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Is Stretching Beneficial Prior to Working Out?

In a way this article title is a loaded question.  Over the years, there have been a number of different theories regarding the type of stretching you should do prior to and after exercise whether it was aerobic or resistance training.  Hopefully I can better explain what I use in my methods and why.

Static Stretching

In a nutshell, static stretching is simply trying to isolate a muscle group and statically holding it on stretch in hopes that it will elongate the muscle fiber.  Some people will go to extremes with this one, but just like anything we should probably avoid the extreme ends of the spectrum (unless you’re a dancer, gymnast, someone who needs to be a human pretzel).

There has been a number of research studies regarding the efficacy of static stretching prior to and after exercise in hopes that this was in fact the answer to all of our problems.  If we stretch prior to exercise or games, we will not get hurt.  If we stretch after exercise or games, we won’t get sore.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that.  Soreness hopefully by now is understood to be something dealing with volume and eccentric stress on the muscles.  It appears to have something to do with a build-up of Hydrogen ions on the area which I realize doesn’t mean too much to the average person trying to learn something here.  Stretching prior to exercise didn’t appear to have any great attributes either.

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Glute Stretch

I will often do some level of static stretching in the very very beginning of the warm up.  I like to open up the hips for starters, and if you take a step back and see that most individuals have chronic tightness in the same areas secondary to our high tech, sit at your desk, kind of lives.

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Groin Stretch

 

Bouncing/Ballistic Stretching

I think that last reference to this type of stretching was in 1924?

Half kidding.  If you’re still doing this type of stretching you either have been cryogenically frozen for the last 100 years, or you believe that whatever science says is false.  Bounce stretching leads to more injury.

PNF

Stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, is an awesome tool for us physical therapists who want to eradicate increased tone with neuro patients, or individuals who are licensed to increase range of motion in someone who is potentially tight.  I don’t say it this way to seem arrogant, but, we health enthusiasts are super eager to show off the new tools we bought at a weekend course.  I agree that it is exciting, but why do we do anything?  We should always have a why, and there is no reason to perform PNF stretching on someone when we can do it either non-manually or realize that it isn’t appropriate for some individuals.

If I do it with my athletes/clients, it is non-manual.  I will often find a way to trick that individuals perception of what is happening.  For example, band leg lower.

Dynamic Stretching

Not necessarily stretching in the sense that you hardly take your muscles into end range of motion.  Instead, you’re gearing up for the upcoming day of exercise or games.  You mimic some of the basic movements that you’re about to do which will prime the muscles and nervous system up without overload as well as raise the bodies core temperature as you’re moving.  That’s what has been shown to reduce injury, increasing body temperature.

I’ve witness a number of strength facilities, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and sport coaches teach athletes/adults how to do dynamic exercises in a way that doesn’t seem logical.  To me, it doesn’t make sense to go 0-100mph without testing the brakes and accelerator first.  So why start with skipping and high knees just to turn around and slow everything down with some knee hugs?

We will use dynamic stretching prior to doing our movement and sprint drills.  This is our last piece of the warm-up in some ways before we ask the athletes/clients to push themselves.  We will start with slower, more controlled movements first and progress to low level running or even sprinting depending on who we are working with.

Putting it Together

So, an example of our warm-up would be:

foam roll, static stretch, mobility, activation, dynamic

For the items not highlighted here, I covered it in another post, check it out here and for part 2, here.

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Thoughts on Olympic Cleans

There are plenty of ways to coach and teach the clean and for a variety of different reasons.  What I mean is that you have the hang clean, power clean, olympic clean, etc as well as different grip options, lead up options, and accessory exercises.  That’s a lot to consider when planning how to develop power in a particular individual.  Here I’ll try and talk my way through the thought process I use.

For the most part, my primary demographic has been high school and college athletes.  I have worked with some professional athletes as well as general population, however, the primary is high school/college athlete.

With this population, I am trying to increase expression of certain qualities as well as increase performance on tests.  When it comes to how the coaching staff views a particular player coming in to preseason, the tests they’re going to perform is the window they use.  If you can wow the coaches with performance on these tests, there is a good chance that the athlete you’ve been working with will see the field.  It must be stated (I can’t believe that it does) that if the player is hurt because of bad coaching/programming/etc then it doesn’t matter.  That athlete would be a moron to return to your facility.

