Archive for the 'Bodyweight Training' Category

04
Sep
11

Hamstrings, Hamstrings, Hamstrings

I’d like to start this post out with a conversation I had about a week a go. The names are not important (John is a fictional character), however it is the ignorance and context of the conversation that inspired me to write this. I’ll pick up right around when it started getting interesting…

John: We are wasting “valuable” time in the gym doing these leg lifts (referring to a single leg supine bridge).

Me: The benefits of the supine bridge and strengthening our hamstrings is far more important than I think you realize.

John: Nobody cares about the back of our legs. Quad strength is where its at, not just for looks but on the field too. If you think about it, the only place you feel fatigued during sports is your quads anyway.

And that is where I stopped the conversation. It truly did not dawn on me until that conversation that a large number of people, whether it be the general population, athletes, weekend warriors, and so on, still do not understand that the hamstring muscles are more than just the posterior part of your thigh.

Knee pain…any of you ever had it? People often attribute knee pain solely to overuse, such as walking, running, jumping, or being “too” active. While overuse may be a contributing factor, I will make the argument that the majority of knee-pain will come from not training the posterior chain like it should be trained. And in particular, you guessed it, the hamstring group, composed of three important muscles: the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and the bicep femoris. The general rule of thumb is to have a 2:1 quad to hamstring strength ratio. If this were the case and people trained there lower body this way, I assure you there would be less people who suffer from knee pain/injury.

In regards to athletic performance, the hamstrings are crucial. Evidently, based on my conversation with “John”, many still have the misconception that quad strength equals speed and power. All of the “Johns” out there could not be more mistaken. The potential speed and explosiveness that every athlete strives for is not being reached because the glutes and hamstrings and not focused on nearly as much as they should be!

Think about the hamstrings from a functional anatomy perspective…

  • Origin: ischial tuberosity (posterior side of pelvis–or the bone you sit on)
  • Insertion: tibia and fibula (bones that make up your lower leg)

What all that gibberish means?

Your hamstrings are extremely important in both flexing you knee and extending your hips. The applied functional significance of this is evident in EVERY sport.

  1. Running: Two key players in optimizing your running form are your knee drive, and being able to put power to the ground. If we revisit the physiology of the hamstrings, we see what? A direct translation to running.                       Knee flexion–>knee drive            Hip extension–>driving the ground away from you.
  2. Jumping: An optimal jump is no more than squatting down and exploding into the air as quickly and forcefully as possible. Again you will see the physiology of the hamstrings translating perfectly to the jump. Knee and hip flexion–>loading phase of the jump          Hip extension–>driving the ground away from you as you explode into the air.

These concepts may seem simple and monotonous, however I feel that if people have a basic anatomical and physiological understanding of what it is that the hamstrings do, then they will be more incline to train smarter and work there posterior chain.

You have seen that training the hamstrings are important not only to enhance athleticism and power, but for preventative maintenance as well. Now that you are more educated, its time for the implementation.

  1. Work the Posterior Chain
  • The squat is perhaps the most renowned exercise known to man. But, until you have fully activated all three hamstring muscles, and in turn improved the flexibility in your hip flexors, the squat is going to continue to over-target your quads and minimize the important recruitment of the hamstring and glute muscles.
  • My suggestion is to begin with bodyweight hamstring exercises, such as the supine bridge. Laying on your back, flex your knees at a 90 degree angle. Keeping the heels of your feet in strong contact with the ground, raise your hips (push your butt up) as high as you can into the air. Perform this as an isometric hold, or with repetitions.
       2. Work Unilaterally
  • Before your can walk, you must crawl. Starting out bilaterally, or with two legged exercises, may be necessary depending on your fitness level. However, once you master your bodyweight bilaterally, moving on to single leg work will further improve your hamstring strength. The single leg supine bridge can be performed the same way as the traditional bridge, but with one leg raised in the air.
       3. Balance Strength with Suppleness
  • Muscles are meant to contract, but not to the point that they are contracted permanently. You want to equally stretch out your hamstrings as much as you strengthen them. Too much of one without the other will result in pain, injury, or sub-optimal performance in sports. Partner stretching is ideal, however stretching your hamstrings with a band can be just as effective.
Now that you know that what you are currently doing or not doing in the gym can be easily fixed or improved…what will be your next move?  Will you continue to neglect one of the most vital muscles in your body? Or will you get out of your comfort zone, train your hamstrings like they should be trained, and reap the benefits that strong and supple hamstrings can provide you?
The choice is yours…make the decision to get better today!

Andrew Simpson IYCA-YFS

368 Athletics

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28
Jul
11

Part 1: Hips

This will be a two part post, with the second coming this weekend. Both parts are essentially complements of one another, so make sure to stay tuned for part II.

