I’ve always been one that’s quick to adapt to ideas, concepts, and practices that produce better results than what I was previously attaining. Letting go and moving on to better methods helps my clients achieve better results.
This is why one of our core values for our gym, Enhancing Life, is Progressive.
We created an environment that encourages change and innovation. New information and updated ideas will always be applied to better serve the needs of our clients and staff.
I’m progressive AF. I’m like the Bernie Sanders of the fitness industry. Why else do you think I wear glasses?
I’m okay with admitting I was once wrong, leaving things behind, trying new things, and letting my clients know that sometimes we stop doing certain things to better service them.
For example, one day I learned that better pelvic positioning during lifting could be attained by tucking the hips compared to my previous cue, squeezing the glutes. That following week, I never cued it again and taught my clients the difference between tucking and squeezing.
This willingness to change requires keeping your ego in check, which unfortunately, many coaches struggle with.
I thought that everyone who was presented with new information would be willing to admit that they were wrong and adapt the new information to improve client’s results.
Change for people is hard. People get emotionally attached to certain mentalities, methods, exercises, and philosophies. Then when confronted with conflicting beliefs, dogmatism and defensiveness takeover, and no progress is made.
It was very early on in my career that I gravitated towards the post rehab population. When I first joined the industry, I had mentors with a powerlifting background. When I asked where I could learn more about programing for the general population (with the post rehab people in mind), I was told to read 5-3-1.
However, 5-3-1 wasn’t helping me get my deconditioned post-rehab client who had never lifted more than 20lbs in their life move better and gain confidence in the gym. What did though, was breathwork.
With the immediate results I saw, I became obsessed. I wanted to know every breathing and biomechanical thing I could get my hands on. I ended up getting my massage license, took several continuing education courses, practiced daily what I learned, and imposed my will on people.
The deeper I got into it, the more I realized that movement is not so simple.
My exercise selection was constantly evolving. Cues and activities were always getting left behind when I found something that expedited results.
And around 3 years ago I ran into a huge problem. It wasn’t a simple, “hey we don’t squeeze anymore, let’s tuck the hips like this” kind of fix.
It was a paradigm shift in how I train client.
I was starting to question conventional industry wisdom: “row twice as many times as you press” or “pinch the shoulder back and down”, and those damn band pull aparts.
All things I was doing for years.
I started questioning how powerlifters “fixed” problems they saw on the training floor, such as adding extension to someone rounding over during a lift.
Or does the person losing upper back position during a deadlift really need to hammer more lat pulldowns and band pull aparts?
Or does the lifter who can’t get their elbows down on their back squat really need to open up their chest and pull their shoulder blades back?
And what got the biggest backlash: Would a competitive lifter get weaker if they got away from their extension-based exercises and chased some movement variability?
I was repeatedly told that if a powerlifter chased variability, they’d lose what “made them great” at their sport.
This belief had beginner powerlifters do the opposite of what I was trying to do with them because they were told they’d lose strength if they got away from extension based exercises.
Finally, in 2017, I was able to put my unconventional methods to the test.
Tracy Jones, a world class powerlifter, was referred to me. She was barely able to walk without feeling discomfort, couldn’t sit in the car without feeling miserable, and didn’t have the mobility to squat below parallel without a massive weight shift and pain.
Limited variability isn’t a problem, until it’s a problem.
It’s a problem if it’s affecting your lifts. It’s a problem if you can’t hit certain depth in your squat. It’s a problem if your quality of life starts falling apart. It’s a problem if doctors are telling you that your done competing.
What “made her great” was about to finish her powerlifting career.
If you think you have the ability to take an athlete’s sagittal plane dominance away from them and make them weak, let me tell you, we’re not that good. No one is.
The 10-15 minutes a day Tracy spent chasing variability did not stop her from being an absolute monster on the training floor 4-5 times a week. What it did do was produce positive change in the way she moved, in a manner specifically targeted at her movement limitations.
The result? Hitting squat depth without pain, and staying in the game that she loves.
(These’s squats are about a year apart. On the first one Tracy has a pretty big shift as she tries to come up from the bottom. She was also not able to squat below parallel without a ton of pain. During the second video, she has less of a shift, comes up from the bottom without breaking down, and NO pain! )
Between Tracy Corey Hayes, and the other powerlifters I’ve worked with, I have yet to hear a single complaint about the better movement they’ve achieved.
So if you’re a powerlifter, train powerlifters, train the general population that lifts heavy, don’t be afraid to break away from extension-based exercises, don’t be afraid to do the opposite of what you’ve always done when it comes to “maintenance work”.
If you’re openminded in trying new things, let me get you started ?
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as giving you one list of exercises. Everyone is different. I can’t just throw a blanket warm-up and tell you that is THE warm-up that every lifter needs.
What I gave Tracy Jones was different than what I gave Corey Hayes.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t guide you to the right direction or work with you to find out exactly what you need.
Here’s what we need to do.
STEP 1: ADDRESS DEFAULT RIBCAGE POSITION
The body is great at giving you illusions and as a coach, you can’t trust your eyes. As a lifter, you can’t trust what you feel. Muscles that feel extremely tight, might be the complete opposite, and blindly stretching it because of the way it feels, might cause more harm than good.
An example of not trusting your eyes would be rounding over during a deadlift. It may look like you’re lacking extension, but that probably isn’t the case. Below is an easy explanation that I take my students through when we talk about when I’m teaching them not to get fixated on the visual assessment.
Because I can’t trust my eyes to guide my client’s correctives, I use assessments like the infrasternal angle (ISA) and obers test to help me decided what do with each client. These tests can tell me the position of the pelvis and rib cage may be in.
