mobility

Four Ways To Improve Your Hip Flexion

Decrease Lower Back Pain And Improve Your Lower Body Lifts

You’re not alone if you experience back pain when you train lower body, girl. Lower back pain is pretty much the number one reason why most people avoid heavy squats and deadlifts in the first place. And insufficient hip mobility, necessary to pull yourself to the bottom position of said exercises, is typically the culprit. 

Inadequate Hip Mobility Is Hurting You

I’m going to keep this explanation short, but it all goes back to a little idea called Joint-By-Joint Theory. One of the major conclusions of this important philosophy is that if you are lacking control in one joint, one or more of the surrounding joints are absorbing an excess of stress. And this may even lead to a waterfall of irritation and dysfunction up or down your entire body. 

Pain is a signal. In the specific case of back pain due to heavy squats, that alarm is your body’s way of letting you know that you’re trying to force the pieces - put your joints into a tough position - when they don’t quite fit. And you’re cruising for more severe injury if you keep ignoring this warning.

Work On Your Hip Flexion

So how do you put out the fire and get back to working out comfortably? Squats and deadlifts are valuable exercises in the gym for building strong legs and a nice tight booty. And they’re also important in your every day life to ensure you can bend over and tie your shoes or squat down and lift the value size bucket of cat litter.

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So, I’m giving you four exercises you can use to improve your hip flexion. That’s the action of pulling your knees to your chest with a neutral spine. You need to be able to put your hips in flexion while under load, with structural integrity, at the bottom of your squat or top of your hinge. Even in a split squat. So its’s quite imperative that you own this mobility with specific strength challenges in order to continue to make progress on your legs and lifts. 

Four Exercises To Strengthen Hip Flexors

This progression of exercises will increase in difficulty, taking your from the ground to a super tough hanging position. So be sure to spend about 3-4 weeks on each one before moving on. You can use them as a warm-up or as an accessory to your big lift. 

Band Hurdle Hold 

Place a mini band around the balls of your feet. Begin with your spine flat and your knees tucked. Exhale and reach one foot away to challenge the opposite side. Inhale and return to the starting position. 

Side Plank with hip flexion

Begin in a short side plank position from your elbow. Without any other motion, pull your knee to your chest and hold.

Banded Mountain Climbers

Set up a looped band at a fixed point. Begin with one foot in the loop from a push-up position. Maintaining neutral spine, exhale and pull the knee to your chest. Inhale and return to the starting position.

Hanging Hip Flexion 

Begin in a hollow hanging position with active shoulders. While keeping the anchor leg straight, exhale and pull the opposite knee to your chest. Inhale and return to the starting position.

Want to accelerate your progress and cement your strength? My STRONGENOUGHTORUN program was designed to help restore your hip mobility and core stability, plus burn fat, build strength, and return to running pain-free. It's on sale for $29 with code HELLO2018 for a limited time.

Side note: All bands can be found at www.performbetter.com

How To Get Strong Enough To Run

Strength Training For Running 101 - Trunk Stability

In-person and online distance coaching clients included, many of my lovelies like to use running as a means for improving fitness. It’s an economic and effective choice.. Running is what we call in the industry a “low-barrier-of-entry sport,” - i.e. something that requires small financial investment and little or no facility/equipment requirements. That sounds great, right? Fitness should be available to all.

HOWEVER, the ease with which we have access to running sometimes tricks us into believing there’s no major pre-requisites in terms of skill either. And unfortunately, that just ain’t true.

In order to withstand the repeated stress of running and reap all the potential benefits—and yes, there are many reasons to run—your body needs to be strong in all the right places. There are certain strengths REQUIRED before starting a running regimen.

Getting stronger in order to run better is an easy concept to grasp. “But, strong in what ways,” you may ask? Well, that my dear is a very good question. Cause you certainly don’t need to go wasting your time with bicep curls and tricep push-downs, as I see lots of cardio queens toiling over in the weight room.

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You need to focus on developing certain qualities that will have better impact on your readiness for running like plyometric and deceleration training. You’ll also benefit from lower body mobility and strength training.

We can get into those concepts more at a later time(shout me out @ashleighkast if you have interest), but right now we’re gonna talk about the most important quality you should work on first - the one that is going to influence your success through all the others - and that is trunk stability.

