Should You Train Through Soreness?!

 

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

Whether you have been in the training game for a while, or just recently started training, it is likely that you have experienced (or will soon experience!) Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), or the soreness 24-72 hours post training.

 

 

DOMS is a natural part of training and occurs when your body has been stressed past a point of its current threshold (which is the goal of training). Training that surpasses your current threshold provides a mechanical and metabolic stress that results in a multitude of factors that have been said to cause DOMS. These include lactic acid build-up (this has actually been proven incorrect), damage to the muscle cells themselves (mirco-tears), damage to intracellular organelles and more.

What truly causes DOMS is still up for debate and is not the focus of this article.

Rather, the focus here is whether or not you should train when DOMS rears its little ugly head…and like most questions involving training, the answer is it depends.

To illustrate this, let’s go over a couple different scenarios that involve DOMS, and how to handle them.

 

Scenario 1: “I’m a little sore, but not too bad”

 

If you wake up the next day after a training session and you find yourself a little “stiff” and feel like you just have to “stretch it out” (and you can move around without any range of motion limitations) you are good to get after training once again.

 

 

While I wouldn’t suggest completing the same movement patterns and exercises, especially at the same intensity, I would not keep you from training the same muscle groups (legs, back, chest, shoulders, etc.) again if you are working them in pattern/region specific splits.

For example, if you are working on a full body routine, you could again complete another full body routine using different exercises, but still stress some of the same muscles. If you squatted the first day you could deadlift the next. If you benched the first day, perform a push up the next.

Although you will be utilizing many of the same muscle groups (legs, chest, shoulders, etc. in the above example), you are stressing a different pattern, and the soreness you experienced from day 1 is not significant enough to compromise form or exacerbate the possibility of injury (remember this is the “not too bad” soreness scenario).

I would actually suggest that training the same muscle groups in a different pattern would be beneficial as it would provide a form of active recovery, as well as enhance your proprioceptive abilities.

Promoting blood flow to the region of soreness helps to transport the necessary nutrients that will help with recovery. And if you have any difficulty feeling an exercise in the muscle groups that are supposed to be working, training with a little soreness will help you more easily target that muscle (although we should be training movements and not muscles, we also definitely want certain muscles working over others in most cases).

A little soreness should not keep you from a training session and in fact could help speed recovery as well as allow you to better feel the activation of the targeted muscles. So as long as you are ready to train again (central nervous system is not compromised, nutrition and hydration status is adequate, mental state is on point, etc.) go ahead and get after it.

 

Scenario 2: “I can’t even walk up the stairs”

 

If the day after a training session you find yourself unable to walk up or down stairs, or when you go to sit on the couch it feels like something may actually rip off the bone, you have likely stressed the tissue to a point that you do not want to again stress to any significant level.

 

 

Not only is stressing a tissue that is already compromised more likely to result in an injury, but trying to properly execute a movement that stresses said tissue is near impossible because of pain. And while pain itself is no good, it is not actually the pain I worry about, but rather the faulty movement it promotes. Faulty movement is going to improperly load a joint and the muscles that surround it, which can often times result in an overuse injury.

So if you find yourself cursing with every movement, and the tissue itself is sore to the touch, do not try to perform any form of intense activity that stresses the same tissue. That doesn’t mean you can’t train other unaffected regions/movements, but if you are training on a full body routine that may be difficult.

Instead, active recovery such as a nice walk, light conditioning session or if you can tolerate it, a much lighter resistance training session, is a better way to go. But if you know that no matter how bad you hurt, if you were to step inside the gym it is all or nothing…well, stay out of the gym!

 

To Train or Not to Train?

 

The bottom line is that if you are sore, you can still train, but you must first determine how sore you truly are and go from there.

If you fall under the “Ehh, it’s not so bad” scenario, get after your training. With that said, I’d encourage you not to stress the same movements at the same intensity. Choose different movements from the previous session and make sure the intensity is appropriate, and you will reap the additional benefits of the session (active recovery and enhanced proprioception).

On the other hand, if you find yourself needing an IV of liquid Advil just to get out bed in the morning, you will want to stay away from stressing the same tissue to any significant degree. Active recovery, foam rolling, a lighter conditioning session or a session that stresses different tissues can be completed.

