These "Tidbits" come directly from the Katelift Fitness Facebook page feed.
The Facebook page is intended as a source of information to users, and here is were you can find all that information in one spot.
GLUTE ACTIVATION EXERCISES:
If you're *not* feeling your glutes in a glute bridge that's a big sign that you're either (1) under-active in your booty muscles, (2) tight and over-active in your quads/hip flexors and/or low back, or (3) BOTH.
If this is the case then that means that your muscle groups are activating and firing improperly. So, while you may be moving through the correct pattern (i.e. a glute bridge, for this example) you're still doing it improperly. Aka: just because it LOOKS right doesn't mean it IS right.
So, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO ABOUT IT?
- First, try the glute bridge to see where you feel it.
- If you feel it in your quads/hip flexors, then roll and stretch those babies!
- If you feel it in your low back, still roll and stretch the quads/hip flexors! Add an additional low back stretch or two.
- Perform *BOTH* of these glute activation exercises (standing pelvic tilts -> prone leg raises) prior to performing a few sets of glute bridges.
- Go through this warmup before squats, lunges, deadlifts, and any other lower body exercise.
- Be amazed at how much better those primary movements feel after properly warming up and activating your glutes.
To make it even easier, here is exactly what that warm up should look like:
1. STANDING PELVIC TILTS x 20
2. PRONE LEG RAISES left leg x 20
3. PRONE LEG RAISES right leg x 20
4. PRONE LEG RAISES both legs x 10
5. GLUTE BRIDGES 3 sets x 12 reps
MY TWO CENTS ON WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PERSONAL TRAINER:
1. ATTENTIVENESS: Make sure your trainer pays attention to you for the duration of your session. It is, after all, time that you're paying for. When a trainer sits down and relaxes, strikes up conversation extraneous from you, or is just simply not watching you, these are all signs that your trainer is probably not paying attention. Since their supervision is what ensures your safety, it can actually be dangerous for the trainer to direct their attention elsewhere, especially when you're learning something new.
2. EDUCATION & PERSONALIZATION: Your trainer should be able to answer questions about your exercise program; "why am I doing this exercise?," "what is this good for?," "why are we doing it in this order?," "how does this get me to my goals?," etc. If they don't have an answer, they probably didn't put much thought into the WHY of your program, and at that point, is it really all that personalized?
3. SAFETY: Your trainer should never encourage you through pain. Exercise SHOULD NOT HURT. (There is a major difference between an exercise being difficult and hurting.) A good trainer will ask you what hurts/where it's coming from and then do something to address it.
4. PROPER PROGRESSION: Your trainer should provide you with exercises that are challenging but achievable. In other words, your trainer should either know what level you are at in a given progression, or they should be able to make a safe and educated guess. You should never be presented with an exercise that feels impossibly difficult. This is a sign that your trainer has progressed you too quickly and can open the door to injury.
THE VALSALVA MANEUVER
But the run-down on the research and my takeaway is this: for anyone who wants to work on strength gain, the valsalva maneuver is not only the most natural breathing pattern, but it is the most effective breathing pattern, when lifting heavy weights. It increases intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and therefore helps to stabilize the spine. It also increases peak muscle force production in knee extension [think: squatting], elbow extension [think: benching], and shoulder adduction [again: benching].
HIGH vs. LOW BAR SQUAT
Let's first understand what the squat is all about:
(1) maintaining balance and keeping the barbell aligned with the mid-foot point throughout the duration of the movement, and
(2) utilizing hip drive through the ascent.
Because of point number one -- keeping the bar aligned above mid-foot -- the angle of the back will differ greatly between a high and low bar squat. Each version requires keeping a different part of the back aligned over mid-foot; traps for high bar and the spine of the scapula for low bar. High bar (much like a front squat) will require a more upright torso, and low bar will require a more leaned forward torso -- though it should be noted that BOTH HIGH AND LOW BAR SQUATS DEMAND A NEUTRAL AND RIGID SPINE to be performed correctly.
