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SIC-Stretching

"SIC-Stretching" by FlexibilityRx™
www.FlexibilityRx.com

You know that feeling you get when you ‘PR’ your lift – your timing is just right, the movement seems effortless, the bar traveling in a perfect path…

It’s sometimes hard to reproduce that state – it’s like hitting a jump-shot from mid-court and then being asked to immediately do it again, two more times.

Whether your motivation in the gym is - excelling at LIFE, improving your FITness, or testing your limits during SPORT, the goal is the same.  To quote Moshe Feldenkrais, “Make the Impossible Possible, the Possible Easy, and the Easy Elegant.”

Regardless of what you do during your training, no matter how good your programming, your effort, or your consistency, the biggest factor in re-producing the ‘Perfect’ Squat - consistently - is what you do immediately before and after you workout.

If going into your workout you know you have trouble ‘keeping your knees’ out, its TOO LATE to improve that position.  While you should be utilizing relevant cues and actively driving your knees out during your movement, if you have a positional restriction - a flexibility limitation, you need to address that component of your squat pre-workout.

The Perfect’ Squat
Your ability to receive the bar in the snatch, keeping your elbows up in the clean, keeping your weight back on your heels - is how you should critique your flexibility.  The overhead squat is the ultimate test of flexibility, the question remaining is, how can I improve my OHS and ‘PR’ my lift?

Forget about trying to touch your toes in a forward bend and forget about the stretches that your P.E. teacher taught you in grade school – that stretching isn’t SIC.

Taking Bob Anderson’s classic stretching book to aerobics class if fine – but if you’re lifting weight in the gym your 80’s style headband and sweatpants stretching isn’t going to help your workouts.

Having the right FOCUS, DIRECTION, and PROGRESSION to guide your stretching is what a flexibility-training program is all about.  This blog will provide you with the why, where, when, and how of effective flexibility training – stretching will no longer be something you “should do more of”, it will become an essential tool to increasing your STRENGTH, SPEED, and POWER for your workouts.

SIC-Stretching 101
This blog will provide you will the Master Plan to implement SIC-Stretching around your workouts.  Beginning with the ‘Stretch of the Week’, you will have a series of stretches that address the specific flexibility requirements of your workouts. 

Definition: “SIC-Stretching”

“Stretching that creates an instant and dramatic impact on the range of motion, quality of movement, and the strength, speed, endurance, and skill of the movements performed in your workouts.”

This Blog will Outline:

  • How to develop the ‘Perfect Squat’
  • How to develop the ‘Perfect Press’
  • A three -phase approach to developing flexibility-strength
  • A formula to turn flexibility into performance (PR-Formula)
  • A method of stretching called FLOW
  • A method of assessment called PASS
  • Three stretch routines: squat, press, and recovery
  • A unique ‘FLOW’ stretch routine for pre-workout
  • A new definition of flexibility
  • The science behind stretching and flexibility (provided by Stretch to Win™)
  • The why, when, where, and how of effective flexibility training

And much more!

To get started - here is a sequence called the ‘Core-Four’ Lower Body Stretch Matrix:

Use this routine before your workout (takes less than 5-minutes) and for recovery as needed.  These four stretches have the greatest impact on lower body flexibility in regard to developing the ‘Perfect’ Squat.

‘Stretch of the Week’
Check-in weekly for the ‘Stretch of the Week’  - stretches selected from the SquatRx, PressRx, and RecoveryRx stretch routines that will have a DRAMATIC impact on your workouts.

- Kevin J. Kula (Creator of FlexibilityRx™)

'Stretch of the Week' #1: External-Rotators

This stretch is for the 'rotator cuff' which is a term for the musculature around the shoulder blade. Tight external-rotators often restrict shoulder flexion, limiting your ability to get your arms overhead for the shoulder press or overhead squat.

Where should I feel the stretch?
This stretch will be felt around the shoulder blade and towards the outside.

Retest your ability to raise your arm overhead after the stretch, to be sure that you are ready to 'PR' your workout.

Here you can see the quick difference this stretch can make!

- Kevin J. Kula, "The Flexibility Coach"

'Stretch of the Week' #3: Lat 

Stretching your lats will have a dramatic effect on your overhead lifts.  Here is a illustration of the lat muscle (latissimus dorsi), courtesy of the ground-breaking anatomist - Thomas Myers, author of "Anatomy Trains".

The lats span from the sides of the hips, up the side of the ribcage, attaching to the shoulder blade as well as attaching to the arm.

(Gluts and quadriceps are also pictured showing the functional connection the lats have in movement - in this case we are just discussing lat)

Stretching your tight lats is very likely to help you 'PR' your workout since they can restrict your ability to raise your arm overhead.

Tight lats can also pull the hips forward into an anterior pelvic tilt, making you more likely to overextend your back in movements like the overhead squat.

Lat is part of the 'Core-Four' lower body stretches and can be done from "Mission Control" on the floor (see photo below).

A Quick Way to 'PR'
The most effective way to stretch lats is with the band stretch pictured. A common mistake athletes make is to pull on the band - instead of setting up the stretch where the band is pulling the arm forward.  

Keeping the upward pull and arm fixed lean back with the hips for the stretch.

A second mistake athletes make is to only stretch lat in one direction, note the two main positions in the 'stretch of the week' - the first is a forward lunge, the second a side lunge (position 2 is in-between).

Using the 'stretch assessment' explore the feel of the stretch - around the shoulder blade and down to the hip.

- Kevin J. Kula, "The Flexibility Coach", Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #4: Pec-Minor

This pec-minor stretch will quickly improve your range of motion for any overhead lifts.

Pec-minor is part of the chest, deep to the normally visible pec-major.  If you look at the model on the left, you can see pec-major on his right chest and pec-minor on his left.

Is a tight chest robbing you of new 'PR's?
A tight pec-minor pulls the shoulder blade forward. When the shoulder blade is restricted your ability to raise your arms (and More WEIGHT!) overhead will be limited.

Because it plays a key role in the positioning of the shoulder-girdle, pec-minor is part of the 'Core-Four' upper body stretches (Stretch to Win's concept of the 'Great 8').

The concept of the 'Core-Four' lower is to free up the musculature around the hip. With the 'Core-Four' upper, the goal is the free up the shoulder blade to restore the scapula's and arm's range of motion.

Instructions
Go easy on this stretch, using a small wave-like movement in and out of the stretch. Use a 3:1 ratio of upward pull from the band (creating space in the joint) while taking the chest forward and away from the arm.

- Kevin J. Kula, "The Flexibility Coach", Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #5: Quads

Are tight quads effecting your ability to squat?
#1: Keeping your weight on your heels
#2: Getting your hips below parallel
#3: Maintaining an upright torso

While stretching your quads can have an dramatic impact on all lower body movements (squatting, running, lunging)...

Stretching from Core-to-Extremity Produces Better Results
Before you stretch your quads revisit the 'Psoas' stretch from the "Mission Control" position.

Psoas is the deep hip-flexor that connects the spine to the legs/hip, whereas the quads make up the more superficial musculature on the front of the thigh.

Here is an illustration of the deep hip-flexors (psoas).  Psoas is traditionally stretched in a kneeling lunge position along with iliacus also pictured.  You will feel the 'psoas' stretch in the front of the hip (iliacus) and in the lower abdomen (psoas).

