Check out Nick’s latest article on STACK and learn all about the importance of training the anterior section of the glute and internal rotation for better hip health and performance: The Forgotten Hip Muscle
If there is one thing that I’ve seen since coming into the fitness industry over 12 years ago, it’s the growth in the knowledge of the need for more specific glute work with a large number of people out there living today. Poor glute function often leads to an overworked low back and/or aggravated knees along with less than optimal movement quality. The fact that more and more people are becoming aware of this is great; however, there are other players around the hip and leg that are also very important to take care of, and in my opinion, a specific group of these often gets sad because they are not addressed and not included often enough in the conversation. While strengthening the glute muscles is great to help keep the outer hip solid, people often forget that there is a VERY LARGE section of muscle on the INSIDE of the hip and thigh. Bring on the adductors!
Have you ever felt that thick tendon that shoots down a bit from your pelvis? That’s your adductor tendon and it just so turns out that there are adductor muscles above that tendon called your adductor longus, adductor brevis and pectineus. The floor of your adductors, your adductor magnus, lays below this tendon and is really like a fourth hamstring if you look at it close enough. The gracilis runs along the path of all of these and is sometimes referred to as part of this group of friends. They all attach at various points on your pelvis and run down varying distances along your femur (your thigh bone), with the exception of the gracilis, which runs all the way down past the knee to your lower leg. All of these muscles work together to bring the hip and leg towards the midline of your body, while those higher up adductors help to flex the hip (move it towards your head) and the floor of the adductors (magnus) helps to extend the hip (move it away from your head). In some cases, the magnus can even extend the hip better than the glute. Many of them work together to help rotate the hip. As you can see, these guys cover a lot of ground. That being said, wouldn’t it make sense to do some direct training to strengthen them? In many circles, direct adductor work is often written off since the exercises aren’t “functional.” While the TRUE function of these muscles is to help stabilize the pelvis and control the knee with compound movement, how do we expect them to be able to fully contribute if they are too weak to do so. Furthermore, if the adductors are too weak, how can we expect the glutes to do their job optimally, since these guys work together for so many movements and activities? I think a lot of people are missing a pretty important part of the equation!
If we take it one step farther, many of the adductor exercises that you do see out there don’t always directly target them and involve a host of other muscles contributing to the overall movement, or require some kind of complexity to get the coordination down to actually be able to perform the movement. So, with this article, I’d like to show you A. Exercises that do their best at DIRECTLY targeting the adductors in either an extended hip position or a flexed hip position, B. Exercises that allow you to target them in a straight forward and easy manner and C. Exercises that specifically target the adductors moving the femur (thigh bone) in the acetabulum (hip joint) and an exercise that specifically targets the adductors moving the acetabulum over the femur, which are both necessary functions that should be trained.
While compound, multi joint movements should absolutely be the priority in a good training program, some direct exercises for specific muscles can go a long way in making those compound movements that much more effective. Here are a few of my favorites for bring up those lagging adductors that you might have:
- Supine Bent Knee Band Adduction
- With this exercise, we are training WHILE IN HIP FLEXION. Lay on your back and get your hips and back squared up on the floor. Put the band over one knee and while keeping your pelvis and back solid, move your thigh in towards your midline (adduct) against the band tension, starting from a stretched position with band tension from the beginning. Pause for a second at the midline and then control the movement back out to the beginning. 2 to 3 sets of anywhere from 8 to 20 reps works great here.
- Elevated Adductor Raise
- With this exercise, we are training WHILE IN HIP EXTENSION. Lay on your side with your hips on a bench; place your top foot on another bench lined up straight across from you. With your trunk and hips lined up straight, raise the bottom foot up to the bench under the top foot and pause for a second before lowering back to the floor. These also work great for 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 20 reps. For all of these, it works well to go from 15-20 reps for a couple of weeks down to 8 to 10 for a couple of weeks.
- Sidelying Pullback
- While the first two exercises are great to work the adductors from a neutral position, these are great to train the adductor while in a specific pelvic position (left or right stance). Additionally, the first two examples are training the femur (thigh bone) moving in the acetabulum (hip joint), while this exercise is training the acetabulum to move over the femur prior to moving the femur in the acetabulum. This is how the hips actually work when we do full body movement on our feet. For the purpose of this example, we will be laying on our right side and training the left adductor. Lay on your side with your pelvis and ribs lined up. Be sure that your low back is not extended. Place a pad between your thighs. Inhale as your pull your top knee behind your bottom knee, then exhale as you push the top knee down into the pad. Pull back farther and squeeze down again for the next 2 breaths. Once you can no longer pull back any farther, reset and start over. Note: When you pull back, your back and hips should remain square; it is a “scissoring” motion, not a “rolling back” of the hips. Eventually, you can progress to variations performed in different postural positions, such as on your feet. Thank you to Postural Restoration Institute for this gem.