 

 

And if you do decide staying away from the gym is best, don’t fret about not training that day. If you train and you stay sore for days on end, you will not only be limiting the quality of your training, but you will also be limiting your results and risking injury…which will keep you from the training game for a much longer period of time than is required to recover from some DOMS!

I hope this article helped clear up the question of whether or not you should train with soreness!

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Posture is Everything…Here is How to Correct It!

 

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

The other day I was having a conversation with an athlete.  This athlete was concerned that he was not getting the results he expected from the training, specifically regarding his posture.

He felt stronger, moved better, had more energy throughout the day and experienced a host of other positive results from training, but still walked around closely resembling one of my all-time favorite animated characters, Sid the Sloth (Yes, I am a fan of animated movies and I am not afraid to admit it!).

My first reaction was, “Great, this athlete actually cares about his posture!” Too often athletes just wanted to get after it, feel the “burn” and finish a session hunched over the trash can.

While I am all for getting after it, moving heavy stuff and ending a couple of sessions a month trying to fight back your upchuck reflex, if an athlete does not work to correct static posture, then an athlete is “starting the race behind the line.” Although I all for a challenge, if an athlete starts behind the line, my bet is they will not finish at the front of the pack (i.e. get the results they want and need).

But this athlete was working to correct his posture, and doing a damn good job at it…during training!

As we continued to talk about his concern and how he felt with the performance and understanding of his “corrective exercises” I couldn’t help but smirk as throughout the entire conversation this athlete was standing in the exact posture that we were trying to correct.

I let him finish his little rant (a rant that I was glad to hear) and then walked my way closer to him, placed him in the position/posture we wanted and asked, “How often do you stand like THIS during the day?”

“Umm…”

That’s all he had to say.

After I let him know that I had not done my job in making sure that he understood that this was what he had to do throughout the day in order for the training to “stick,” I asked him if he could try to achieve this posture throughout the day.

**A coaching/motivation side note; although I KNOW I had mentioned numerous times to him to try and be conscious of his posture, if I were to come at this athlete as if he were doing something wrong, his motivation would be shot and my position as a role model and authority would be compromised…so I took blame and responsibility.

After asking this athlete if he could be more aware and try to achieve the optimal posture more throughout the day, he replied, “Ya, I can try but it is almost impossible.”

I agreed with him that it would take a lot of effort to continuously find himself in a better posture, but I did not give in. Instead, I gave him a few tips on how to make it easier to remember.

Try the following tips to help you spend more of your day in a posture that will help lead to greater gains from training (strength, power, etc.) as well as a lower incidence of overuse injury from both training and “chilling” in a bad position.

Also, you will find yourself exuding more confidence as you walk around like you have an S on your chest rather than a shy, self-conscious school girl who wants nothing to do with anyone or anything.

Better Posture. Better Performance. Better Looks…But First…

In order to achieve a better posture, and make it stick, you must discover what your ideal posture is and how it feels. From there you must try to sustain that posture as often as possible and encourage adaptations of certain muscles to help you maintain that posture passively (meaning hypertrophy/stiffen certain muscles to help “hold” you in that posture). The passive maintenance will come from specific corrective exercises, that when performed correctly, will create the necessary changes.

Although everyone has specific needs when it comes to posture, some of the most common considerations include:

1)      Head and chin position: Many of us find ourselves with a forward head posture and jutting chin. To correct this think about “tucking your chin” or making the backside of your neck (cervical spine) “long.” Both of these cues will help you achieve a neutral cervical spine and make for a better chin position.

2)      Scapulae (shoulder blades): The majority of athletes/clients that I coach present with anteriorly tilted and depressed scapulae. For this reason, it is common that I cue the scapulae to come “up and back” which creates a proud/athletic chest.

3)      Lumbar spine (low back): Lumbar extension, or more accurately, excessive lumbar extension, is a common postural flaw. This causes unwanted compression of the spine as the “overarching” of the low back causes the vertebrae to become compressed. Cueing an athlete/client to “tuck their tale” or “bring your zipper to your ribcage” helps to reduce the excessive extension and bring the low back into a more neutral position.