Psoas Illustration

 

Core-to-Extremity Comparison
Here is a comparison of the superficial musculature on the front of the body compared to the deeper 'core' musculature (including psoas) that surrounds the spine (courtesy of Tom Myers - www.anatomytrains.com)

Transition from Psoas to Quad from "Mission Control"
Transitioning from psoas to quad is easy
- utilize the "Mission-Control" position (legs at 90/90 and hips in a 'side-lunge'). 

To stretch psoas position the legs at 90/90 and on your exhale rotate your stomach away from your back leg towards the ground until you feel more flexibility in the front of the hip.

To stretch quads pull the back leg in towards your hips (angle less than 90) in a gradual progression as the stretch will change from front of hip to the front of leg.

The concept of stretching 'Core-to-Extremity' was outlined in Ann and Chris Frederick's book, "Stretch to Win" (www.StretchtoWin.com).

The 'Stretch of the Week' also includes a wall variation that will help with muscle end-range, but if you are extremely tight begin with the floor variation (which is more appropriate pre-workout) - at a lesser intensity.

- Kevin J. Kula, "The Flexibility Coach, Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #6: Joint-Capsule (External-Rotation)

This subtle stretch is for the lateral hip and joint-capsule. Pressing through the side of the hip you will feel a mild stretch around the outside of the hip.

Great for recovery post-workout or pre-workout to help keep the knees out during the squat.

I had a great time this weekend at EastValley CrossFit providing Fascial Stretch Therapy™ at this years' "Barbells for Boobs".

Many of the SIC-Stretches in this blog have been influenced by my background providing assisted stretching (Fascial Stretch Therapy™) to athletes.

To find a Fascial Stretch Therapist trained by the Stretch to Win® Institute near you check out www.StretchtoWin.com.

- Kevin J. Kula, "The Flexibility Coach", Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #7: Pec-Major

Improve your overhead lifts with this great stretch for the chest!

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach", Creator of FlexibilityRx™ 

'Stretch of the Week' #8: Forearms/Wrists

Go easy on this stretch - nice quick sequence pre-workout. Wrist pain after workouts is often due to a lack of thoracic flexibility which should also be addressed to improve the front-rack.

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach", Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #10: QL

'QL' is short for the low back muscle quadratus lumborum. QL spans from the top of the hips to the last rib, also connecting the hips to the spine.

QL is often a source of low-back pain, a hypertonic QL can compress the lumbar spine.

Use either variation of the QL stretch, noting side-to-side difference, then reassess your squat. Note your quality of movement and your ability to get your torso upright.

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach", Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #12: External-Rotators

This stretch for the external-rotators is from the same position used to stretch the gluteals - what I call "Mission-Control" - legs at 90/90 angles.

To progress the stretch from the gluts to the external-rotators (also called deep lateral rotators), you elevate the foot above the knee, putting the hip in external rotation.

The external rotators are the six deep muscles of the hip, including the 'piriformis'.  Tightness in the external-rotators can reduce your ability to utilize the stretch reflex out of the bottom of the squat - because the adductors need to be fully lengthened - which is often prevented by tight external-rotators.

Knees out - SquatRx Point of Performance #3
The ability to push the knees out in the squat is dependent on the flexibility of the joint-capsule, hamstrings, and adductors. While some athletes will take a wider stance squat to compensate for lack of flexibility in a narrow squat, training a wide stance squat with proper form is essential for athletic development. The third point of performance introduces the flexibility demands of the adductors in particular.

Adductors extend (lengthen) on the descent of the squat and contract (shorten) on the way up, contributing to hip extension. Mark Rippetoe, explains that adductors are an important part of the ‘posterior chain’, contributing to powerful hip extension. For the adductors to contribute to hip extension, they needed to be fully stretched on the descent phase of the squat, which requires the external rotators to push the knees out. Tightness in the gluts and external rotators can prevent the knees from tracking out.

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach" - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

 

'Stretch of the Week' #13: Thoracic

The Front-Rack is a very challenging position and demands great thoracic flexibility.

Parts 1 & 2 of this stretch are very subtle - you will straighten your spine into thoracic extension - the opposite of rounded computer posture (thoracic flexion).

Part 3 is a wall-squat variation called a band-squat where you lock in the stretch in the mid-back (thoracic spine) and perform 10 squats - great pre-workout.

Retest your ability to keep your elbows up for the front-squat or any overhead movement - your shoulders and wrists will thank you!

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach" - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #14: Ankle-Band

Ankle-Flexibility is often an overlooked part of the squat.

The 5 Points of Performance for the Squat are:
#1: Weight on Heels
#2: Hips below Parallel
#3: Knees out
#4: Maintain lumbar curve (avoiding the 'butt-wink')
#5: Upright torso

#1: Weight on Heels
Ankle flexibility will affect your ability to keep your weight on your heels. The restriction can be in the calves, bottom of the foot, or ankle itself (which this stretch is for).

#5: Upright Torso
Oftentimes athletes that have a hard time keeping their torso upright will be lacking ankle flexibility, to see if the restriction is in the ankle, try placing a 15lb plate under your heel and then notice if it is easier to keep your torso upright.

Two Tests for Ankle Flexibility
#1: Elevate the Heel & Reassess point of performance 5
#2: Active Range of Motion (Ankle Up/Down)

 

This is a pass or fail test - the green area indicates sufficient range and the red suggests restriction in the ankle (possibly calves, front of the shin, or bottom of the foot).  See if you feel restricted moving your foot up/down and then re-assess active range of motion and your squat after this ankle-band stretch.

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach" - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #15: Joint-Capsule (Internal-Rotation)

This stretch will improve hip movement by freeing up motion of the joint capsule.

This is less of a 'stretch' than an active movement of taking the knee towards the floor - alternating side-to-sdie.

Use this along with the stretch for 'external-rotation'.

Limited internal rotation is often associated with a restricted joint-capsule, adductors, and hip-flexors on that side.

Try this stretch and retest your squat noting your ability to keep your knees out and get your hips below parallel.

Research shows that 47% of flexibility is in the joint itself.

This is why bands are used with the upper body stretches to create space in the joint-capsule during the stretch.

When stretching the lower-body, use this 'hip-opener' stretch for internal rotation - before your stretches.

You can also use it between stretches (like glut or hip-flexor from "Mission-Contro") and after your lower body stretches.

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach" - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #16: Hip-Opener

This 'hip-opener' stretch is for the joint-capsule and outside hip.

You can use it at any time - good pre or post-workout.

Here is a video of the 'hip-opener' along with a low-back stretch...

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach" - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #18: Rhomboid

This stretch for the mid-back is a quick way to improve shoulder flexion (your ability to straighten your arms overhead).

Rhomboid is part of the ‘Core-Four’ upper – the four muscles that can restrict the motion of the shoulder blade – which then limits any overhead movement.

The ‘Core-Four’ upper: rhomboid, levator scapula, pec-minor, and the rotator cuff (internal & external rotators).

You can incorporate a muscle activation sequence for rhomboid by pulling the shoulder blade in towards the spine on your inhale – after the stretch.

Inhale, pull the shoulder blade in, exhale and deepen the stretch – repeat 3-5x.

