SQUAT STANCE IS SUBJECTIVE!

Body proportions can affect torso positioning in the squat, stance width and angling of the toes, this is why there is no “one size fits all squat”. Textbooks are great at teaching us proper technique, but what they don’t take into account is the role our anatomy can take in the way we move. Hopefully the images above and this explanation will help further clarify these points. Dr. Ryan DeBell of The Movement Fix (@themovementfix) wrote a great article discussing how hip anatomy changes squat mechanics and inspired me to make this follow up post.
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Besides mobility, anatomy differences can explain why some people can easily squat deeper than others, why some point their toes out and some don’t, why some have a harder time keeping their chest up, why some squat wide and some squat narrow. Anatomical differences will dictate form and comfort of the athlete. Pic 1- the orientation of the acetabulum (hip socket) varies greatly
Pic 2- the angle between the shaft and the ball is greater in one femur than the other
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Trying to force a movement pattern upon someone who’s anatomy isn’t conductive for it will lead to less than optimal movements . If the athlete is uncomfortable in their stance despite how much mobility work they do, take a step back and look at their anatomy. As long as their technique follows basic rules and they aren’t putting themselves in a compromised position, their form should be dictated by comfort rather than the textbook. Here we see the perfect example of two very different- yet very effective squatting techniques by @hulksmassh and @phdeadlift; depth is good, movements is coordinated and controlled, no major knee caving and spine remains neutral.

-By Dr. Stefanie Cohen, DPT

STRONG GLUTES, STRONG LOCKOUT

STRONG GLUTES, STRONG LOCKOUT

The lockout in the deadlift can become problematic to a lot of lifters. In this post I’ll explore some faults that may lead to issues in the lockout and recommend a few exercises that might help you with it. Struggling with lockout makes people think that what they need is to isolate this particular portion of the lift by practicing supra maximal rack pulls. While this is not a bad idea, it’s important to identify some other areas that may be contributing to this.

EARLY KNEE LOCKOUT puts the bar too far away from your center of gravity, in order to counter act the weight of a heavy deadlift you need to keep the bar as close to you as possible. Ideally you want to lock out the knees when the bar is at the mid thigh to ensure your leverage is optimal. STANCE WIDTH too narrow or too wide will result in suboptimal length tension relationship of the hip extensor muscles. Avoid RUSHING when the bar is at the hip because you’re desperate to lock out. If the bar made it all the way to the top of the thigh, squeeze your glutes, lean back and relax. Don’t rush.


Finally, weak hip extension or over-reliance on the back to complete the movement. As you know after the bar passes the knees its up to the glutes to complete the job. Above are my favorite exercises to build explosive hip extension strength that will undoubtedly lead to a strong lockout in the deadlift.

By: Dr. Stefanie Cohen, DPT

TRAINING TIP: BANDS and BAMBOO BARS- do they improve stability?

TRAINING TIP: BANDS and BAMBOO BARS- do they improve stability?

Our friends over at @evidencebasedmvmt did an amazing job at searching the literature to find out whether or not unstable loads alter bar path and muscle activation during the bench press. The belief that bands and unstable loads increase recruitment of stabilizer muscles is under scrutiny.

They found that studies conflict when pointing out exactly which muscles are increasingly activated, or if there is even an increase in EMG activity of smaller stabilizer muscles during this type of training. Ostrowsksi et al found that there is increased activation of the biceps and middle deltoid during unstable benchpress. Lawrence et al found there is increased activation of the rectus abdominis and external oblique during unstable load bar squat. However a study by Dunnick et al found NO difference in muscle activity between unstable and stable training. So, what are some other benefits if any?

In the context of iron sports, training with bands and bamboo bars may be a helpful way to teach athletes to improve body awareness and control in situations involving unstable loads, for example if the bar is misloaded, a plate falls, or you encounter a similar unpredictable event.

They point out that “it is also a fantastic exercise to train specifically for the demands of contact sports, since the athlete is having to control their body in the context of changing and unstable external forces (think of a lineman blocking, or a basketball player scoring through contact). This may lead to a decrease risk of injury!”

Dealing with The Crab Mentality While Dieting

Dealing with The Crab Mentality While Dieting

“You’re a health FREAK” “Ew, that look probably tastes disgusting” “You look miserable eating that” “You are so obsessive” “I can’t even enjoy my meal watching you eat that.” “Eat this, it won’t kill you!” “You looked better when you were heavier, you look thin and unhealthy” “Come out and drink, you loser!”