While this is by no means an exhaustive, or in many cases a complete list, these 3 points are the most commonly found. Others include hip rotation issues, knee and foot positioning, etc.

One “exercise” I like to give to my athletes to help them achieve a better posture is to have them put their back against a wall with their feet 6 inches from the wall. I ask them to keep soft knees as they work to bring their low back, scapulae and head to the wall focusing on tucking the chin and keeping the neck long. I then ask them to come off of the wall while holding that position…this is a good start for an ideal posture.

Once you understand and achieve a better posture (neutral positioning), it is your job to try and keep this posture throughout the day, which is hard because it takes conscious awareness and focus. When your attention is elsewhere (work tasks, on the teacher, Facebook, etc.), posture is often the first thing to become compromised.

To help increase conscious awareness of posture, I encourage athletes to do the following.

1)      Set an alarm: Whether it is on your phone or a watch, set a timer to go off every 20-30 minutes so that when it goes off it reminds you to check posture. You can set it for a standard beep or make it so it vibrates (the phone anyway).

2)      Use sticky notes: Wherever you find yourself most of the day (in front of the computer, at a desk in school, on a beach chair in Hawaii…I’m shooting for the last option someday!) place a sticky note so you will see it often. Write anything such as “posture / proud chest / tuck tail / cut the S*&T”…whatever it is that will help remind you to check your posture.

3)      Object in your pocket: If you are on your feet and constantly moving most of the day (performance coach anyone?!), using a well-placed sticky note may be difficult. Instead, place an object in your pocket (the smaller the better) that when you touch will remind you to check your posture. Try a paper clip, rubber band, marble, etc.

4)      Enlist the help of a friend: Most of us spend much of our day around the same people every day…whether we like it or not! Take advantage of this and ask one or more of your friends/family/colleagues/teammates to remind you about your posture when they see you falling out of it…just remember, you asked them to help you so when they remind you, you cannot get annoyed or upset.

The Wrap Up    

Many athletes/clients find themselves training 2-4 times per week. While this is sufficient for many positive adaptations, when it comes to fixing posture it takes much more.

Performing corrective exercises each day will help, but if you spend 23 out of 24 hours in a posture that is creating pain, limiting performance outcomes or having people wonder how the hell you survived the Ice Age, it is going to be extremely difficult to make postural changes and have them stick.

Most of the time you just need a little reminder. Try the tips above and enjoy a body that feels better, performs better and looks a whole lot more confident and attractive.

The Best Time to Train Core

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS 

You may have heard something like this before…

“You shouldn’t train core before your main lifts because it will fatigue your system and you won’t be able to train as intensely.”

Or maybe you have been told the opposite.

“You should train core before your main lifts to activate the system and encourage more stability.”

Or maybe you’ve heard both but don’t give a damn about core training and still spend all of your time hopping from machine to machine and finishing up with 30-60 minutes of “cardio” on the treadmill or bike…if this sounds like you, you have bigger issues to address where your core training should fall in your program!

But for many of us, we have heard conflicting information as to where core training should fall within a training sess. It’s time to figure it out.

Core Training Principles

For an easy anatomical definition, we can think of the core as the musculature of, and between, the hips and ribcage (as well as other structures such as fascia, tendons, etc.).

For an easy functional anatomy definition, we can think of the core as the musculature and structures that work to stabilize the joints of, and between, the hips and ribcage and work to transmit force from the lower extremities to the upper extremities and vice versa.

For this reason you can see that training the core effectively would be to train the musculature and other structures to efficiently stabilize the joints of, and between, the hips and ribcage. This is essential so that when movement is produced, or when outside forces are being exerted upon the body, force can be transmitted with minimal loss of that force, and subsequently, with as little motion as possible about the joints.

If the joints that are supposed to be stable/centrated/stacked (in proper position) during movement and transmission of force are instead unstable/de-centrated/not stacked (out of proper alignment) then force is loss, joints are compromised and injury is much more likely to occur…all unwanted scenarios when we are trying to enhance athletic performance, stay healthy and sport body like King Leonidas (or his Queen for the ladies).

