Back pain sucks. It affects your training, your mood and most importantly your daily life. Whilst there are several causes of low back pain, some beyond the scope of this document, we can commonly say it is caused by one or several of the points below:

  • Your Lumbar spine doesn’t have the stability or strength to support the exercise you were doing.
  • You didn’t have enough strength endurance to withstand what you were repeatedly doing
  • You lack the flexibility in the surrounding areas, most importantly the hips and thoracic spine.
  • You lack the necessary core stability to resist excessive spinal movement
  • Your posture sucks
  • You were being stupid with the weights

While I can’t address you going HAM on the weights we can address the other issues and build your back from the ground up.

When we look at Gray Cooks joint-by-joint approach we can see different joints have different requirements to function correctly. The lumbar spine (lower back) is meant to be a stable joint whilst the hips and thoracic spine (upper back) are meant to be mobile joints. Based on this approach, the first thing I would advocate is to stop stretching out the lower back! The surrounding musculature is supposed to have a degree of stiffness to stabilise during movement.

We must then look at your posture to help determine a potential intolerance to either low back extension or flexion (arched back or rounded back). Some people may just live in one of these and carry it over into their training, putting the lumbar spine under constant load. One way to help determine this is do you suffer with more pain whilst sitting or standing? If it’s sitting, chances are it’s a flexion intolerance and for standing an extension intolerance. What this means is if your flexion intolerant you should be aiming to restore a more neutral/flat low back so if you can’t achieve that in the bottom of a squat or deadlift then start pulling off blocks and using box squats until optimal function is restored as you are doing more harm in the long run. If it’s extension intolerance you should be looking at owning your rib cage position and not over-arching during your squats and deadlifts. The pvc pipe is your friend and you should aim to have 3 points of contact with the pipe and only a small degree of space between the pipe and your lumbar spine.

Now that you have stopped stretching your low back and are more conscious of your overall posture in training, we can start to address your pain through breathing and alignment. We want the rib cage stacked on top of the pelvis to give us a stable structure from which to move from. If the pelvis is out of whack, this can put the whole system out of alignment and thus cause compensations. I’ve already talked about breathing here but going further, if you live in extension you should carry out your breathing drills with a bit more of a flexion bias such as:

If we are in more of a flexed posture we want to flatten that back out a bit and we can start on the ground

You can simply add these in to the start of your warm-ups for 10 good belly breaths aiming for 360-degree expansion of the mid section and followed by a full exhale whilst driving the ribs down to the pelvis.

Next we can look at mobilising the hips and thoracic spine, which are supposed to have a degree of movement. This means you need adequate flexibility in each to get into the correct positions without compensation at areas such as the lower back. We also need adequate flexibility in these two areas to build the stability we want in our low back and core. If you scored a 1 on your Deep Squat, Inline Lunge, Hurdle Step in your FMS, chances are you need to address this first. Try some of the exercises below, always re-testing to note improvement and ensuring you are on the right track.

Now we’ve worked on breathing and flexibility of the surrounding areas, we can focus on stability of the core and the low back. Remember we need stiffness in these areas to correctly utilise them in stabilising the spine during movement.

To start with you should own the basics:

Once you can manage these without low back pain/tension we can progress onto stability exercises with movement. We want to start on the ground first to give us the most support.

While they may seem simple, you should look to control these as slowly as possible whilst maintaining the posture we have already mentioned. You can also use the banded dead bug if you don’t have access to KBs.

We can then move on to the quadruped stance to challenge stability even further with the following:

Once these feel good progress onto

Again we are looking to own these with control and no tension/pain in the lower back. Once this is achieved we can progress on to the kneeling stance whether it be half kneeling or tall kneeling. With an even smaller base of support we add new stability challenges and lower body flexibility.

Hopefully at this point you should feel comfortable and see a reduction in pain/discomfort. You can then utilise some or all of these exercises as part of your warm-ups in preparation for the big lifts and to re-enforce. Just to re-iterate though, these exercises are useless if correct posture/spinal position is ignored. These exercises are about skill and control not speed and load lifted. Own each exercise before moving on.

The final piece of the puzzle is to build some posterior chain (glutes, erectos and hamstrings) strength and re-enforce core strength with more advanced exercises.

Take things slow and build quality movement before load. Get used to dialling in posture with breathing and rib control when lifting big and keep ion top of flexibility/accessory work.

This is by no means an all encompassing solution to alleviating back pain and I would always recommend consulting with a physio/chiropractor first to ensure you are safe to carry out training of this nature.

Movement of the Week

Again, looking at shoulder stability and overall shoulder girdle health we have the Half Get-up with Screwdriver.

We all know that the Turkish Get-up is a great exercise for full body stability, proprioception and strength. While we aren’t going through the full movement during this exercise, we can still elicit some of those benefits. From there we add in the screwdriver, taking the shoulder through internal and external rotation and enabling the athlete to feel a good shoulder position. 