In the picture provided you can see the stark contrast between the back angles of high and low bar squats. This back angle has a profound effect on the mechanics of the rest of the body, namely the hip and knee angles at the bottom position of the squat. With a high bar squat and a bigger (more upright) back angle you will also see a more open hip angle paired with a more closed knee angle. The opposite will be true with low bar squats; smaller back angle, more closed hip angle, and a more open knee angle.
One of the more notable differences in these two bottom positions is the length and contractile capacity (the ability to produce power) of the hamstrings. The hamstrings attach at both the hips and the knees, so in the more open hip/closed knee orientation at the bottom position of a high bar squat (or a front squat), the hamstrings are shortened. This is because their attachments at the hips and the knees are as close as they can be in the bottom position. This shortened position reduces the contractile capacity of the hamstrings and therefore limits their contribution to hip drive. (This helps explain why the front squat or high bar squat are often considered more of a quad exercise; they utilize the hamstrings less during the ascent and the quads more.)
Conversely, at the bottom of a low bar squat with a more horizontal back angle, more closed hips, and more open knee angle, the hamstrings are lengthened and have gained contractile capacity which will be contributed to the hip drive during the ascent. Because of this mechanical advantage in regards to producing hip drive out of the bottom of the squat, it can be argued that the low bar position is a more efficient version of the squat than high bar.
SQUATTING WITH CHAINS:
Why use chains? What are they good for?
Well, to answer this question, I have to first explain what a strength curve is and how it applies to the big 3 -- the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift.
A strength curve is a graph that represents the amount of force that a muscle can produce at a given joint angle. The big 3 all share what's call an ascending strength curve meaning that the muscle can produce more force as the joint extends. In other words, the lifter is the strongest as the top of the lift, and following this pattern, the lifter is the weakest at the bottom.
In a squat, this means that right out of the hole, the lifter's muscles are in a position to generate the LEAST force, but as the lifter stands up and extends the hips and knees, that force generation increases making the lifter stronger as he/she stands. (Same for bench press with the weakest point being right off the chest and strongest at the top with fully extended arms, and for the deadlift with the weakest point being off the ground -- for most -- and strongest standing at the top.)
Chains take advantage of this ascending strength curve by making the load the LIGHTEST where the lifter is weakest and HEAVIEST where the lifter is the strongest. The chains collect on the floor as you descend in your squat making them weigh less, and as you stand, as you gain the ability to generate force, the chains unravel and slowly add weight.
This allows the lifter to put more on the bar, or to rep a weight, that they normally would not be able to. For example, this video shows me squatting #180 + chains. The weight is ~190-200 lbs at the bottom, and it climbs to ~220 lbs at the top. I was able to rep this weight 4 times; something I would not currently be able to do if I was pushing 220 lbs right out of the hole.
In other words, chain training is the bomb.
A sumo deadlift demo video I did for Oatmega Bar. It details what the sumo deadlift works, how to properly set up for it, and how to complete it.
The deadlift is NOT a back exercise. The deadlift is a full-body compound lift driven by a hip hinge. What this means is that deadlifts SHOULD NOT (1) hurt your back, or (2) recruit only your back muscles, and specifically, your low back muscles.
Because it's a full-body lift, the idea is to be tense from head to toe throughout the pull to recruit as many muscle groups as possible for the lift; core should be tight, lats should be tight, chest and shoulder should be tight, etc. Because it's a compound lift (utilizes multiple joints throughout the same movement), you should not be relying solely on your torso and low back to pick up the weight. Your knees should be extending ALONG WITH your hips. And lastly, because it's a hip hinge movement (the forward<->backward movement of the hips), you should think primarily about driving your hips FORWARD versus standing up with the weight.
You know that old phrase, "lift with your legs not your back" that often applies when you're moving heavy boxes or furniture? Well, guess what... That phrase applies to the deadlift, too. It's all the same movement.