- Check out this bonus video of an effective way that we like to use the old school “Thigh Master” to target specific adductor fibers.
Give these exercises a shot and build some fresh muscle, potentially decrease your risk of groin pulls and improve the strength and performance of your entire lower body.
Feelings can be deceiving, and so can the word “tight.” Every day, many people all over the world get on the floor or on their feet and stretch their “tight” hamstrings. Interestingly, those same hamstrings are still “tight” after days, months and years of stretching them. Hmm? If stretching them were actually doing something, shouldn’t they be “untightened” by now? You’d think so, wouldn’t you?
With some fairly uncommon exceptions, on most people, the hamstrings are not “tight” in the sense that they are actually stiff or in a shortened position, needing to be stretched. They are actually being pulled TAUT because they are stuck in a lengthened position, due to the pelvis being tilted forward (anterior tilt). They are in a constant state of being OVERSTRETCHED. In this oh so common situation, what do you think the continued stretching of these already overstretched hamstrings leads to? You guessed it! An even worse position of the pelvis and even “tighter” hamstrings.
Are there some people out there who have hamstrings that are actually stiffened and/or shortened up and are actually “tight.” Sure, some people have a pelvis that is tilted the opposite way, with hamstrings that are being shortened; however, in my experience, about 9 out of 10 people come in with a forward tilted pelvis and hamstrings that are weak and long. The muscles on the front of the pelvis, the hip flexors, are usually the suspects that actually should be stretched, or at least inhibited (shut off), since they are often shortened and amped up from sitting all day. These hip flexors pull the pelvis forward, effectively putting the hamstrings in a tough to deal with position on the back side. To add fuel to the fire, the ever so important glute muscles cannot effectively do their job in this faulty position, which leads to even more problems for the hamstrings. Not only are they locked in an overlengthened position, but now they also have to do extra work since the glutes are out of the picture. The brain engages them even more (or at least attempts to; we actually need to get better at engaging them in a correct manner) to make up for the glutes’ lack of contribution to the group project. No wonder they’re so “tight” and angry. If you can think of a time that you did most of the work in a group project, I bet you can relate with how pissed off you probably were.
Here’s an easy way to tell if you actually have stiff/short hamstrings: Lay on your back and make sure you low back is flush with the floor, table, ground or whatever it is that you decide to lay on. Keeping your leg straight, raise your leg up as high as you can. Ideally, you’d do this actively (you raising it) and also passively (someone else raising it) to get the full rundown but assuming you are on your own, we can just look at the active version for now. If you can get your leg to between 80 and 90 degrees of motion (your foot is basically facing the ceiling or sky), you have normal hamstring length and probably suffer from one of the situations we talked about earlier, if you tend to feel like your hamstrings are tight. If you had to put significant effort in to get your low back to touch the floor during set up, this is probably the case. If you can go beyond 90, you definitely have excessively lengthened hamstrings from a structural standpoint, and stretching should be the last thing you do. If you are struggling to get near 80 to 90 degrees, you may actually have some legit tissue stiffness (could still be a neurological issue). The rest of this article will address what we need to do if you fall under one of the first two categories, yet still feel like your hamstrings are constantly “tight.”
So what do we need to do to address the situation?
We need to get hip flexors to chill out a little bit and get the hamstrings to actually shorten up and engage more effectively, tilting the pelvis back to neutral. There are other muscles and factors at play here as well and if you throw in the possibilities of rotation, shifts and any other side to side differences, we have plenty more to talk about, but to keep the concept simple and straight forward, we will focus on the hip flexors and hamstrings for now.
Here are three great exercises you can use to get the process started:
90/90 Breathing– Set up in a 90/90 position as shown and be sure your low back is solid against the floor. To do this, think about pulling down through your heels on the wall as you engage your hamstrings, effectively tilting your pelvis back under you. This action and this position lines our pelvis and ribs up over one another so that our hamstrings as well as our diaphragm are in an better position to work ideally. Inhaling through our nose while getting three dimensional expansion around our abdomen and chest, followed with a full exhale through our mouth, driving our ribs down, back and in, will help to solidify a better rib and pelvic position, as well as reset our nervous systems, in order to allow us to create new positions and muscle firing patterns.
The Hip Flexor Stretch- Many times, taking care of the rib and pelvic positions with the breathing drill above will eliminate the need for this drill; however, it can still be very useful if you do have a true stiffness or shortness in your hip flexor muscles, especially if you sit a lot all day. Set up in a 90/90 position as shown in the picture. Simply place your back foot on a box, chair, etc. to increase the pull. Be sure to keep your thigh and trunk in a straight line to avoid putting unwanted stress on your low back and front of your hip. Squeeze the glute of your down leg and brace your abs (harden up like you’re going to get punched in the stomach) to create the opening of the front of your hip that you are looking for. This will help to pull the pelvis back in position, get the hip flexors to open up and let go, while allowing the glute to be in a better scenario to do its job with the follow up glute bridge exercise shown next.