And with that in mind, below is not one, but three different times where core training can, and should be incorporated into your program to help you maximize strength, avoid injury and put a whoopin’ on some Persian punks (I’m a big fan of 300 if you couldn’t tell).

Where Core Training Should be in Your Program

1)      Activation (pre dynamic warm up)

In order to effectively stabilize the trunk, the core musculature has to work in unison with appropriate timing. By activating the core in an efficient pattern with exercises such as supine leg marches, quadruped reaches (birddog) and back to wall overhead reaches, you are encouraging the core to fire/work in an efficient and proper manner.

The goal with each of these exercises is to keep the lower back from moving (no arch or rotation) and the ribcage from “flaring” from a neutral position as the arms and/or legs move.

2)      Your “1a” Exercises

 In my programming I use my “1a” exercises (or 2a, 3a, etc.) to get my athletes ready for their “1b” exercises, and this usually includes a core component. During these exercises I do not want to fatigue the athlete’s core to a point that it will negatively affect the subsequent exercise, but instead I want the core to “activate” in a more specific pattern.

For example, if I want my athlete to crush a Reverse Lunge as their “1b” exercise, I will likely have them complete a “1a” exercise from a static lunge (split stance) or half kneeling position where they are focusing on perfect form while trying to prevent motion at the trunk.

A Split Stance Medicine Ball Chop works well to engage the core and pattern the lunge before trying to crush some weight on a Reverse Lunge, for example. Other examples would include a plank variation before a bilateral squat or an overhead anti-extension (such as an overhead medicine ball tap, overhead RIP Trainer reach, etc.) before a deadlift.

These “1a” exercises can also be another opportunity to incorporate some of the lower level exercises from point #1 if the athlete is not yet capable of performing the higher level core exercises described.

 

3)      Post Training or Energy System Work

Once the bulk of your program is complete, you can, and in many cases should, challenge your core stability in a fatigued state. When fatigue enters the equation, appropriate activation and timing, specifically core stability, is compromised which promotes faulty movement, loss of strength / power and overall performance and injury potential.

By adding higher level core stability exercises (to YOUR capabilities of course) at the end of your training session can help to challenge and strengthen the core when it is most likely to fail. Try adding higher level plank variations such as fallouts, slideboard bodysaws or weighted plank rows (renegade rows) at the end of your session.

For more of a rotational challenge try incorporating higher level anti-rotation presses such as the anti-rotation walkout, wide stance cable chops or split stance lifts or chops.

And one of my favorite ways to challenge core stability, as well as enhance an athlete’s work capacity and conditioning, is to finish a session off with some energy system work that includes weighted carries (especially uni-lateral carries), battle rope variations and bear crawl variations.

The focus is to complete as much work as possible while maintaining a stable trunk through core stability. Try putting together a finishing circuit or some density work with one or more of these exercises.

When is the Best Time to Train Core?

As you can see there are varying degrees of core training that should be used for different purposes throughout your training session.

The goal of core training, no matter where it falls in your session, is to challenge the core to stabilize the trunk, reduce excess motion at the trunk, and transmit force effectively.

I encourage you to first activate and understand what it feels like to maintain a stable trunk, next strengthen the core in specific patterns to promote better performance of a subsequent exercise, and lastly challenge your core stability and strength when you are fatigued.

Try implementing these principles throughout your training session and enjoy a stronger and higher performing core (and yes, a more chiseled one as well).

 

 

Stop Wasting Your Time Foam Rolling!

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

Stop wasting your time foam rolling!

There, I said it!

But before you start to write me hate mail, or leave a comment below telling me how ignorant I am and threatening my life, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t foam roll (or do other “soft tissue” work).

What I am suggesting, is that many of us don’t take full advantage of foam rolling because we don’t understand exactly how or why we should foam roll, we are uninformed about how to best apply it, or we have tried it and hate doing it because it hurts, so we just don’t do it.

Properly programmed foam rolling can help decrease aches and pains, promote optimal movement patterns and enhance the overall results of a training session and program…so let’s get to it.

What is foam rolling good for and how to do it

A while back I wrote about the benefits of foam rolling and included a short video of how to foam roll.

I would recommend looking that over first, but here is a quick recap on the benefits foam rolling; The the breakdown of scar tissue and adhesions (this is more of a theory), blood flow promotion, enhanced proprioception and when performed correctly, some direct core work.

