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!Read More
Walk into most gyms today and the likelihood of seeing someone performing a unilateral (means single limb, for you non fitness folks) exercise, minus the ever-popular alternating bicep curl and possibly the occasional lunge, is slim to none. And that’s too bad, considering the numerous benefits there are to be reaped from adding these types of exercises into your training. Muscular strength and balance, athletic performance, increased joint and whole body stability, body awareness and more can all be improved through unilateral training.
But Tyler, what makes you so sure? How do you know?
Because for the first five years of my training career, I hardly performed any of them, and the ones that I did do were certainly not done exceptionally well. Now, thankfully this did not result in any severe injuries or problems, as I am convinced would have been the case had I continued on this path. However, I do believe that consistent and frequent smaller injuries and setbacks may have been avoided better had I trained smarter. The same ligament strain in my left lower back three years in a row, frequent patellar tendon/knee pain coupled with inflammation and poor hip mobility are just a few of the issues that might have been avoided with better balance in my program. Couple these minor issues with horrific lateral/frontal plane (side to side) strength and stability , which stemmed from a direct lack of unilateral training, and I was wonderfully set up for continued setbacks and a potential (major) injury.
(Note): I may have also learned just a thing or two from my boss, Nick Rosencutter. He knows a couple of things about training.Now, do I think that a lack of unilateral training is the exact reason I had those problems and imbalances and issues? No, not completely; but I do think it played a substantial role and that some of those problems could have been corrected and fixed sooner had I placed an emphasis on balancing out my bilateral to unilateral training (double limb to single limb).
So, let’s get to it.
One of the most significant reasons that unilateral training is important for almost everyone is because many daily life and sport activities simply do not occur with two hands/feet, fixed to a specific object, moving said object with both limbs simultaneously. You are constantly moving your arms, legs, hands, and feet independently of one another, and you may not even notice it.
That jog you went on this morning, carrying the groceries in one hand, and walking up and down stairs are all unilateral movements. How about performing a layup, throwing a punch, kicking a soccer ball, a tennis serve, or throwing a baseball, football, etc.? Many sport movements are just unilateral movements performed repetitively.
I can already hear the disagreement. But Tyler, don’t you know that the main barbell lifts like squats, deadlifts, and presses have way more advantages? Don’t you know not everyone has two hours per day to lift and just need to get in a quick workout with the most bang-for-your-buck exercises? Athletes need power and strength more than anything, so why are you worried about their muscular balance and joint stability?
What great questions and concerns! Allow me to explain. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree, as does the research, that compound barbell lifts such as the back squat, bench press, deadlift, etc., have the most benefit when it comes to increased muscle size, strength, and power development. And yes, if you are truly limited on training time and need to get in a quick workout, chances are bilateral exercises are going to be your first go-to, but not always; nor should they be.
Let’s take for example, a basketball player. Their sport requires them to sprint (unilateral), jump (bilateral and unilateral), pass (bilateral and unilateral), and shoot (bilateral), among many other various movements put together in unpredictable combinations and at unpredictable times. This athlete must be able to stop, change direction, pivot, run, jump, lunge, do it quickly and at a moment’s notice, and do it all with a great deal of power and repetitively without fatiguing. Basketball seems hard! Take away the standard jump shot and rebound, and basketball is suddenly an activity that contains virtually all unilateral movements! Wouldn’t it make sense, then, that this athlete has some sort of foundational strength and stability in a unilateral stance? That this athlete should be able to, with proper execution and joint mechanics, move their upper limb in all different directions and planes of motion? That this athlete should be able to properly brace their entire abdomen and trunk, as one unit, while simultaneously jumping off of one foot, perform a layup with their opposite arm, land on both feet, and then run back down the court? If this athlete never trains unilateral exercises and only ever performs bilateral movements, their performance on the court will surely not be up the level it could be, had they structured their training a little better.
As stated earlier, many movements that you perform are not done with both arms and/or legs at the exact same time and working together, and your body isn’t designed that way either! Take for example, the Glenohumeral joint (that’s your shoulder joint for you non-anatomy folks). This joint is made up of multiple different structures, but what I’m concerned with here is your scapula (shoulder blade). Your scapula functions in many different ways. It moves forwards and backwards, known as protraction and retraction, rotates upwardly and downwardly, elevates and depresses, and even tilts. For good overall shoulder function, you need a healthy balance of all of these types of motion, working both arms together and independently of one another. One issue that arises when unilateral training isn’t present in your training is some of these scapular motions tend to get forgotten about and lag behind. If the only pressing you ever do is the standard bench press and its variations, you are not training any protraction. If your pulling movements consist of barbell rows, seated rows, and lat pulldowns, you probably aren’t getting enough upward rotation utilizing your lower traps. The point is your shoulder joint is complex and functions in many different ways, and if you aren’t training all of these different types of motions both unilaterally and bilaterally, you’re leaving your shoulder health to chance.