The Crab Mentality or Crab in a Bucket Mentality, something that people who diet, follow a healthy diet or lifestyle, are in shape or who are trying to get in shape and improve their health and quality of life deal with far too often. This negative verbal vomit is something that I have dealt with for years ever since I started lifting weights way back when I was 14 years old and something in more recent years I have dealt with nutrition and improving my diet.

The metaphor Crab Mentality or Crab in a Bucket/ Pot refers to and comes from a real-life situation where a fisherman has a bucket of crabs. The fisherman does not need to put a lid on the bucket of crabs even though the bucket is not deep enough to keep the crabs from escaping. As long as there are multiple crabs in the bucket, no crab will ever escape due to the crabs clawing at the crab that is closest to the top and closest to escaping the bucket. Individually any of the crabs could easily escape and get free but since they constantly pull each other down they will never escape which leads to all their demise. The analogy in human behaviour is a negative person with this negative mindset that when seeing another person succeed, especially when it is something that this negative person wants to succeed in, they attempt to diminish or pull that person down just because they are becoming more successful than themselves. They achieve this or try to achieve this by making negative comments, inflicting self doubt and reducing self confidence just based on spite, jealousy and resentment. This can be summed to the phrase “If I can’t have it, neither can you.”

In the past I have had co-workers go out of their way to buy the unhealthiest food they could think of for lunch and make sure they ate it in front of me while I was in the middle of a strict diet, cutting down. Describing every small detail about how good it tastes and how ‘happy’ they are eating it, and this was all while making nasty comments on what I was eating trying to make it sound as unappealing as they possibly could. Every single time something like this ever happened to me, the person who was going full crab mode was extremely unhealthy, over weight and had shown very clear insecurities in the past and present.

This negativity that some people spew out when seeing others make positive changes to their own lives with improving their fitness, diet, health, etc. is just a direct representation of how they feel about themselves and their own insecurities. What is so stupid is that if these people put as much energy towards improving themselves as they did attempting to pull others down, they would likely be just as successful if not more successful than the individual they are jealous of.

So how do you deal with these people? Depending on your relationship with this individual(s) it may be very easy or very difficult, but the same general rules apply. 99.99% of the time the answer is to quite simply ignore them. This can be easier said than done, especially if this individual(s) are unavoidable in your daily life whether it be a co-worker(s) or a family member(s) but always remember to NEVER let them see that what they are saying is bothering you, because it shouldn’t. All you are seeing is just how negative and upset this person is with their life and their choices that they have made and continue to make, rather than working towards improving themselves they would rather drag you down to their level, so they can feel better about their lack of discipline.

Combat this negativity with a giant smile and when they confront you, tell them how great you feel since implementing these positive changes in your life. One of three things will likely happen; they will see that you are actually happy and flourishing and ask for guidance themselves (rare), they will realize you are mentally tough and cannot be broken and leave you alone, or you will watch their blood boil when they continue to see you succeed in what they wish they could. Use their negativity to fuel your motivation and drive towards reaching your goals. Make the choices that these people could not, CHOOSE to be positive and CHOOSE to better yourself. Do not let someone who is clearly so negative and spiteful deter you from your goals and your dreams.

Be happy, be positive but never be satisfied.

CRUNCH NO MORE- A BETTER APPROACH TO TRAINING THE CORE

CRUNCH NO MORE- A BETTER APPROACH TO TRAINING THE CORE

Most people think of crunches, planks or sit ups when they’re looking to strengthen their core.  The reality is that isolated abdominal training has little carryover to functional movements and sports, and thus play a small role in injury prevention and performance. If your goal is to train for stability, then you need to enhance motor patterns that incorporate many muscles, rather than just targeting a few.

Crunch

ANATOMY OF THE CORE

Panjabi et al (1992) wrote an article about all the components that play a role in providing spinal stability:

  1. Lumbo-Pelvic structure
  2. Neural activation or motor control*
  3. Active stability from muscular forces: local musculature (inner core) and global musculature (bigger muscles)

As you can see, stability of the spine is affected by several components of our bodies not just the “strength of your core”.

*What the hell is “motor control”?

