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.

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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

THE BIG CHILL- worth it?

THE BIG CHILL- worth it?

 

Seems like a lot of people are moving on from the classic ice pack, to this trendy technique called cryotherapy, which offers whole body immersion in chambers where temperatures drop to 150 degrees below zero for about 2-4 minutes in an attempt to reduce pain and speed recovery.

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The idea sounds great! The important question always is, what does the research behind it say? Similar to ice packs and ice baths, cold therapy is thought to constrict blood vessels, flush waste products, reduce swelling and diminish tissue breakdown. It definitely lowers superficial tissue temperatures-  it doesn’t penetrate the skin’s surface more than 1/2mm into the skin. A possible explanation for this is that cold slows down the speed at which nerves fire, while constricting arteries and veins, and limiting blood flow. The idea that cold can heal is ancient, but so far, scientists have failed to find strong evidence that cold therapies can help much, if anything with muscle soreness or recovery.

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Some studies even suggest that icing dampens or block the body’s ability to repair and strengthen the micro tears in muscle tissue following intense exercise, especially if people use ice too frequently. Trauma to the muscle caused by intense exercises is healed by your immune system using inflammation. Inflammatory cells called macrophages rush into the injured tissue to start the healing process and release a hormone called IGF-1, which helps your tissues heal. Applying ice reduces the swelling, delays healing and may PREVENT  the body from releasing these hormones.

At this point there is insufficient evidence to warrant making clinical claims about its effect in speeding recovery. There are instances in which delaying the inflammatory process might be beneficial, for example in a multiple day competition, where inflammation, swelling and pain would be detrimental for your performance. Despite the fact that there is insufficient evidence to prove how it works or why it works, cold therapies do seem to help especially with pain reduction, but their effect might be based in the brain and not the muscles.

Stefanie Cohen

 

 

 

 

 

 

References 
Banfi, G. and Valentini, P. (2007). Effects of cold-water immersion of legs after training session on serum creatine kinase concentration in rugby players [letter]. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 41: 339. 
Gill, N., Beaven, C. and Cook, C. (2006). Effectiveness of post-match recovery strategies in rugby players. British Journal of Sports Medicine.  40: 260-3. 
Hausswirth, C., Louis, J., Bieuzen, F., et al. (2011). Effects of whole-body cryotherapy vs. far-infrared vs. passive modalities on recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage in highly-trained runners. PloS ONE. 6(12): e27749. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027749 
Purnot, H., Biuezan, F., Louis, J. et al. (2011). Time-course changes in inflammatory response after whole-body cryotherapy multi exposures following severe exercise. PloS ONE. 6(7): e22748. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022748 
Wozniak, A, Wozniak, B, Drewa, G. et al. (2007). The effect of whole body cryostimulation on lysosomal enzyme activity in kayakers during training. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 100: 137-142.

 

Foam rolling, mashing… What is it? Does it even work?

Foam rolling, mashing… What is it? Does it even work?

 

When we think Myofascial Release (MR) we think of foam rolling, “mashing”, laying on a lacrosse ball, getting a massage or deep tissue massage, receiving gratin technique, or maybe even manual therapy from physical therapist. You go in to the clinic or you grab whichever torture device you so choose and for the next (5 minutes for most) 10 minutes to an hour or so we allow ourselves to be put in pain. You jump, cry, wince, moan and groan but afterwards we may be bit soar but we feel better, looser, more mobile. But why?

The original thought process for manual therapy (synonymous with MR in this piece) and why it worked was defined as the biomechanical model. Wellens summarizes this model as the following:

“To summarize this model, it is proposed that biomechanical dysfunctions characterized by a combinations of segmental joint hypo or hyper-mobility  suboptimal postures, muscle weakness and/or poor muscle control play a significant role in the emergence of painful MSK conditions by putting too much strain on different tissues which would ultimately lead local and/or distant tissues to sustain damage or to function sub optimally. The end result of this dysfunctional state would then often be pain. The role of manual therapy in such a model is to find these aforementioned dysfunctions and treat them via manual mobilizations or manipulations, stabilization exercises and postural corrections among others. It is proposed that the manual mobilizations or manipulations will restore the joint play by restoring tissues optimal lengths or by reducing a fixation or sub-luxation and thus, restoring optimal joint function which, in turn, will lead to the resolution of the dysfunction and thus, the pain.

Whoa! What does that mean? In Laymen’s terms: Limited mobility or excessive mobility puts improper strain on muscle tissue which can lead to poor function and usually pain. MT finds these dysfunctions and treats them with manual mobilizations or manipulations and exercise and postural correction. Through the MT we can restore tissue’s proper length by making it more mobile or “less mobile” (through stability work) restoring it to proper function and reduce pain.