- Kevin Kula, “The Flexibility Coach” – Creator of FlexibilityRx™

 

'Stretch of the Week' #19: Hip-Flexor

What's the most important pre-workout stretch? - Why?

Chris Frederick (co-author of the book Stretch-to-Win®) explains...

"It is well known that tight hip flexors will neurologically weaken your glutes, which makes your back and hamstrings work harder and raises risk for injury during squats and overhead lifts."

"The Stretch to Win® quick solution for this common problem prescribes the Fast Stretch Wave on your hip flexors right before lifting. This routine rapidly removes tightness (hip flexors) that causes weakness (glutes), which increases strength (low back-glute-hamstring movement chain). Immediately follow up with air squats, barbell only squats then progressive weight training and your PR will soon be right around the corner. The Slow Stretch Wave is done after training as part of your cool down to restore flexibility that you may lose from hard-core training."

"Conclusions in the scientific literature that static stretching decreases power (vertical jump) and speed (sprinting) are for similar, as well as other reasons it decreases strength. So, doing the wrong stretching – static before activity – makes you weaker and slower. Doing the right stretching – what we call doing the “Stretch Wave™” – makes you stronger and faster more quickly and safely."

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach" - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #20: Adductors

The Adductors are an often-overlooked part of training. The adductor magnus plays an important part in hip extension in athletic movement and in postural balance. The adductors are often tight and influence the pelvic floor and core stability. Many problems associated with the hamstrings (butt-wink, keeping the knees out, hamstring stiffness) are related to the adductors.

This stretch has two components – a bent and straight leg stretch for the short and long adductors. After doing this stretch retest your ability to keep your knees out.

Keeping your Knees-Out during the Squat
The third point of performance for the squat ‘knees-out’ is related to flexibility of the joint-capsule and the adductors especially.

Glut-Strength
Glut strength is another factor in keeping the knees out during the squat.

Here is a great 3D Glut Strengthening Exercise by Mike Reinold

Clamshells and this sidelying exercise can be easily incorporated pre-workout to strengthen and activate the gluts. Hip-internal rotation is sometimes improved without addressing flexibility by activating the gluts.

Joint-Capsule
Limited hip internal rotation can be addressed with the joint capsule stretches I covered for internal rotation and this hip-openersequence.

Ankle Flexibility
Another factor in keeping the ‘knees-out’ is ankle flexibility. This ankle-band stretch can help restore the motion of the ankle. My lower-leg routine (coming soon!) will also help prevent the ankle from rolling in during the squat which then causes the knee to cave in.

Knee Pain
Knee pain is often attributed to the quadriceps on the front of the thigh, sometimes strengthening exercises for VMO (the medial quadriceps) strengthening are prescribed. This, in my opinion is less functional than rebalancing the inner and outer relationship of the adductors and gluts.

If you adductors are tight or weak – it is likely that you will have problems with knee tracking and possibly knee pain.

Tom Myers, author of “Anatomy Trains” explains that the deep front line (which includes the core musculature of the adductors) and the lateral line (gluts…) work together to stabilize the knee.

Adductor Strengthening
Strengthening the adductors can also greatly improve your squat. Two options for strengthening the adductors are wide-stance squats and uni-lateral exercises like lunges, one-leg hip thrusts, and pistol squats.

- Kevin Kula, “The Flexibility Coach” – Creator of FlexibilityRx™

 

‘Stretch of the Week’ #21: Glutes

“There are over 25 muscles that cross the hip, so why does everyone stretch the muscle (hamstrings) that's the most irritated? Your hamstrings will 'release' through hip traction and stretching the glutes, hip flexors and other surrounding muscles. Once you "open up" the surrounding muscles, it becomes much easier to stretch the hamstrings (with much less pain and irritation).” - Joe DeFranco

This quote was taken from a blog post by renown strength coach Joe DeFranco who hosted a Stretch-to-Win® workshop at his gym.

He explains that the Stretch-to-Win® concept of the 'Great-8' Stretch Matrix provides a solid framework for releasing the hips and shoulders from core-to-extremity.

Tom Myers has put forth a useful concept in his article, “Fans of the Hip Joint”. He explains that there are three fans that surround the hip: the trochanter fan (glutes/external-rotators), the ramic fan (adductors), and the inguinal fan (pectineus, psoas, iliacus).

“These muscles are further arranged in a series of triangular fans, which interconnect and counterbalance each other. It is simple once you see it: understand these fans and you understand how to balance the hip joint.”

Stretching the glutes (and external-rotators) addresses the trochanter fan and paves way for better hip flexibility and integrated movement.

Below is a progression from the glutes to external rotators (full blog here). By elevating the foot, the hip is put into external rotation, deepening the stretch.

Note that the back leg is bent at a ninety-degree angle for the glute stretch. This position which I call “Mission-Control” is a great position to target the glutes, QL, hip-flexors, lats, and quads.

Here is a video of “Mission-Control” and the Core-Four lower.

Having the back leg bent has a couple advantages over the 'pigeon pose' in yoga. In the pigeon pose the back leg is straightening which also targets the hip flexor on the side opposite the glute. This is a difficult position for someone who is inflexible to get into and also requires an active effort to properly position the front leg to protect the knee.

By using the 90/90 position, you can avoid the torsion of the hips and relax into the stretch better than a pigeon pose if you are not an advanced yogi or yogini.

The other advantage of stretching the glutes in this way is using gravity for the stretch. You can lengthen the spine in this position and gradually lower to the floor, instead of struggling to get into a figure-four position glute stretch (laying on your back).

Stretch your glutes and external-rotators on each side (noting which side is tighter) and retest your squat depth and your ability to keep your knees-out.

-Kevin Kula, “The Flexibility Coach” - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

‘Stretch of the Week’ #22: Low-Back

This low-back stretch helps ‘unwind’ the low-back and nervous system for better hip and torso movement.

The arms stay bent at ninety degrees during the stretch, which removes any lat or pec tightness from interfering with the stretch.

By keeping the arms bent, you can also traction the low-back during the stretch by reaching across with the knees – instead of forcing the knees directly towards the ground.

Here is a video of the low-back stretch, along with the hip-opener stretch that was explained in this blog here.

Use this stretch along with the stretch for QL (quadtratus lumborum) to free the low-back and spine. Those two stretches along with the stretch for rhomboid can help with thoracic flexibility - the rhomboid stretch helps with thoracic rotation.

-Kevin Kula, “The Flexibility Coach” – Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #23: Triceps

This tricep stretch combines shoulder flexion and elbow flexion.

The advantage of stretching the triceps this way is that the pole can be used for shoulder flexion, which is not possible when athletes tie a band to a pole and face away for the stretch.

Athletes oftentimes think of improving triceps mobility for the front-rack position, but tricep flexibility plays a much smaller role in the front rack than the muscles of the ‘Core-Upper’, along with good thoracic position.

Arm motion (shoulder flexion) for the front-rack position and overhead lifts is largely dependent on the freedom of motion of the shoulder blade.  The muscles of the 'Core-Four' upper that surround the shoulder blade are levator scapula, rhomboid, pec-minor, and the rotator cuff (internal and external rotators).

Another important muscle involved in shoulder flexibility is the latissimus dorsi - which is part of the 'Core-Four' lower.

Use this stretch along with this thoracic sequence, lat stretch, and the ‘Core-Four’ Upper.