The tests that I have to improve my athletes performance on is usually some sort of sprint test as well as some sort of jumping test as it applies to the use of an olympic clean.  Of course the athlete will improve with performing the exact test, but that’s not good enough.  Of course the athlete will improve the test as you improve sprinting technique and jumping technique, but that too is still not good enough.  This is where knowing a thing or two about exercise physiology/exercise science comes in handy.  This is the why of using olympic lifts or loaded jumps, and as it pertains to this particular article, the hang clean specifically.

Why a hang clean vs. a traditional olympic clean or power clean?

Clean start (front)
Clean finish (front) With proper hook grip and all

A power clean or traditional olympic clean both start from the floor and can be too technical for the novice.  My job isn’t to create olympic lifters, it is to create an expression of power with athletes.  If I want an athlete to pull from the floor, I’ll simply add a version of deadlifts into their program.  Also, I like to measure power because I’m a nerd, and like physics.  If my start position and my end position are the same for my hips, what is the total displacement?  Makes it a little easier to measure.

The traditional Olympic Clean requires an individual to lift as much weight as they can from the floor to their shoulders in an effort to get them ready to Jerk the bar overhead.  The bar really doesn’t move all that far as you’re trying to minimize the distance that the bar has to travel, making it a little less challenging.  Also, you have to have amazing hip mobility to do well with this activity.  As has been stated before by many a famous pop artist, “hips don’t lie”.

The power clean is a crazy spawn between the Olympic clean and the hang clean.  You take the bar from the floor to the rack position as fast as you can.  Typically, this turns into back injuries and disgusting mechanics.

Hang Clean start (side)
Notice the hips

Hang Clean finish (side)

 

Depending on the sport, there are a couple of ways to load the clean as well.  Traditionally for all sorts of lifting, we meat heads like to load the bar with as much weight as we can perform while still using good form.  In certain cases this isn’t warranted.  For non-contact athletes–think soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, etc–we don’t need to use a huge weight to elicit a response.  Instead, we are able to use as little 40 per cent of what they’re able to use to still get adaptation.  This will virtually be a total expression of power here where these athletes are cued to move the bar as fast as they can.

For contact sports, like hockey and football, we need to add a little weight.  They will still get the expression of power that the other athletes are getting, but they will also get weight acceptance which is huge.  Think about a 200 pound man hitting you into a wall at 25 miles per hour.  That’s the sort of weight acceptance that needs to be encouraged.  You can get a little fancy and do a heavy hang clean day and a light hang clean day as well.  Personally, I like to have my lighter hang cleans, and my compound clean varieties be in the offseason where I am trying to improve the wear and tear from the previous season as well as movement composition.  Then I’ll get heavier as the season comes into view.

Hang cleans promote triple extension–ankle, knee, hip–as well as fast movement.  So does sprinting, and so does jumping.  Get really good at the hang clean for your athletes and you’ll be giving them that extra edge that they need to improve over the rest of the field.

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New Year, Simple Start

It’s that time of year again.  Everyone is planning on doing the right thing and the gyms are starting to pick up.  Almost everyone you speak to is on the “keto diet” as of the first of the new year.  So many great intentions, so little sustainability.  Here’s a quick reference guide for the new year.

Diet

The word diet is more a statement of what you consistently consume as opposed to the 8 week fix that you’re about to embark on.  Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of the newest fad diet that will inevitably fail, choose the healthy option.  What exactly is the healthy option?  The technical answer is that it depends on a host of information that is impossible to answer in one generic blog post.  But, it is possible to give a generic outline that you can plug and play with. The following is  a simple cheat sheet that you can use that is a heck more sustainable that getting extreme.

For Ladies

To maintain your current bodyweight/body fat consume roughly 1 palm size portion of lean protein, 1 fist portion of veggies, 1 handful of starchy carbs, and 1 thumb of healthy fats/oils.  To drop bodyweight/body fat simply cut out some of the starches.

For the fellas

Double what the ladies consume.

For a more detailed list of healthy foods and complete food composition, check out Precision Nutrition’s website.