Motor control has to do with the constantly changing distribution of intrinsic and extrinsic muscles, and ongoing central nervous system mediation. It refers to the ability of the brain to turn muscles on and off depending on the demands of the task, in order to achieve stability, or coordinated movement*

Isolated core exercises have their time and place. They are a great tool to gain initial activation and control of the inner unit. But what happens once we’ve already mastered that? There must be a line of progression to standing and dynamic movements where you are using a combination of the inner unit (your deep core stabilizers) and the outer unit or prime movers (like your glutes, hamstrings, quads etc). Even if we increased the strength of the inner unit, if we don’t make the connection between the two and correct erratic movement patterns, strengthening the core can only take us so far. Because of this, we need to think about it in terms of integration and how we actually create movement.

Maximal muscle activity in the core musculature is observed during single-plane activities, but when performing functional tasks that demand multiple muscle groups to be activated at the same time, their activation is significantly diminished. This leads us to believe that isolated core exercises may not help us improve stability, stiffness and control in “functional multiplanar” tasks.

The purpose of this article is to introduce the concept of the Anatomical Slings and what their role is in stability and performance.

The anatomy slings are groups of muscles that work in an integrated fashion or in synergy to produce movement and create stability around joints. The concept of core stability can further be enhanced by increasing strength and motor control of these slings in parallel to activating the inner core.

THE SLINGS

The human body is a complex system made up of “slings” or “chains”. These slings are combinations of local/inner unit (transverse abdominis, diaphragm, pelvic floor, and multifidus) and outer/global unit that work in synergy to produce functional movements, and when trained appropriately can improve strength, speed and power output. These slings are commonly under looked as we tend to get stuck in the smaller picture when we experience injuries or weakness, and often focus only on specific muscles.

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The slings are composed of a combination of local and global stabilizers. Local stabilizers are mainly concerned with providing joint stiffness and segmental stability, while most of the strength and power is coming from the big global muscles. Together they form a very powerful muscle synergy. In order to maximize trunk stability, we can’t just target the local unit, as this will not significantly help improve core function if the body is not taught how to effectively use these slings.

  1. Anterior Oblique System: External and internal oblique with the opposing leg’s adductors and intervening anterior abdominal fascia.
  2.  Posterior Oblique System: The lat and opposing glute maximus and thoracolumbar fascia
  3. Deep Longitudinal System: Erectors, the innervating fascia and biceps femoris.
  4. Lateral System: Glute medius and minimus and the opposing adductors of the thigh

PART II of this article will cover common injuries related to these slings and my favorite exercises to strengthen each sling!

Stefanie Cohen, SPT

THE PEACHGANG ISN’T JUST FOR GIRLS

THE PEACHGANG ISN’T JUST FOR GIRLS

We all know chicks are all about the booty gains. But for some reason, guys don’t seem to care much about it at all. It mostly stems out of the ignorance and lack of knowledge  people have about the role of the glutes in strength movements and athletic performance in general.

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The glutes are, or at least should be the primary muscle driving hip extension and leg abduction. However there are instances in which the glutes might not be performing their main role:

  1. Poor motor control: the glutes are inhibited and can’t contract properly mostly because we lack the ability to activate it at the right time in a synchronous manner.
  2. Overshadowed glutes: in this situation they do fire correctly, but they aren’t as strong as the other lower body muscles (like your quads, or back erectors), resulting in inefficient performance and often some type of pain. Whenever you perform a movement like a squat or a deadlift, or any exercise that involves multiple muscle groups, the majority of the work will tend to be done by the strongest muscle.
  3. Posture: Your hip flexors (psoas) attach from your hip to your femur in the front, and your glutes attach from your hip to your femur in the back, they need to be in balance and have proper mobility in order for you to be able to achieve proper glute activation patterns.
    • A posterior pelvic tilt (flat ass) for example will result in lengthened and weak hip flexors, which will negate good activation of the glutes.
    • On the other hand, tight hip flexors result in an anterior pelvic tilt (butt sticking out). However a slight degree of anterior tilt can put the glutes at a slight leverage advantage (See Shirley Sahrman’s book Movement Impairment Syndromes) and result in better activation of the glutes. Look at the difference between the Kalahari Bushman vs a typical western male in terms of glute development:

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Still don’t think you need a bigger ass?!