-Kevin Kula, “The Flexibility Coach” – Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #24: Levator Scapula

Levator scapula spans from the top of the shoulder blade to the side of the neck.

A tight levator scapula interferes with the fixed position of the shoulder blade during shoulder flexion – compromising shoulder position during overhead lifts.

That knot at the top of your shoulder blade is often a sign that levator scapula is acting as a brake to control forward head position (computer posture).

Tom Myers calls this muscle as ‘capitus preventus (from going) forwardus’ – referring to this action, which is not the muscle’s normal healthy function.

Proper treatment includes improving thoracic flexibility and ribcage position to allow the head to be better supported.

However, freeing the fascia of the neck with this stretch is a good approach for a more relaxed shoulder and resolving the knot that is often treated with a therapists elbow or through treatment with a lacrosse ball.

The goal is not to lengthen the muscle, but free the surrounding fascia, which is accomplished through lateral flexion and rotation of the neck. A much more effective approach than jamming an elbow or ball into the top of the shoulder blade!

Levator scapula is part of the ‘Core-Four’ Upper. It has a fascial connection to the supraspinatus muscle of the rotator cuff. Freeing this muscle along with the other muscles surrounding the shoulder blade allows for better shoulder flexion and stronger overhead lifts.

-Kevin Kula, “The Flexibility Coach” – Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #26: Pec-Minor Variations

Pectoralis Minor Stretch

Pec-Minor is chronically tight among many athletes. Tightness can limit shoulder flexion range of motion for overhead lifts as well as pull the shoulder blade into a disadvantageous position. The pec-minor overhead band stretch was covered here.  This is a nice alternative for coaches to use with a group class when space doesn’t permit for the traditional bench stretch variation or a stretch on an exercise (swiss) ball.

Pec-Minor Stretch Version 1 The overhead pec-minor stretch allows for a lot of shoulder traction, which eliminates pinching in the back of the shoulder that is common with pec-minor stretches.

Pec-Minor Stretch Version 2 The traditional kneeling pec-minor stretch (as taught by Stretch-to-Win®) is a great option for individual gym members to use on their own.  A swiss ball is preferable, because it allows the elbow to be hooked onto the ball before leaning the chest away from the elbow for shoulder traction. Instead, a pad can be placed on a bench (or box of appropriate height) to hook the elbow.  To stretch the right pec, for example, you would move the elbow left on the pad for friction so that it is pulled to the right, once you lean the torso away to the left.  You would then exhale, and drop the chest down to the floor for the stretch, using the left hand for support.

Pec-Minor Stretch Version 3 This is an innovative way to stretch pec-minor from a slightly different angle, using a band to create space (traction) in the shoulder joint.  Jon Lempke, instructor for Stretch-to-Win® helped me come up with this alternative that can be used, if version 1 (overhead stretch) is not tolerated well.

Finding the Right Version of a Stretch While certain stretches lend themselves to ‘best’ positions, it is always important to consider the need for different versions of stretches for different athletes.  The quad stretch on the floor, for example, is a nice alternative to the quad wall stretch that is commonly used – it is less intense and can be used by athletes with tightness in the shin and ankle.

Stretching Different Fiber Directions & Planes of Movement It is also important to stretch fascia not just muscle – by using the different angles and planes of movement for the three pec-stretches, athletes will be able to target all of the fascia of pec-minor and find the stretch that best suites their needs.

- Kevin Kula, “The Flexibility Coach” – Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #27: Hip-Traction Series

This sequence was inspired by Kevin Darby of the Canadian branch of the “Stretch-to-Win®” Institute (www.StretchtoWin.com).

As a Fascial Stretch Therapy™ practitioner, one of the ‘go-to’ stretches used on the table is traction of the hip joint from different positions. 50% of flexibility is in the joint-capsule itself, as Chris Frederick points out,

“If research shows that almost 50 percent of tightness is within the joint capsule and surrounding ligaments, the first step is to remove this restriction before stretching with traction.” “The muscles that are the closest and deepest layers will react to positive or negative changes in the joint capsule – they are innervated by the same nerves that control resting tissue tone or tension as well as the nerves that make the muscles, with their fascia, contract and relax in response to all movements. These muscles are shorter in length and anatomically and functionally closer to the joint capsule than the muscles that cross two or more joints; when released, therefore, they pave the way for the longer muscles to release faster and more efficiently.”

About the Hip-Traction Sequence

You will roll from the first position onto your side for the second position, then roll onto your knee for the third position, in a sequence. The third position of this series allows for the best traction: exhale and lean forward for traction, then inhale and rock back. Repeat this sequence a few times.

While it is normally better to synchronize your breathing and movement into a stretch and wait for the tissue to respond – rather than statically hold a stretch for a pre-determined number of seconds - this applies to stretching muscles and fascia, when tractioning the joint-capsule itself you will want to hold the position for 3-5 seconds, until you begin to feel a subtle release. Then repeat a few times.

Traction can be used before, between, and after stretches. If you are extremely tight in the glutes and hip, you may want to begin with traction, stretch your hips and then traction again at the end.

Hip-Flexor Activation

After applying traction from the third position, you can perform a muscle activation sequence for the hip flexors. The hip-flexors, while tight and contracted, are often inhibited and can benefit from a quick activation sequence. Inhale: with 20% of your strength - pull your knee forward and hold for 5 seconds (using the band as resistance). Exhale: release the leg and lean forward again into traction, before inhaling again and repeating the activation.

A Dramatic Improvement in the Squat

This hip traction series will free up the joint-capsule improving hip flexion and hip internal/external rotation for the…

SquatRx ‘Points of Performance’

especially…

#2: Hips Below Parallel

#3: Knees-Out

#5: Lumbar Curve

About Fascial Stretch Therapy™

Stretch-to-Win® is releasing a new book on manual assisted-stretching, which will soon be available on Amazon for pre-order, details here.

To find out more about FST™ you can visit: https://www.stretchtowin.com/workshops

- Kevin Kula, “The Flexibility Coach” – Creator of FlexibilityRx™

'Stretch of the Week' #29: Joint-Capsule (Hip) Full

Improving Hip Mobility for the Squat: Improving hip mobility for the squat begins with joint-capsule range of motion.  As Chris Frederick points out, “When full ROM in a joint is inhibited, then ROM in the muscle is also restricted, because muscles attach to bones and bones connect to other bones by way of joints.”  All of the joint-capsule stretches can be used before, between, and after stretches to free up the joint-capsule.

This sequence includes the stretches for internal and external hip rotation, a hip-opener, and the third position from the hip traction series.

Internal-Hip-Rotation:This active movement of taking the hips side-to-side can be used as a way to assess internal hip rotation.  When dropping the legs to the left, as the right knee moves towards the floor, the right hip is taken into internal rotation.  The knee easily touching the floor indicates full range of motion.  Assess both sides and focus more on the restricted side. 

External-Hip-Rotation: This subtle stretch will be felt in the outer hip as you press your hips out and to the side.  The leg of the hip being stretched is bent (flexed and externally rotated), blocked by the back knee of the other leg.  This is more of an active movement, than a held stretch, as you will scour the outer hip to explore what angle targets the joint-capsule the best.  Use this exercise along with the glute stretch.