All of the benefits are great, but there is one more major benefit/concept that needs to be included.

That is, foam rolling helps to “reset” the body. Whether it is by the actual lengthening of tissues, or it is through the mechanoreceptors of the tissues and there message to the CNS, foam rolling helps to reset the body which allows for novel pathways to be established.

What this really means is that foam rolling helps to down regulate the input to certain tissues (helps relax stiff tissues) which can then allow you to better achieve proper activation and of promote better movement  (if you are on a good program and have a good coach).

A better approach to foam rolling: Don’t try and crush it all at once!

During Training

This is where many of us run into a problem.

Like most everything else in life that we think is good, we have a tendency to overdo it with foam rolling. Again, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t foam roll, and foam roll a lot, but most of us end up taking 20 minutes at the beginning of our training session to try and “crush” all of the “knots” and stiffness. It doesn’t work like that!

Oprah is a smart woman!

A better approach would be to quickly address all of the major regions of the body, spending a few extra seconds on our individual “problem” areas, and then move right into the activation and dynamic warm up of our program. This is better for two reasons.

One, we only have so much time to train and if you spend 20 minutes on the roller each session, you are sacrificing valuable time when you could be moving and getting stronger.

Two, moving quickly into the activation and dynamic warm up allows you to best utilize the “reset” that you just performed through the foam rolling.

For example, if you start by foam rolling your hip flexors and finish with your upper back 20 minutes later, when you go into your core or glute activation the transient “reset” of the hip flexors is no longer optimal. With only taking 5 minutes to complete your foam rolling, it is more likely that the “reset” is still present and this will allow you to better activate the wanted muscles and patterns.

Another approach, and a way to take this a step further especially if you have a major stiffness issues, is to incorporate foam rolling between sets of strength movements…like the filling of an oreo, foam rolling can be your sweet middle that makes the cookie better.

Sticking with the hip flexor issue, let’s say you were performing deadlifts. While you are resting between sets of deadlifts, get on the foam roller and roll out the hip flexors. This will better promote a decrease in stiffness of the hip flexors, allowing you to better utilize the core and hip musculature that is wanted during the deadlift (deep core and glutes).

And if you really want to take full advantage of the “reset” and promote better activation and patterning for your deadlift, try foam rolling the hip flexors, hitting a set of glute bridges and then crushing the deadlift.

Lastly, finishing a session with foam rolling, again especially your problem areas, allows you to again reset those areas.

Quick and often throughout the day

Other than incorporating foam rolling into your training program, another way to better take advantage of the benefits of foam rolling is to foam roll throughout the day.

I encourage all of my athletes to roll at least 1-2 times per day (on top of training) and if stiffness is a major issue, I suggest upping that to 3-4 times per day.

Again, this does not mean they should be spending 20 minutes every time they foam roll, because for one, nobody has that much time in the day. Second, I would rather them target the areas that give them the biggest problem, hit it for 30-60 seconds, and follow that up with a quick activation…foam roll the hip flexors and hit a set of glute bridges.

Even if they pick two or three areas, these short burst sequences will take no more than five minutes at a time.

So if you want to decrease aches and pains and promote better performance, I am sure that you can find a couple five minute sessions throughout the day…try it during commercials when you are watching TV, and check out my brothers little girl showing you how its done!

 

“Wow this hurts…I don’t like it and I don’t want to do this!”

This is often the first thing athletes say when they are introduced to the foam roller.

Well, actually there are a few expletives mumbled under their breath while they give me the stare of death, and that is why I quickly inform them that the more often they do it, the better it will get…I promise!

Three weeks of diligent application later, it is hard to find many of my athletes who don’t love the foam roller and are completely lost if they don’t do it…so just do it!

Roll out…better!

Try applying these methods of foam rolling into your training and reap the benefits of a more optimal application.

Remember that you don’t have to (or can you) fix your stiffness issues in one 20 minute session. It is better to hit it with short bursts throughout the day, and even better to follow that up with an activation exercise that can help cement the “reset.”

So continue to “Roll Out”  but do it with these concepts in mind and enjoy a less achy, better moving, stronger body and save yourself some time.

