete relaxation between each repetition.  Again additional resistance should be employed.

In regards to when to perform this type of exercise, one way is to do this the day after a hard training session (i.e. an intense lower body strength training session or sport practice).  While this form of exercise can seem difficult, athletes and trainees should feel refreshed after doing them from the recovery they help promote.  They will also improve conditioning at the muscular level, which is a forgotten element to training.  I have had some individuals do this after a weight training session if they have limited days in which they can train.  While it would be ideal to utilize a heart rate monitor for this type of exercise to make sure you are staying below your anaerobic threhold, I would not limit the use of this type of conditioning if you don’t have one.  However, they are relatively inexpensive (a basic model of a good name brand will cost around 40-50$).

Coaches need to realize that constantly just running athletes into the ground not only is non-productive, but it also limits ones ability to condition the biological systems of the body.  There are better things for basketball players then contant windsprints, and better things for combat athletes than continous burpees until they fall over.  While it may seem hardore and fit the bootcamp model, constantly working individuals to exhaustion by training lactic-based conditioning has limited effects for long-term development.  By establishing an aerobic base and focusing on recovery, one can not only avoid injuries in the short-term, but also exeperience more benefits in situations when glycoltic based training is warranted.  Coming up, I will do a few more posts on other aspects of conditioning for both athletes and general fitness enthusiasts.

For more on training with Mensinger Performance & Fitness Systems click here

Another Exercise for the Hips- Band Clamshells

bandclam1

bandclam2

Band set-up.  Tie a knot in a resistance band to make a small loop.

Band set-up. Tie a knot in a resistance band to make a small loop.

 

Wrap the band (with the knot tied in in as shown in the picture, unless you have a really small resistance band) just above the patella.  Drive the top knee upwards while keeping the feet together.  It should be noted that some individuals can benefit by performing this exercise without resistance (particularly if they have muscle imbalances and issues with activating their glutes).  Much like the band X-walk, this exercise can be beneficial for individuals with back, hip, and knee problems.

Simple exercise to fix common injury issues- Band X walk

The band-X walk is an exercise, when performed correctly, can be used to address many injury problems that affect the back and lower extremity.

XwalksIII XwalksII

XwalksI

Set up a band as pictured.  Drive one foot out by abducting your hip, and then follow by bring the other foot in a controlled fashion.  One key with this movement is to make sure that your torso is braced appropriately; individuals with weak abdominals will tip and rock their torso when they perform this exercise.  Another item is to make sure that the other leg follows in a controlled fashion, don’t just let the band pull it over to meet the lead leg (the eccentric contraction here also provides benefits).  This exercise can be used as both a warm-up to a lower body or running session, or can be incorporated into the main portion of a workout.

This exercises is done to address specifically the glute medius (also helps promote abdominal bracing).  This can help with many injury problems including, but not limited to:

*Low back pain

*Knee pain

*Ankle sprains

*Lower leg pain (“Shin Splints”).

For more information on training services click here.  If would like an educational seminar done at your site with your athletes, coaching staff, or parents click here.

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