To begin with, start the movement unloaded with a clenched fist. Really try to feel the ball of the shoulder (humeral head) sitting right into the socket (glenoid) and avoid any humeral glide. The easy way to know if you’re doing it incorrect is that you’ll feel all the tension in the front of your shoulder or bicep meaning you’re out of position. Sit the shoulder back and down to a point where it feels stable and the tension is felt around the back of the shoulder/scapula (shoulder blade) area.

Finally once you have become proficient in keeping the correct position unloaded, start to utilise some weight through bottoms-up kettlebells (video). Bottoms-up means you won’t go crazy with the weight as it will punish you for being over-eager/stupid.

As always feel free to drop me an email, or send me a video of you doing the movement to check over. info@warriorstrength.co.uk

We’ve all been there. The day after a tough session you expect to be a cripple as you get out of bed and are surprised when you don’t feel too bad. However the next day you roll out of bed and feel that your legs have been replaced by lead weights s you tentatively try to sit down on the toilet. That my friends, is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs).

 

What is it?

DOMs is a condition associated with pain or soreness around the muscles and joints. It typically peaks around 48 hours after training and can last as long as 72 hours.

What causes it?

Research is still underway as to the exact causes, but it was once thought that DOMs was caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the body. It’s now thought that DOMs is caused by micro tears in the connective tissue thus causing inflammation as part of the natural healing process and in turn soreness/pain. Training experience, age and session intensity can also have an effect on the severity of DOMs with it occurring in those new to exercise or returning from a prolonged break more frequently.

Treating DOMs

As mentioned, DOMs is a natural part of the training process to an extent. However ways to alleviate symptoms include:

  • Foam Rolling
  • Contrast Showers (bouts of cold water followed by hot water)
  • Omega 3 Supplements
  • Adequate Sleep

Unfortunately stretching hasn’t been shown to reduce or prevent DOMs so should be used for flexibility purposes as part of your normal cool down.

While you will suffer from DOMs from time to time, you shouldn’t be chasing after it. DOMs is not a precursor to a good workout or building more muscle and should start to ease off as training experience increases. The key take home message is some muscle soreness is not a bad thing, debilitating pain is. Start to learn the difference and always ask advice if unsure.

Front rack mobility, the bane of some peoples training regimen. You want to go heavy on the front squat or jerk, but you just can’t seem to get your arms into the right position or you can at the expense of some serious wrist pain.

While there are multiple factors that could contribute, the first step would be to address mobility/flexibility. Before we do that lets look at the front rack position itself for the front squat and jerk.

The front squat or the receiving position of the clean requires the bar to sit back on the finger tips and getting the triceps parallel to the floor. This allows us to create a shelf or rack to rest the bar on the shoulders and maintain as vertical torso as possible. Pictured above.

 

 

The jerk however is slightly different. Once we’ve stood the bar up from the clean we are looking at taking a firmer grasp on the bar and dropping the elbows down slightly. We want to achieve this while still supporting the bar on the shoulders.
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Give them a try with some light resistance, can you get into these positions comfortably? If you can’t, your performance and safety could be compromised, so let’s look at some fixes. Remember with any mobility, flexibility or stability exercise, you should see immediate change. Test and re-test, if no change is seen, move onto a different exercise/area.

Throacic Spine

First up we want adequate thoracic extension. This is going to allow adequate scapula movement. If we have sufficient movement of the shoulder blades it will reduce the amount of external rotation required at the shoulder. Looking at mobility first we can use the trusty foam roller.

Next we can use some dynamic stretching exercises

Next we can reinforce the new range of motion with stability to ensure we keep our new flexible upper back. Simply add some weight to the bar and carry out a series of 10 second holds with the bar in the front rack position.

Shoulders

Next up we want to address our shoulders ability to internally and externally rotate which will help the elbows stay up or allow us to spread the shoulders to keep contact with the bar. We can use a resistance band or pvc pipe for this.

Lats/Pecs

Once we’ve opened up the thoracic and shoulders we may also need to look at the lats and pecs to allow us to get into the front rack position, especially with the jerk. If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk then chances are these areas could do with some work.

Triceps

Often overlooked the triceps could also be limiting our shoulders ability to externally rotate and thus the ability to keep the elbows up in the front squat.

Finally we want to look at the wrists ability to extend and support our position.

 

While there are a lot of exercises here and a lot to work through, some simple assessments may be able to point you to the right area. To add to this, if you sit for 8 hours a day at work, then 10 mins a day on these exercises is going to struggle to make a dent in your deficits. Get up, take breaks, mobilise often and consider posture and wrist position at your desk.

Similarly, it may be that you lack the correct core stability to keep the torso upright leading to a drop in the front rack. Is your back squat considerably higher than your front squat? Have adequate mobility? Perhaps some core strengthening work could be the answer.

 

Finally, carry out some front squats and then re-test with a heel lift under each foot. Dramatic improvement? Look at some calf and ankle mobility.

To re-iterate, test and re-test, if it improves you’re on the right track. If you suffer from pain during front squats or overhead pressing then change to goblet squats or DB squats/presses until the problem is resolved, there is always a way around. Never train through pain!