Sleep

Whatever you do, get appropriate amounts of sleep.  This isn’t always possible if you have newborns or crappy neighbors, but ultimately you should be able to your sleep pretty regularly.  I’ve made mention of this in the past with an entire article, but the jist of the information is that in order to progress you need your sleep.  There are a number of sleep aids out there.  Melatonin seems to be the simplest choice, but now CBD is jumping into the mix.  If you’ve read my material before and you’re still looking at your phone in bed before trying to sleep, why?  Blue light emission from your phone/tv/tablet/computer can inhibit melatonin production in your body for up to two hours.

Exercise

If you are currently working with a professional, continue to do so.  Who couldn’t benefit from someone else pushing you and tracking your information.  Anything or anyone that promises to get a quick fix is just looking to get your money.  There is no magic pill here.

We can break exercise down into a number of different categories, however, resistance training and some sort of conditioning work are the most effective at achieving your goals.  There are certain populations that need to be careful about what they do and how they do it, but the evidence is pretty clear that exercise seems to positively impact everything.  Doing yard work and house work does not constitute exercise.  Walking does not constitute exercise unless you were unable to walk prior to starting a walking program.  Including upper body pushes and pulls, as well as lower body hip hinging and knee dominant work (squats) are a good starting point.

In conclusion, start to implement these simple tasks into your daily routine and you’ll find that your goals will start to come to fruition.  Seeking out a qualified individual who has experience in not just the exercise aspect of well-being, but in the entire performance envelope will be greatly beneficial.  This way you can have all of this information monitored.  Looking for an exercise physiologist or exercise scientist degree and an appropriate certification is usually a good place to start.

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Random Thought: HRV

I just finished up working with a group of peeps that I’ve been working with for the last 10 years–take a moment just to think about that one–and as I was driving home it hit me, “why do I measure HRV?”

Great question, self!

What the heck is HRV anyway?  HRV=heart rate variability, and it is something that I learned back in undergrad when dealing with the heart.  Somewhere around Exercise Physiology 1 if I recall correctly.  This was information so prudent, much like the Kreb’s cycle, electron transport chain, lactate threshold, etc that I immediately deleted the information from memory as soon as I wasn’t responsible for it (lost? don’t worry, these other terms aren’t the topic here).

If you really boil down what HRV is, it is the measurement of one QRS complex to the next on an ECG, or more specifically the R piece of that gathering of letters.  In a normal individual you would expect to find that from heart beat to heart beat they would be roughly the same.  This in turn means that your nervous system is regulating pretty darn well as that silly system drives each heart beat.  However, in fatigued individuals such as athletes, corporate execs, and just anyone who has kids or multiple jobs you’ll find that from beat to beat there are slight differences.  Simply put, your nervous system is struggling to keep everything regulated…just a bit though.

Why does this even matter?

If your nervous system is a little whacky trying to control the autonomic (automatic) systems in the body, then how do you think it will do with the controllable parts like the ever important biceps?  Knowing that you’re HRV isn’t so great could give you or your coach the ability to maybe take out a set or two, maybe even give you the day for active recovery.  You’re definitely not going to hit any PRs.  You’re most likely going to crash and get some sort of illness or hurt if you keep pushing it.  Think Seyle’s diagram where you’re overstimulated.  Or to the layperson, think pneumonia or mono.

 

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Not too shabby this week
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Notice the red and yellow??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can get this stuff pretty easy too.  Shoot, the programs basically tell you if you’re good to go, mildly stressed, or in need of a staycation.  You definitely don’t need an ECG/EKG everyday.  I’m not personally affiliated with any group out there, however, I do use Bioforce HRV.  I think that the owner is an incredibly smart guy and does his homework when it comes to the state of the nervous system and cardiac system which is what sold me ultimately.  There are holes here and there for sure, but ultimately it is pretty high quality.

Take your training to the next step and work smarter not harder!

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Squatting: Good or Bad?

I was speaking a someone in a gym recently about squatting.  The conversation was more a list of excuses of why they couldn’t do a good squat.  So at the end of the day I was reflecting back on the conversation considering some of the points they were making regarding why squats weren’t good for them.

Before I get into the nitty gritty here, let me disclose some of my biases.

I like to lift things, so when the discussion comes to lifting or not my attitude usually sways in favor of lifting.