I know you want to learn more about your shoulder and how it works, so click here to get smart.
Finally, one of the most basic and maybe obvious reasons why you should include unilateral training in your program is for the likely fact that one arm, leg or side of your body is simply not as strong as the other side/arm/leg. Everybody has a strong arm,, “better shoulder,” that leg that feels stronger than the other, etc.
Really, try a set of split squats or alternating dumbbell presses. Chances are (if you’re lacking on your unilateral training) one side feels better or stronger or is easier. Now, what do you think happens when you jump under the bar for your back squats or bench press sets? Do you just automatically disperse the weight evenly between the right and left sides of your body? No! One arm or leg is probably doing a little more of the work to pick up for the slack of the other side. Now, what do you think would happen to your bench press if you brought up that lagging right shoulder? Or your back squat strength if your left quad was as strong as your right? It certainly isn’t about to go down! Unilateral training is a great way to bring up strength deficits and imbalances from one side of the body to the other, or maintain equal strength if you are already fairly balanced. Furthermore, unilateral exercises train different stabilizing muscles that simply aren’t fully engaged with bilateral exercises, leading to better overall muscular development, balance and stability.
Hopefully by this point I’ve convinced you that maybe tossing in a few unilateral exercises into your current program would be a good idea. If you have no idea where to start, check out a few suggestions below.
- Reverse lunge
- Supported 1 Leg Squat
- Single-leg RDL
- Single-leg glute bridge/hip thrust
- Single-leg leg curl
- Alternating DB Bench Press
- Single-arm cable push
- Single-arm DB shoulder press
- Single-arm face pull
- Single-arm pulldown
- Single-arm DB Row
* There are not necessarily any direct unilateral ab exercises, considering your entire trunk functions as one unit to stabilize your torso and spine. However, there are definitely some that may work one side more versus the other at different parts of the movement. Below are some of my favorites and what they focus on.
- Barbell suitcase hold: Lateral stability and frontal plane strength
- Rotating side bridges: Rotational strength and stability
- Kneeling/Standing/Squat Cable Holds: Anti-rotation strength
- Single-Arm Farmer’s Carry: Lateral strength and stability
If this topic interests you and you want to learn more, check out some of these guys and dig through their stuff, because they’re way smarter than me. And older. Which means experience.
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.
Today we have a special article from in-house Sports Nutritionist and Strength Coach, Alex Rosencutter, discussing how to simplify behavior change to meet your goals. Take it away Alex.
Whether you were prepared for it or not, the New Year is here, and with that territory comes all of the newly dedicated New Years resolution fitness fanatics with the goals to look like 70’s Arnold or the latest Victoria Secret model. That is until they don’t grow the gorgeous chin or lats of Arnold or the bodacious booty of the most recent Maxim cover girl within the first two weeks.
Your body is not a chia pet.
BEHAVIOR IS KING
The first thing that gives out on these people is their mindset, and that mindset is what drives an individual’s behavior. The problem here is that most individuals do not have the mindset or behavior to even start the journey toward achieving their goals. We all start with the end in sight and wanting to reach the mountain top overnight. We all do things we know we shouldn’t do and we all know there are things we should do but justify not doing. We have all decided to sleep a little later and skip breakfast to get to work on time. We have all chosen to eat the scrumtrulassent (SNL reference) chocolate bar instead of the bowl of greens. We have all chosen to skip a workout to go out with friends.
The one thing that any individual with six-pack abs or any person that steps on stage all have in common is the mindset to get them that lean body they want and need. The more advanced your goals become, the more your behavior needs to advance. Developing this behavior takes time and should be done in steps.
1. No matter if you are just getting started or if you are a seasoned vet, people often develop the “I worked out today so I can have that cheesecake” mindset. With this mindset, comes the misconception that with just a few tweaks to one’s exercise regimen and diet, 6-pack abs and a eye popping booty is sure to come. This justifying gets individuals in trouble.
2. You have to make HUGE changes all at once to get to where you want. WRONG. Truth is, one change at a time will do much more for you in the long run versus trying to overwhelm yourself with the castle all at once. Small steps will build the right mindset in the long run.
3. You must restrict and sacrifice the rest of your life. Wrong again. It is not about placing huge restrictions or sacrificing important parts of your life, it is about finding the right balance.
DO MORE OF THIS AND LESS OF THAT
In order to develop the right mindset to support our training and goals, we must make changes to our individual behavior. This may mean waking up 1 hour earlier to fit in our workout for the day, eating more vegetables and less cookies, or drinking more water and less soda/alcohol. Do more of this and less of that.
Results take time and hard work. Ask anyone, Rome wasn’t built overnight. Make one behavior change at a time and make up the right mindset to support your training and goals. After all, if we want to reach the top of the mountain, we have to climb it first.