Minimal Effective Dose

By: Kyle Arsenault CSCS

Do you really want to train longer and harder to achieve the results you are looking for if you don’t have to?

This is a question that 95% of mankind would emphatically answer “Pffff, NO!”, and probably add in a sarcastic chuckle.

While I fall into the other 5% that love the act of getting after it, sweating a bit and feeling like I just got trampled by a heard of buffalo (I just purchased some grass fed bison so buffalo is on the mind), I realize that if we could achieve a healthy, lean and strong body by sitting around all day, most of us would.

Unfortunately for the 95%, sitting around eating “real fruit filled” poptarts watching severely unconditioned individuals getting the crap kicked out of them on latest episode of The Biggest Loser will not help you shed fat, gain muscle or look and feel better.

So if doing nothing won’t help you on your journey to “stud land” (or “studdette land” for the ladies), then training 2 hours per day, 7 days per week and eating nothing but organic free range chicken breast with steamed broccoli is the way to the godlike health and physique you want…right?

Spending more time in the gym than you do with your friends and family and eating strictly lean protein and veggies will definitely jump start the physical transformation that you are looking for, but your joints will soon begin to hate you, your friends and family will become fed up with your obsession, and life will be one dark and lonely venture.

So what is the answer?

Finding your minimal effective dose, or the least amount of effort you need to put in to reach your goals…that is what you need to determine.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t put in the work, but you should be able to work hard and still enjoy life. And the easiest way to do so is determine what the biggest barriers are that are preventing you from reaching your goals (usually concerning nutrition and physical activity), and what amount of training will provide continued progress without burnout.

To illustrate this a bit let’s take a look at a quick case study…my brother.

Over the last month my brother has been busy trying to get his ducks in a row as he is in a transition period in his life.

Because of this, he has not been able to make it to the gym as much as he would like (4-6 times per week) and has only been able to train 1 to 3 times per week. His goals include leaning out a bit and gaining some strength.

With the lack of training, you would expect that he may have ended up losing some strength and gaining a little extra thermal insulation about his midsection (yep, fat!).

So what happened?

He ended up losing 8 pounds and actually gained some strength. But just how was this possible?

My brother is a New Hampshire kid at heart, although he has spent the last 5 years in California as he completed his time serving as a United States Marine (thanks again bro!).

Do to his NH background, enjoying a cold brewsky a night (or 2 or 3) was a common practice. Add a slice or two of pizza to that and he was pretty much kissing his goals of a healthier, leaner and stronger body goodbye, even though he was putting in ample time at the gym.

And now over the last month he has eliminated the adult beverages, cut back (but not completely eliminated) the processed carbs (pizza crust, bread, pasta, etc.) and has trained intensely a couple times per week versus 5 or 6 days. He also went for a couple easy jogs and long walks in the sunny California weather, as well as performed a sprint session every now and then throughout the week…and that was it.

This shows you that by addressing the biggest factors preventing you from achieving your goals (the few bubblies and processed carbs for my bro) and determining the least amount of training that will allow you to progress your physical abilities and results (1-3 full body training sessions with some off day conditioning and sprints in my brother’s case) is all that is needed.

What is your biggest barrier to achieving your goals?

My brother’s little case study is just another good example that if you take care of your nutrition for the most part (staying consistent 90% of the time) and perform a full body training program 1-3 times per week while staying physically active, this is likely all you need to do to get closer to your ideal body.

You do not have to train hard every day and eat strict all the time, just enough of the time!

With that, the best thing you can do to is to establish your minimal effective dose…

1)      Write down a 3-5 day food log to determine your greatest need first, not EVERY need.

2)      Try 1-3 full body training days with supplemental physical activity to determine your training dose.

3)      Remember to live a little, enjoy the foods you like, train hard when you can and stay true to your goals 90% of the time.

Achieving your physical goals, doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. It just has to be enough to get you to where you want to be while allowing you have a good time doing so.

More Than Stretching

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

I hear it all the time, “I love to stretch, I am so tight and it feels so good.” While stretching usually feels good, it may not be the most efficient use of our time. In fact, it may actually be doing more harm than good if you can already scratch your head with your feet.

