Bench plateau? Try changing your bar path

Bench plateau? Try changing your bar path

 

After reading McLaughlin’s book, which is probably one of the best resource for the bench press I have ever encountered, I ran across one of Greg Nuckols article, where he talks about some key points from this book. He does a great job going over the biomechanics of the bench a lot more in depth than I will cover in this article so if that is something that interests you I highly recommend you check it out!

McLaughlin pointed out a really good observation about the difference in bar path between novice and advanced lifters. He showed that both groups lower the bar using a similar pattern, almost a straight line, but the path changed dramatically during the ascent. Novice lifters move the bar straight UP THEN BACK, while advanced lifters do the opposite. They move the bar up AND BACK right off the bat and finish the lift by pressing almost in a straight line up.

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                                                      Image property of Greg Nuckols- Strength Theory

He pointed out that elite lifters were able to add pounds to their bench, with no real change in total force output. This is done by  changing their bar path by shortening the moment arm, which is the distance from the bar to your shoulder in the frontal plane (from your armpit to an imaginary line that drops straight down from your hand at the point that you hold the bar). You can accomplish this by decreasing the distance between the bar and your shoulder faster during the ascent part of the lift. This doesn’t necessarily change the amount of work you are doing, but its simply a more efficient way to push.

bar path

In conclusion, McLaughlin noted in his research that elite lifters didn’t increase their maximum force output that much year after year, but the ones that continue making the most progress where the ones that make adjustments on their bar path.

The “total work” done won’t necessarily change, as this is defined as the VERTICAL distance that the bar travels, and not the total distance. This is not a question about reducing work or decreasing range of motion but rather about finding a position that will be the most efficient to bench press in. 

 

Stefanie Cohen,  SPT

T-SPINE MOBILITY FOR A MASSIVE PRESS

T-SPINE MOBILITY FOR A MASSIVE PRESS

 

The common reasons why you lose overhead mobility are deficits in the thoracic spine, shoulder, scapula and lumbo-pelvic area. In this post I will address the importance of proper thoracic spine mobility for over head motions.

Deficits in movement of tforward-head-posture-manhe thoracic spine and ribcage area is a common problem most people face nowadays,
especially in people that have desk jobs, who’s posture is slouched. The relationship between the T-spine and ribcage lays the foundation for the scapula. Their alignment will dictate the function and movement of the scapula. In the image below you can see how positional faults in the T-spine, as it’s seen with increased rounding could yield to limited movement of the shoulder girdle. As we raise our arms overhead, the scapula is supposed to ride along the T-spine. If the position of the thoracic spine is not optimal, the shoulder blade wont be able to move how its supposed to.

 

Putting your arms over your head requires  160-170 degrees of motion from the shoulder, but this doesn’t get our arms completely over head. We achieve 180 degrees of motion with thoracic spine extension. The biggest issue comes when compensation from other segments occurs, as T-spine extension is lost, it leads to increased lumbar extension to compensate for this deficit, which increases the risk of low back injuries as well. In addition, we need proximal stability before distal mobility. This means that if the scapula is not sitting in a strong stabilizing position, this can also be a limiting factor for how much weight we can put over our head.

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The point on mobilizing your spine is to help improve your efficiency with overhead lifts. Remember the shoulder only achieves 160-170 degrees of overhead flexion and in order to get that personal record lift you need the last 15 degrees to come from your T-spine.

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Foam rolling

DON’T simply go back and forth over your spine. The main goal is to real the spine over the roller and mobilize each segment. DO relax your spine at every single level along the T-spine, segmentally. 

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Quadruped Rotation

 DON’T allow your hips to move along with your arms. DO maintain your core tight and hips aligned. Open to each side while taking a deep breath in. You should have 50 degrees of motion available on each side.

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Foam roll vertical stretch

DON’T rush through the movement. DO lie on your back, with the foam roller along your spine, support your hips and head on the roll, stretch out your arms to the side and RELAX! 

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Standing overhead stretch

DON’T over extend your lower back DO start by bringing your arms overhead to a position where you feel restricted. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds at a time until you can no longer make any more gains.

Hope you find these tips helpful!

Stefanie Cohen, SPT

 

Pretty Squats vs. Ugly Squats

Pretty Squats vs. Ugly Squats
Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of talking about what constitutes a “perfect” squat.  What’s often overlooked is the fact that the proportions of your femur and torso play an important role on what your squat’s gonna look like.
Someone with short femurs relative to their torso, will be able to keep chest up during a squat, without leaning forward. Someone with long femurs will dramatically lean forward, almost like a good morning, due to their proportions. What I’m trying to get to is, if your biomechanics are a result of your morphology, then don’t worry. If you developed faulty movement patterns as a result of poor coaching or muscle imbalances, then you better get it fixed before it becomes an issue.