DEVELOPING YOUR BEHAVIOR
No, I am not talking about spanking yourself in the ass like your parents use to. Or, perhaps I’m just crazy and none of you were even thinking that…awkward. Follow the tips below to help yourself make small behavioral changes to your nutrition and training and get after your goals in the new year.
1. Focus on one change at a time and make it become habit. It takes roughly 14-21 days to make something new become habit. With this practice you’ll most likely just find it to become routine.
2. Drink more water and less soda and alcohol.
3. Practice eating slower and listening to your body. It generally takes 15-20 minutes for the brain to signal satiety. Therefore, the faster you eat, the more you will consume. The slower you eat, the better chance you give your body to register the food intake while feeling more satisfied and consuming less.
4. Increase your training slowly. Don’t go full blast if you’re just starting. Start with 1-2 workouts/week, adjust your schedule accordingly, and build from there.
5. Eat 1-2 palm sized servings of protein with each meal.
6. Eat more vegetables than fruit and only eat processed carbs/desserts once every 1-2 weeks.
7. Balance out your omega-3 fatty acid intake with a high quality fish oil supplement.
8. Use a support system. The more people you surround yourself with who have similar goals and lifestyle aspirations is beneficial to you. Hanging out with the local Oscar in a trash can will only detriment your goals. Those with similar goals will help keep you motivated and on track.
9. Focus on each of these tips one at a time for 14-21 days.
10. COME SEE US =)!!!
Today, we have an article by our fantastic trainer and coach Brittney Wilinski about staying active and eating healthy while traveling. Great information for any of you traveling out there……….
Brit doing her thing on the beach
Recently, I went on vacation to St.Petersburg, Florida for a week… and let me tell you, the weather was much more beautiful and consistent there! Like myself, I am betting there are quite a few of you who will be traveling, even if it is a 3-day weekend vacation. It is definitely a time for relaxing, having fun with family and friends, and most likely splurging a little more on food and drinks. But what about all that hard work you’ve been putting in at the gym and all the time you’ve been slaving in the kitchen making healthy meals?!
News flash, you don’t have to completely ditch your workout and eating habits just because you are going on vacation! It really is pretty easy to stick to your normal routine for the most part. While I was gone for a week in Florida, I stayed in a condo and was able to go to the grocery store and buy food for the week that I could cook or prepare easily. Some of the main foods I grabbed were: eggs, turkey, chicken, a bunch of veggies, Greek yogurt, fruit, granola, and salsa and guacamole (I love eating my veggies with both of these!). Even when we did go out for lunch or dinner I would try to order something that was more towards the healthier side and stayed away from deep fried, super greasy foods. One day I got a Jerk Chicken sandwich but ditched the bun and put it on a bed of lettuce… it was amazing! Don’t be afraid to ask your servers ‘weird’ or ‘picky’ questions, it really pays off because many times restaurants are very flexible, so you get a healthier meal and they get a better tip 😉 Win, Win!
Eating healthier is one goal to stick to, but there is also the working out and being active part! One thing that I tried to do every single day was walk on the beach. Again this is a win, win situation: I got to enjoy the warm Florida weather and amazing view, while also getting the benefit of being active. Another way to enjoy my vacation while also getting some exercise in was by walking to shops or stores, swimming in the pool or ocean, and playing volleyball or fun pool games that required me to move around a lot.
When I wasn’t outside enjoying myself, I was in the condo doing a quick bodyweight circuit to start my day off! Here is what my circuit consisted of:
1a. Suitcase Goblet Squats 3-4×12
1b. Pushups 3-4×15-20 60s. rest
2a. One leg hip thrust 3-4×10
2b. Suitcase rows 3-4×12 60s. rest
3a. Step-ups 3×12/leg
3b. Suitcase offset carries 3x 45s. rest
4a. Planks 3×6 w/10 sec. hold
4b. Double Leg Lowering 3x 30s. rest
5. Bent over ITY’s 3×15 30s. rest
I used my carry-on suitcase and loaded it up with a computer, book, and some full water bottles for my squats and one-arm rows. You could also do bodyweight squats and add a pause to make it more challenging. For the offset carries I used a larger suitcase that had some shoes in it and added my computer and book to make it slightly heavier. In our room there was a bench and chair; I used the bench for my hip thrusts and the chair for my step-ups. If a bench isn’t available, you can do glute bridges (double leg/single leg/march) from the floor and add a few more reps. To add weight to your ITY’s you could use water bottles or soup cans, or just body weight with more reps. If you are doing body weight or very light weight, you are still getting a great metabolic effect by doing more reps with less rest time.
As you can see, it really isn’t that hard to stay somewhat on track while you are out enjoying yourself on vacation. The main thing is to plan ahead of time what you will do for workouts and figure out where the nearest grocery store is. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to check out some restaurants’ menus to see which ones have healthier food options especially if you are going on a road trip!
Travel workouts can be some of the best and most fun workouts you will have. Be creative and spontaneous and you can get some awesome training in while you are away!