I'm going to give you one bit of magic that will help you increase your trunk stability - which by the way is important for EVERYONE, not just runners - but first, let's talk about what it is.

Ok, what is trunk stability?

Trunk stability is what you may really be imagining when you think about “core training." You know that your trunk is your body—your torso without the appendages. So trunk stability is then defined as your ability to keep your torso stable throughout any given movement—moving with integrity and honoring the way the joints work there.

Why is this so important to me? 

Well, for our purposes, we’re going to focus on the lower part of your spine. As you run, you need to be able to keep your lumbar spine and your pelvis stable…

To Improve Your Mobility

Proximal Stability Leads To Distal Mobility. What leads to what? Ok. let’s break this loaded statement down. Cause it’s actually a lot simpler than it sounds. When we say “proximal” we mean towards the midline of your body i.e. your trunk. When we say “distal” we are referring to joints further away from your midline, like in this particular case - your hips.

So what we’re saying is:

If you can create a more stabile environment throughout your trunk, you can gain better mobility through your hips without doing a single isolated stretch. 

And that increased mobility can potentially lead to a WAY more efficient stride. With a more efficient stride, you’ll be able to run faster with less effort. That sounds good, right?

To Breathe More Efficiently

Your diaphragm is primarily a respiratory muscle. Everyone knows that. However, the diaphragm also plays a significant role in your postural stability, including the lumbo-pelvic complex we’re focusing on. As you engage in more strenuous workouts, the priority of the diaphragm needs to shift to that cardio focus. But you’ll need to have enough strength in other supporting muscles like the pelvic floor and the transverse abdomens in order to continue breathing optimally as the threshold shifts. 

So what we’re saying here is:

If you can challenge your trunk stability and in turn strengthen all those muscles involved in that task, you can be more efficient with your breathing pattern as you run.

With a better breathing pattern, you can run at higher speeds and you can run for extended time. 

To Lessen Your Risk Of Injury

We mentioned this before, but you need to honor the way you were made to move and therefore respect the function of your joints. As we said, your lumbar spine and your pelvis need to be more stabile and your hips need to be more mobile. Dishonoring of that relationship will result in unnecessary stress on joints that can't handle it. And more than likely, you'll run into lower back stiffness or pain first.

So what we’re saying is:

If you can challenge your trunk stability and strengthen your joints PROPERLY, you can build the capacity in your trunk and lower body to withstand the stress of running.

With the right strength, you can ensure your benefit is higher than your cost, and get better every year without being sidelined.

How can I start working on my trunk stability?

You can start building better core strength for running right now by training in the half-kneeling position. This posture works great because it not only mirrors what happens when you run (putting one hip in flexion and one in extension), but it's also simply difficult to screw up. You'll know if you're not getting it right because you will lose your balance and fall over. That doesn't sound nice. But the results from challenging half-kneeling are VERY NICE.

Start with these three:

Half Kneeling Chop

Chop the cable down and across your body as you keep your hips unmoving.

Half Kneeling Lift

Lift the cable up and across your body as you keep hips unmoving.

Half Kneeling Belly Press

Press the cable straight in front of you while keeping hips unmoving.

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Are Your Ankles Adequate?

And What To Do If They Are NOt!

Lunges are necessary—The split stance should never be ignored. And I don't care what anybody says on that particular subject. Front squats are a great introduction to the world of barbell lifts—the one true 8-minute ab workout among the gimmicks. Sprints are theoretically the best choice for cardio—and can turn you into a fat-burning machine.

All three of these exercises have two things in common. The first is that they are all simple but excellent staples, that merit a place in any good training program. From fat-loss to core strength, they all hit the marks with multiple shots.

The second, is that they require a certain amount of mobility to be completed successfully. Lunges, front squats, and sprints all require you to have ankles that move pretty damn well.

And bad ankles affect more of the population than you might think. It’s kind of a hidden problem because tight, locked up ankles typically don’t result in pain at the site. It’s a rare occasion that any client ever comes to me actually complaining of ankle pain.

Limited ankle mobility affects other joints, and shows itself as seemingly unrelated issues. So it can be really difficult to realize unless you actually measure it.