Because femur length can affect torso positioning during squatting, there really is no “one size fits all squat”. Hopefully the images above and this explanation will help further clarify these points. Dr. Ryan DeBell of The Movement Fix wrote a great article discussing in detail how hip anatomy changes squat mechanics, and inspired me to make this follow up post.

Besides mobility, which is known as the pliability of our muscles and connective tissue, anatomy differences can explain why some people can squat deeper than others, why some point their toes out, why some squat wide and some squat narrow. These anatomical differences will dictate form and comfort of the athlete. We can all agree on what a proper squat should look like, right?

  1. Back neutral
  2. Knees tracking your toes
  3. Keep your core tight

Click to see slideshow 

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Pic 1- one femur head points up, one points down

Pic 2- one neck is a lot longer than the other

Pic 3- the angle between the shaft and the ball is greater in one femur than the other

Pic 4- large versus small hip socket, one oriented up, one oriented down

Trying to force a movement pattern upon someone who’s anatomy isn’t conductive for it can be disastrous. If the athlete is uncomfortable in their stance despite how much mobility work they do, it’s important to look at their anatomy and let the stance and depth be dictated by comfort. The key point is to rule out mobility deficits first and making sure the athlete is taught how to perform a squat with proper form.

 

Stefanie Cohen, SPT

 

You can’t build mass while you cut- MYTH BUSTED

You can’t build mass while you cut- MYTH BUSTED

 

There is a common misconception amongst the general population of gym-goers that the only way to gain strength and increase size us to be in some sort of “bulking” phase. And that cutting means you need to sacrifice strength and size in order to achieve a more aesthetic physique. This is not necessarily true.

Luckily for you I’m writing this at the beginning of beach season so I can save some of you strength athletes from the dreaded summer bulk. Let’s start simple and with something we can all agree on. Being in an overall caloric deficit for a long period of time will cause weight loss and being in a caloric surplus for a long period of time will cause weight gain.

The type of weight loss or gain that occurs can be manipulated by the type and intensity of exercise you choose as well as where your calories come from i.e. macronutrient distribution. Now this is the part where we lose some people so let’s return to the idea of a long cut. In this situation you are in an OVERALL caloric deficit. What is overlooked is the fact that during this time you will be cycling between both catabolic and anabolic stages over and over again.

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For simplicity sake let’s pretend you start your day at maintenance level energy balance; you haven’t expended any energy or taken anything in, you walk to the kitchen and eat a meal, but you still haven’t expended much energy – you are now effectively and temporarily in a caloric surplus. Next you go to the gym and expend more calories than you took in at breakfast and now you are now in a caloric deficit. This can occur many times per day and if you’re cutting all it means is that you are in a caloric deficit for more of the day than you are in a caloric surplus. The end result is weight loss, but you had many opportunities to build lean mass as you were in an anabolic state multiple times

Our bodies are not programmed with an “on and off” switch for anabolism (building) and catabolism (breakdown), but rather our bodies go through anabolism and catabolism repeatedly throughout the day. 

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If you’re still not buying it let’s use an example most of us can relate to. I’m sure everyone had an overweight friend or acquaintance in high school who decided to start hitting the gym. They lost a significant amount of weight over a long period of time due to being in an overall caloric deficit and eventually, once they got lean enough, they revealed the muscular physique they had been building the entire time they were cutting.

If your goal is solely to gain lean mass and you’re already satisfied with the amount of body fat you have the a slight overall caloric surplus is optimal, but this isn’t the case for most people. For those who wish to lose body fat don’t be deterred by the idea of losing strength or muscle mass as you can build lean mass effectively in a caloric deficit if you have BOTH a permissive diet AND an effective training program. Just remember you cannot have one without the other and expect desired result.

Hayden Bowe

Great dead lifters are born, not made. Or are they?

Great dead lifters are born, not made. Or are they?

Because of this belief amongst the fitness community, it is not uncommon for athletes to blame a less than optimal deadlift on poor genetics. Things like the length of your bones and muscle fiber composition are difficult and impossible to alter. However, each lifter should explore different styles to find the one that better suits their bio-mechanical characteristics.

We all know that If you have long arms and short torso, you should pull conventional. If you have long torso and short arms, you should pull sumo. That’s common sense. Or is it?

But how do you know whether your arms or torso are long or short?

