Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Single Leg RDL

The Single Leg RDL – Romanian Deadlift – is one of the most important corrective exercises you can do to help self-identify and correct muscle imbalances that are the most common cause of movement dysfunction and injury.

Like a bilateral RDL the Single Leg RDL is hip hinge exercise and the hip hinge is one of the key functional exercises everyone should do along with squats, lunges, pushes, and pulls.   The best way to do this exercise is barefoot in front of a mirror where you can see your whole body throughout the entire sequence of the exercise.    Ideally you should be on a firm and level surface as well.

This exercise challenges your entire body from head to toe and particularly the feet because of the significant asymmetrical loading which challenges you to compensate and stabilize!   This is very important because when we walk and run we spend much of our time on one foot so this ability is critical for proper movement.

Start by facing the mirror standing on one foot with the other leg flexed so your thigh is parallel with the floor and knee flexed to 90 degrees with hands on your hips.     Look in the mirror and make sure your hips are perfectly level and if not fix that!   

Next, without moving the upper body extend the flexed leg down and hinge forward at the hip of the standing leg by pushing the butt back (not by bending the knees down!).    As your non-weight bearing leg passes the other leg you should try to straighten it, and ideally you hinge forward at the upper body while keeping your non-weight bearing leg and upper body in a straight line the whole time.

As you hinge try NOT to let your non-weight bearing hip drop and keep your stance foot pointing directly forward with no angle.    The stance leg should flex slightly but the knee should NOT move forward much at all – rather you should “sit” back into the hinge at the hip.

Pause when you reach at or near parallel with the floor with your upper body and swing leg then smoothly return to standing and flex the swing leg.    Slower is harder AND better and do NOT use any load at first.

Master the movement first!    10 repetitions on each side – do all 10 on each side one time per day and you will see some amazing changes in your strength, balance and athleticism! 
Here is a great single leg RDL tutorial:

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Mastering the Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebells are all the rage in fitness, and when used properly they are fantastic tool!   However not everyone needs or should do all the exercises possible with a kettlebell and like all things a mastery of the basics is the necessary foundation for advancement.     For the kettlebell that foundation is all about mastering the Kettlebell Swing.

The swing is a hip hinge movement NOT a squat!    Most people do not know the difference which is the first challenge.    The following shows an unloaded hip hinge using a dowel (can use a broomstick or anything light) to keep the spine in perfect alignment which is key!

Start by doing hip hinges holding a rod held at hips and head to groove hip hinge pattern – you should feel it in hamstrings (back of your leg) and butt! Also notice how the knees do NOT move forward over the toes showing that all the movement is occurring at the hip joint.  Do NOT progress until you are reps like this correctly and have fully grooved the movement pattern.
Next drop the rod and pick up the kettlebell holding it to your chest and repeat the hip hinge – if you feel it in your back you are doing something wrong!    See the picture below:

To insure you really feel the proper mechanics put toes/ball of foot up on thin board which forces weight into heels and repeat movement – you should really feel it now in hamstrings and glutes and be hinging NOT squatting!  This should really help to lock in the right technique.    See picture below:

Then progress to kettlebell deadlift – stand over kettlebell with bell between heels – hip hinge (do NOT squat) to grip kettlebell handle with arms straight and shoulder retracted.  Stand-up squeezing glutes and drive hips forward but do not hyperextend.   Repeat until they have this movement grooved.    See picture below:

Once you have mastered the deadlift you are ready to do swings!  Start with kettlebell on the floor in position like you are going to hike a football then  hip hinge with back flat, hips back knees NOT flexed forward with hands holding top of kettlebell handle in hook grip and head in neutral position.  Head neutral shoulder back and down with lats tight like the picture below.

“Hike” kettlebell back between legs bracing core so that kettlebell is ABOVE the knees! Should brace core as kettlebell hits bottom position and drawn in belly button slightly.

Then extend the hips – arms DO NOT lift kettlebell – they go up from the hip snap – keep shoulders down and retracted and lats tight – bell should not rise above shoulders.

Let kettlebell fall back and as it reaches the hips hinge the hips back again.

At end of swing replace bell in front of body in hike position THEN relax body and release bell – VERY important to keep hinge position and brace until bell is back in starting position.   To see a great video on this progression click here: This video made by Mike Boyle is one of the best there is to teach a kettlebell swing progression.

Once you have mastered the swing movement begin to link your breathing with the movement:  Inhale as you swing down and exhale sharply at top of swing.     Remember to brace you core as you hit the bottom of the swing.    Recommended starting weights are about 36lbs for men and 25 pounds for woman or if you have access to kettlebells marked in kilograms use 12 for woman and 16 for men.   Then slowly progress.