Be sure thigh and trunk are lined up straight as shown and elevate the back foot to increase the pull
The Glute Bridge– Lay on the floor as shown below: Think about “pinching pennies between your cheeks” as you squeeze and engage your glute muscles before you leave the floor. We need to activate them and wake them up before we intiate the movement, or the hamstrings and/or low back will take over the bridge. Once we have them engaged, we are going to lift our hips up until we have a straight line between the hips and trunk, as shown in the bottom picture. We are at hip lockout and are glutes should be contracting nicely. Lower back to the floor under control and repeat the process. Shoot for 8 to 10 reps without your hamstrings or back doing too much. It this is not possible for you right now, you may need to start with your feet elevated on a box to make the exercise easier. Other regressions are possible if necessary. Stay tuned for a follow up article about glute bridge progressions and modifications.
Glue bridge -bottom position
Glute bridge- top position
Ditch the stretching, give these exercises a try and watch your hamstring tension melt away!
Check out Nick’s latest article on DrJohnRusin.com and learn how to develop specific muscle fiber types for your sport.
Give it a read HERE !
Back and hips getting sore during that latest road trip you took? Check out Nick’s tips in our latest video on some subtle ways you can improve your next driving experience.
Do you know what kind of effects you are creating on your body when you do your cardio or conditioning work? Read this article by Nick Rosencutter to find out more………………
For many people, “cardio” is a term that is thrown around when it comes to one facet of training, and it is thrown around without much understanding behind what is being said. Cardio is short for cardiovascular, which would basically refer to any activity that you do that trains your heart in some capacity. Rather than use such a generic, undefinitive term, why don’t we use something more specific that actually describes what we are trying to do? I prefer to use the term conditioning or energy systems development when talking about developing physiological capabilities in order to elicit a specific performance. Call it whatever you want; when it comes down to it, each energy system and its subsets needs to be developed to certain levels at certain times and for certain reasons depending on what it is that you are training for. The main energy systems can be broken down like this.
Whether you call it “cardio,” “conditioning,” or “energy systems development,” there have commonly been two schools of extreme thought when it comes down to the modalities used. On one end, you have the excessive endurance, long distance, slow, steady paced group, who swears by doing nothing but endurance work (actually aerobic capacity work), and on the other end, you have the “all you need is high intensity interval” group, who seems to think that if you aren’t laying flat on your back after puking by the end of your workout that you haven’t conditioned appropriately. (actually anaerobic glycolytic work)
While the “aerobic endurance” group dominated for quite some time, over the course of a large part of this past decade, “aerobic” training has taken a lot of heat from many (and in certain circles still given unbalanced attention). It has been deemed useless and pretty much dumped and replaced with all anaerobic high intensity work. I’ll be honest, I even started to go this route myself at one point in time. Well, if you pick up a physiology book and actually study these energy systems and how they work with one another in depth, you will realize real fast that you’d better not skip out on your aerobic work, and you will also realize that, depending on the person and task at hand, all of the energy systems and their subsets will probably need to be trained to some extent at some point in time.
In case you don’t know much about energy systems, lets do a brief summary. Your body uses whats called ATP as its fuel source to promote physical activity. These different energy systems are utilized to replenish this ATP in order to continue physical activity. The aerobic system uses oxygen during its chemical processes and can produce a whole bunch of ATP; however, it can’t do it very fast because of all of the steps that it must go through to get the job done. For this reason, longer duration and generally lower intensity activity are taken care of with this system. (i.e. 5 mile run) This is also the most active system at rest. If you have poor aerobic development, your resting heart rate will be higher than desirable and you will have a much better chance of running into health problems as all of the body’s systems will suffer. That alone should end the debate.
The anaerobic glycolytic system works without oxygen and produces ATP pretty fast; however, it can’t produce a ton of it and can’t do it for long. For this reason, shorter to moderate duration activity of higher intensities (20-45seconds, HR>170) is generally taken care of with this system (i.e. 1-400 yd sprints). This is why your body gases out after a certain amount of time if you are doing something such as an all out sprint. Substances such as hydrogen ions and blood lactate volumes build up and glycogen stores run out. Your body can only buffer so much of these things at a time before it gets too fatigued to continue. (With aerobic work, the ability to utilize oxygen makes things more efficient)
The anaerobic alactic system also works without oxygen and produces ATP pretty much immediately (1-10 seconds) but can’t do it long at all. Its used with fast paced high power activities such as a 40 yd dash, a vertical jump or a max deadlift.