Above is a picture of my deadlift set up and pull. I'll detail each number below:
(1) the initial part of my set up where I grab the bar with my hands and breathe in
(2) the part of my set up where I load my hamstrings by dropping my hips down toward the ground just before the pull
(3) the portion of my pull just off the ground -- where my neck should be more neutral than it is -- but also where my knees AND hips are both extending, and I'm working to drive my hips forward
(4) the end of my ascent -- the "lock out" -- where my shoulders are right above my hips so as to avoid overextension of my lumbar spine
OVERACTIVE CALVES/UNDERACTIVE GLUTES:
Firstly, how can you tell if you have overactive calves? There is one stretch and one movement pattern in which I often find the calves will really stand out if they are overactive; the hamstring corner stretch and the bridge (both pictured). If you get yourself into the corner stretch position, and the main stretch you feel is in your calves, that's a good indicator of overactivity and tightness. Additionally, if when you are performing a bridge the main muscle group you feel working is the calves, that's a strong indicator of overactivity. Lastly, if your calves just FEEL tight or aggravated throughout the day, that's another solid indicator that they're working overtime.
So then, what are the implications of overactive calves? Let me first start by explaining that muscles never work in total isolation. In fact, in every movement we make there are multiple muscles/muscle groups working together to produce that specific movement. There are what are called the prime or main movers that are, as you'd expect, the primary muscle group responsible for producing a movement. There are antagonists that work opposite the prime movers to produce a movement, and there are synergists that assist the prime movers. Each movement we produce has a particular scheme of proper muscle recruitment. Here is that scheme for the glute bridge movement:
- Prime movers = gluteus maximus (main butt muscle), rectus abdominis
- Antagonists = hip flexors/quads
- Syngerists = glute medius/minimus, hamstrings, *calves*, and a few more
However, when you have a particular group of muscles that is overactive -- like the soleus and gastrocnemius, which make up our calves -- often times what happens is that THOSE muscles will become the prime movers, and the prime movers become synergists. In short, it causes the wrong muscle groups to be doing the bulk of the work. This is why if your calves are overactive you are likely to feel them in a glute bridge; they're going the glutes' work for them! This is also why overactive calves tend to come with underactive glutes; when the calves take over the work, the glutes are no longer primarily necessary for the movement pattern and therefore become improperly recruited. (NASM has a good article on this topic if you care to read it: http://blog.nasm.org/…/overactive-versus-underactive-muscl…/ . The article touches on this phenomenon of "synergistic dominance" more closely.)
So, what can you do to correct this? Because overactivity often correlates with muscle tightness, you would want to loosen and mobilize the tight/overactive calves. This can be done via (1) foam rolling, (2) static stretching, and/or (3) dynamic stretching. You'll also want to increase muscle activation in areas like the glutes so that they'll act as prime movers when they're supposed to. This can be done via (1) isolation exercises that specifically target the glutes, or (2) regressing an exercise like the bridge to its most basic form and focusing on feeling your butt perform the movement versus your calves.
Why is it important? A strong butt is a powerful tool for healthy movement and posture, and overactive calves inhibit the glutes' ability to become strong. Put those calves in their place, and build up some buns of steel.
STATIC vs. PNF STRETCHING:
Let's start with static stretching: what is it?
Static stretching is what most people probably think of when they hear the term "stretch." It's the act of intentionally elongating a muscle and holding that position for some amount of time. This is done with the goal of increasing the range of motion (ROM) at the joint that particular muscle helps manipulate.
I generally suggest 3 as being the "magic number" for stretching, meaning that, for static stretching, you'd go into your stretch and hold it 3 times. (One of the studies I'll link below suggests that "maximal muscle–tendon unit elongation occurs after approximately four stretches (repetitions).")