Clients DO often complain of knee pain during lunging.They experience back pain after goblet or front squats. And I’ve seen a slew of runners with frequent ankle sprains. These are merely possible clues. But, any one of these issues could prompt an ankle investigation. 

The simplest way to know? You don’t need a kinesiology degree to dig a little deeper. You just need a dowel(could be the swiffer mop in the closet) and a ruler(your phone works fine. An iPhone6 is about 5 and a half inches long for reference).

How To Know If Your Ankles Need Work

Now, should you find that your ankle mobility is less than stellar—as you learned from the video, a distance from the wall of less than four inches, you need to work on your ankles before you jump into any of the aforementioned exercises. 

In the meantime, you can swing and snatch yourself silly. Do all of the deadlifts. And any upper body stuff is of course fair game. Simultaneously, you’ll be working towards earning your sprints and front squats back. 

Here is a quick routine to run through, with a bonus exercise at the end after you’ve been working for about two weeks(every day 2x a day or 4weeks 1x a day).

**Should you find that one ankle is tighter than the other, you'll complete 50-100% more work on the challenging side.

***THIS IS SUPER IMPORTANT! If you experience closing joint PAIN-- and that means that as you push the knee further in that ankle mobility assessment and the front side of your ankle hurts--DO NOT try this routine. DO NOT even bother reading the rest of this blog. Proceed to your nearest body work professional. This is not going to work for you and might make the situation worse. 

If everything feels good, let's get going!

(1) Foam Roll Calves

As we covered in the last blog, we don't necessarily know why it works, but foam-rolling the calves can get you a little more range of motion in a snap.

(2) Stretch Calves

Push into the wall as you drive the heel back into the floor. Make sure that foot is straight and hold for thirty seconds.

(3) Mobilize Ankle

This is my go to mobilization if I know my client is going to be working out alone. All you need is a sturdy band and an anchor to tie it to.

Post stretching and foam rolling, you should have gained more flexibility. Now move through it! 8-10 strides is perfect.

(4) Core-Activated Hurdle Hold

This one can seem kind of silly. You might even get into the hold and think, What's happening here? Where's the work?

The feedback from the cables(or a band works here too!) teaches you to push into the ground with the standing leg and elongate your body, creating space in the joints. In yoga, we call this rooting to rise.

All of our joints work better when there is adequate space to move properly. Including those pesky ankles that can get otherwise squashed in single-leg balances. LENGTHEN.

If you pay attention to this subtle activation, you'll learn to apply the concept to the next two exercises...

And maybe EVERYTHING you ever do. And then maybe EVERYTHING you do gets better as you set yourself up for increased core stability with this one simple cue. BOOM. Automatic sophistication. You can stop reading now. Ok, just kidding.

(5) Assisted Split Hold

OK, Ok I know we said lunges will cause you problems if you have tight ankles. 

But! If we dial it back down and regress our split stance to an isometric hold, and we take off some of the load by adding assistance, you should be able to find the perfect first challenge. 

Progressively load the ankle by using the straps less and less as the exercise becomes easier. Thirty seconds on a hold is great.

(6) Squat Toe-Touch*

*To be completed only after progress has been made and confirmed by reassessment. 

Not to be confused with a typical bend-patterned toe-touch. Don't worry about hinging back. I want you to drop that booty for 8 reps on this one.

I also want you to look for a lot of ankle dorsiflexion i.e. push that knee forward to challenge your new range of motion. 

And move slow! Speed makes everything harder. A four count down and a four count back up, minimizing any shift on the foot as much as possible to be successful. A loss of balance is an indicator to you that your learning speed may be slower than you think.

And finally, remember that space concept from the hurdle holds? Root to rise! 

The Program

(1) Foam Roll Calves (60sec)

(2) Stretch Calves (30sec)

(3) Band Ankle Mobilizations (x8-10 strides)

(4) Core-Activated Hurdle Hold (30-60sec)

(5) Assisted Split Hold (30sec)

*(6) Squat Toe-Touch (8 reps) After clear progress has been measured

 

Now, once you get to that magic 4-inch mark, don't just jump right back into long sprints and heavy front squats and loaded bulgarian split-squats.