Each of these main systems then has subsets for different forms of activity, which is a fact that many people seem to forget about. While anaerobic power is great, you also need to think about anaerobic capacity, which will give your body the ability to perform high intensity activity over and over again (i.e. important for a fighter). While aerobic capacity is great, you also need to think about aerobic power, which will give your heart the ability to work more efficiently when you do get to higher levels of intensity. One main factor that comes into play that some people seem to forget about is that all of these systems are always active to some extent. They all work together.
This all being said, for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on the importance of aerobic development. When it comes to fat loss, anaerobic work is still the most effective because of its post exercise fat burning effects. It can still be important when it comes to many sports; And on the aerobic side, in my opinion, sitting on an elliptical for 45 minutes 5 days a week is still not an effective use of time.
So, heres the deal.
Without an adequate aerobic base, that anaerobic work that you do is not going to be as effective. Without an adequate aerobic base, you’re going to gas out in the later rounds of your fight or game and you will not recover from your anaerobic bouts as efficiently, since your aerobic system is largely responsible for facilitating recovery after an all out exertion. On the contrary, to train aerobically, does not mean that you have to sit on an elliptical for 45 minutes to get the job done. Aerobic work can be fun and effective and be performed using modalities that have valuable carryover to other activities.
Building an aerobic base is very important. The more efficiently your heart can pump blood with each beat and the less hard it has to work when you do get to higher intensity activity, the better your performance will be. Having a more efficient aerobic system to rely on will help you recover faster from higher intensity activity, it will help you perform it for longer periods of time and it will help you dominate in the later portions of competition when your opponents are ready to fall over and quit. Try doing an all out prowler push workout without any aerobic base. You will realize real fast what a mistake this is. You will not complete the workout as you planned because your body simply will not be able to recover well enough. (and you’ll probably be yacking your most recent meal up on the curb before you get half way through the workout). If you want to see what true aerobic development really means, watch an MMA fight where a fighter comes out blazing in the first round only to be gassed and pretty much useless by the last round. Without an aerobic base to help recover from any high intensity bursts that may have occurred during the fight, his body went full anaerobic mode too fast and he couldn’t recover from it fast enough since his aerobic system wasn’t able to effectively get oxygen to his tissues efficiently enough.
Heres something else to think about
It takes an ample amount of time to develop aerobic qualities. It takes relatively little time to develop glycolytic and alactic qualities. You can maintain residual effects of aerobic qualities for a pretty long time. You don’t maintain the others as long. What this means is that if you have a decently long offseason to develop these things before competition gets under way, you can really prepare yourself anaerobically in 3-4 weeks before the season begins or by at least touching on it a couple of times during the offseason. Spending a couple of months developing yourself aerobically will have great carryover when you do get closer to the competition period.
Something else to think about is the effects that training different physical qualities simultaneously have on one another. I’ve studied and researched this stuff a ton over the past few years and if you look at quality texts like Block Periodization by Issurin or Ultimate MMA Conditioning by Joel Jameison (the best book I’ve come across for energy system development along with his great conditioning coach course that I’d highly recommend), there are certain physical qualities that can be developed effectively together. For example, training max strength at the same time as aerobic endurance tends to work well as aerobic endurance can help with recovery from heavy lifting and has little negative effect on strength development if it is not done excessively (too much can have negative effects). On the other hand, training max strength with glycolytic power does not generally work as well since they both take a lot out of the CNS and energy stores and can lead to negative effects and overtraining. (10 minutes after a workout is ok) Thats not to say that they can’t be combined in some way; in general it just doesn’t work too well together. So, what different qualities you are developing simultaneously needs to be taken into account.
Now, along these same lines, working with an athlete and working with a fat loss client are too different things. You don’t have to be quite as specific with a fat loss client since the main focus is fat loss, not developing optimal performance at a specific time. However, having ample aerobic development before killing a client is still pretty important stuff.
So Nick, what should we do to develop an aerobic base?
I’m glad you asked. For starters, you’re going to want to monitor your heart rate during activity. To make improvements in aerobic endurance, you’re going to want to train with your heart rate between 120 and 150 beats per minute and you’re going to want to do this for an ample amount of time. Depending on the specific activity you are training for, the individual fitness level and goals at hand, generally from 20-60 minutes will be a good duration to shoot for. If you look at research, it is around the 75 second mark that reliance on anaerobic systems begins to shift towards aerobic systems, so the shift towards an aerobic focus happens fairly quickly. To IMPROVE aerobic capacity, you just need to get it going for a lot longer. Again, how long you go for and how often you do this is going to depend on the person and the goal. After working with a multitude of clients with this, I have found that many people need to work with much less intensity than they realize they need to in order to get the specific physiological improvements that we are looking for with aerobic capacity work. This might mean walking slower, using less weight on a sled, lowering the incline on a treadmill, pacing easier, etc.