Once you have the movement do big sets of 20 – 40 reps and build to the point where you can complete 200 – 300 repetition in a workout 2 – 3 days per week.      When you get here you and everyone around you will start to notice a difference!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Squats and Anatomical Variation Among Individuals

Squatting is one of the fundamental movement patterns everyone should train, but it is very important to understand and consider the effect that individual variations in limb length and anatomical variances can have on exactly how each person can and should squat.

Everyone cannot and should not squat the same way!  Many trainers and individuals try to squat in “perfect” form with feet flat, no heel lift, feet pointing forward, with back upright and straight with butt to the grass but this is not only not possible for some people – it can actually get them hurt!

One of the biggest factors determining how an individual can squat is the relative length of their femur (upper leg bone) relative to their lower leg (Tibia) and upper body length.       In general, the longer the femur and the longer the torso and the shorter the Tibia the greater the person MUST lean their upper body forward in order to get thighs parallel to floor much less going below parallel.     This puts a TON of stress on the low back and in extreme examples trying to get to parallel is a BIG MISTAKE – swap for another exercise like a lunge or step up – nobody wins when you get hurt exercising!

To gain a really strong understanding of these concepts check out this fantastic article on this subject by Bret Contreras that includes video links to a short, but powerful video presentation on this subject using a stick model:  .     Once you see it you will never try to force someone into a fixed squat pattern again without really thinking it through.

In addition to limb length differences there can be dramatic differences in the shape of the acetabulum (the hip socket), the head of the femur (ball of the femur that fits into the hip socket), and the femoral neck angle.  The end result can mean very different squatting mechanics are required.   Here is a great article showing how these differences manifest themselves in squatting mechanics:

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Using Eccentric Exercise to Target Fast Twitch Muscle Fibers

As we age we lose progressively more muscle mass each year, and specifically we lose fast-twitch muscle fiber.     Once this progresses beyond a certain point people are not longer able to perform common activities of daily living like getting up and down from chairs, walking up and down stairs, etc.

Use eccentric-dominant strength training to target fast twitch fibers and build muscle. Older adults over 60 will benefit from this style of training because it allows you to counter the age-related loss of fast-twitch muscle fiber.

A study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise compared the effects of an eccentric-dominant resistance training protocol with a traditional training program in older individuals who had an average age of 68. Training was twice a week for 16 weeks, and the traditional protocol involved two sets of 10 reps at 75 percent of the 1RM using four exercise for the major muscle groups. The eccentric-enhanced training involved a unique training scheme. Participants performed three sets of 10 using a weight of 50 percent of the 1RM. They performed the concentric portion of the lift bilaterally (using both sides at the same time) and the eccentric portion unilaterally (using one arm or leg at a time), alternating between left and right limbs for each repetition and performing five eccentric contractions per limb per set.  

The eccentric-enhanced group had greater increases in strength at higher movement speeds, indicating greater fast twitch muscle development. The traditional training group gained strength as well but at slower movement speeds, which is expected because relatively heavy weights and slow speeds were used in the traditional training style. Eccentric training is excellent for this population because the increased strength at fast movement speeds and recruitment of fast-twitch muscle fibers is an advantage when rapid movements of the limbs are necessary, such as when recovering from a stumble or trip.

Additionally, eccentric training is well known for increasing hypertrophy, making it an ideal antidote for age-related muscle loss. This training style was also proven to be better for improving performance on “functional” tests that may be applicable to everyday life such as the speed at which one can walk six meters. The eccentric-enhanced group improved more than the traditional group, while a control group had a significant decline in walking speed on a six-meter walking test. This rapid decline in the control group is surprising because the population was a healthy community-dwelling group that was fairly active. Researchers suggest strength training is critical for older people because without it, there will be a rapid and pronounced functional loss.

There was also evidence of greater muscle hypertrophy in the quadriceps from eccentric-enhanced training than traditional. In fact, the vastus lateralis, one of the quad muscles increased in thickness in the eccentric group only, while the control group had a decrease in the thickness of this muscle, indicating sarcopenia at work.

Of interest, the rating of perceived exertion was lower in the eccentric training group. This is good news for older individuals, anyone who is new to exercise or bored with their workout. 

The reACT Trainer is the ideal for this purpose because it is a functional exercise that is eccentric-dominant and simultaneously improves balance, timing, coordination AND eccentric strength leading to rapid improvement in functional capability with increased fast-twitch muscle fibers.