In the front of a workout -- when your body temperature and circulation are lower than they would be at the end of a workout -- you want to be careful not to hold your static stretches for too long. The analogy of pulling on a frozen rubber band is often used to illustrate this situation. When the muscles are "cold" in the front of a workout, I generally suggest a 5-8 count hold for the 3-4 repetitions suggested above. At the end of the workout when the muscles are "warm" and more pliable, I then suggest anywhere from 10-30 second holds for the 3-4 repetitions suggested above. (One of the studies I'll link below found that in many cases where static stretching was shown to increase joint ROM, 30 second holds were used on participants. This would suggest that it may be more beneficial to stretch AFTER a workout, because you can safely get that full 30 second stretch that is shown to increase ROM.)
And now PNF stretching; what in the world is that?
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation is a type of stretching that involves a contraction and a relaxation of the muscle(s) being stretched to induce a deeper stretch over the course of 3-4 repetitions and to increase ROM over time.
To complete a self-PNF stretch you will come into a stretch position and first just hold this position for ~10 seconds. Then, without relaxing from this position, you will contract your stretching muscle(s) against some type of resistance for ~6 seconds. After the contraction you will briefly relax the stretching muscle(s) and then sink deeper into your stretch position. Hold this new stretch position for another ~10 seconds, then complete another contraction for ~6 seconds, briefly relax, and repeat again for up to 4 repetitions.
Because this stretching technique, by definition, is much more prolonged than static stretching alone it's most safely done at the END of a workout when the muscles are warmer and more pliable. (Remember our frozen rubber band analogy here.)
Which is best?
Well, the studies I'm about to link all agree that both static stretching and PNF stretching both increase joint ROM over time, and the studies that compared the strategies agree that neither increased ROM significantly more than the other. So, at this point, it'll come down to personal preference. Both stretching techniques have been shown to provide results, and neither presents as being better than the other.
- PNF stretching only: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.651.4322&rep=rep1&type=pdf
- PNF and static stretching (references and links multiple studies at the end): https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Fatih_Kaya5/publication/23715978_Investigation_into_the_long-term_effects_of_static_and_PNF_stretching_exercises_on_range_of_motion_and_jump_performance/links/551099e90cf2a8dd79be7217.pdf
- PNF and static stretching: http://www.physicaltherapyinsport.com/article/S1466-853X(01)90076-8/abstract?cc=y=
Do you foam roll? If you do, are you doing it CORRECTLY? Unfortunately, chances are slim that you are unitizing this self-deep-tissue massage technique appropriately. Let's see...
Firstly, what IS foam rolling? As mentioned above, it's basically giving yourself a deep-tissue massage (when done correctly). The more technical term is self-myofascial release. The idea is to spend time under tension on areas of your body that are particularly "tight" or aggravated in order to loosen up and restore range of motion in those places. (For a visual, it's almost like rolling out the chunks in dough with a rolling pin. Almost.)
But the part that many people miss is TIME UNDER TENSION. The idea is not to actually roll continuously up and down the foam roller, but rather to try and find those aggravated areas, and then SIT on them for a recommended time of 30 seconds. That means being STILL, not rolling back and forth, on top of the roller.
For this reason, I often call foam rolling a "seek and destroy" mission. You are aiming to "seek" out the more aggravated or sensitive areas of your body. Then, once you find them, you are aiming to "destroy" them, or otherwise apply tension to them, by staying still on top of them. In other words, roll sloowwwwlyyy until you find where it's the most sensitive and least comfortable, and then STAY THERE for a recommended 30 seconds before moving onto the next uncomfortable spot.
It sounds quite pleasant, hmm?
Furthermore, when you are in the "destroy" phase, it's important to try and relax on top of the foam roller; especially the specific muscle that you are sitting on. Let's go back to our visual of the chunky dough... It's a lot easier to smooth those chunks when the dough is loose and pliable versus if it has just come out of the freezer and is cold and tense.
So, BE STILL AND RELAX on top of your foam roller; give the actual rolling a break!