Looking at the ISA helps me determine what kind of exercise to choose for each person, what kind of arm position will achieve better movement results, what positions may better drive change, and what breathing style will best address movement limitations.
By being guided by the ISA, I always end up getting changes throughout the body, such as shoulder mobility.
Or hip mobility, decreased tightness or discomfort.
So what angle do you or your client have?
Is it wide?
If so, you would like to start your warm-up with these types of activities
But what if it’s narrow?
Then I’d start with these warmup activities.
And if you’re not sure, you can work with me online and I can customize your warm-up so you’re not doing a bunch of mobility activities that don’t produce results.
If you’re interested in checking your client’s ISA, check out Zac’s video that is attached below, and my article where I go into more detail on why I use it as an assessment tool.
Once you have your 1-2 activities to get your started, let’s dive into other common activities that you might be doing that could be substituted for something more effective.
STEP 2: ADDRESS THE RIBCAGE’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE SHOULDER BLADES
A greater pull to push ratio was done to theoretically create a strong upper back, to “undo” all the benching in a program, and keep their shoulders healthy to stay in the game.
Sadly, this philosophy has a shaky foundation. Literally. Shoulder blades require a congruent foundation to sit upon to allow for effective movement. That foundation is the ribcage.
Look at the client’s ribcage as the door frame, and the door as the shoulder blades. For years I’d been trying to fix the door (shoulder blades), but this whole time the door frame (rib cage) was the one that needed work.
If a door frame is crooked, will you ever have a functioning door?
Same with the shoulder blades. If the shoulder blades don’t have a rib cage to sit on, you might see some movement limitations and restrictions: anterior humeral glide, keeping the back together during lifts, issues with shoulder blade retraction, winging, hunched over back, limited shoulder flexion…..the list can go on and on.
Shoulder blades can move on a fixed rib cage, but don’t forget that a rib cage can move on fixed shoulder blades.
When I began to appreciate this movement, I got away from band pull aparts and Y T Is. Instead, I programmed reaching activities like rockback breathing, arm bars, reaching squats and quadruped work into my group classes. Even with my rudimentary understanding, I immediately noticed client’s movement quality, especially around the shoulders, improve in ways I never thought possible. I was sold!
Having a healthy relationship between the ribcage and shoulder blades gives all the muscle in that region better leverage to work. Better leverage means better mobility, strength, work load distribution, and less discomfort.
Try doing activities that work on the position of the rib cage instead of hammering a bunch of isolated scap work.
Supine Arm Bar
Sidelying Band Reach
Still can’t break that pulling addiction? Try one arm pulls while keeping the opposite arm reaching. This movement places the rib cage in a better position for the shoulder blade to glide smoothly along. Say goodbye to winging, shrugging, pinching, and other compensations you may have experienced in the past.
Supine Band PNF
Half Kneeling Band PNF
STEP 3: STOP STRETCHING HIP FLEXORS!
Conventionally, stretching hip flexors was thought to improve hip extension, but muscle lengthening is near impossible.
Unfortunately, this stretch doesn’t take into account pelvic position. In the above stretch, the pelvis remains in a flexed position, which leaves the hip flexors in a shortened position. What ends up being stretched are the anterior ligaments in front of the hip. <- Not good.
What to do instead?
Drive hip extension by getting hamstrings to pull the pelvis into a position of extension, which will result in lengthening of the muscles that you’re trying to stretch.
Before I share with you what to do instead, let’s go over the next exercise you can leave behind because they’ll have the same substitutes, might as well kill two birds with one stone ?
STEP 4: BURN THOSE BANDED GLUTE BRIDGES AND MONSTER WALKS
It’s not that these activities are causing you harm. It’s that your time is precious.
If you’re going to spend time doing any breathing/corrective/maintenance work at all, I’d rather you spend it on activities that may do a better job at making you move and perform better.
A lot of people do banded glute work because they’re trying to “activate” or “turn-on” their posterior chain. Even though getting the posterior chain to fire is important, you’re better off putting the pelvis in a better position that changes the length-tension relationship to those posterior chain muscles, allowing them to perform better. Just because you feel a muscle burn, doesn’t mean you’re making a positive impact on how that muscle will perform in other movements.
So instead of stretching the shit out of your anterior hip ligaments, doing 15 different banded glute bridges and multi directional band walks, do activities that alter the position of the pelvis. These movements will put less strain on the hip flexors, and put the glutes in a better position for them to work during your training session.
Supine Hip Extension Drill
Half Kneeling Breathing
Toe Touch to Squat
And then you can add a little intensity to these new positions. I would focus on the sagittal plane with the next few exercises. Really making sure your hips are tucked with some hamstrings, working on trying to keep your rib cage on top of your pelvis vs arching your back.
Glute Ham Raise Hold
Glute Ham Raise
KB Front Squat
Assisted Step Up
If you’re wanting to take this to the next level and start working on all three planes, which would be great during the off-season, I’d read Pat Davidson’s article, and check out this podcast where he goes over what a powerlifter should to do during the off-season.
After going through everything I wrote out for you, you should have a pretty badass warm-up.
You’ll start with your two activties you picked after figuring out your ISA. Those breathing activities clients will usually do 3 sets of each with 3-5 breaths each time.
From there you’ll move on to what we call “movement prep”. These activties are usually 3-6 exercises all done 1-2 sets of each with 3-5 breaths/reps.
This should only take 15 minutes to complete. At first when you’re first getting started, it might take a little longer, but once you know the exercises, you can get through them pretty quickly 🙂
On your days off you could go through your whole warm-up or just the first two with your ISA measurement.
I hope all of this was helpful!
Until next time 🙂