In discussing points of performance or health, I prefer to program single leg squatting/knee dominant activity versus the more traditional back squat or front squat.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still plug in the front squat and the trap bar (virtually a squat) where appropriate.  The back squat I’ll reserve for individuals who are competing in events that require it, for peeps who have a higher training age and are working in a more 1:1 setting, or for those that will go back to their college or pro strength coach who makes them squat.

Triple extension activity and hinge activity has more carryover to jumping as opposed to squatting in my eyes, but both are prudent.

Finally, Im generalizing here.  Squats are an awesome exercise, do them in some form within your training programs.

Good

When dealing with sport performance, squatting is absolutely necessary for a number or reasons.  But, beyond the performance world, squatting is important for general population and rehab as well.

Doing all hip dominant activity would eventually lead to overdevelopment of the posterior chain, and more than likely a poor quad:hammy ratio.  This would eventually lead to knee joint dysfunction, hip joint dysfunction, poor athletic quality, poor general purpose carryover, and more than likely injury.  Including knee dominant activity (squats in their variable forms) helps to keep the ratios balanced, injury down, and improves control of the knee in space.  The reality is that most high school athletes coming into the clinic have either overdeveloped quads or extremely underdeveloped everything.  For those individuals who are extremely underdeveloped, the best corrective exercise is going to be lift some weight.  Parents, even though you’re trying to do a good thing by protecting your kids, get out of the way.  You wouldn’t hire a mechanic to do your taxes, don’t hire an artist to train your kid.  Find a professional with a good reputation and the appropriate credentials.

Training a squat pattern is essential for basic activities of daily life….like sitting and standing, or going to the bathroom.  I would like to preserve these abilities personally.

Squat patterns are a great way to add variety to your general training programs as well.  It doesn’t even have to be the traditional back squat.  You can do so many different types of squats like goblet varieties, front squat, double kettlebell versions, single leg, split, etc. Not only do they add variety, but they also tend to be so much more of a usurper of energy, requiring the entire body to work.

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Bad

Just like with any exercise you potentially perform, squatting has the tendency to get ugly quick leading to injury.  If you have the ability to watch high schoolers squat either with their football team/coach or with their buddies it almost seems straight out of a cartoon.  Not being able to perform the action without weight they immediately put on 135 because they want to get faster and stronger.  It’s difficult to articulate the silly events that occur.  For that reason, putting a back squat in for groups of people is a challenge.  Front squats are also a challenge because you still have to be able to squat correctly and you need to be semi humble.

Not everyones levers are the same.  Simple.  Someone with extremely long femurs relative to their trunk will squat significantly different than someone with shorter femur length relative to their trunk.  Butt-wink is not a good place to be.  Not everyone is going to squat ass to grass, so please stop enforcing that.

People tend to get too crazy with things too soon.  Simplicity is such an amazing and under appreciated variable.  Monitoring your numbers becomes important so that you’re not exhausting your options too soon.  Adding bands, chains, weight releasers, etc are all cool things to post on the gram, but not always necessary unless you need to change the stimulus based on stagnation.  Keep it Simple.

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Fitting the Puzzle Piece Together

I was recently golfing with a fellow strength and conditioning coach and had a fun little statement about what is going on with my swing.  Normally, I am long with my irons.  This isn’t to toot my own horn, it’s simply because I swing out of my shoes and throw a little extra bicep curl into the swing.  Here’s the problem:  I was falling way too short.  I was making great contact with the ball and everything looked the way it was supposed to (to my own standards), but I was way short.

I know that my infrequent visits to the golf course are part of the issue.  However, I have also not worked on any piece of the spectrum of lifting except strength for the last few months.  A little bit of bench, some accessory work, maybe sit on a bike and think about cardio for a few minutes, call it a day.

In the world of strength and conditioning, personal training, physical therapy, etc. there are some potential short-comings.  With PT, the general consensus is to get them long, get them strong, then get them fast.  That’s great, but you can’t really do that with your athletes efficiently.  Especially if you’re only going to see that athlete for 12-36 weeks.

If you want to be the biggest dude to walk the planet and still not be able to pick up a spare tire for your car, go get your pump on.  If you want to move a house, go lift the heaviest things you can.  But, if you want to be fast and explosive, you better train that too.