Adding load and jumping ahead too quickly is a sure-fire way to negate your progress.

Start with short sprints. Begin with unloaded split-squats and lunges. Stick to easy reps on the front squats. 

The benefits don't just stop here. Your single-leg lifts should all benefit from the ankle work. And you may even find your glutes engage a little bit better as well. As your newly named glute goddess, I know a thing . 

#adequateankles #sophisticatedstrength

This Is How We Roll

The other day I was rollin’ with my homies… well ok, my girls and I were getting ready to blow off some steam and WORK out, not ROLL out. But we were rolling out our glutes before a heavy deadlifting session and ended up pre-gaming the workout with a lot more spots than originally planned. I added one little step to the first lat roll and this single cue brought the whole mobility session to the next level.

benefits of foam rolling

What was the step that pushed the night over the edge? Well, before I recount that event, I should probably bring you up to speed on what foam rolling really does for us. The story just won’t make much sense without some background leading up.

Rolling has a multitude of benefits. But you may have heard that silly rumor that foam rolling by itself is a great stand-alone program to solve your range of motion limitations. Foam rolling is great. But not alone. And not the way most people go about it.

And why it’s great? Well, it may feel like you’ve got the spins after you read some of the research. Google foam rolling and you are guaranteed to find a multitude of seemingly complete answers, hidden under mountains of big words and scientific jargon that you don’t understand. I will save you the biological sciences dictionary translations. The real secret is that these “answers” are mostly incomplete and full of speculation.

we don’t really know

Very concretely, foam rolling can, in fact, increase range of motion. That is the most important thing to note. And whether that is by hydrating the muscles(making them more pliable), decreasing pain by placebo(that’s a real consideration), decreasing pain by activating neuroreceptors(brain tricks), or actually causing some change to the muscles themselves(which is actually the least likely of all theories), IT WORKS. We just don’t really know for sure why that is exactly. 

But what we do know, is that any of these explanations would only result in a short-lived window of opportunity. Meaning that, you’d need to challenge this increased range of motion(with strength work of course!) for it to stick. Making foam rolling a solid, if not IDEAL choice for pre-warmup mobility. Like I said, not meant to be practiced alone.

And that, for most of these explanations to be true, and to maximize your efforts, you’d want to find a way to get some shearing force going while you’re foam rolling a trigger point, rock of stability, knot in the muscle, acorn you’re storing away for winter (yeah I’ve heard that one) or whatever label you use to describe that one single junky spot that seems to always get in the way of you moving more freely.

Find a Stretch

"Applying shearing force" is a fancy way of saying find yourself a way to pull apart that nasty spot while you've got it wedged between the pressure of your body weight and the foam roller. In other words, STRETCH.

This is a game-changer! We added a stretch to the lat roll and the girls found that they had way more range of motion in their shoulder warm-up exercises. Which led to a particularly awesome push-press session later in the class. Everyone felt great with the overhead challenge, which is an extremely rare and awesome occurrence these days.

Get creative here. I’m going to show you my most useful foam roll stretches. But feel free to play! There’s not really a wrong way to foam roll. 

Because the truth: we try to make our mobility sessions at sophisticatedstrength as fun and effective as possible. That’s how we roll.

Foam Roll Lats

Start on your side, rolling from back to arm pit to find a spot. Reach, roll, lift x 5.

Foam Roll Gutes

Sit on one glute and bring that leg up and over. To stretch, exhale and pull the knee into the chest x5.

Foam Roll Pecs

Keep the palm down on the rolling side. Exhale and push the opposite hand into the ground and turn away from the rolling side. Inhale back down.

Foam Roll Quads

Exhale and pull your heel to your butt x5. This can also be used for hamstrings/IT band if you roll the side of your leg. It's a particularly mean one.

Foam Roll Calves

Point and flex the ankle or move it in a circle x5.

Foam Roll Thoracic Spine

Start with the roller at the bottom of your rib cage. Inhale and reach your chest to the wall behind you. In the bottom, you can exhale and let the elbows open up. Close the elbows to pull yourself back up out of the stretch. Move the roller one inch up your spine each rep.

#thatshowweroll #sophisticatedstrength