Hip-Opener: This stretch targets the outer hip and joint capsule.  Keeping your knees together and hands wide for support you will rock your hips side to side.  When rocking to the right, the left knee will raise up off the floor as you progress the stretch closer to the floor.  After the initial stretch take the hips forward slightly, before rocking to the side, for a different angle of stretch.

Hip Traction: The pictured stretch is the third position from the hip traction series.  This position allows for the greatest traction.  As you lean forward to tension the band the leg will be pulled away from the hip, creating a subtle traction sensation in the hip.  Synchronize your breathing with your movement, exhaling in to the stretch and inhaling while rocking back out of the stretch.  When tractioning the joint-capsule, use five-second holds and find the best angle for the stretch by subtlely rotating the leg in and out.

- Kevin Kula, “The Flexibility Coach” – Creator of FlexibilityRx™ 

'Stretch of the Week' #29: Core-Four Lower

This sequence releases the core-musculature around the hips; which includes the gluteals, QL (low-back), deep hip-flexor (psoas), and lats. 

The Core-Four is the starting point and foundation for increasing both lower and upper body flexibility due to this muscle groups’ affect on all movement from core to extremity.

Stretching from Core-to-Extremity: Chris Frederick’s explains, “All movement is generated from the ‘punctum fixum’ or fixed point of the core.  Restrictions in fascia and the muscles of the pelvic, hip, and lumbar complex can negatively impact all primary movement patterns.”

Releasing this group of muscles (that can pull the hips and spine out of alignment), enhances the core’s ability to provide a stable base for movement.  This will enhance your workouts, chiropractic adjustments, and ability to stretch more effectively on your own.

Glutes & External Rotators: Ida Rolf, founder of Structural Integration, calls the hip “the joint that determines symmetry,” referring to the pelvis also as the “keystone of human architecture”.  Knee and low-back problems often are symptoms of hip dysfunction.  Proper hip alignment is largely dependent on the glutes/external-rotators, hip-flexors, and adductors.

The hamstrings are often the first area targeted to increase flexibility, but as Tom Myers explains, “Postural patterns are held in the deeper single-joint muscles (locals), and not so much in the multi-joint muscles (expresses). Expresses (hamstrings) coordinate motion and make acceleration of complex actions smooth and even.” 

Corrective strategies should focus on releasing and/or strengthening the muscles closest to the hip like the gluteals and external-rotators, which are responsible for pelvic alignment.  By restoring pelvic alignment – seemingly ‘tight’ muscle groups like the hamstrings will be under less strain and function better.

Hip-Flexor (Psoas): Chris Frederick explains, “It is well known that tight hip flexors will neurologically weaken your glutes, which makes your back and hamstrings work harder and raises risk for injury during squats and overhead lifts.

Quadratum Lumborum: QL (Quadratus Lumborum) spans from the top of the hips to the ribcage and lumbar spine – connecting the hips to the torso.  A hypertonic QL is a common cause of low-back pain.  QL works with the opposite glute to stabilize the hips, and is often hypertonic when the adductors on the opposite glute side are tight.  Right knee pain for example, may require strengthening the right glute, stretching and strengthening the left QL (side plank), and stretching of the right adductor.

Lattissimus Dorsi (Lats): Lat is the broadest muscle of the back and influence both arm position and low-back/hip position.  While the lats can be stretched from the “Mission-Control” position for the Core-Four, a lat band stretch variation is provided below. Tight lats can limit shoulder flexion, restricting your ability to press and overhead squat comfortably.  Tight lats can also contribute to anterior pelvic tilt and hyper-extension of the low-back. 

The lats are often the connection between lower and upper body dysfunction.  The stretch below includes two positions: a forward and side lunge.  The forward lunge targets the upper portion of lat for shoulder flexibility, while the side lunge releases the fibers of the ribcage that span down to the hip.  Use both together, assessing the lower and upper portion of each arm.

Lat Band Stretch Variation

- Kevin Kula, “The Flexibility Coach” – Creator of FlexibilityRx™

Improving Ankle Dorsiflexion for the Squat

Ankle Dorsiflexion for the Squat

Improving Ankle Mobility for the Squat

The lower leg routine is a combination of five exercises to improve ankle flexibility. Ankle dorsiflexion lays the foundation for the squat.

The first five points of performance for the squat all require good range of motion at the ankle...

#1: Weight on Heels

#2: Hips below Parallel

#3: Knees-Out

#4: Upright Torso

#5: Lumbar Curve

A quick way to assess ankle range of motion is to place two change plates under your heels. Note what point (s) of performance you struggle with and see if it immediately improves with the elevated heels.

Ankle Flexibility for Squats

Ankle Plate Mobilization The ankle plate mobilization is a subtle exercise that takes the knee out over the toe while keeping the heel planted. Hold the plate over the knee to help drive weight out in front. You can rock back and forth an inch at a time while keeping the leg relaxed and heel planted. Find a comfortable position for the left leg, pointed the left foot out at a right ankle from the right foot allows for a low stance to comfortably sit in. The ankle band mobilization was covered here - a similar technique.

Ball Under Foot The tissue on the bottom of the foot (plantar fascia) often loses its pliability (plantar fascitis) and can benefit from pressure applied along the entire bottom of the foot. The ball should remain in contact with the ground as the foot softens and slowly kneads the ball.

Side of Leg (Fibularis Longus) This pin and stretch technique frees the connective tissue on either side of the muscle of the lower leg. Fibularis longus is often tense and has a ropy feel as you strum your finger across. The goal is not to 'relax' the muscle but to pin the muscle down and free the motion of the ankle. Tight fibularii (peroneals) can restrict ankle mobility.

Calf Stretch This stretch address both the single joint and multi-joint calf muscles (soleus and gastronemius). The front leg remains bent (to target soleus), while the back leg is straight to target gastroc.

Front of Shin (Tibialis Anterior) While attention is often given to the ankle and stretching the calf muscles, the very thick muscle on the front of the shin often becomes adhered to the layer below. This pin and stretch technique releases the deep fascia, freeing up the motion of the ankle.

This sequence takes a few minutes and can make a dramatic change in your form especially by

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach" - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

Shoulder Flexibility for Overhead Lifts (Shoulder Traction Series)

Shoulder Flexibility

Improving Shoulder Flexibility

This traction sequence for the shoulder will help improve shoulder mobility. The three positions used target the glenohumeral joint at different angles. Traction decompresses the joint-capsule which itself is often adhered restricting range of motion. While the goal here is to isolate the shoulder joint as much as possible, a subtle stretch is also applied to the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade. Rotate the arm in and out to find the 'sweet-spot' - the stuck spot in the shoulder joint.

Traction Down The first position applies band traction to the shoulder straight down at a neutral position. By stepping on the band a downward pull on the shoulder joint is applied. This position also applies a subtle stretch to levator scapula by depressing the shoulder blade away from the neck.

Traction Front The second position applies traction at a front angle, also adducting the scapula away from the spine. This applies a subtle stretch to the rhomboids in back - between the scapula and the spine.

Traction Side The third position applies traction at a side angle (top photo) taking the arm out to the side.

Muscle Activation Sequence All three positions allow for activation of the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade, the activation consists of a stretching technique called PNF. PNF involves a 3-5 second contraction followed by a relaxation. The stretch is deepened on the relaxation slightly. Activating the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade along with a gentle traction is a great way to prepare the shoulders pre-workout.

