Why Stretching Isn’t Always the Answer
When working with athletes we often find ourselves having to adjust highly developed programs on the spot. While it’s great to have a plan and periodized program, it often times works as a road map that we efficiently have to detour around. A combination of countless variables such as a lack of recovery, poor nutrition, training right after a practice or a game, stress, or obviously pain, can act as road blocks causing a coach to acknowledge that the best option for an athlete on any given day may be to make adjustments and scale back. A situation like this does not mean that progress cannot be made to and one should completely scrap a training session. The time for lying around and catching up on your reality TV cannot wait for another day. For beginners or really anyone in the fitness industry that doesn’t have the proper skillset to deal with pain a good rule of thumb is if it hurts – don’t do it. Simple. If it persists – seek out someone who is skilled and get some answers. But how do we figure out what we can do? Sometimes it just takes a little digging. Recently I had a conversation with an athlete that went like this… Nick came in and said his back was “inflamed” and that his doctor told him he “needed to stretch”. Coach: Stretch what? Nick: “He didn’t say”. Coach: What makes it hurt? Nick: “Touching my toes”. Instead of abandoning any productive strength work he planned on doing, we took the approach of finding out what movement patterns could be done well and pain free. Below is the video of his initial toe touch.
The Art of Half – Kneeling
The half-kneeling position is a developmental position that provides tremendous benefits including reflexive core, hip, and split stance stability. Unfortunately, many people still perform it improperly, rendering it largely ineffective. Use the kneeling to half-kneeling progression to ensure that you’re getting the most out of half-kneeling training every time. Core stability is a term that gets thrown around quite about in the health and fitness community, and more times then not, the purpose is missed. Core stability is not achieved or trained through repeated flexion and extension of the spine, but by learning to fire the muscles of the midsection in sequence to create a stable and neutral spine position, which allows the transfer of force and expression of movement through the arms and legs. The body prioritizes spinal stability above all else, and will not allow full movement and mobility of the limbs until the primary need for spinal stabilization is met. One needs to look no further then the squat for a perfect demonstration of how lack of core stability can impact movement. Many untrained individuals will present with restrictions and compensations in their squat patterns such as knee valgus (knees caving in), butt wink (lower back rounding), and/or the inability to squat to at least parallel without falling over. Often times, coaches respond to this with tried and true cues like “knees out,” “chest up,” and “sit between your knees,” or by stretching and trying to lengthen areas of the body they feel are “tight.” Unfortunately, if the individual lacks strength and stability where it counts, all the cueing and stretching in the world isn’t going to fix the problem, because the brain absolutely will not allow the individual to achieve the desired movement pattern until proper core stabilization and positioning is achieved. In addition to improving movement quality, a strong core is vital to force and power production both in and out of the gym. In any athletic endeavor, whether it is lifting, jumping, sprinting, cutting, skating, or blocking an opponent, the person who can reach maximal force production the fastest is going to have a higher probability of success. The ability to rapidly recruit the motor units and muscle groups necessary to produce force at high velocities is known as rate of force production, and is one of the baseline goals of strength and conditioning programming for athletes. While there is no doubt that training to improve rate of force production is important, all the power in the world won’t matter one bit if the athlete has the core strength and control of a caterpillar. I believe Eric Cressey put it best here when he said, “the research on core function is pretty clear: its job is to transfer force between the lower and upper body.” In that capacity, it is a basic attribute that all athletes should possess to optimize performance. Benefits Of The Half-Kneeling Position While there are many ways to train core stability, one of the most effective tools we have found is the half-kneeling position. The half-kneeling position is a developmental position that we use as infants to learn to move from crawling to standing. It is useful to incorporate developmental positions such as supine, quadruped, tall kneeling, etc. when trying to improve movement patterns or improve core stabilization. These positions provide a great deal of proprioceptive feedback and limit compensation patterns so that the desired training goal can be reached. In the half-kneeling position, one knee is placed on the ground with the glute contracted and the hip fully extended while the other hip is flexed with the foot flat on the ground directly in front of