Since aerobic training does have vastly different effects on tissues and systems compared to strength work, anaerobic work, etc., doing too much of it can have negative effects on performance in sports that have large requirements for strength and power output; however, it does need to be done to a certain extent as its benefits are too many to be ignored. I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a powerlifter, so obviously strength output is very important to me. Running 10 miles every day of the week would surely hurt my strength performance. Performing aerobic workouts for 20-40 minutes a few days a week for certain cycles gives me all of the benefits I need without having many, if any, negative effects on my lifting performance and actually helps me handle larger workloads and volumes with my lifting along with facilitating more efficient recovery.
As I said before, you don’t need to train all qualities at all times of the year. In a certain stage, I might develop aerobically for 2 months, while doing less anaerobic work. If I’m going real hard with lifting, the aerobic work plays out nicely as it helps with recovery and doesn’t take too much of an extra toll on my energy stores and CNS state. I might follow those 2 months up with a month of anaerobic work with something such as prowler sprints. The residual effects from the previous aerobic work stick around long enough to prevent things from going backwards. Again, how much time you devote and when you devote it to specific development of these systems depends on what it is that you are training for. Ultimately, they all need to be developed to a certain extent since they help one another. The question is, where does your focus need to be? If you are just training for general health or to have a good body, cycling on and off of different qualities for different time intervals works fine.
Aerobic POWER is another subset of the aerobic system. This basically consists of your hearts ability to work efficiently as you reach levels of higher intensity. While training for aerobic endurance increases the heart’s stroke volume, or the amount of blood that the heart pumps with each beat and increases the chamber size of the left ventricle (eccentric hypertrophy), training for aerobic power trains the heart to pump blood stronger with each beat and betters the aerobic system’s ability to work effectively (i.e. deliver oxygen) towards higher intensity ranges and heart rates (an increase in mitochondria and improvement in contractile capabilities in the heart helps with this). Increasing the heart’s performance here will make aerobic endurance work feel like cake. This is done with fairly high intensity activities with the heart rate towards the upper end of the aerobic range and lower end of anaerobic range. The intensity and heart rate is not quite as high as anaerobic work (which can get up to 180+) but it is significantly higher than typical aerobic endurance work (150-160 vs. 120-140) and the work to rest ratio is generally either 1-1 to 1-0.5 or a longer 1-3 minute interval with a slightly longer rest can be used. There are many methods that can be used to train this quality.
There are many ways to perform an aerobic workout. For aerobic endurance: Circuits are great. Pick 4-8 exercises/movements and perform them nonstop for a set time. Sled dragging, jump rope, battle ropes, rowing and med ball tosses could make up a nice workout. The key is keeping the intensity at the right level by monitoring your heart rate. You can also do one continuous activity, as is the common aerobic practice (“cardio”). Find a treadmill, go for a run, hop on a rower, hit the heavy bag, jump rope, do kettlebell work or dodge cars in the street. Pick something that keeps you interested and keep yourself moving in the correct heart rate range. For aerobic power, you can use similar activities; however, you will go harder (HR more towards high 150’s/160’s) and you will have some rest time between bouts. A work to rest ratio of 1-1 to 1-0.5 usually works well. (Rest ratios for anaerobic workouts are much longer with anaerobic power being the longest.)
Whichever way you choose to do it, developing the aerobic system will improve stroke volume (how much blood the heart pumps with each beat), decrease resting heart rate, speed up recovery from high intensity work and provide a better oxygen supply to working tissues among other things. It is absolutely essential for anyone trying to improve sport performance or get in shape in any capacity. It doesn’t have to be boring and repetitive like so many people seem to believe. Pick some exercises that keep things fun and motivating and get that heart working. An entire aerobic workout could be done with varying movements with a sled as shown in the video below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvRR1gh9mCo
While its outside of what I want to cover with this article since I want to focus on what people usually think of as “cardio” activities, there are also specific lifting modalities that can be utilized to improve the utilization of these systems by developing specific muscle fiber types as well (and strength training is also obviously utilizing an energy system while you do it)
The bottom line is this. All of the human body’s energy systems are important and they all help one another to a certain extent with different ranges of activity. The aerobic system should not be shunned as it is key for optimal performance and also to keep you healthy.
By Nick Rosencutter
Upper body training. Probably the most popular emphasis of training that you will see if you walk through most gyms throughout the country. Everybody loves pumping their biceps and building their chests up. If you are lucky, you might even find someone who enjoys chiseling out their upper back. While working the upper body might be a very common thing to come across, very few people actually understand how to train it correctly. This is because very few people understand the anatomy and biomechanics of the activities that occur up top. (and if these things were understood even a little bit, those lovely things below the belt called legs would never be neglected).
So, when we look at gym goers who do hit their upper halves a few times a week, we can generally put people into a few different groups.