Hip extension occurs when coming out of the bottom of the squat, and in the lockout of a deadlift. If you are a powerlifter that means that 2/3 of the competition lifts heavily involve hip extension, which is often one of, if not THE limiting factor of most lifts: failing to lock out a deadlift and being unable to stand up from a squat. You with me?

Glute weakness can lead to not only failing lifts, but to form breakdown. For example, in the deadlift excessive back rounding occurs not due to lower back weakness as most people think, but due to glute weakness. You should never use your back as a prime mover in a deadlift in the first place. Your erectors should contract isometrically and allow the king muscles to do their thing: the glutes and hamstrings extend the hips, and the quads extend the knees. So here we see that back rounding is not necessarily due to back weakness but due to glute weakness!

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Click here to read an article I wrote on back rounded deadlifts 

Although we know that hypertrophy isn’t directly related to strength, we do know that by increasing the size of the muscle can lead to improved recruitment and strength. If you develop stronger glutes, you will depend on them even when the weight is heavy and will be able to preserve your form even at supra maximal attempts. Improving motor control and development of the glutes can also prevent muscular imbalances!

Stay tuned for my next article, in which I talk about my favorite glute accessory exercises for devastating strength and power!

Stefanie Cohen

TENS vs. REST? Should you invest on an Electrical Stim Machine?

TENS vs. REST? Should you invest on an Electrical Stim Machine?

Adequate recovery is essential in order to achieve better performance in any sport. Muscle fatigue is a result of changes at the level of the muscle, such as micro tears, depletion of creatine phosphate, accumulation of metabolites, mismatch of oxygen supply/demand or even central nervous system fatigue. The question is, is TENS an effective method to enhance the rate of recovery after exercise? Based on 10 different articles I reviewed, the results are rather disappointing

Reviews

Milne 2001 negative review of 5 trials of TENS for chronic low back pain
Johnson 2007 positive review of 38 trials of TENS for chronic musculoskeletal pain, “effective”
Nnoaham 2008 inconclusive review of 25 studies of TENS for chronic pain
Khadilkar 2008 inconclusive review of 4 trials of TENS for chronic low back pain
Walsh 2009 inconclusive review of 12 trials of TENS for acute pain
Hurlow 2012 inconclusive review of 3 trials of TENS for cancer pain
Vance 2014 mixed review: “it’s complicated”?? but promising
Chen 2015 negative review of 18 trials of TENS for knee osteoarthritis
Desmeules 2016 inconclusive (but discouraging) review of 6 trials of TENS for rotator cuff tendinopathy

How does TENS work?

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Pain is a result of alarm systems that reach your brain. These alarms go off way too loud and way too often, sometimes even without tissue damage. The brain decides what hurts and what doesn’t. The TENS machine blasts the nervous system with “sensory white noise”, and by stimulating the nerves in this way it distracts the brain (temporarily) from pain. Unless you turn the machine up enough to disable your brain, if it thinks you’re in pain , the alarm will go off again sooner or later, most likely shortly after the TENS is turned off.

 Vance et al. believe that “TENS has been shown to provide analgesia specifically when applied at a strong, non-painful intensity.”

This particular study compared the effects of electrical muscle stimulation, massage and passive rest in athletes after 6 different bouts of exhausting supra maximal training. The chart on the left shows the peak power production following each of these modalities. The chart on the right shoes the blood lactate concentrations following the exercise bouts. As you can see, no significant differences were demonstrated between the effects of EMS, massage and passive rest on recovery markers or peak power output.

data

Even though there is controversy over the topic, some people can find symptom relief following TENS. If your goal is pain reduction, you can buy a TENS machine for less than $100 at your nearest pharmacy!

Stefanie Cohen

References:
Pinar S., Kaya F., Bicer B., Erzeybek M.S., Cotuk H.B. DIFFERENT RECOVERY METHODS AND MUSCLE PERFORMANCE AFTER EXHAUSTING EXERCISE: COMPARISON OF THE EFFECTS OF ELECTRICAL MUSCLE STIMULATION AND MASSAGE

Martin N.A., Zoeller R.F., Robertson R.J. The comparative effects of sports massage, active recovery, and rest in promoting blood lactate clearance after supramaximal leg exercise. J. Athl. Train. 1998;33:30-35.