Direct comparison of your arm length to the arm of someone who is 5’8 doesn’t mean anything unless you are also 5’8. Arm-torso length need to be expressed as PROPORTION to of your height.

Divide your arm length by your height, and your torso length by your height.

  • Your torso should be measured from the bony prominence on the side of your thigh at the top (greater trochanter) to the top of your head.
  • Your arm is measured from the top of your shoulder (head of the humerus) to the middle finger, holding your arm out straight.
  • Take your height barefoot standing against a wall

 

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So using that information if you have short arms relative to your torso, you’re better off pulling sumo.  If you have long arms relative to your torso, pull conventional. If your arm length matches  your torso length, you can pull both styles and experiment on which works better for you.

That being said, this is not a rule to end all discussion. We are not just made up of bones. Strength and mobility will also affect your deadlifting style.

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People with strong glutes, hamstrings and lower back (posterior chain) favor conventional pulls. People with strong quads and adductors (and adductor  flexibility) are better sumo pullers.

In conclusion, beginner lifters can benefit from the information presented above to decide which pulling style could suit them better. If you are an advanced lifter, and the recommendations above don’t match your pulling style, maybe you have already developed your strength and flexibility to counter the influence of your structure. Or maybe, just maybe you have an untapped potential in deadlifting in the style in which your bones are best suited for.

 

Stefi Cohen

Posture Matters

Posture Matters

Posture matters. Improving your posture allows you to move bigger weights, improve performance and stay injury free. Do you train with a purpose? Do you know why you squat for example? You most likely squat with the purpose of getting a bigger squat, bigger legs, a bigger booty. You include the squat in the program for a reason. The same should hold true for your ENTIRE training program. Every mobility exercise, soft tissue technique, foam rolling, stretch should be included with a SPECIFIC goal in mind.

Hamstring stretch and Glute stretch

In my latest post I spoke about the importance of understanding the cause of your dysfunction in order to manage the symptoms appropriately. What happens in your pelvis affects what goes on in the rest of the body.

Having a posterior pelvic tilt means your hamstrings are short and stiff, which in-turn decreases your lumbar curvature, leaving you at an increased risk for herniations. The upper back will then compensate with an exaggerated upper back rounding and a forward neck, which puts you at risk for upper extremity and shoulder issues. Keeping your hips and spine aligned means less injuries, better health, optimal muscle recruitment, and better performance.

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If you are a student, or work a desk job you most likely sit with slumped shoulders, round upper back and a neck that sticks out. Your upper body is a slave to the lower body. Fix the lower body and the upper body will improve. I hope you get it.

When we sit in a posterior pelvic tilt, we run into a lot of issues. 1) flattening of the lumbar spine, which leads to an increased propensity of moving into lumbar flexion. We’ve covered this point before, the lumbar spine doesn’t like to go into flexion, especially under load. 2) it leads to having a slouched upper back and a “head forward” posture, a position which puts your rotator cuff at higher risk for injury, and contributes to neck pain.

10931345_828448477193199_7080016482411996429_nStop stretching without a purpose. Be mindful about the way you move, sit, stand and incorporate the stretches and exercises that YOU need. By now you should already be wondering
what to do to correct your posterior pelvic tilt, if you have one. Focus on STRENGTHENING your spinal erectors, quads, hip flexors, and TFL, and STRETCHING your hamstrings and glutes.
–>Add these Banded Glute Bridge to strengthen you glutes, hamstrings and TFL

 

Stefi Cohen, SPT

Recording yourself while you lift: more than just vanity?

Recording yourself while you lift: more than just vanity?

In sports the effect of observation and visual imagery (mental practice) is well studied. Studies show that athletes who mentally train their specific task, improves their skillfulness, to similar levels to those physically practice it. Motor imagery and observation are both driven by the same basic mechanism.

Motor imagery is a tool in which a person imagines that he/she is performing the movement without even moving a finger . I can imagine I’m walking in the beach, while I sit in my 4-hour long lecture. I can imagine scenes or objects that are not really there. I can mentally perform actions I couldn’t do in reality.  The areas in your brain that control skillful movement are activated internally, the same way they would if you physically performed a movement. The same thing happens when you observe someone else or a video of someone else perform a task.

In conclusion, recording yourself while you lift is a very useful tool to improve your snatch, clean and jerk, squat or any other movement pattern you wish to work on. Not only would it allow you recognize pieces of it that can be improved on, but it will help you engrain that movement pattern. For beginner lifters, watching videos of talented lifters, or even watching attentively at your most advanced teammates technique can significantly aid in your development and maturation as an athlete.

Stefanie .C, SPT