Most things in life don’t allow the option of sitting or lying in a more comfortable position to do physical work. Power is gathered from the ground up. This means that any movement we do requires action through the entire body. Sometimes this is as simple as performing exercises you might do seated while standing. But what this really means is that when performing power exercises, movement should begin at the feet. Many people make the mistake of performing upper body power exercises such as Med Ball Chest Passes with no lower body involvement. Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. This is not only true for skill but for training as well. Why perform and reinforce movements that don’t improve general athleticism or mimic movement we want to occur naturally?
You know what workout advice I give to my clients the most often?
It’s staggering just how many people fail to do something as simple and vital as breathing. But try to maintain your systematic breathing while holding weight or controlling motion is often more difficult than it sounds.
Here’s a test: Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Put one hand under the small of your back and the other on tip of your stomach. Tighten your abs like you’re about to get punched in the gut and press your back into the hand on the ground as hard as you can. Now Breath. Not down through your diaphragm, but up through your ribcage. Now try it without the hand under your back. How about with your legs flat on the ground?
The movement of locking your abs in position is called an abdominal brace. Whether you feel it or not, that is the very first thing that happens when you make any kind of movement. Any kind. Your core musculature locks in position and allows the transfer of power between the upper and lower body. If you can’t maintain your breathing in a simple fixed position, how do you expect to do it while concentrating on a dozen other pieces of a movement. Simple, you can’t. You have to practice expanding your ribcage and not just breathing down through your stomach as part of either your warmup or cooldown or simply when you’re lying in bed. Making it a habit will ease the stress on your body during workouts and most other activities.
Crawling is tough. It’s a primal movement that most of us haven’t had to do with any regularity for many years. However, the reason it’s our primary and initial means of locomotion is because it involves so many different muscle groups. It’s not just about the hips and legs, it trains the core to stabilize as well as build the strength of the shoulders and hands. It is a fundamental movement that is truly a total body exercise.
Returning to these movements can be done with the same variation and intensity as any other exercise. In fact, it is in the variation of this movement that it becomes effective. Bear Crawls, Army Crawls, Crab Walks, Dolley Walks and Lame Dogs (see the video) all teach the body to use all the musculature in coordination to generate movement helps to gain control and balance.
Plyometrics is a buzzword and everybody seems to want to do them, but how many people really understand what it means? Plyometrics involves the eccentric stretch and elastic contraction of muscle (most often the hamstrings, though plyos can be done with a variety of movements). Muscle can eccentrically load 140% of it’s concentric strength. This means that when the foot strikes the ground and the hips drop, the hamstrings snap back and generate power through the hips.
As a learning drill (by learning, I mean teaching the Central Nervous System (CNS) to respond faster and more efficiently) one should not perform high volumes of excessive movement and repetition. This becomes counterproductive to speed development and becomes simply a conditioning drill. Also, as coordination degrades, the likelihood of injury increases due to poor form or control. Plyometric movement should always follow good form for running, jumping, or similar triple-extension movements.
Having worked in performance training centers for nearly 15 years and currently being the owner and head strength coach of The Way Human Performance Institute, the line that never fails to both crack me up and infuriate me to no end is: “Oh, I have to get in shape before I work out with you.”
This line staggers me. Do we have high end clientele? Yes. We train professional athletes, special forces members, SWAT teams, nationally competing high school and collegiate athletes, and we’re very proud of our association with all of them. But do we have the Average Joe doing all the same things they are? NO.
Well, yes and no. What they do are exercises that fit their level and ability, but comply with the philosophy all our coaches have. While every workout doesn’t work for every individual, every individual can be trained to be stronger and healthier, no matter what age or background. Any trainer worth their salt understands that people need to be treated on an individual level. If they don’t, find one that does.
A line I always say to incoming clients is: “We’re all born perfect and screw ourselves up along the way.” What this means is that we all have a unique training history, sports history, injury history, and genetic potential. All of these factor into what we can and can’t do athletically. What that also means is that everyone starts somewhere. Training is about time and dedication. ”Time under tension” is a term trainers often use to describe muscular growth. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes (at least not lasting ones). But the process can begin with anyone, at anytime. All it takes is a decision to make a commitment. Like the title says, get off your ass and get started!