If you want to address these issues or other movement problems, remember we offer movement assessments and strategies to improve movement quality even if you’re not a member. Drop an email to info@warriorstrength.co.uk

Overview

We have already covered some major movement patterns with the squat and deadlift, now it’s time to look at another. Pressing. More specifically, overhead pressing.
Pressing is great for developing huge upper body strength and is vital for most aspects of performance.

Benefits
The overhead press is great for developing the shoulders, chest and arms whilst also demanding stability from the core and lower body. Providing you have the correct mobility and no abnormal bone structures like a type III acromion (hooked bone causing impingement) then the overhead press can be a great way to develop the stabilisers of the shoulder girdle which aren’t utilised whilst bench pressing. On top of that, developing those stabilisers can actually improve your bench!

Before You Start
Overhead pressing is a very simple looking movement, however it requires a lot of mobility to execute correctly. Most notably the thoracic spine. If you have an excessively kyphotic thoracic spine or slouched shoulder position, chances are you might not be ready for overhead pressing. With today’s lifestyle of tech and prolonged sitting the chances of you having this type of posture are high.
This means that your scapulae or shoulder blades are in a poor position and in turn could lead to impingement related pain. On top of this, correct upward rotation of your traps, serratus anterior as well as strong rotator cuffs all contribute to correct overhead mechanics and shoulder health.
Do you have lower back pain while pressing overhead? Again your thoracic spine could be letting you down, providing you aren’t just being stupid with the weight on the bar. As I said, more than meets the eye with the press.
So before you start moving anything overhead, it’s worth conducting a little assessment. Try the back to wall shoulder flexion below.

You should be able to get your thumbs to the wall without the lower back or head coming off the wall. Did you pass? If you did then chances are you have good thoracic extension and can start pressing. However if you struggled, try the same movement but lying on the floor. Bend your legs so your feet are flat on the floor, get your lower back and head flush to the floor and reach overhead. If you still can’t maintain a good position, I would put overhead pressing work to one side and address mobility/stability issues as detailed later in this article.

Can We Press Yet?
If you have adequate mobility and flexibility then you are ready for the barbell overhead press. If you struggled to pass the overhead test, then it may be worth looking at variations or alternatives to build shoulder strength.
However before we look at those let’s assume you are ready for the barbell press.

SETUP:
• Foot Position – We want our feet ideally below the hips i.e. jumping stance, to give us a solid base or ‘pillar of power’ to support the load overhead.
• Grip – Grip the bar just outside shoulder width roughly 1.5” to 2” away from the shoulder.
• Rack – Elbows should remain slightly in front of the bar with forearms vertical. This position will also help engage the lats which are just as important as the shoulders.
• Tension – This is a strict press so before we lift, everything from the foot up should be engaged and tight, paying particular focus to the glutes and mid line.

EXECUTION:
• Big Breath – Once tension on the bar has been sufficiently built and the position has been set, take in a big breath and hold. Think about pushing your belly out as if to brace for a punch to the stomach.
• Press the Weight – To initiate the press, we should drive the weight through our heels and move the head back not chin up. The bar should remain over the centre of the feet and travel straight up.
• Drive Chest Forward – Once the bar passes the forehead, make a conscious effort to push the head and chest forward to assist in locking out the movement.
• Lockout – The bar should be overhead with arms fully extended and a straight line from arm to foot through the shoulder and hip.
• Push Elbows Forward – To complete the lift, the bar must be returned to the shoulders by pushing the elbows forward to keep the bar on the optimal path. Again the head moves back to accommodate the bar and end position should look the same as the start position

Variations

Sometimes just changing the grip on a movement can reduce pain or improve movement whilst working on the issue at the same time. Using a neutral grip dumbbell press may work as a good alternative to the barbell press. It is also easier going on the wrists if you suffer with the flexed wrist position of the barbell press.

If neutral grip still doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps try a single arm pressing variation, whereby again impingement can be reduced and better position can be maintained. Work your way through these progressions, starting with the half-kneeling stance to improve core stability at the same time and keep the lower back in a good position.

Finally if you cannot maintain a good overhead position with any of the above, or are still in pain try landmine press variations. They are great for building shoulder strength while minimising any chances of impingement related pain or poor overhead positioning.

Common Errors

With the press, most errors can be corrected with simple verbal cues or visual demonstrations. Refer to the video above along with the written description to ensure you are pressing correctly. However as mentioned earlier, if we lack overhead mobility and stability such as shoulder flexion, ROM and scapulae movement, no cue is going to fix that. So work on single arm pressing or landmine pressing whilst using the exercises below to assist with getting into the correct overhead position.

Start with developing your breathing patterns by checking out the article here. To expand on that article try the below stretch with diaphragmatic breathing to not only open up the lats, but open up the rib cage and thoracic spine too.

Next work on soft tissue through SMR, again checkout this article on SMR by clicking here. In the video below, pay close attention to rolling out the lats, chest and thoracic spine.