 

No need to stretch!!

 

But don’t worry, this is not another post bashing static stretching, as I do feel that static stretching has its place in a performance training program (covered below). But for the majority of us who are looking to rid ourselves of “tight” muscles, enhance performance and stay healthy, we may be investing too much of our training time stretching out.

The feeling of tight muscles is usually not the problem but rather the “symptom.” A majority of the time the muscles themselves are not actually tight (short), but rather, they are stiff.

This concept is referred to as relative stiffness and is by no means a new concept, but is an important one that many still do not quite understand…but we are going to fix that.

Relative Stiffness

I was first introduced to this concept through the works of Shirley Sahrman (and actually, we just returned from St. Louis where we saw Shirley and her team in action!). As Sahrman explains, a great way to think about relative stiffness is to envision two springs that are attached to one another at one end, with one spring being much thicker than the other.

 

 

If you were to pull on the springs at both ends (after attaching them) you would notice that the thicker spring doesn’t expand much, while the thinner spring expands quite easily, and to a much greater length.

These springs represent the muscles, and there stiffness, as they act upon joints. With the thicker spring being stiffer than the thinner spring, it feels tighter (but it is not necessarily short). You can imagine that the thicker spring is your “tight feeling” muscle that feels good when you stretch.

But what are you really accomplishing by simply stretching?

You are stretching out the muscle transiently, but if you do not address the imbalance of stiffness between the muscles, the stiff muscle will return to feeling tight as it “compresses back as a thick spring”. By simply stretching out a “tight” muscle you are addressing the symptom, but not the problem.

 

 

What To Do

Instead of focusing your time on stretching the stiff muscle, which only results in short term relief, you are better off decreasing the stiffness of that muscle, as well as increasing the stiffness of the less stiff muscle (make the thicker spring thinner and the thinner spring thicker).

Techniques such as foam rolling, Graston , ART, etc. are all ways you can help decrease the stiffness of muscles.

Once the stiff muscles are addressed, you can then work to increase the stiffness of the other muscles through proper activation and strengthening exercises (your goal is to eventually hypertrophy the less stiff muscles to create more stiffness).

For a clear example of how this happens, check out this video on fixing your tight hamstrings.

 

 

In the video you observed that by stiffening (turning on / activating) the core (the thinner spring) the athlete was able to decrease the stiffness of the hamstrings (thicker spring) and achieve a greater lengthening, all without stretching. This will lead to a greater feeling of decreased tightness of the hamstrings, and works the same for other examples.

You Can Still Stretch

As I stated above, I am not against static stretching. Static stretching can be performed when muscles are truly short, as a way to promote recovery after a training session (after foam rolling), and as a way to induce a calming state when trying to get to sleep.

But when it comes to addressing the tight feeling that many of us experience (common areas include the quads/hip flexors, hamstrings, calves, low back, etc.) we are more likely to achieve a lasting effect by stiffening/strengthening the synergistic/adjacent muscle groups (core, glutes, etc.).

Address the weaker muscle(s) and the stiffer muscles can “relax” and the tight sensations will subside.

 

 

While stretching may feel great, most of the time it is merely providing short term relief (unless you are in the practice of holding static stretches for up to 30 minutes to truly achieve muscle lengthening…not me!).

Stretching should be implemented for muscles that are actually short (you can have an expert help you to determine this), and is a great way to promote a state of relaxation and recovery after training/competition as well as before bed.

But when you are looking to maximize training time, enhance overall performance and achieve long term relief from “tight” muscles, we need to decrease the stiffness of the “tight” muscles and identify the weaker/less stiff muscles and strengthen them.

So instead of spending 20 minutes of your training session “stretching out,” try foam rolling the stiff (tight feeling) muscles before strengthening the weak muscles.

With addressing the stiffness imbalance, it is likely that you will that your performance will be enhanced, injury risk will be decreased and your chronically tight muscles will finally chill out a bit!

Load the Hip for Better Lower Body Training

 

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

 

If you are a performance enhancement coach, you are probably (hopefully) constantly searching for the best/right exercises to help keep your athletes and clients healthy, performing well and achieving their goals.