BENCH PRESS ARCH:
Let's talk BENCH PRESS ARCH; the ever-controversial.
The first question to address is: does everyone who does bench press need to practice with an arch, and the answer is yes... But with a clarification. There are two, what I'd call, 'classifications' of arching: (1) scapular retraction, and (2) overarching.
Scapular retraction is simply to retract the scapula, or in other words, squeeze the shoulder blades IN towards the spine and DOWN towards the pelvis. What this will do is (1) activate the lats and tighten the upper/mid back for the duration of the lift, (2) pick the chest up slightly off the bench, (3) help preserve the natural curve in the lumbar [low back] spine, and (4) put the shoulder joint at an advantageous angle for the lift so as to avoid excessive wear and tear.
Scapular retraction is what everyone who does bench press is hopefully practicing. Without it you face (1) lower force production potential without the activation and tightness of the mid/upper back, (2) potentially compressed lumbar spine and higher risk for injury, and (3) grinding on the shoulder joint beyond a certain angle and higher risk for injury.
In my bench press I go beyond just scapular retraction. (See image above.) Why? Well, the higher my chest is lifted off the bench, the less range of motion my bench press will require, therefore allowing me to lift more than I'd be able to without that arch.
So, now we've come to the overarch, which is generally made use of by strength athletes for the reason given above; it allows you to lift more. Does every gym-goer and bench-presser need to utilize an overarch? Absolutely not. But will it hurt you do to so? Probably not.
And this brings me to another comment I see in regards to arching: "you're gonna hurt your back benching like that." This comment is, I'm assuming, most directly aimed at the low back.
So let me just address a couple things here: shear (side to side) and compressive (up and down) forces are what put the spine at risk for injury. When stabilized on a bench -- and with the load above the chest -- so long as your hips REMAIN stabilized on the bench, there is neither excessive shear or compression applied to the spine, therefore no increased risk of injury.
And lastly, I've seen some people intentionally flatten out their low back when laying on a bench which actually facilitates compression! Don't do that! There is a natural curve in our lumbar spines -- most of us anyhow -- for a reason; our back is most protected from injury in that position. Intentionally getting rid of that curve puts the low back in a compressed position and actually increases the risk for injury.
So, let's have the OMG THAT BENCH ARCH IS GUNNA KILL U brigade come to a halt now, please. ✋ (...this was a long one, thanks for reading it all if you did!)
THE LOW ROW:
This move can be done on a cable machine (as I'm doing in this picture), with exercise bands, on a TRX, or with no resistance at all. The most common way I've seen it in the gym is as a "seated low row" on a cable machine.
This move is all about intentional scapular retraction, and it's the one piece most people seem to leave out. Scapular retraction is the motion of squeezing your shoulder blades together toward your spine. So, when completing a low row, you want to make sure you begin with (1) upright posture; this means shoulders should be pulled down and back to avoid shrugging. From there, you will pull your resistance towards your body aiming to (2) bring your hands to the outside of your chest. In doing so, you want to make sure that you're DRIVING this move with your shoulders. In other words, you want to (3) squeeze your shoulder blades together, and imagine you're trying to touch your elbows together behind you. This visual will really help facilitate scapular retraction.
My favorite cues to use with clients on this exercise are, "shoulders down, and "elbows tight [to your body]"! (The arrows in the picture both demonstrate these specific cues.)
This exercise is a great back strengthening exercise when done at a higher level of intensity, and at a more modest level, this exercise can be really great for restoring scapular range of motion. I've used this move to revitalize injured rotator cuffs and frozen shoulders, and I've also used it to help build size and strength of the mid/upper back. But, no matter what you're using it for, in order to get the most out of the move you have to employ that shoulder blade squeeze.
It's very possible -- and this is what I often see when clients first attempt the low row -- to complete this move using arm strength alone and to totally leave out the emphasis on scapular motion. So, let those blades SQUEEEEEEZE together, and best of luck with your rows!