With that we want to work on mobility exercises for thoracic extension and scapular movement on the rib cage. Give the below exercises a try and re-test often using the overhead test as if you don’t see improvement, then they aren’t for you.

We also want to improve stability especially in the scapulae and rotator cuff to ensure correct overhead mechanics. Once you have done some mobility/flexibility work add in some of these exercises to re-enforce motor control and stability.

This list is by no means exhaustive, just a handful of exercises I have seen work regularly. However as I said before, if after a re-test you see no improvement, try some other exercises. You may also need to look at thoracic flexion exercises if your thoracic spine is already stuck in extension. Check out this great article detailing some flexion exercise by clicking here.

Finally, adding in pulling exercises such as the barbell bent-over row and the chin-up are great ways to re-enforce correct scapulae movement with actual strength and can also help improve that kyphotic posture we spoke of earlier.

Assistance Work

The overhead press is a stubborn movement and very hard to continually progress at the same rate as say your squat or deadlift. Assistance work can be the difference between adding an extra kilogram to the lift or being stuck at the same weight for months. Now there are notably two main areas of failure in the overhead press: struggling to even move the weight off the shoulders or struggling to finish the lockout overhead. The former would mean you want to target the shoulders and chest for assistance work and the latter targeting the triceps. So if you struggle to get the bar off your shoulders try these:

Front Raises target as the name suggests, the front of the shoulder one of the prime movers in the press.

The rear of the shoulder often gets neglected or over-looked even though it contributes to your press. Bent-over Flyes are a great way to hit those muscles.

The Push Press allows you lift more weight than your strict press, through use of assistance from the legs and hips. This can again help you get past plateaus by having more weight overhead.

For those stubborn triceps:

Skull crushers are a great way to isolate the triceps along with any other tricep extension exercise.

Dips are a great full body movement that can develop the shoulders, triceps and chest at the same time. Check out my YouTube channel for regressions and progressions on the straight bar dips in the below video.

One final note is that it may be worth investing in some fractional plates from 1/4kg to 1kg. That small jump may also help you get through a plateau rather than jumping up 2.5kg when using 1.25kg plates which is usually the smallest most gyms have.

I’m sure most of you have seen by now someone in a gym with a big piece of foam. You then watch as they begin to roll around on it with some questionable facial expressions, not sure whether they are in immense pain or deriving some kind of weird pleasure from it. To be honest, it could easily be both.

Foam rolling or self-myofascial release (SMR) has become a main staple of many peoples training which in my opinion is great. However having some basic understanding of what you are doing may help you grasp the importance of such maintenance or ‘prehab’ work.

Your body is made up of a system known as the kinetic chain – this system incorporates the soft tissue system (muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia), neural system (nerves and CNS), and the articular system (joints). As the name implies the kinetic chain is a system which is responsible for producing movement and force, requiring all the elements of the system to work together to function correctly. If one element isn’t functioning efficiently, then other components must compensate, leading to tissue overload, fatigue, faulty movement patterns and potential injury.

Going into more depth, if we look at the cumulative injury cycle, along this cycle we can see how adhesions to the soft tissue can lead to altered neuromuscular control which in turn leads to poor movement and potential muscle imbalances.

cumulative_

What this means is that if we have a muscle that is tight due to adhesions, muscle length or neural hyperactivity it will affect the range of motion available at a particular joint. If the joint motion is altered then the neural feedback to the central nervous system (CNS) will be compromised resulting in poor movement patterns. These poor movement patterns will result in your body compensating through other joints or muscles leading to imbalances and potential injury. For example if you squat and have tight hamstrings, it could restrict the ROM and thus alter the joint motion of the knee and send the wrong signals to the CNS. Do this repetitively and it could result in the above issues.

This is where SMR comes in. Its primary focus is to alleviate such adhesions that can alter soft tissue structure also known as trigger points. It achieves this through a principle known as autogenic inhibition. The golgi tendon organ (GTO) is a mechanoreceptor which is sensitive to change in tension within a muscle/tendon group. Its main responsibility is to avoid high levels of tension within muscles through inhibiting the muscle spindles activity and causing the relevant muscles to relax (autogenic inhibition). With foam rolling the pressure you apply to the roller can simulate this high level of muscle tension causing the GTO to relax the muscles, allowing you to remove adhesions and improve ROM. So in a nutshell SMR can:

– Improve mobility and ROM
– Can help correct muscle imbalances
– Relieve muscle soreness and joint stress
– Reduce scar tissue and adhesions
– Decrease tone of over active muscles
– Improve quality of movement

So now we know how SMR works and how it can benefit us, let’s look at a few other tips to consider when carrying out SMR and a few basic techniques.

