Quick test for an over-active Posterior Chain (a.k.a - ECSS)
Many athletes, particularly sagittal plane athletes struggle with an over-active posterior chain. They stabilize their spine with an Extension/Compression Stabilizing Strategy (ECSS), which negatively affects their movement quality. Check out this test to see if your athletes have an over-active posterior chain.
Foot Loading in the Squat
Proper foot loading in the squat is paramount for maximal performance. The way in which we load out feet profoundly affects our ability to stabilize our spine and pelvis. All too often in our industry I head "load the heels". Now that's better than overloading the forefoot, but it isn't right either. Here's a video to help you properly load the foot in the squat.
Here's a great video my good friend Michael Rintala (fellow international instructor of DNS) created in conjunction of the article he and I published last year on the Czech Get-up. This movement utilizes the developmental landmark positions we see in early childhood development. Prof. Pavel Kolar of the Prague School of Rehabilitation and founder of DNS utilized these developmental positions to enhance the effectiveness of rehabilitation.
This is not only fun, but a powerful way to integrate trunk stabilization into movement.
I must give a huge shout-out to Maggie Rintala for moving so well in the video.
Here's a video of me and Donnie Thompson (perhaps the greatest powerlifter ever) demonstrating proper usage of a belt.
Whether you are training to compete as a powerlifter or Olympic lifter, using the weight room to perform better in another sport or simply just trying to get swoll, a belt can be a powerful and essential tool in the weight room. As it turns out, using a belt is not as intuitive as one might think.
Using a Belt
w/ Donnie thompson
Breaking the Extension/CompressionStabilizing Strategy
We've talked about this many times, but the more I assess, treat, and train athletes, the more evident it becomes that erector spinae hyperactivity is a major problem - blocking performance and producing injury. Without proper training, the extension/compression stabilizing strategy can become overpowering. In many cases, athletes will be unable to fully resolve injuries due to the detrimental effects the ECSS has on their bodies.
While I work to break this pattern every day with my athletes and patients in the office, one-on-one attention is often not possible in the coaching setting. Many of you have asked "How can I implement this with my teams"? This is a great question and this video will hopefully be a great answer.
Start implementing these exercises with your athletes before, during, or after their training and watch to see how much better they move, function and perform.
Feeling the Push in the second Pull
Everybody knows how important it is to both find and utilize the power position in the Olympic movements. However, simply finding the gross position does not mean that one is optimizing force generation. Athletes need to use the correct strategy to move out of the power position if they are going to maximize vertical displacement and bar velocity.
We must learn (and teach) to push out of the power position. This, however, is much easier said than done. This drill is designed to put athletes is a controlled environment where they can feel the muscles they should be using to get out of the power position. Coaches are able to make small changes to the athlete’s position and (most importantly) athletes are able to feel their hips and legs generating all the force -driving or pushing into the platform. Once athletes have awareness for this position, they are able to “find” that sensation in the actual movement.
You can use it as a drill to just make a point to an athlete or you can put it in their training. In the latter case, I advise having the athlete super-set the drill with the actual movement (load: 65-75% 1RM). Have them do 3 reps of 5s holds and then immediately take a single or double in the movement you are training.
Shutting Off the ECSS
So we keep talking about this extension/compression stabilizing strategy (ECSS), but the more I treat patients, the more I assess athletes and the more I just observe movement, the more I see this pattern slapping me in the face. It is apparent that this pattern is at times useful, but it is detrimental to long-term development and injury-avoidance. I see this pattern driving many, if not most, of the movement pathologies I encounter (i.e. limited ankle dorsiflexion, tight hips, poor thoracic extension, scapular instability, etc., etc.) which themselves result in tissue damage and injury.
Obsessively striving for excellence or simply trying to get better every day puts us in the territory of pushing beyond our limits; with this, comes activation of the ECSS. While not optimal to have the ECSS activated, it seems unavoidable in sports. What we need is balance. We need to dedicate time to raising the threshold (speed, load, fatigue and psychological thresholds) for the ideal movement strategy. [More on this later.] But we do need to accept that the ECSS is an untoward effect of training hard - a result of pushing ourselves beyond our limits. We need to minimize the amount of time the ECSS is active in our movements, but must have the ability to control this patter and shut it off when it is no longer necessary.
This video goes over a simple exercise to allow us to shut off the ECSS and restore optimal balanced activity between the ventral stabilizers (diaphragm, abdominal wall, pelvic floor) and the back extensors (erector spinae, psoas major, quadredus lumborum). This is a great exercise to finish any training session (especially one involving heavy back squats or deadlifts) so that you can restore the ideal movement strategy and avoid injury. This will cut down on soreness and start to erode many of the stubborn functional blocks you may have been struggling with for years.
Best of luck!
Hollow Breathing in Quadruped
While most athletes outside of gymnastics and crossfit do not train it, the hollow position is an incredibly important skill for any sport, movement or activity. It shows awareness of how to properly activate the lumbopelvic stabilizers (diaphragm, abdominal wall and pelvic floor), demonstrates functional competence in controlling the pelvis and, if done properly, will train the athlete to stabilize the spine in the absence of excess erector spinae activity (AKA- extension/compression stabilizing strategy). As important as this skill may be, it is equally difficult to master, particularly under strain (load-strain, speed-strain or fatigue-strain).
In this video, we show you a couple peel-back options to allow coaches and athletes to properly train the hollow position and learn to stabilize with optimal, balanced activity between the ventral stabilizers (diaphragm, abdominal wall & pelvic floor) and the spinal extensors (erector spinae, quadrates lumborum and iliopsoas).