If you are an athlete or fitness enthusiast, you are most likely constantly searching for the best exercises to help keep you healthy, performing well and achieving your goals.

Whether you are the strength coach, the athlete/client or the fitness enthusiast, you probably read more than your fair share of blogs or magazine articles throughout the day, or at least hear about the “latest and greatest” on the news or from your friends and family.

Some of you may even spend Saturday night with a cup of tea and protein shake in hand listening to podcasts or watch continuing educational DVDs covering “the best exercises”…but then again, what kind of loser would do that?

NOT ME!!

While this is all well and good, the best exercises are hardly ever anything new!

While the fitness industry is constantly growing and evolving (which is one of the greatest characteristics of the field), if you backtrack months, years or even decades you will discover that there are relatively few new exercises.

Rather, it is the application (some good, some not so good) of certain exercises that has continued to evolve. And with this evolution, new and improved cues come to light in order to help athletes, clients and the fitness enthusiast better perform the exercise’s and better understand what they should be focusing on. With this, the goal is to enhance the results of the time and effort spent training.

With that being said, there is one concept that I have been implementing with my athletes that has allowed me to consistently improve most lower body exercises.

Whether I am working to get an athlete to squat, hinge (deadlift), lunge or step up better, the concept of “loading the hip” has drastically improved the results of the exercise.

I touched upon this briefly HERE, but wanted to further expound upon it.

Loading the Hip: The Problem

Many times athletes will focus on trying to maintain an upright torso when performing lower body movements. Whether it is because they have read certain articles, watched friends or other gym goers perform the exercises or have been instructed by a coach to “keep your chest up and ass out,” the upright torso position does not allow us to take full advantage of our hips prime drivers…the GLUTES.

A little too upright for my liking…

When too upright, we have the tendency to over extend the low back and anteriorly tilt the pelvis.  This places the glutes in a position that is disadvantageous to full AND timely contraction.

This is no good as the glutes should be doing the majority of the work for the movement. They provide high level hip stability and force transfer, as well as prevent the over use of other compensatory movement patterns (such as using the hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors or quads as primary drivers of the movement…hip extension), that often result in muscle strains, joint damage or other overuse injuries.

So with that being said, we must focus on getting the glutes to “turn on” and perform the work.

Loading the Hip: The Solution

This is where “loading the hip” comes into play. Instead of loading the quads, hamstrings, hip flexors etc. by keeping the torso upright and hip forward, focus on pushing the hips back and allowing the torso to pitch forward to an “athletic position.”

This guy has the forward pitch or “hip load” down!

This promotes more hip flexion (bringing the thigh towards the chest) which places the glutes on stretch and effectively loads the hip…think of it as your glutes being a rubberband that has been stretched and ready to fire off.

Loaded up and ready to fire

I have successfully used a few cues to help athletes accomplish this.

– “Imagine you are about to take off for a sprint” …this has been my money maker for lunges and step ups.

– “Act like you are about to jump and hold the bottom position”…another money maker when trying to allow athletes to feel a proper hip hinge (deadlift).

– “Bring your shoulders over your knees” (Squats, Deadlifts, Lunges, Step Ups).

– “Get into the best position so I can’t push you over” (Squats).

– “Push your hips back as if you were trying to touch the wall behind you” (Squats, Deadlifts).

– “Imagine a rope around your waist and I’m pulling your hips back” (Squats, Deadlifts, Lunges).

These are just a few that have worked well. No matter which cue you use, the final position is what matters.

As always, with these movements you have to be aware of spinal position. Loading the hips is great as long as the athlete/client has sufficient core control in order to maintain a neutral (“straight”) spine.

Getting the hips back and “loaded” is critical if you want to maximize your lower body exercises, stay healthy and promote greater strength gain and athleticism.

Having the hips forward and the torso upright (completely vertical to the ground) places more of the demand on the quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and low back and not only leaves you at a greater risk for overuse injury, but also prevents you from taking full advantage of your primary “powerhouse” muscles (GLUTES).

For a visual demonstration, check out the video below, then load it up and get your arse in the game (I just went Scottish on you for no good reason).

Like this post if this has helped you, share it with your friends and make sure to help others by sharing any other cues you use in the comments…which cues help you the most?

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