– Foam rolling can be used anytime, but as it has been shown to improve short term flexibility for over 10 mins it’s worthwhile using it in your warm-ups. This means you can build on your new found flexibility with strength and stability work.
– Try and avoid rolling directly onto injured areas. Think about the muscles up and down from the injured area and focus on those first.
– While we are trying to roll out adhesions and activate autogenic inhibition which can feel uncomfortable, we don’t want to be in excruciating pain. Rolling though high levels of pain can have the opposite effect and cause your muscles to tighten up even more.
– Roll slowly and smoothly for best results. Fascia is a thick, fibrous web of tissue and as such needs slow and deliberate pressure to release.
– If you find any really tender spots or trigger points then hold the roller in place on that spot and relax for 20-30 seconds. Ensure you take full deep breaths and avoid high levels of pain.
– Finally, ensure you adopt good posture when rolling. For example when rolling the quadriceps, try and ensure you maintain a neutral spine rather than allowing the hips to ‘sag’ towards the floor.

SMR can be a great tool for mobility, recovery and injury prevention. However to truly get the benefits, it needs to form a regular part of your training and done correctly. Once in a while just won’t cut it. See below for a video on some of the basic techniques.

Overview

The squat may be considered the king of all barbell exercises, but the deadlift could arguably share that throne or at least come close. Just like the squat if you truly want to unlock your true athletic potential, you need to be pulling heavy things from the floor.

The deadlift is one of the truest full body movements there is. Having strong and powerful glutes and hamstrings are crucial for running faster, jumping higher and being a general ninja. On top of that having strong lower back muscles to help the spine remain stable can help reduce lower back pain. The deadlift has you covered on all fronts.

Benefits

Again like the squat you can develop huge amounts of muscle with this full body movement as well as a host of other benefits:

 

–          Develop strong glutes

–          Get insanely strong

–          Reduce injury risk through glute and hamstring development and thus increasing stability at the knee joint

–          Huge amounts of growth hormone release when deadlifting heavy = gainz

–          Deadlifts build strength and stability in the lumbar spine muscle

–          Deadlifts improve rotator cuff and scapula stability and their ability to withstand distraction forces

–          You can develop huge lats and strong upper back

–          Deadlifts will develop a core to rival Jean-Claude Van Damme!

There you have it, the deadlift really is a great exercise. Anyone who thinks the deadlift is bad for your back, stop. Just like any exercise, if it’s performed incorrectly then yes, you could suffer lower back issues. If you do it right you will develop a lower back of iron.

Before You Start

If you look back at the article on the squat, you will remember that there are some basic skills you should develop before squatting heavy. These same principles apply to the deadlift, work on bracing, neutral posture and hip hinging. Missed the article? Click here before moving on.

Can We Deadlift Yet?

Once you have mastered the basic principles above, we can look at deadlifting. However due to everyone’s different limb and torso length, hip/hamstring mobility and even upper back strength/mobility, you may need to look at the various types of deadlift. Not everyone will be able to do conventional deadlift straight away and your priority should be correct setup and positioning whilst working on your mobility and stability to earn the conventional deadlift.

However before we look at the variations let’s assume you are ready to do the conventional deadlift and look at the setup/execution of the movement.

SETUP:

  • Foot Position – We want our feet ideally below the hips i.e. jumping stance, but some may be able to get in a better position with a slightly wider stance up to shoulder width. From there feet should be placed so the bar is over the mid foot to allow for a more vertical shin and keep the knees out of the way of the bar. Toes should be pointing forwards throughout. This should also mean that the shins are relatively close to the bar but not touching.
  • Hip Hinge – At this point we want to load up the glutes and hamstrings correctly. We do this by hinging at the hips (push hips back) to get into the correct position and from there we can then bend the knees to get down to the bar.
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  • Grip – Grip the bar with a neutral (overhand) grip with both hands on the outside of the knees as to not interfere with them. We’ll go through grip variations later.
  • Tension – We want to build tension in our upper body as well as our lower extremities and we can do this by bending the bar around the shins. This will help engage the lats and set the back which must be slightly arched. We can also pull the chest up and set the shoulders back to maintain this good position. The key thing is to keep that tension throughout the movement. We also want to take the slack out of the bar i.e. gently pull the bar into the shins so that the collars of the bar sit into the top of the plates. This will prevent you from ‘jerking’ the bar off the floor and excessively loading the lower back.

EXECUTION:

  • Big Breath – Once tension on the bar has been sufficiently built and the position has been set, take in a big breath and hold. Think about pushing your belly out as if to brace for a punch to the stomach.
  • Press the Weight – To initiate the deadlift, we should drive the weight through our heels and press the weight from the floor with the legs whilst simultaneously lifting the shoulder and chest.
  • Drive Hips Forward – Once the bar passes the knees make a conscious effort to push the hips forward and squeeze the glutes to assist in finishing the lift at the top. Hips should be locked out and a straight line from head all the way down to ankle. Do not over-extend!
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  • Hip Hinge – As above hips go back to lower the bar towards the knees, all the while tension is maintained and upper back and chest engaged.
  • Bend the Knees – Once the bar has moved past the knees and back angle is correct, bend the knees to allow the hips and shoulder to descend to the floor at the same time. The end position should be EXACTLY the same as the start position, with the bar set down in the exact same place.

Variations

Sumo Deadlift – Is a great alternative for those who may have just recently had a lower back injury but want to get back into pulling heavy weight. The sumo deadlift puts less shear force on the lower back than the conventional deadlift.