Again, WHAT? Basically through the pressure in our hands or a simple tool or lacrosse ball we can’t create enough force to tear our fascia. Lets put that in perspective; if I were to dig my thumb into you and could create enough force for your fascia to release, or even cause micro tears, however you want to describe it, humans would be very frail and fragile and we not be able to function in everyday life. Every fall, stubbed toe, shin on desk would cause torn muscles with no question. So then why after massage or self MR do we instantly feel so much better and have more ROM? Foam rolling works, but not how most people thinks it does. There are a few theories out there but the one we are talking about today is the theory of Neurophysiological Effect (NE)

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Numerous Studies have demonstrate immediate positive effects on pain after non specific MR or MT. The NE effects could be a combination of the CNS and PNS. The exact mechanism of this model is far from being explained but the basics are that pain is the brains output in response to various stimuli including but not limited to nociceptive input.

Wellness simplifies the thought: “a simple explanation for a good part of the effectiveness of manual therapy could be that the novel stimulation introduced in the CNS by manual therapy may help the brain down regulate the perceived threat of current stimuli and thus decrease the pain by means of descending inhibition and other peripheral and central mechanisms (which include a placebo response).”

Lastly, I am not saying Manual therapy does not work. I am a recent graduate from PT school and Manual therapy is used in every one of my patients in some form or fashion. Everyone should use self MR by rolling on a roller or lacrosse ball. But what I do believe is that the mechanically lengthening tissue to reduce pain and symptoms is not a sound argument anymore with current research and that another avenue of thought should utilized. The nuerological avenue is my “main street” right now. But MR or MT we can nuerologically calm down the brain which then will calm down the area of pain and thus we may be able to move with improved ability and pain free.

Wellens, F; The Traditional Mechanistic Paradigm in the teaching and practice of manual therapy: Time for a reality check. Clinique Physio Axis.

Written by: Dr. CJ DePalma, DPT, CSCS

Get Your Traps Out of Your Ears

Get Your Traps Out of Your Ears

It seems a lot of the fitness community remains in a state of reverie for the mountainous, python-like upper traps sported by enthusiasts everywhere.Unknown They are the functional cushion for your back squats. They make you look mildly badass in your tank tops. They also have potential to be problematic if you’re not careful.

 

Rhomboids and mid-and-lower traps

These are two largely discounted members of the group of muscles responsible for (among other things) scapular movement. Both play a large role in the maintenance of a pair of solid, healthy shoulders, yet a massive number of people neglect their upkeep.

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A brief example of an action this pair of muscles is responsible for, is retraction of the scapula, also cued as “pinching” your shoulder blades together. It is easy to walk around in public and visually pick out any number of people – fitness junkies or otherwise – with their shoulders rolled forward, upper back hunched over, upper traps so high it just makes your neck hurt to look at, and palms either occupied with a cellphone, or facing totally backwards (see the picture below for proper anatomical position).

This overly frequent problem that is weak or under-active lower traps and serratus anterior can lead to a host of problems both chronic and immediate: injuries to the rotator cuffs, subacromial impingements (ouch, and more common than you might think) and unstable overhead positions, for example. As long as these muscles remain weak or under-active, the upper traps will continue to compensate, and the problems will persist.

Force Couples

A force acting on a body has two effects, one to move it and two to rotate it. A force couple is a system that exerts a resultant movement, but no resultant force.

What does this mean for the shoulder?

In a force couple, the force generated by one muscle requires the activation of an antagonistic muscle so that a dislocating force does not result (Nordin & Frankel, 2001). As you can see on the image below, several muscles aide in the movement of your arm during elevation.

Particularly important for this discussion is the fact that the mid and lower traps are the primary stabilizers during abduction of the arm. What happens if we have an overactive muscle is that we break the force couple relationship. This is when abnormal movement patterns begin to occur and we increase our risk of injury.

Two muscles that are particularly important to target are the Serrates Anterior and the Lower traps 

  • The serratus anterior is the only muscle that rotates the scapula forward, along the shape of the rib cage. Having full strength and motor control of this muscle is extremely important in order to have optimal stability over head.
  • The lower traps act as one of the main stabilizers as the arm reaches 90 degrees.

note: The deltoid is NOT A PART OF THE FORCE COUPLE mechanism, but over recruitment of the deltoid can also lead to impingement.

There are, however, a number of fixes.

  1. Pull

Single arm dumbbell rows, barbell rows, pendlay rows, seated cable rows, resistance bands (think: face pulls, more rows, shoulder “Y”s and “T”s – keep your shoulder blades down and back!).

Note: Whichever exercise you chose, make sure to keep your shoulders down and back. DON’T allow your traps to do all the work, and focus on really recruiting your rhomboids and keeping your scapulae down. 

Face Pulls: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSoHeSjvIdY

Wall angels

  • Keep your entire posterior FLAT against the wall-
    • This includes your butt, lower back, mid back, upper, the back of your head
  • Keep your neck neutral and face forwards
  • Slowly try and work your arms up the wall whilst maintaining contact at all of the points mentioned above – the backs of your hands should be brushing the wall
  • Note: the model in this picture is insanely mobile, and if you don’t get there right away, that is A-OK! Keep working at it, but only go as far as you can while maintaining contact and good position (no arching your back!!)