This is a great sequence to improve shoulder flexibility for overhead lifts like the overhead squat and snatch.

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach" - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

Kolar Wall Bug for Core Stability

Kolar Wall Bug

Kolar Wall Bug

The Kolar Wall Bug is a breathing and core stabilization exercise that is great pre-workout for abdominal activation. Athletes that over-extend their low-back during squats and deadlifts can prevent lumbar hyperextension by learning to breathe effectively and integrate breathing with core stabilization. Proper breathing is the key to core stabilization.  Breathing affects low-back stabilization, thoracic flexibility, scapular stability, and shoulder internal/external rotation.

Dysfunctional Breathing Reduces the amount of weight you can squat or deadlift Limits thoracic flexibility needed for the front rack position Destabilizes the scapula restricting shoulder flexion Impairs shoulder rotation needed for the snatch and overhead squat

Diaphragm Function On the inhale the diaphragm contracts pushing down into the abdomen and out into the lower ribcage. This contraction creates an eccentric contraction of the abdominal wall and is countered by  resistance from the pelvic floor below and the spinal extensors in back. When the diaphragm properly contracts the resistance from the abdominals, pelvic floor, and lumbar extensors creates proper intra-abdominal pressure and fully stabilizes the spine.

D

Many athletes have dysfunctional breathing patterns - including neck and chest breathing. When the diaphragm doesn't fully descend and expand laterally into the sides of the ribs the muscles that oppose the diaphragm are not engaged properly to create intra-abdominal pressure. Belly breathing that lacks a lateral expansion of the ribcage is also dysfunction - as the diaphragm needs to expand the abdomen in front and into the sides. This proper diaphragm contraction and intra-abdominal pressure is what stabilizes the lower lumbar spine (L4/5) where loading is most prominent during squats and deadllifts.

"When all muscles at a joint stiffen together a “super stiffness” phenomenon generally occurs. The total stiffness at a joint suddenly becomes more than the sum of individual muscle stiffnesses. Consider the abdominal wall in creating “core stability”. Rectus abdominis, external and internal oblique and transverse abdominis appear to bind together when all are active to create a super stiffness higher than the sum of each individual muscle." - Stuart McGill

Dual Functions of the Diaphragm The diaphragm has two roles - breathing and core stabilization. During low level activities like walking the diaphragm is used primarily for breathing. At the other end of the spectrum, holding one's breathe during a one rep max effort, is utilizing the diaphragm strictly for stabilization. Many exercises in the gym recruit the diaphragm for both breathing and stabilization simultaneously.  Hans Lindgren (DNS practitioner) explains in this great blog, that the diaphragm functions like a dial - athletes can tune it's amount of effort for each responsibility.

DiaphragmControlSwitch

"Controlling the diaphragm’s dual functions and adjusting its activity levels accurately requires practice." - Hans Lindgren

The Kolar Wall Bug allows an athlete to practice diaphragmatic breathing with a low-level stabilization change. Pushing into the wall makes it easier to fix the ribcage down into a good position, flattening the back against the floor, as the abdominals control the hips and low-back during the leg movement.

Heavier Squats and Deadlifts The wall bug can be used to activate the abdominals to decrease anterior pelvic tilt and prevent lumbar hyperextension - setting up better positions for lifts like squats and deadlifts.

Thoracic Extension By improving pelvic tilt, core stability, and spinal alignment athletes will find it easier to maintain extension through the thoracic spine, which is needed for scapular stability.

Scapular Stability A proper diaphragm contraction - lateral expansion into the ribcage, creates a 'fixed point' on the ribs for serratus anterior to support the scapula. Improving the alignment of the shoulder blade, internal and external rotation also improves - for a better front-rack position and bar path in overhead lifts.

The Deep Front Line The deep hip flexor (psoas) is part of  what Tom Myers calls the, "Deep Front Line". Looking at the fascial anatomy of this line of connective tissue it is evident that the psoas and diaphragm are closely connected via the connective tissue. What this means is that a tight psoas not only contributes to poor pelvic and low-back alignment, but directly restricts diaphragm function. Use the wall bug with this hip-flexor stretch pre-workout.

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach" - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

Preventing Knee Pain During Squats (Lateral Stability Sequence)

Knee Pain During Squats

Eliminate Knee Pain During Squats

Knee and/or low-back pain are often due to poor lateral stability. Stability, as defined by Charlie Weingroff is, "Control in the presence of change." Knees collapsing in during single leg exercises like pistol squats, running, or lunging may be a sign of poor lateral stability. Stability at the knee is provided by adequate strength of the muscles of the hip like the glutes and external hip rotators. Knee pain, tendonitis, and chronic tightness in the iliotibial (IT) band are generally symptoms of a movement dysfunction. The repetitive strain of poor movement mechanics leads to tissue inflammation, pain, and adhesions in the connective tissue of the hip and IT-band.

Movement in the Sagittal Plane Lateral stability comes into play during sagittal plane movements like running that are in a forward direction. The forward movement of running for example is supported by the structures on the sides of the body that are meant to resist or control lateral motion of the knees, hips, and low-back. Knees collapsing inward, hips shifting to one side, and the low-back being unable to resist lateral flexion (side-bending) are all problems of lateral stability. Lateral stability is also called frontal plane stability - the frontal plane represents the sides of the body. Lateral or frontal plane stability is required to support movements like lunging that occur in the sagittal plane (forward or back).

Poor Lateral Stability & Hip Tightness Limited hip internal rotation is often the result of poor lateral stability. In other words, the hips are tight due to lack of core stability. Flexibility and stability compliment one another - for one joint to be mobile, another joint needs to be stable. When stability is lost at one joint, another joint loses it flexibility - in compensation to create stability elsewhere. Dean Somerset explains in this great blog that: Limited hip internal rotation correlates to poor lateral stability Limited hip external rotation correlates to poor anterior core stability

This means that a side-plank (lateral stability) can help improve hip internal rotation and that a front-plank (anterior core stability) can improve hip external rotation.

The Lateral Subsystem Two important muscles involved in lateral stability are glute medius and quadratus lumborum (QL) of the low-back. During any single leg stance (where weight is transferred to the right leg for example) - the right glute works with the QL on the opposite side to provide stability. During single leg stance the glute medius is responsible for keeping the hips level. A weak or inhibited right glute medius would result in the left hip dropping - the hips tilting to the left.

In the illustration below you can also see a right side bend of the lumbar spine accompanying the hip drop. QL spans from the top of the hips to the lumbar spine and lower ribs - resisting this lateral flexion of the spine.

trendelenburg_test

In this example, the left QL and right glute medius, along with the right adductor all work together to provide stability. This referred to as the lateral subsystem (LSS) - QL, glute medius, and the adductors.

LSS

During running or lunging inhibition in glute medius is also a factor in knee valgus - the knee collapsing inward. The image below also shows foot pronation - a collapse of the medial arch. Ankle flexibility is outside the scope of this article, but as I mentioned here, ankle dorsiflexion is required for a good knee position. Interesting to note, both QL and glute dysfunction are correlated with ankle sprains. Lack of ankle flexibility impairs the functioning of this system and vice versa.