You can also develop more hip strength through the sumo due to its set up position, however you will need some good hip mobility to get into a good starting position due to the wider starting stance.

Finally if you have shorter limbs and a longer torso, you may find the sumo position more comfortable and allows you to move more weight.

Trap Bar Deadlift – This is a great option for those who don’t have the mobility to maintain a neutral spine during conventional deadlift from the floor. However I would say that you should only use this for a short period of time with beginners lifting a moderate amount of weight and get them working towards the conventional or sumo deadlift. This is because some people allow too much movement to happen with the trap bar due its centre of gravity being slightly further out from the body and the extra stability required to keep the bar path straight up and down. However it is a useful tool and can really help beginners get into deadlifts as there is no undue stress on the lower back. Just ensure the setup is the same as the conventional deadlift as people tend to run the trap bar deadlift into more of a squat.

Rack Deadlift (raised bar) – Finally the other common variation is the rack pull deadlift. Personally I prefer this deadlift over the trap bar for those who are just starting out or don’t have the mobility to get into a good position from the floor. The deadlift is exactly the same as the conventional but the bar is just raised off the floor through the use of racks, plates or even mats. It could be raised by just a few inches, it may need to be raised up to mid shin level, remember position is priority and you can work on getting down to the floor concurrently.

Grip Variations

There are a few different ways you can grip the bar during any deadlift starting out first with the overhand or neutral grip. You should always start out with this grip as it promotes the development of grip strength while lifting. Only once your grip becomes the limiting factor should you then look at other variations listed below.

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Next we have the mixed grip in which one hand grips the bar so the palm is facing towards you and the other hand grips the bar so the palm is facing away. This allows for a stronger grip on the bar and will allow you to potential pull some extra weight over the neutral grip. Try and get comfortable with mixed grip on both sides as to avoid imbalances.

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Finally you have the option of a hook grip in which you wrap your thumb around the bar first and then clamp as many fingers as you can on top of the thumb. This allows for a strong grip but can be painful on the thumbs. Ease into this one if you haven’t used it before and if you are already quite comfortable with mixed grip, it may be worth sticking with it unless you also do Olympic Weightlifting in which hook grip is essential.

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Common Errors

Rounded Back – Obviously this is the error most commonly associated with the deadlift and lower back injuries. What you will see is either the hips shoot up too quickly without the chest and shoulders following or people lifting the bar with their lower back as they are strongest there. In any case you will be putting an excessive amount of stress on the lower back. To fix this first of all eliminate the fact that it may be load related i.e. your ego is in need of a check and you are lifting beyond your ability. If the weight isn’t causing the issue then focus on cues such as keeping the chest up and shoulders pulled back and down to maintain upper back position.

If this isn’t helping then you may want to look at upper back strength and mobility to allow your thoracic spine to extend correctly to aid in maintaining correct lower back position.

You may also want to look at lower back strength as this could be the limiting factor. Movements such as good mornings are great for this.

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Weight shifting forward – When the weight gets heavy you may see some people allowing the bar to come away from the legs and hang out in front of the body. Again this is potentially bad for the lower back but also it is massively inefficient and will limit your pulling strength. Focus on good setup position with relation to feet under the bar and shin position in relation to the bar. Finally focus on pulling the bar back into the body as you lift by engaging the lats and pulling the shoulders back and down.

Miscellaneous – A lot of the other common faults can be corrected by ensuring you adopt a good setup position as detailed earlier. Issues such as jerking the bar from the floor, pulling with the arms and losing the neutral spine can be down to incorrect starting position including the building of tension on the bar. Film yourself and look back to see where you may be going wrong.

Assistance Work

You may need to address strength deficits in a certain area of the deadlift or bring a lagging muscle group up to strength with the rest of the body such as the lower back. We have already looked at developing upper and lower back strength above so let’s look at some other assistance work.

If you find that you are struggling to get the heavier weights off the floor it may be worth incorporating some Romanian Deadlifts into your training to build up your glute and hamstring strength.

If you find that you fail your deadlifts around the midpoint then it would be worth incorporating some rack pulls into your training.

Also look at the snatch grip deadlift which will help you focus on pulling the bar back and loading up the hamstrings more.

Finally if you find you struggle with the lockout of the deadlift or explosive hip drive to finish the rep then look at incorporating some barbell hip thrusts into your training.

Additional Information

Shoes – While you see many different shoes out there especially in the powerlifting world, you basically want a shoe with a flat sole to give you as solid contact with the ground as possible. Better yet you could do the deadlifts barefoot! However if you do find you have an excessive tendency to shift your weight forward, you may want to explore using shoes with a toe lift. This will help you shift the weight back a little better and keep the bar close to the body – the only problem is that they don’t exist! You would have to customise your own flat soled shoes with a slight toe lift.