Group 1- The Bench and Curl All Day Every Day Group. These people love working the muscles that they see in the mirror and do many variations of pressing and curls with some extra delt and tricep work thrown in for good measure here and there. Neglecting the opposing muscles in the back leads to problems down the road and they are left with imbalances and shoulder issues.
Group 2- The Train with some Push-Pull Balance Group. These people at least understand the importance of balancing out pushing and pulling exercises and try to do some kind of pulling exercise to provide some balance to whatever pushing/pressing exercise they might be doing.
Group 3- The Shoulder Mechanics Involve More than 2 Motions Group. These are those in the know that understand the anatomy and mechanics of the shoulder and train movement and muscle around their upper bodies with some decent anatomically balanced precision; often leading to less shoulder issues and better looking and better performing postures.
Digging into this a little deeper, while group 1 is way off of the map, group 2 at least has SOME realization about balancing out the anatomy. So what is it that they are missing that Group 3 is not? That my friends, is the question that we shall answer with the rest of this article.
To understand how to properly train, we must first look at the anatomy and mechanics. I’m going to keep this straight forward and basic so this doesn’t turn into a textbook lesson. The first thing we need to look at is the scapula (known as your shoulder blade in street talk) and the motions it is capable of. The scapula lays on the back of your rib cage and has connections with your clavicle (collar bone) and humerus (arm bone). When we talk about “push pull balance,” we are generally talking about protraction and retraction of the scapulae (although many people don’t get quality protraction even with their pushing), flexion/extension, and on some occasions, internal/external rotation of the glenohumeral joint (what most think of as the shoulder joint) .
While having some balance here is great, we also need to factor in the multiple other possible actions of the scap and gh joint. The scap can also elevate, depress, rotate upward, rotate downward and tilt forward and backward. The gh joint also internally and externally rotates, adducts and abducts. There are certain muscles that help to perform all of these actions. Anytime we move our arm, whether that be forward and backward, out to our sides or overhead and back down, our scapula, gh joint and our thoracic spine all need to move with a certain harmony amongst each other. When one of these is off, the other(s) must compensate in order to create further motion. Most commonly, the scapula stops moving or moves abnormally and the humeral head (top of the arm bone) glides either upward or forward to compensate, leading to impingement. Simply pushing and pulling neglects many of these actions, although if we are talking pushing and pulling both horizontally and vertically we are at least getting closer to the prize.
Moving overhead involves multiple pieces, including flexion of the glenohumeral joint, upward rotation of the scapulae and extension of the thoracic spine
Pulling with good protraction of the scapulae and pushing with good protraction of the scapulae
Internal and External Rotation of the shoulder joint (in this instance while the scapulae are in a bit of retraction)
When we look at the most common pushing exercises that are performed, the bench press is definitely towards the top of the list. When we look at pulling exercises, a row variation is towards the top of the list as well. When done correctly, the row will work the rhomboids, mid traps and low traps, the main muscles that pull the scapulae into retraction (they pull your shoulder blades together). When done correctly, the bench press will work your pecs, anterior deltoids and triceps with the actual motion of the press; however, a correct set up involves pulling the shoulder blades together (retraction, as we learned a couple of sentences ago, which also utilizes the rhomboids). When we do too much pressing like this, without any protraction of the scapulae and pair it with straight rowing exercises, we end up getting what we call anterior glide of the humerus, where the top of your humerus (arm bone) moves towards the front of your shoulder joint, creating impingement. This occurs because when the scapulae fails to protract sufficiently during a push motion, the humeral head compensates by moving forward in the shoulder socket excessively (anterior glide); this ends up happening if we never train scapular protraction with our pushing movements. (Similarly, if our scapulae stop upwardly rotating when we move overhead, the humeral head tends to glide UP in the socket, causing impingement at the top of the joint)
To add further complication, when we add in any kind of shrugging exercise which involves elevation of the scapulae, the rhomboids are under pressure even more since they also assist with elevating the scapulae. Throw in some pulldowns or pullups, which involves downward rotation of the scapulae, which also activates the………guess what?………the rhomboids! So while at first glance, you might think that many people would need lots of rowing and pullups to balance out all of their pushing, you can now see that its not so black and white. When you add in the fact that any kind of pressing exercise and any kind of vertical pulling exercise also involve internal rotation of the shoulder joint, we can start to see some patterns occurring. Pecs, lats and deltoids often become overactive, pulling the shoudler joint into internal rotation and, along with the rhomboids becoming overactive, limiting protraction and upward rotation of the scapulae. While many of these people do have overactive rhomboids, many of them do still need to “open up” their shoulders. So how do we do this without creating further complications?