To begin part one, I want to start by saying our hips…suck. I will speak for the majority of people, athletes included, when I say that our hips are weak, immobile, and underutilized. Right now, I want you take one of  your arms, and move it every way possible, up, down, side to side, across your body, around in circles, ect. (yes, this is directly relevant to this post).

Now, using your leg instead, try to perform the same exact movements as you did with your arm. Are you able to move that leg as freely as you moved your arm? Can you achieve the same range of motion? Are the same movements with your leg are intuitive to perform as they were with your arm? Most of us will answer no to all of these questions.

But why?

Well, the answer is quite simple, and does not require you to be anatomically inclined. We DO NOT use our hips the way they were designed to be used!

Our hip and shoulder complexes are the two ball and socket joints in our bodies. Just as the humerus (upper arm bone) fits into the glenoid cavity of our scapula (shoulder blade) like a ball and socket, the femur (upper leg bone) fits into the acetabulum of our pelvis the same way. Both the hip and shoulder are capable (capable does not mean regularly subjected to) of doing flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, horizontal flexion/extension, and  rotation.

However, we all noticed from the exercise earlier that it is much easier to perform these movements with our arm than with our leg.

The majority of people, at best, will move linearly a couple of hours out of the day (in other words, walking). For those of us who have desk jobs, we are worse off then the majority. The moment you sit down, your muscles and tendons begin tightening. The longer you spend time in this body-wrenching position, the suppleness of your hip joint decreases dramatically and causes extreme atrophy (weakening) of the muscles making up your hip complex. Weak muscles lead to weak bones, leading to arthritis, osteopenia, osteoporosis, and possible hip replacements down the road. If you work 40+ hours a week in an office chair, I strongly suggest you read on…

There are 17 muscles that make up the hip joint. When we move only in a linear capacity (best case scenario for many) we are using a small number of those muscles. The point I am trying to get at is that whether or not we are an avid athlete, we NEED to take time out of our lives to work all of the dormant muscles of our hips!

I have posted a few reliable sites with great exercises to get started on to begin strengthening and lengthening the muscles of your hips. I challenge each and every one of you to do these exercises on a regular basis (everyday would be ideal!) and take notice to how much better you feel doing your everyday activities. The exercises may seem strange and feel uncomfortable at first, but will also make you aware of how little attention we pay to arguably the most important part of our body!

http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/butt/exercises/fast-hips-workout/?lastPage=true&page=5

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdzSeup5lpc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fkk_L2PvcRU

Your hips want you to do these exercise movements! When you do what your body wants and is designed to do, it collaborates with your central nervous system and will reward you with making you feel better!

Train smart!

Andrew Simpson

368 Athletics

27
Jun
11

Eccentricize Your Way to New Fitness Heights

Eccentricize- probably not a physiologically correct term when referring to the contractile properties of a muscle.

This post is going to be based on a slightly more narrow topic than previous posts, but can and should be applied right away and can improve your fitness levels immediately.

The term eccentric refers to the contraction of a muscle in which the muscle itself is elongating, or lengthening. Concentric, on the other hand, is when the muscle contracts and shortens. Below are examples of each contraction during the same exercise:

  • Eccentric- the lengthening of the bicep during the downward motion of a bicep curl
  • Concentric- the shortening of the bicep during the upward motion of a bicep curl
So what’s the big deal? Who cares about what the correct terms for these contractions are? How does this help me?
There in lies the reason for this post. Recently I have heard “can’t” WAY too many times in the gym, with the most common being, “I can’t do a chin up”, or the most infamous, “I just wish I could do one chin up.” Well guess what, you CAN! Maybe not right away, but you CAN if you work at it. Let me explain…
This eccentric contraction is unbelievably important to overall strength and performance. For the purpose of this post, we will stay focused on the chin-up as the main exercise, although training any muscles eccentrically will build strength the fastest.
Some of you may have previously heard that emphasizing an eccentric contraction during your exercise will make you stronger. The reasoning for this is actually simple. Your muscles can handle greater resistance or loads of weight as the muscle gets longer.
As for our example, think about why people “can’t do a chin-up”–they are unable to pull themselves up , or perform the concentric contraction of the working muscles (shoulder extensors, scapular rotators and depressors, and elbow flexors).
Well folks, unfortunately there’s not much you can do (at that time at least) that will allow you to perform a concentric contraction your muscles are not strong enough for.
However, there is a solution for this perceived limitation…the eccentric contraction (or the downward motion of the chin up). Practice and perform the eccentric contraction of the chin up over and over again, as slow as you possibly can (lowering yourself as slow as your muscles allow), and your muscles involved will eventually become strong enough to perform the entire chin-up motion.
                                          Tip: If you do not have a partner to lift you up to the top of the chin up motion, use a bench or stool and jump up so your chin is completely above the bar, and than slowly lower yourself.
In addition to improved strength, the eccentric contraction is also important in another aspect of performance, which is deceleration. When the muscle is lengthening, it is simultaneously decelerating. In any sport, or life in general, you must be able to properly decelerate your muscles. If you do not practice eccentric contractions, then you will not be able to effectively decelerate, which will lead to both acute injuries (sprains, strains, fractures, dislocations) and chronic injuries (stress fractures, tendonitis, ect.).Being able to make quick, smooth changes in direction relates directly to deceleration, and can only be improved with practice (eccentrically contracting your muscles properly).
So, in conclusion to this post, I urge you to eccentricize your muscles. It works the same for all muscles and all contractions, not just for the chin-up. For those of you who have trouble performing a chin up (can’t, as mentioned in a previous post, is not a word used in the vocabulary of an athlete…and we are all athletes), work the eccentric contraction, and watch your strength increase dramatically.
Train with a purpose, train strong…
Andrew Simpson
368 Athletics
21
Jun
11