Traditionally with strength and conditioning and personal training, you would train absolute strength to develop a base to build off.  True.  But most people coming in off the street have some strength.  Quite the assumption I know.  Most athletes, believe it or not, can already jump or run.  The idea is to make them jump higher or run faster.  Program plyometrics, speed-strength, strength-speed, and power (not all in the same day perhaps) as well as your strength.  This way you’re a little more efficient with your programming.

You can allegedly hold 98 per cent of your strength for a month of not training it.  But, those numbers drop much more significantly with power where you can hold roughly 98% for about a week before you see large drops.

Don’t throw the kitchen sink at your athletes.  Still program intelligently.  But make sure to train some expression of power even if that isn’t your emphasis.  This will allow you to not swing a golf club like a nana.

Some of the speed-strength/power exercises that I like to use with my programming include:  olympic lifts, kettlebell swings, kettlebell snatches, loaded jumps, loaded bounds

You can also place an emphasis on speed with the tempo of the lifts that you are comfortable teaching or that you’re already using.  This would simply require that athlete to explode through the concentric portion of the lift.  I like to remember the “do no harm” phrase here.

I would love to hear what other coaches are using out there.  Please share if you have a different philosophy.

 

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How To Program Med Balls into Your Workouts

Today I have a guest post from a good friend of mine, Nick Esposito.  Nick is a strength and conditioning coach in Waltham, MA at Champion PT and Performance.  He also happens to be a pretty smart kid.  Here is a link to the original article if you have a chance to check out some of his videos too!

How To Program Med Balls into Your Workouts

 

Med Ball Exercises are a great way for a rotational athlete, such as a baseball player, to develop power and strength from their lower body to their upper body.

You often hear about rotational power or kinetic linking…but how do we maximize that?

How does that relate to athletes, especially baseball and softball?

Movements often found in sports are considered ballistic.

What is Ballistic Movement?

“Movements that are performed with maximal velocity and acceleration can be considered ballistic actions. Ballistic actions are characterized by high firing rates, brief contraction times, and high rates of force development.” -Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.

SO, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF MED BALLS?

  • Improved coordination in movements demanding high rate of force development in all planes of motion (rotational power)
  • Improved ability to control and decelerate rotational forces
  • Improved kinetic linking through which helps the ability to generate and transfer force through the body.
  • There is also injury prevention qualities as well. Controlling rotation and deceleration.

After seeing some of those benefits, you can see why Med Balls are commonly seen in sports performance programs.

SETS & REPS

When done right, med balls can be a very demanding on the body, and the central nervous system. We program all med ball work to be done BEFORE any lifting for that day.

We will pick 2-3 med ball drills per workout day that will benefit the athlete the most.

Taking that into consideration, here is a how we commonly program for our athletes:

2 Days a Week Strength Program:

  • 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps

3 Days a Week Strength Program

  • 3 sets of 5-8 reps

4 Days a Week Strength Program

  • 2-3 sets of 5-8 reps

TOP 5 CONSIDERATIONS FOR MED BALLS

STANCE

There are several positions you can begin your med ball exercises in. Typically, I work from the ground up with new athletes. This gives less room for error with form, and a progression to reach in the short and long term goals.

Tall Kneeling (TK)
1/2 Kneeling
Iso-Hold Stance
Split Stance
Athletic Stance
Single Leg

DIRECTION & BALL PATH

Where is the athlete and med balls intended path. Taking the stances from above, now add in the follow 3 items:

What direction the athlete is facing…are the facing the wall, or facing sideways, etc.
Where the ball is starting from. Is the ball starting above their head, at their side, at their hips, etc
Where the Ball is Going. What is the intended target or direction you want to slam/throw the ball?

INITIATION

 

There are typically 3 initiation methods for med ball exercises:

1. Non- Counter Movement

This will be your traditional slam method. Accelerate at the wall, floor or target from a specific starting point.
2. Counter Movement

This will be a movement initiated by a partner or a coil motion. The ball is moving in a against you so that you must stop, load, and then unload in your intended direction.
3. Continuous

This will be a rapid movement…quick and precise. You will commonly see a plyo based or rubber bouncy ball for continuous med ball exercises.