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2. Work on your pecs 

Stretching the pecs will allow you to improve your internal rotation, which is often restricted in most people. Our every day habits such as sitting down, eating, driving, typing are all done with forward shoulders and forward head, which increase the tension and shorten our pecs.  A simple way to stretch out the muscles that may be tight and responsible for some of your internal rotation is illustrated below.

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A straight arm will target the serratus and pec minor, while an arm bent at 90 degrees will have your pec major feeling *fantastic*. Think about retracting (pinching) your shoulder blades back and DOWN!

3. Push up Plus

This one is a personal favorite for the serratus anterior! slide_43

Of course, habits take time to break. In due time your shoulders, back, neck, and training will thank you!

 

Written by: Jamie Brynn Hamilton,

in collaboration with Stefanie Cohen

@jamiebrynnham

To arch, or not to arch. That is the question

To arch, or not to arch. That is the question

There seems to be a big misunderstanding about the use of the arch when executing the bench press. I’ve seen an overwhelming amount of guys giving unwanted and highly misinformed advice to female lifters in particular about arching their back in the bench press, claiming that this technique will “snap their backs” or “break their necks”, or even saying that this technique is “like cheating”. In this article I’ll talk about basic biomechanics, anatomy of the shoulder and the purpose of arching in the bench press, based on FACTS and EVIDENCE.

Biomechanics

Ever wondered why you can move more weight doing a decline bench press? Because of the muscle fiber alignment of the pecs (angle of pennation), arching your UPPER back in a bench press, promotes better recruitment of the lower fibers of the pectoralis major, similar to the decline bench, which means that a larger portion of your chest muscle fibers will be activated to produce force.

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Anatomy

Every heard of the term closed pack position? This refers to the position of most joint congruency and ligamentous stability. By arching your UPPER back and retracting your scapulae back together, you’re now placing your glenohumeral joint in a fully abducted and externally rotated position. This position of the humerus is a safer and more stable position to push from than if your upper back was flat against the bench.

The true question is WHY are you benching? If your goal is shoulder health and you are too worried about getting hurt, stay away from the bench press. If your goal is to maximize your athletic potential AND stay healthy, follow my previous advice.

watchyourform_mainIf you are a powerlifter and your goal is to lift the most amount of weight, arching your LOWER back might give you some advantage by shortening the range of motion of the lift. In terms of safety of the lower lumbar segments, I would advice lifters to keep their whole buttocks in contact with the bench to avoid putting the back in end ranges of flexion, which could potentially be harmful. The rules of powerlifting indicate that the butt must remain in contact with the bench throughout the entire lift.

No study has shown this position to be harmful for the lumbar spine, EXCEPT when HYPEREXTENDING, which has been shown to increase shear forces in the limbo-sacral area specifically.

By: Stefanie Cohen, SPT

 

Part II: Good vs. Bad rounded deadlift

Part II: Good vs. Bad rounded deadlift

 

Alright, before y’all start freaking out and talking about shear forces, anatomy of the spine, degrees of flexion, intervertebral disc pressure or screaming out quotes from a popular beginner lifter book written by some non athletic regular person (narp) let me get some things straight. If you are stronger when deadlifting with a neutral spine, lucky you. This article doesn’t apply to you.

Let me first begin by making the distinction between health and performance. I see people get these two confused often. Elite athletes deadlift to win competitions, they don’t deadlift to be healthy. Because of this, they must utilize a technique than enables them to pull the heaviest weight possible.

Beginner lifters on the other hand, must learn the rules before they can break the rules, and learn how to deadlift with a neutral spine since this is the foundation that will keep their back healthy as they develop the technique that will suit THEM the best.

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On to the fun stuff. The lumbar spine is weaker and more susceptible to injury in EXTREME flexion, where the lordosis completely disappears. Applying compression on a lumbar spine at end range of flexion, poses a high risk for disc herniation and possible nerve root damage. Slight flattening of the lumbar spine is actually protective to it, like I discussed in my previous article (Part I).

Good powerlifters avoid injury by avoiding full lower back rounding, rounding mostly from the upper back, and (this one is key) maintaining the same spinal curvature throughout the entire lift. Having said this, understand that there is NO single way to deadlift and that anatomical differences play a big role on how your spinal curvatures look. Taller people might have more pronounced lumbar and thoracic curvatures for example.

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Vince Anello

In conclusion, if you want to pull the most amount of weight possible, find a technique that suits your anatomy and that feels most comfortable to you, while taking into consideration the points mentioned above. Use a neutral spine for your warm up sets and lighter sets, and as it gets heavier, allow for controlled rounding of the thoracic segments, but always avoid end range flexion. If you’re too worried about getting injured, or simply are not planning on competing stick to lighter loads forever.

Round back deadlifts are an advanced technique, and should not be taken lightly, and never used as an excuse for poor form. Its a TECHNIQUE like any other, that requires hours of practice and perfecting. You need experience to know how far/hard you can push a lift before you let go. And if you chose not to pay attention to any of this, you run the risk of  suffering from an injury sooner or latter.

Stay strong, stay healthy!

Stefanie.C