the hip. The spine remains in a neutral position with the ribs drawn down. With a narrow base and the pelvis in a neutral position, it is difficult to compensate and find stability through faulty movement, which leads to improved neuromuscular stabilization of the core and body awareness. It is truly amazing how “self-limiting” exercises like landmine presses, Pallof presses, single arm overhead presses, and cable chops and lifts become when performed in half-kneeling. Most of the clients at Parabolic who perform one of these basic exercises in half-kneeling for the first time find themselves falling all over the place even with very little external resistance. They have become so dependent on compensations for distributing force and performing work that when they are put into a position where stabilization can only be achieved through properly timed firing of the core musculature, they are lost. Over time, the brain and body adapt to the demand for trunk stability, and the same clients who weeks before were falling to the ground with a light band Pallof press are challenging the limits of our heavier bands and reaping the stability benefits in more complex movements like squats and deadlifts. Dr. Quinn Henoch of Darkside Strength and Juggernaut Training Systems wrote a great article about the half-kneeling position titled, “Three Reasons Why The Half-Kneeling Position Will Improve Your Training” which you can read here, for more detail about the benefits of working in half-kneeling.
The Top 4 Shoulder Stability Exercises You Aren’t Doing… Yet
We need reflexive stability and proper joint positioning to express true savagery. Incorporate these four exercises into your training or movement prep to develop stable, fully integrated shoulders capable of moving big weight. What You Need To Know Reflexive stability of the shoulder and mobility of the scapula are vital to maintaining long-term shoulder health and optimizing athletic performance. Like any other joint, the shoulder requires a delicate balance of mobility and stability in order to function properly. Development and maintenance of these qualities is essential to ensuring that an athlete is able to express and improve physiological qualities like strength and power over a long-term training program without sustaining injury. Let’s be honest though, there is nothing sexy or fun about training shoulder stability. No one, regardless of sport or goal, wants to spend all their time in the gym developing scapular mobility and reflexive stability of the shoulder. We train to develop power. We train to increase force production. We train to build muscle mass. We train to dominate in whatever athletic endeavor we choose. Don’t get it twisted though; if the goal is to optimize athletic performance, mobility and stability of the shoulder girdle are essential. Athletes who cannot express full range of motion of the scapula and glenohumeral joints, and who cannot reflexively fire deep stabilizers to maintain joint centration and allow prime movers to perform work, are setting themselves up for injury. Nothing will derail a program and halt progress like chronic pain or injury. Here are four exercises that we use to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of our shoulder stability and mobility training so we can keep our athletes healthy and devote more time to what really matters: unleashing the beast within them.
Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization
The way in which physical therapist are performing soft tissue mobilization or massage has changed recently. A growing number of physical therapists are moving towards IASTM, or instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization. This entails using some sort of hard edged instrument made of metal, plastic or ceramic in order to apply a force to soft tissue in an attempt to increase the body’s healing response. The tools provide advantages for both patient and therapist. They provide palpable feedback as they cross the affected fibers of the patient’s soft tissue, thus allowing the therapist to be efficient in their treatment. The other advantage is that they allow for an increased, focused amount of force to the affected area without significant discomfort to the patient or increased stress to the therapist’s hands. The most popular theory on how the instrumentation works is that the contact between the tool and the underlying tissue causes micro-trauma that results in an increase in the number of high quality fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are cells that are produced by the body during the healing process of tissue. The “scrapping” of the tool over the affected tissue also helps convert collagen scar tissue to functional tissue with proper alignment of the tissue fibers. This will allow for normal elasticity of the tissue and as a result decreased pain with movement and functional activity. The doctors of physical therapy at Parabolic frequently use IASTM on conditions that range from scar tissue build up after surgery, to tight muscles resulting from overuse injuries. If you have any questions regarding how IASTM is performed, and if it could help your particular condition, feel free to contact one of our doctors of physical therapy at either our Montclair or Little Falls offices.