KneeValgus

Lateral-Stability Sequence The lateral stability sequence strengthens QL, the single-leg RDL trains the glutes, while the kettlebell carry integrates QL with contralateral glute function. While the lateral subsystem is not in play as a integrated system during a regular squat, optimizing glute, QL, and adductor function lays a solid foundation for a strong squat. Training muscles as stabilizers during single-leg movements and during core stability exercises transfers well to all of your movements in the gym.

Side Plank The side plank strengthens QL of the low-back. Athletes should be able to work up to roughly a minute hold per side of the side-plank. The important point in low-back pain is the difference in strength (fatigue resistance) of QL per side. A 5% difference in fatigue resistance per side in the side plank is correlated with low-back pain. This means that while QL may be weak on both sides, identifying an asymmetry is the most important point to correct imbalances. Strengthen the weak side and then focus on holding the side-plank for longer durations or for increased repetitions.

Time your ability to hold a side plank on each side and note the difference in fatigue resistance.

*Note that the top leg can be placed in front of the bottom leg on the floor for the side plank. Also, athletes that are unable to hold a side plank should begin with the bottom knee on the floor (knee bent to 90 degrees). The top leg can be placed out in front like the side plank, but the bent bottom leg (knee on floor) allows for an easier progression.

Single Leg RDL (Variation) The single leg RDL is one of the best overall exercises for general fitness - a great exercise to incorporate into a warmup. The single leg RDL is a hip dominant single leg exercise that trains the glutes and hip rotators to function as stabilizers of the hip and knee. This is important because many exercises train the glutes and rotators as movers, neglecting their stabilizing function.

This exercise is a single leg deadlift with the stance leg bent about 20 degrees. The deadlift like the barbell good morning are different from the squat in that they are hip hinge movements. A hip hinge is a posterior weight shift of the hips with bent knees and a vertical tibia. While the squat takes the hips 'down and back', the hip hinge focuses on the posterior shift of the hips - tensioning the hamstrings and placing the weight on the heels.

The exercise pictured is a variation on the traditional single leg RDL. The kettlebell placement for the single leg RDL is normally opposite the stance leg. In this variation the kettlebell is placed on the side of the stance leg to help counter the pull of the band on the knee. Note that this variation doesn't work very well with just the band. Placing the kettlebell opposite the stance leg is also difficult with the band in the line of path of the kettlebell. You can use this exercise as is or use the traditional RDL with the kettlebell opposite the stance leg.

Tony Gentilcore breaks down the traditional single leg RDL is this great video.

Suitcase (Kettlebell Carry) The one arm kettle bell carry (suitcase carry) is a great way to strength a weak QL. Another benefit of the suitcase carry is that it activates the lateral subsystem - not only strengthening QL but strengthening the glut medius on the opposite side. This integration of QL and the contralateral glute transfers over to running and other functional activities that require a weight transfer onto one leg.

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach" - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

Exercises to Improve Rotary Stability

Rotary Stability Exercises

Improving Rotary Stability

Rotary stability is the ability to control rotational forces during activities like throwing, swinging, striking, kicking, and sprinting.  Rotary stability is needed to resist rotation through the torso during arm and leg movements. The bird-dog for example, requires stability through the pelvis, core, and shoulder girdle during hip extension and shoulder flexion. Rotary stability is what allows for proper motor control during complex movement patterns. While complex movements like the snatch require rotary stability, rotary stability is a component of basic developmental movement patterns like crawling.

Stability in Three Planes Movement takes place in three planes.  Developmentally we progress from the sagittal plane, to the frontal plane, to the transverse plane. Running and hip hinging are sagittal plane movements. Frontal plane movements are side-to-side, while transverse plane movements involve rotation. Sagittal plane movements like running require both frontal plane (lateral) stability and rotary stability. The lateral stability sequence was covered here.  Since many exercises in the gym involve movement through the sagittal plane (deadlifts, kettlebell swings) it is important to include supplemental exercises for rotary stability.

TriPlanarMovement

Gray Cook in his book “Movement” explains,

“The rotary stability test is representative of the first efficient form of locomotion for most humans, the creeping and crawling patterns in early development.  These patterns demonstrate the same reciprocal movements of the arms and legs used in climbing, walking, and running.”

Core Stability versus Core Strength Core stability is often confused with core strength. Charlie Weingroff defines stability as, “Control in the presence of change.” Core stability is different than core strength.  Muscles perform different functions – the rotator cuff not only externally rotates the shoulder – but also stabilizes the glenohumeral joint.  The hip external rotators externally rotate the hip and function as stabilizers of the pelvis. It is important to train muscles for their stabilizing function – bottoms up kettlebell carries for the rotator cuff and single leg exercises for the hip rotators – for example.

Certain muscles that have important stabilizing functions should be trained to resist and control movement so that proper motor control is present before strengthening exercises are added to a strength and conditioning program. Gray Cook stresses the point that athletes shouldn’t add strength to dysfunctional movement patterns.

Anti-movements are one way to train stability. Anti-extension, anti-lateral flexion, and anti-rotational movements like the front plank, side plank, and rotary band plank are an easy way to add stability training to a warm-up.

Low Threshold versus High Threshold Patterns Another reason that stability exercises are valuable – and different than strengthening exercises – is that they are a great way to develop low-threshold strategies (soft core function). The RKC plank for example, is a high threshold strategy that teaches the total body tension needed for movements like front squats. The bird-dog on the other hand is a way to develop a low-threshold pattern for stability and postural control. Both patterns are needed at different times – strength training often relies on high threshold patterns, while low-threshold patterns are useful to develop the stability needed for strength training.  Aaron Swanson has a great blog on low versus high threshold strategies here - his explanations are listed below.

Low-Threshold Strategy: Slow, tonic, local stabilizer, stabilizing muscle contractions that are for low-load tasks and reflexive postural control.  This is necessary for joint centration.

High-Threshold Strategy: Fast, phasic, prime mover, global mobilizer, mobilizing muscle contractions that are for high-load tasks and force production.  This is necessary for strength training.

Different Types of Rotational Movements Bret Contreras in this article on rotational training lists four categories of rotational exercises: general strength exercises, pure isometric rotary exercises, dynamic limb/core isometric rotary exercises, and rotary movement exercises. The rotary band hold being an isometric rotary exercise (anti-rotation) and the bird-dog is a dynamic limb/core isometric rotary exercise. Single leg exercises also fall into this category – as they train anti-rotation as well.

“Initially, most beginners possess the leg strength necessary to perform a Bulgarian split squat, however they often lack hip stability in the frontal (side to side) and transverse (rotary) planes. 

If the hip stabilizers are weak or don't fire in synchronicity, the prime movers (quads, glute max, hamstrings) won't receive an adequate training stimulus until the hip stabilizers (adductors, glute med and min, TFL, upper glute max, hip rotators, etc.) are sufficiently strong and coordinated.” – Bret Contreras

Exercises to Improve Rotary Stability

Bird-Dog The bird-dog is an exercise based on a crawling pattern. This quadruped pattern is utilized in both yoga and the functional movement screen. The bird-dog reveals a lot about flexibility, stability, and motor control. A step-by-step progression of the exercise can be found in this great blog by Aaron Swanson.

“The bird-dog is fantastic, because you are learning about scapulohumeral rhythm, neck packing, bracing, hip extension, lateral stability, and seeing how all these things intersect.” – Craig Liebenson

 For a postural breakdown of the exercise, check out this great video by Craig Liebenson.