Belts – Exactly the same principle as the shoes, they are really useful. They allow better use of intra-abdominal pressure to support movements such as squats and deadlifts and they also give you a physical cue to show you are bracing correctly. Again though we don’t want to rely on the belt, you should still be able to know how to brace without a physical cue and also be able to support sub-maximal weights without a belt. Utilise it on those really heavy training sets (85%+) or in a competition.

Chalk – Chalk will help improve your connection with the bar, thus allowing you to improve on your lift and may even help you maintain a neutral grip longer. Just like the belt, don’t over use it and save it for those heavy sets!

Overview

‘If you ain’t squatting you ain’t training’

While it may seem like an extreme phrase, the squat is considered to be the king of all barbell exercises and I’m inclined to agree. I would argue that if you are not squatting, you haven’t reached your true athletic potential whether your sport is moving iron or moving your own body.

The squat not only builds and develops leg strength and muscle mass, but due to the full body demand of the movement you will develop core strength that no amount of sit-ups can build and even improve mobility and more important stability.

 

Benefits

On top of building slabs of muscle on the body and a core of steel, I briefly mentioned that squatting can improve mobility, however this doesn’t mean you can skip your warm-up. You will still need to prep the body through unloaded movements, but that mobility means nothing if you don’t reinforce it with some full ROM loaded movements such as goblet squats. This will help build strength and stability through the ankles, hips and thoracic spine (upper back).

As also mentioned the squat is great for building muscle and strength not only due to its full body nature but also due to the body’s hormonal response to the movement. As so many muscle groups are utilised this can lead to larger production of testosterone as well as growth hormone which creates a great anabolic, muscle building environment in the body. Heavy squatting will increase blood flow to the muscles bringing more of these anabolic hormones to the muscle receptors and also:

–          Increase protein production

–          Increase the use of stored fat for energy

There is a lot to be said on the benefits of squats helping you achieve a lean body as well as building strength.

Before You Start

So now we know how important the squat is for strength and athletic performance we can now look at how to squat, variations and some common faults/correctives.

However before we can squat it is worth mastering a few basic principles to ‘earn’ your right to squat safely before even attempting to get under the bar.

Neutral Posture – This affects everything you do in life especially when trying to move external loads correctly and transfer external forces around the body. Unfortunately in today’s age of tablets and prolonged sitting, most of us don’t know what a neutral posture is. You should know how to adopt this before moving anything remotely heavy as this will ensure that the spine is loaded safely with all the supporting structures doing their job.

Bracing – The importance of correct breathing techniques seems to be gaining momentum in mainstream fitness. While outside the scope of this article, learning how to breathe diaphragmatically instead of using our emergency accessory muscles will not only help with abdominal bracing and therefore keep you rigid in the bottom of a squat, it will also help to reinforce good posture.

Hip Hinge – Finally, a crucial aspect of the squat is known as the hip hinge which is how squats are initiated, so it makes sense to be proficient at this pattern. While it may seem a simple movement ‘you just push your butt back…..right?’ Many people mistake the hip hinge for some kind of twerking exercise and end up over-extending through their lumbar spine (lower back) which just won’t help the situation.

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There are a few great ways to learn how to hip hinge, one of the first steps is combining neutral posture with the hip hinge which is where the good old pvc pipe comes in handy.

Can We Squat Yet?

Once you have mastered these principles then we can look at whether you can squat. While I would love to just throw each and every one of you under a bar, it simply doesn’t work like that. People’s anatomy is unique to them and some people may not be destined to squat just yet. For those that are ready it is worth going through some progressions first to build and efficient and safe movement pattern. I use this process with all my clients to build them up to squatting with a bar, some may take a session or two, and some may take a couple of months. The key is to only advance once you have mastered the movement with correct and safe technique.

Wall Squat – Are great for teaching the hip hinge movement of the squat but stop people from turning it into some sort of good morning exercise so reinforces postural alignment (see I wasn’t making it up). Move closer to the wall as you progress.

Goblet Box Squats – Goblet squats a great teaching tool for the squats but also a good warm-up/activation exercise well into your training career. Having the weight out to the front acts as a counter balance, forces you to engage the core and allows for a more vertical torso which in most cases will allow for better depth. The use of the box will just reinforce the hip hinge or ‘sitting back’ pattern. Decrease the height of the box as you progress, ensuring your spine stays in neutral and you avoid the ‘butt wink’ or flexing of the lower back (more on that later)

Goblet Squat – Once the box goblet squat has been mastered then we can remove the box and continue with a regular goblet squat. Focus on sitting in between your hips and keeping a vertical torso.

Front Squat – Now we get to finally get our hands on a barbell! Like the goblet squat the front squat allows for a more vertical torso, better core recruitment and heavier loading. However there still may be some mobility restrictions so using two KBs in a front rack position is a good alternative at this time.

Box Squat – Now we have become proficient in the hip hinge, sitting back and maintaining abdominal bracing, it’s time to get that bar on the back! We’ll talk about positioning later but for now just note that the trusty box will be utilised one last time before we move onto the full squat itself. However Box squats can be a useful staple at any point in a training cycle, especially if your squats are more quad dominant.

Now Can We Squat?