We need to balance out the types of pushing exercises we do, being sure to include exercises that allow us to get protraction and/or upward rotation of our scapulae
We need to train upward rotation of our scapulae and external rotation of our shoulder joints and/or do this ALONG with retraction.
Some people might be excessively depressed and some excessively elevated. This must also be factored into any programming.
Balancing out our pushing exercises
Rather than just bench pressing, incline bench pressing, decline bench pressing etc. we need to do some pushing that allows us to move our scaps freely. Landmine presses, cable pushes, overhead presses, and pushups are some great ones. These allow us to get either quality protraction or upward rotation, or some combination of the two. Ensuring that our scapula is able to move effectively in these pathways will better allow our humeral head to stay centered in the glenoid fossa (shoulder socket), preventing impingement and keeping our shoulders healthier.
Training our scapulae to upwardly rotate and stimulating the external rotators of our shoulder to help counteract all of the internal rotation going on are essential. Beyond that, we need to train some retraction without the rhomboids taking over. Y variations and basic external rotation variations are great ways to take care of the first two. Face Pull variations are a great way to conquer our third mission here. With a face pull, our scapula is in a position of upward rotation as we pull towards our head. Since rhomboids are also downward rotators of the scapulae, this takes them out of the movement to a certain extent and allows our mid and low traps to do more with the retraction of the exercise. So we have retraction with good recruitment of the mid and low traps in a position of scapular upward rotation, which is great. Add in the fact that we also get some external rotation at the shoulder joint as we pull, and you have a phenomenal exercise that can really do a lot to help balance out all of the issues that we talked about earlier. Both double and single arm variations work well here depending on the situation and person at hand. If there is side to side imbalance going on (one scap is positioned or moves differently than the other) then it is usually best to start with single arm face pulls.
If somebody is excessively elevated in their shoulder girdle, it is important to be sure that they do not shrug up as they perform these pulling exercises as this will add to the tension that they most likely feel quite often through their necks and shoulders. Performing a high to low face pull might also be a good idea to encourage some depression of the shoulder girdle as you pull. Being sure to keep the shoulders down and back on most pushing and pulling exercises is important here as well.
If somebody is excessively depressed, we need to get their shoulder girdle back up to a respectable level to allow optimal movement and to provide better support for the neck. These people often feel like their neck is “tight,” since its always being pulled on and stretched with the scapulae sitting lower than they should be. Factoring in the possibility of rhomboids being overactive from our earlier examples, we need to train elevation without overworking them more. Enter the Y shrug. This exercise allows us to engage the upper traps to help pull the scapulae up without adding fire to the rhomboids and levator scapulae, while also encouraging positive upward rotation of the scapulae via the lower traps, upper traps and serratus anterior muscles. Check it out above.
While I could go on all day about more factors that could possibly be considered in our shoulder puzzle and this is by no means an exhaustive list, these tips can and should go a long way in helping you to achieve a better balance around your joint; not to mention they should also help improve your lifts and your physique if those are goals of yours. After all, you can’t have a full road map on your back without hitting all of the muscles that are part of it.
In case you didn’t watch this video earlier, check it out now. We go through a lot of the anatomy considerations mentioned in the article and it should help put some of the things mentioned earlier together for you.
RUFP members competed at the 2016 WI State Fair Open and won Overall Best Lifter, the Female Division, the Teen 18-19 year old division, and Men’s Open 181-220 Division; and placed 3rd in the Mens Open 180 and Under Division. Check out the compilation video below to see the lifts. Great Job Everyone!
Check out this brilliant article by RUFP coach Brittney Wilinski
Do You Have Stickability? By: Brittney Wilinski
Warning: This article is not meant as a fun, leisure read … this article is meant to find what you need to do in order to COMMIT yourself through STICKABILITY.
Today, I have hit a pretty big record for myself… I have logged my food for an entire year!!! Yes, 365 days in a row! Call me crazy, because I know MANY of you are thinking that, but it’s my way to stay dedicated, motivated, and accountable for what I am eating from day to day. Allow me to set one thing straight before I continue: Yes I logged in everyday, but it doesn’t mean I tracked every single meal or that I measured every single meal. There were days that I would track maybe one to two meals and then try to eat intuitively the rest of the day. There were days I did indeed measure and weigh my food for all five to six times I ate that day. It all varied, but it was my goal to at least put something in for every single day to keep me on the right path. Some days were a struggle, but I had my goal in mind and I knew what I needed to do. Training and lifting heavy, doing conditioning and aerobic work or “cardio” really has never been where I struggled. I struggled more with fueling my body properly. I have not been one to eat “bad;” ask any of my family or friends. I simply wasn’t eating enough, or enough of the right foods at the right time. If you really want to achieve something, then put all of your heart, mind, effort, and will power towards that damn goal. Every day you don’t do something that could push you to meeting your goal is a day wasted.