A common method of thinking about running is about pulling or “pawing” the ground. This is an outdated and disproven method that is unfortunately still employed by many individuals. Pulling the ground has a double edged sword effect of both using the hamstrings as an accelerant and plantar flexing the foot, exaggerating the stride and in effect, teaching the body to brake with the quads.
The forefoot strike should be done with the toes pulled up, where the leg action is a punch. This allows full extension of the leg and the hips are pushed in front of the foot. This also means that the quads and glutes are the predominant force generators and the hamstrings can be saved for deceleration and control.
Hopefully all of you have picked up, or at least seen someone jump roping in your life. Jumping rope is about rhythm, not speed. It is an incredible exercise that encompasses the entire body. It requires practice and can be frustrating. But work at your own pace! While you may aspire to be, you don’t necessarily have to be like this.
Remember that the rope is only so thick. So jumping a foot off the ground isn’t necessary on every rotation. Energy is often wasted with unnecessary motion. Also, most people swing from the shoulder or elbow, rather than the wrist. Swinging from anywhere but the wrist changes the speed of the rope on the downswing. Most people believe their feet aren’t moving enough when they get the rope caught under them, but often it’s simply not controlling the speed of the rope to match the rhythm of the feet.
A recurring theme, and some of the central tenets of my training philosophy are balance and deceleration. But how do these become integrated in the day to day?
When most of us were children, we ran through the woods, fell out of trees, fell off our bikes (usually without helmets!), got up and kept going. Why? Because we learned to spread out the force of impact and control our bodies. This is a skill that fades with time and lack of practice. It’s a factor of life that we stiffen as we age and this can only be overcome by a conscious return to the fluidity of our youth. The lack of this skill is also an epidemic among the youth of today and is at least partially responsible for the uprise of catastrophic knee and other lower body injuries in youth today.
The world around us is by its very nature, unstable. In the gym, we try to recreate some of that instability in a controlled manner. In places like The Way Human Performance Institute, there is specialized equipment to mimic and control the amount of instability in an exercise. Some examples of these are half foam rollers, Airex Pads, disk pillows or BOSU all help create an unstable environment in a manner that is compatible with experience and relative to the exercise being performed.
As I’ve written about previously, warming up is a vital and necessary part of every workout. However, proper cool-down and recovery are just as necessary. This is where static stretching along with foam rolling comes into play. Static stretching helps maintain proper muscle length, joint mobility and balance throughout the body. The length of time spent in each position has been widely debated, from as little as 30 seconds to as long as 4-5 minutes per position. This is due to the fact that muscle relaxation requires as little as 10 seconds to occur, the relaxation of the Golgi tendons (the mechanism that causes the muscle to snap back when overstretched) can take up to 4 minutes.
A bigger mistake more commonly made is only stretching front to back (ie. the quads, hamstrings, calves, etc.) and not taking into account the rotation of the hip and shoulder joints. Static stretches should incorporate all ranges of motion. A method I prefer is to use a 1″ Powerband to assist in stretching as it allows the user to adjust the degree of tension to a comfortable level while maintaining an adequate stretch. Remember, stretching should never be painful, and should generally induce a sense of relaxation upon completion.
Do you jump right into your workout or sit and stretch for several minutes before hand. Neither will really help you athletically. Jumping directly into a workout is a bad habit formed in youth when the body generally can make up ground in warming up with less chance of injury. As we get older, this is no longer the case. While the real world doesn’t give us the opportunity for a proper warmup, risking injury before a workout is generally an unnecessary risk.
The solution to this is dynamic warmup. While a static stretch depresses the central nervous system, blood pressure, heart rate and core temperature (generally, the opposite of a warm up), a dynamic warmup does the opposite. A good dynamic warmup should encompass all the major movements and muscle groups. It should adequately prepare the body for activity as well as create progression in functional flexibility.