MED BALL TYPES

There are several types of med balls out there. Some have handles, some are large, and some are small. Here are the common types we use with our athletes:

Jam Balls – These balls won’t have much bounce. They are very dense, and can be on the heavier side.
Plyo Balls – These are commonly smaller, and offer a bouncing recoil when you slam it. These are great for continuous and rapid med ball type exercises, and even single leg stance exercises.
Soft Toss Med Ball – Commonly seen in gyms as Dynamax or PB Extreme Balls, these are great for slamming, tossing, and offer many uses.

INTENT

This may be the most important one. For athletes, one of the common goals is becoming faster, and quicker, something med balls are great for. However, many can check their ego at the door and grab the heaviest possible ball to throw or slam…VERY SLOWLY!

If the med ball is going slow, are you truly gaining the benefits of ballistics and what med balls have been proven to help develop…probably not.

You have to put full effort and intent into each throw. Med Ball exercises are truly a “You get what you put into it” exercise.

FIND MORE ABOUT NICK

For more articles like this refer to the link above.  There you can check out some pretty cool videos, articles, maybe even grab some swag.

 

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Coaching Cue on the Deadbug

The dead bug is a great tool to use for both rehab and for improving performance in the athletic and general population.  Creating stability with the floor will help the trunk musculature brace appropriately with virtually anyone on the planet being able to figure it out.  There are a couple different ways that you can attack this exercise and I’ll cover that in this article.

The deadbug exercise is used for a variety of reason in strength and conditioning and PT.  In PT, we can use it to help develop the trunk musculature which will potentially give us a better brace for protecting our low back.  Or a better anchor for our hip extensors to fire from (by protecting the integrity of the pelvis).  In strength and conditioning we can use it in a beginner program to help someone find their anterior core.  We can also use it as an offseason type exercise to help the athletes reset.

Generally speaking, when thinking about strengthening the trunk musculature–or core–people immediately think about the 6-pack.  Sure that is an important piece of the puzzle, however, consider all the other parts too.  If you  don’t have the ability to engage that internal Transverse Abdominus you’re going to have issues.  The idea isn’t that you want to live in the 1980’s and make each muscle fire independent of the others (impossible by the way).  Instead, find a way to coordinate all these groups together.

IMG_1927

 

A common cue that is used to train the deadbug exercise is “push your low back to the floor”.  This will certainly get you to engage your anterior core.  But is it the best way to keep you in a neutral position and bracing?

 

 

 

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Instead, try using a different line of cues.  Let the patient/client use their fingertips to feel the brace.  Simply have them find their ASIS and move in roughly an inch.  As they brace appropriately they should feel their “core” push out into their fingertips.  This is different from trying to suck your belly button to your spine though.  It is more of a hollowing effect similar to that used in gymnastics.

 

This also has an impact on the rest of your body.  If you’re cued to push your low back into the floor you will invariably drive all force into the floor.  But what happens to your upper trunk, neck, head?  If you’re bracing hard enough they’ll come off the floor similar to a crunch.  Fine, if you’re trying to get the anterior core work.  If you’re trying to get those deeper muscles to fire more effectively though, keeping neutral is a little better.  It will allow the patient to keep their head and upper trunk on the floor with the neck finding the natural, neutral position.

Give it a try in your programming and find what works best for you.  Feel free to give some feedback.

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Getting to Overhead Pressing

 

Today I wanted to share a quick breakdown of how we progress to pressing overhead.

A lot of our overhead athletes have difficulty owning the overhead position so we use a variety of methods to help get them there.  We start by reducing the amount of motor control that they need to use by putting them in a tall kneeling position.  This allows them to focus on what the torso is doing.  We also will use the landmine apparatus before they go straight overhead.  This allows them to continue to get strong before they’re truly able to own the overhead position.

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Hang Clean Progressions

Here is a quick video on how we coach athletes to get to a proper hang clean.

If we have a novice athlete in our facility, we generally try and teach them the hang clean first, however, if they aren’t able we will regress.  We will focus on using triple extension, then move to triple extension with the arms, then put it all together over the course of a training block.  These exercises are also great for athletes who do not want to use the hang clean because they’re under the impression that they aren’t good for them.