Why is it that we always make the, “Oh I am going to do this… but not until tomorrow” or the classic “I will start on Monday” B.S. excuses. I know how this goes, because I have been there, done that. The day I stopped making excuses was one of the best days of my life, because I have been able to achieve so many personal goals since then. I want to share some pictures with you, to show you that in order to reach your goal, it takes time! These pictures range from the beginning of March up until November. Before, I was the “just interested” Brittney and the later pictures show the “Commited, Stickable Brittney.” I have put in a lot of hard work, went through my highs and lows, but the journey has been worth it.
Interested Committed and Stickable!
(This was my 2nd competition, Pride of the Midwest Physique Competition – I placed 3rd in overall and 5th in my division, Bikini Class A.My first show, NPC Badger State, I didn’t place at all and took 11th. It is a crazy exciting, inspiring, satisfying feeling you get when you meet your goal! You might not be training for a Bodybuilding show, but whatever your goal is, will sure feel damn satisfying when you reach it! I can promise that.)
In the book, Three Feet from Gold, there is a quote that honestly changed my mindset and life: “There is a difference in being interested and being committed.” With commitment comes stickability, and with stickability comes success. Take that and really think about it. How many times in life do we go to the gym for a week or two and we are there 3, 4, or 5 days PER week, and next thing you know, you haven’t been to the gym in over a week. You have slowly started allowing everything to be a priority except for the gym. It’s the same with eating; say you eat really well for 3 weeks, then you crave some chocolate or ice cream, you eat it, and again you fall back to your old ways of eating fast food 3-4 times a week, eating less vegetables, lean proteins, etc. and eating more pasta, deep fried foods, pastries etc., etc. What the **** (fill in as you please) just happened? Why do we allow ourselves to do this?! Why is it that when we stick to our goal for a period of time and everything is going so well, that we allow ourselves to “cheat” or get off track for one day, one meal, and then everything goes to crap. Why is it so hard to get BACK on track after just taking a small detour? The detours should be fun, relaxing, fulfilling, make us happy, and help “reset” our mindset and bodies. There are days and maybe weeks that you do need to take it a little easier on your body, do a deload program to let your central nervous system recover from your last heavy cycle and allow your body to supercompensate to help us repair our muscles and tissues and become stronger. There are days that you need to allow yourself to go out with family, friends, or significant others and have a super tasty burger, pasta dish, or a sundae and not feel bad about it. Heck, you can even make your own “cheat meal” and damn you better make what you’ve been craving or you will not be satisfied. (I have done this and then I am an angry little thing haha) You need to be able to go off of the beaten path TEMPORARILY with the mindset that you will be able to get back on it without hesitation.
But in all seriousness, you need to answer these questions from above, write the answers down, and put them up somewhere so you can see them every day. It will remind you of what is truly holding you back from committing yourself. You need to figure out why you are only “interested” in your health rather than committing yourself to your health. You need to slowly but surely eliminate whatever it is that is holding you back so that you are able to achieve what you truly want.
We recently did a 21 day challenge at RUFP, and let me tell you, the participants did an awesome job during the challenge! They stayed on track with their eating habits exceptionally well, they were in the gym at least three times a week if not more, and they were building healthier lifestyle habits. Once the challenge ended can you guess what happened? Some of our participants only “interested” themselves for those 21 days; they did not commit. If they would have, they would still be making it to the gym three plus days a week and sticking to their healthier lifestyle habits. I am not trying to call anyone out (please don’t get mad but use this as motivation if it sounds like you!). I am just trying to give facts from real life situations that have recently occurred. If we can commit ourselves for those 21 days and MAKE time for our health, why does it have to end even though the challenge is over? Why can we not find it deep down within us to stay on track, despite the detours, if there isn’t a prize in the end? Can’t you make up your own prize to reach? Just reaping the benefits of a healthier lifestyle should be a big enough prize for many. If this isn’t the case, then let’s figure out what motivates you. Take small steps, don’t just cold turkey everything and think you are going to change all the “bad, unhealthy” habits in one day. You need to focus on one to two things to work on each week, or maybe even each month. Everyone is unique in how much they can truly commit themselves, and that’s okay. As long as you are COMMITTING yourself, full heartedly and honestly, to creating healthier lifestyle habits and not just interesting yourself in the idea, you WILL succeed in reaching your goals and becoming a better you!
After reading this, I hope you aren’t writing down or thinking of 5 to 6 different things you are going to change RIGHT NOW… that sets you up for failure. Instead, write down or think of 1 to 2 things that you can easily start working on that will help stop INTERESTING you and start COMMITING you! For me, I started by balancing out my meals better, making sure to eat some vegetables in the morning and cooking MORE and eating out less! If you want something as bad as you think you do, make it happen. The only thing standing in the way of you and your goals are your actions to become STICKABLE!