Unilateral Training Revealed

To start off this post, I will first answer the question that many of you are probably wondering, what the heck is unilateral training? Well first, lets look at the alternative (or complementary) form of training: training bilaterally. Bilateral training is performing exercises with both sides of your body, or two limbs, simultaneously. Examples would be a two legged squat, a two arm bench press, a two hand kettlebell swing…you get the picture, two equals bilateral.

Bilateral training is an extremely effective form of training in regards to absolute strength, as you can generally lift more weight with two arms or two legs, opposed to one. In addition, there are two main populations of people in which bilateral training is and should be the initial form of training used:

  1. Those with little experience exercising- Bilateral training allows for much more stability (about twice as much to be exact) than does unilateral training. Beginners should always start with two legged or two armed exercises until they have developed enough stability through their core.
  2. Those beginning rehab– It is imperative that this population begins rehabilitation from injury by training bilaterally, on stable surfaces, until they have strengthened the surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the affected area.
Now that bilateral training has been covered, let’s get to what this post is really about, unilateral training. It is important to understand that bilateral and unilateral training complement one another in that the combination of the two offer great benefits to your training progress (and life as you will see).
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, unilateral training is training one side, or one limb of the body by itself. Exercises such as the ONE legged squat, the ONE arm dumbbell press, or the ONE arm kettlebell swing all classify as unilateral lifts, and offer many benefits that bilateral training may not. Of course, it’s advised that you work both the left and right sides. Lets take a look at a few of these benefits…
  • Increased muscle fiber recruitment- When you train one side of the body at a time, you are guaranteeing total muscle activation on that side. Many of us are not ambidextrous, and cannot use the left side of our body as effectively as our right side, or vise versa. Bilateral training ALL of the time for EVERY exercise may mean you are using your dominant side slightly more to move a load, or compensating for the weakness in your non-dominant side. Overtime, this could create compensatory movement patterns, leading to asymmetries, which means a higher propensity to injury!
  • Increased balance- This one is simple, it is harder to balance on one foot than it is on two. Performing single leg exercises such as the squat, lunge, deadlift, ect. enhances your balance, which is crucial to sports as well as activities of daily living. When speaking of leg exercises in particular, single leg training increases gluteal and hamstring activation; two areas of the body where we can all improve in. When you have mastered your body-weight, add a load to one side of your body to continue to further improve your balance.
  • Increased stability- We are all aware of our large muscle groups: chest, legs, upper back, shoulders, ect. However, around those muscles, and deep to them, are small muscles, called stabilizers. These muscles aren’t always easy to activate with certain bilateral exercises, unless precision form and technique are used throughout the lift. Isolating a single arm or leg will activate these deep smaller muscles by incorporating balance and stabilization.
  • Translation to life and sport- Again, it is imperative that you understand the importance of bilateral training. But, whether it is walking, running, throwing a ball, shooting a ball, kicking a ball, or even brushing your hair/teeth, how many limbs are you using at a time? ONE! If you think about it, training unilaterally, one side at a time, directly translates to almost everything you do!
My advice to you, the athlete…
  1. Do not throw away your bilateral exercise, at all.
  2. Understand your current fitness level and what you can handle unilaterally.
  3. Incorporate unilateral training into your workouts- whether it’s one or two unilateral exercises mixed in, or an entire day dedicated to single arm-single leg work.
…If you never have trained unilaterally and are willing to start, I can guarantee you that you will quickly notice numerous changes in your body, as well as gains in your bilateral exercises!
Train strong…
Andrew Simpson
368 Athletics



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