These quadruped abdominal breathing/holding exercises are powerful rehabilitation exercises and can be used post-workout to help shut off the extension/compression strategy you or your athletes may have needed to get through the workout.
Once you acquire the skill of the quadruped hollow position, try this workout out to increase the threshold of this stabilizing strategy and start to learn how to move, function, train, and compete without the extension/compression strategy. You will discover that most, if not all, of your back pain/tightness is resulting from this compensatory stabilizing strategy.
Understanding the Hollow Position
Learning how to properly achieve a hollow or pike position in gymnastics movements is a basic but powerful skill for both life and sports. While these positions have been around for many years in gymnastics, recently, CrossFit has brought them into the public lime light, using them in many of their workouts. Unfortunately, unlike gymnastics, which has athletes develop the strength to hold these positions correctly over many years, CrossFitters are often attempting to achieve the same mastery in a 10th the time. This results in what appears to be an acceptable position, but when we look closer (at the muscles involved), we see that they are not using the correct stabilizing strategy to achieve the position. They may be able to get through the workouts, but are actually training the extension/compression strategy which leads to functional movement pathology, decreased performance and even injury. Learning how to achieve and maintain a hollow or pike position with intra-abdominal pressure is a priceless skill.
What is important to remember is that the hollow position is optimal for gymnastics movements but does not translate to loaded movements like the Olympic lifts or squatting. They are definitely similar (in that they use intra-abdominal pressure) but they are not identical. See videos below on abdominal bracing for information there.
"Knees Out" Cue
The "knees out" cue has been around for a long time, probably since people started lifting. It is actually a good cue that I use a lot. However, within the last few years people have been taking this to the extreme. In an effort to prevent the knee from collapsing into a dangerous valgus (toward the midline) position, athletes are driving their knees as far out as possible. While there is no doubt that knee injury results from valgus collapse, too much of a good thing is bad. In my clinic I am seeing athletes come with what I now call "CrossFitter's knee," which is pain on the medial portion of the patellar tendon and sometimes across the top of the knee produced while squatting. When they demonstrate their squat, they have a neutral foot position (feet are parallel) and the knees are pushed out well beyond the lateral aspect of the foot. Without sufficient hip and ankle mobility, either the athlete will disengage his/her tripod (see video below), or he will produce a pathological amount of torsion in the knee, which hyper-stretches the patella tendon, causing the presenting injury. It really shouldn't be this difficult, but I am seeing enough of this in my office, that I thought it was important to address. Hopefully this video will clear up some things.
Correcting the Buttwink
The “butt wink” in the squat has been getting a lot of press lately. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, a butt wink is when the pelvis tilts backwards at the bottom of the squat. It looks like the pelvis is tucking under the torso. Biomechanically, this motion is called pelvic retroversion or a posterior pelvic tilt and it causes the lumbar spine to go into flexion (bend forward or convexity in the back). This is a very bad position because it overloads the posterior aspect of the intervertebral disc resulting in a full spectrum of injury from simple back tightness to a complete disc herniation and the constant shooting pain down the leg that often accompanies such an injury.
I am a huge proponent of below parallel squatting (a topic for another time), but I will tell you that repetitive flexion of the lumbar spine under load will cause injury - it is a question of when, not if. So, correcting this “butt wink” is rather important for your athletes. Most articles and videos that I have seen are showing calf stretching, glute stretches or even slow and controlled squatting where you stop right when the wink occurs and then you try to correct the position.
There is no question that each of these approaches will help, but none of them are addressing the cause, which is hyperactivity of the adductors. As we have mentioned several times, many athletes do not stabilize their spine and pelvis with optimal strategies. They collapse into an extension/compression stabilizing strategy. Thanks to the work of Vaclav Volta, Vladimir Janda and Pavel Kolar from the Prague School of Rehabilitation and Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS), we know that this stabilizing strategy is a regression to a more primitive developmental stabilizing stereotype. What we have not mentioned in the past is that with this extension/compression stabilizing strategy comes hyperactivity of the adductor magnus — a massive groin muscle that originates on the butt bone (aka ischial tuberosity) and inserts into the medial aspect of the distal femur down by the knee. Not only is this muscle massive and powerful, but at the bottom of the squat it has a the greatest mechanical advantage over any muscle in the body to pull the pelvis into retroversion (“butt wink”). Stretching/mashing out your glutes or calves will help decrease the butt wink, but it will not resolve it. Full resolution of this problem will require reducing the hyperactivity of the adductors. The stretch that we show in this video gets them to relax but it is only temporary. To have long term affects on the activity, tension or tone of the adductors you must improve your pelvic stability, which we will have to cover at another time.
Proper Foot Loading
The foot is the true foundation for the body. Without proper loading of the foot in sport (particularly Olympic weightlifting and squatting) improper, compensatory movement/stabilization strategies will dominate These compensatory strategies produce uneven loading at the joints, accelerate the degeneration process, and transfer force less efficiently. These ultimately lead to a decrease in performance and an increased risk of injury. I guess my point is, loading the foot in a way that maintains all three arches (as a tripod) is paramount for optimal performance.
As an Olympic lifting coach, I am finding it much easier to have the athletes properly execute such complex movements by focusing on having them maintain a balanced tripod throughout the entire movement. No more "loading the posterior chain" - yes, I said no loading the posterior chain. This term is highly over rated and causes many movement problems that I will not go into at this time. Keeping the foot loaded as a tripod (keeping it "centrated") will allow synergistic activation of all the muscles of the lower extremity (not just the posterior chain) to participate in stabilization, movement and joint loading. This is ideal, optimal and protective. Play around with it and see how much more powerful you feel during your lifts. Good luck!