Rotary Band Plank The rotary band hold is a fundamental rotary stability exercise that trains the abdominal obliques to resist rotation. This is a good way to assess fatigue resistance per side. The band used is an EliteFTS™ Pro Mini Resistance band: 41” long, 4.5mm thick, ½” wide. This band can also be used for half-kneeling face pulls, shoulder exercises, and to train the glutes.

Rotary Glute Bridge The rotary glute bridge is an exercise I discovered on this great blog by Eric Cressy. I have renamed the exercise the rotary glute bridge. Combining hip extension with a rotary stability challenge – the exercise uses the straightened leg as resistance. Practice lowering the leg lower closer to the ground over time, the intention is resisting rotation through the torso – not the leg movement.

- Kevin Kula, “The Flexibility Coach” – Creator of FlexibilityRx™

Shoulder Mobility Exercises: Scapular Wall Slides

Scapular Wall Slides

Scapular Wall Slides

The term ‘shoulder’ refers to the clavicle, shoulder blade, and arm. The gleno-humeral joint (shoulder joint) is a ball and socket joint where the head of the humerus (arm bone) articulates with the glenoid fossa of the scapula.

Scapular-Wall-Slide-Anatomy

Image modified from John Hull Grundy book, "Human Structure and Shape"

Healthy shoulder function requires a balance of scapular stability, arm flexibility, and good motor control during arm movement. Wall slides train the muscles surrounding the scapula for both dynamic and static stability – controlling the position of the scapula during arm movement.

Two important positions for athletes that lift weight overhead are upward rotation and retraction/depression.

The forearm wall slide trains dynamic scapular stability - upward rotation. The W/Y wall slide trains static scapular stability for retraction and depression.

Upward rotation is needed for movements like the shoulder press, push-press, push-jerk, and pull-up – where the arms are overhead inline with the shoulders. Retraction and depression is needed for movements like the overhead squat and snatch – where the arms are abducted (out to the sides) in a wide grip. All overhead positions require upward rotation to support shoulder flexion.

Upward Rotation Upward rotation refers to coordinated movement of the scapula and arm during shoulder flexion. This 3-to-1 ratio of arm to scapular movement is called scapulo-humeral rhythm - the scapula upwardly rotates 60-degrees during the 120-degrees of shoulder flexion. If the scapula is fixated or unable to move in coordination with the arm – shoulder flexion will be limited.

Scapular-Upward-Rotation

Poor upward rotation is the most common shoulder dysfunction – physical therapist Shirley Sahrmann refers to this pattern as, “Downward Rotation Syndrome.”

“Downward Rotation Syndrome” is an imbalance where the downward rotators (levator scapula, pec-minor, rhomboid) are tight/overactive & the upward rotators are weak/inhibited (serratus anterior, lower/upper trapezius).

Restoring upward rotation requires a combination of stretching the downward rotators, strengthening the upward rotators (scapular plank pushups, half-kneeling face pulls, overhead shrugs), and training proper shoulder motor control (wall slides).

Forearm Wall Slide Begin with your forearms in contact with the wall, shoulder width apart. The elbows are bent at ninety degrees and wrists inline with the elbows. Keeping your forearms in contact with the wall – slide your arms up and out – without shrugging the shoulders. Controlling the lower part of the shoulder blade with the lower trapezius helps prevent the shoulders from elevating during the movement.

I use the term ‘pack scapula down’ - not to describe a rigid position – but a controlled retraction of the scapula during its upward rotation (see illustration). Focusing on lower trapezius engagement as the scapula rotates out to the side creates this position of dynamic stability.

Forearm-Wall-Slides

Integrating Lower and Upper Trapezius At the top of the movement – with the arms extended, pull the arms back 2-inches retracting the shoulder blades (part B). A slight shrug while pulling the arms off the wall engages the upper trapezius for full upward rotation. Note - the shoulders remain relaxed down as the arms slide up and out (part A), before a shrug is added at the top position to pull the arms back (part B).

This motion is similar to an overhead barbell shrug where a shrug at the top of the lift is used to enhance upward rotation – as the scapula is controlled by the lower trapezius. This timing of lower and upper trapezius activation takes some practice – the initial focus should be upward rotation without elevating the shoulders (part A of the exercise). After pulling the arms back off the wall (part B) return the arms to the wall and slide them back down to the starting position – maintaining contact with the wall (part C).

Another way to get a feel for scapular upward rotation is pullups. The scapula starts in upward rotation during the hang and then returns to a neutral position (downwardly rotates) as you pull up towards the bar. The advantage of the forearm wall slide is that you start in a neutral position and move into upward rotation.

W/Y Wall Slide While the forearm wall slide trains upward rotation, the W/Y wall slide trains retraction and depression of the shoulder blade. If you move your arms from a shoulder press position out to an overhead squat position – you can feel the slight difference in position of the shoulder blade. While a shoulder press requires active scapular movement during shoulder flexion, the overhead squat and snatch require more of a fixed shoulder blade position to support the bar overhead. The W/Y wall slide trains scapular stability during active range of motion for the arms.

Scapular-Wall-Slide-2

“The key to the Wall Slide (W/Y) is that the shoulder blades remain retracted and depressed while the gleno-humeral joint attempts to move the arms overhead. They are the "air guitar" of overhead pressing. Many beginners will actually cramp in the lower trap/ rhomboid area as they attempt this exercise. The key is that the forearms must slide up in contact with the wall while the shoulder blades stay down and back.” – Mike Boyle

 Wall Squat Arm Slide The wall squat arm slide integrates anterior core stability and thoracic extension with shoulder flexion. Anterior core stability is needed to maintain neutral hips and prevent ribcage flair during overhead lifts. Over-extending the low-back and allowing the ribcage to rise during a shoulder press takes away the foundation - hip and core stability - for scapular stability.

Wall-Slide-Exercise

Anterior Core Stability – Good Ribcage Position (Neutral Lumbar/Thoracic Extension) – Stable Scapula Position = Arm Mobility

This movement also integrates upper and lower body movement: the low-back remains in contact with the wall as the hips descend into flexion and arms rise. Note your breathing as you perform a few repetitions - try to breathe into the sides of your lower ribcage.

You can revisit the Kolar Wall Bug (see here) to help improve anterior core stability, diaphragmatic breathing, and training a ribcage down position.

- Kevin Kula, "The Flexibility Coach" - Creator of FlexibilityRx™

Related Resources

Eric Cressey: Forearm Wall Slides with Band (link)

Eric Cressey: Serratus Wall Slides (link)

Aaron Swanson: The New Overhead Shoulder Position (link)

Tony Gentilcore: Exercises You Should Be Doing: Forearm Wall Slides (link)

Craig Liebenson: A Key Link in the Locomotor System: The Upper-Thoracic Spine (link)

Mike Robertson: Is Scapular Stability a Myth (link)

Bret Contreras: When Coaching Cues Attack: Packing the Shoulder (link)

FlexibilityRx™: Shoulder Traction Series (link)

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Humans are the only ones that land on their heels when they run.

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The 8 Principles of Your Daily Diet Checklist

Creating a healthy eating plan for whatever reason shouldn’t be too complicated or a cumbersome burden.

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