Hmmm, I suppose. Only joking! Now what was detailed above might seem like overkill and may even seem like you have to spend an eternity squatting to a box, however it is my job to ensure that you move in the most safe and efficient manner. Will everyone need to go through all the steps above? No. That’s the trainers/athletes decision to make. Will it take an eternity to get through the list of progressions? Not necessarily. I have had athletes learn abdominal bracing, hip hinges, wall squat and goblet squats in a 1 hour session with them ready to squat within a matter of days. I’ve also had some athletes come to me with poor posture, poor mobility and no clue how to squat, so it would be irresponsible to chuck a bar on their back and scream ‘shut up and squat!’ Some people aren’t even designed to squat at all, but that’s another post entirely. Anyway I digress, now that you have earned the right to squat let’s talk about how we actually do this movement I’ve been raving about.

How to Squat (Back Squat)

SETUP:

  • Tension on the bar – We want to build up some upper back, lat and shoulder tension BEFORE getting underneath the bar. Having a well organised upper back will help pull the chest up which in turn will help maintain the lumbar curve (lower back). We achieve this by grabbing the bar with as narrow grip as possible (flexibility permitting) and ‘bend’ the bar in half. This should engage the required area.
  • Setup under the bar – Keeping tension we built up in step 1, get underneath the bar and set it on top of the shoulders (high bar). Pull the elbows down towards the floor and in towards the centre of the body, this again will help set the lats. Angle of the torso will mimic the angle of your arms, so keep them pointing as close to ground as flexibility will allow. Finally set the feet into the correct squat stance, ideally shoulder width apart.
  • Un-rack the bar – Once we are setup underneath the bar we must then remove it from the rack by extending the legs and taking as few steps back as possible (think 1-2). Adjust feet as needed, toes pointing out slightly.
  • Re-tension – Check elbows, lift up the chest and pull the bar into the back to keep lats engaged.

EXECUTION:

  • Big Breath – Once tension on the bar has been sufficiently built and the position has been set, take in a big breath and hold. Think about pushing your belly out as if to brace for a punch to the stomach.
  • Hip Hinge – To initiate the squat, hips need to hinge back to set the lumbar curve and transfer weight onto the heels. Think pushing the butt back and keeping it back throughout the movement.
  • Knees Out – Drive the knees outwards to begin the descent phase of the squat, ideally keeping them over the toes. This transfers load to the hips and strengthens the posterior chain.
  • Depth – The depth of the squat should ideally be below parallel flexibility permitting. Squeeze your butt at the bottom to get out of the hole whilst still forcing your knees out. Again we want to ensure our chest is up and upper back is tight throughout.
  • Finish the Movement – Driving through the heels keeping the knees out we want to ensure our hips and shoulders move up at the same time. Squeeze the butt once more at the top of the movement to fully extend the hips and complete the squat.

Sounds simple right? Well unfortunately there are some weird and wonderful squats out there so I thought I’d go through a few common mistakes and how to fix them.

Common Errors

The Butt Wink – The lower back must maintain a natural arch to avoid putting excess stress through the lumbar spine. A common fault is as someone gets to the bottom of their squat, their lower back tucks under. This causes loss of that natural curve and flexion of the lower back, which is also known as the ‘butt wink’.

In most cases this is due to pelvic alignment and muscle imbalances through the hip flexors and the core musculature. More specifically the hips are tight or ‘stiff’ and the core is not as tight or ‘stiff’. That means once you have found the limit of your hip mobility (hip flexion) the only way to achieve more depth is to allow your trunk to lean forward and cause lumbar flexion.

To address this issue you need to mobilise the hips and create more tension in the core. Foam rolling and dynamic mobility for the hips should be your daily routine if you want to squat ‘ass to grass’ safely.

Working on anti-flexion exercises for the core to increase ‘stiffness’ will also help alleviate the butt wink.

In the meantime, decrease the ROM of your squat to ensure longevity of the spine. Squatting to a box would be the best solution while working on the above.

Heels Coming Off the Ground – As mentioned before the weight should sit around the mid foot to the heel, with the whole foot in contact with the ground at all times. Some people tend to shift the weight into the balls of the feet resulting in the heels coming off the ground. This will put more undue stress on the knee joint but also limit posterior chain activation, hindering progress.

For most the fix should be as simple as focusing on sitting back as you squat. Go back and become a ninja at the wall squats and box squats to drill the movement. As a visual cue, try and keep the shins as vertical as possible.

If this doesn’t solve the problem it may be worth looking at strength work for the posterior chain. RDL’s and Good Mornings would be a good place to start.

Knees Collapsing Inwards (knee valgus) – When squatting our knees should track over the foot and be stacked on top of the ankle. If the knees collapse in this could potentially lead to joint issues down the line. There are of course some lifters who have whats known as knee valgus (knees collapsing in) and are fine. However for the everyday athlete, keeping the knees over the feet will serve you better in the long run.

Even if you are consciously pushing your knees out and they are still caving in, then address a few issues:

– Mobilise your adductors (inside of thigh) using a foam roller and dynamic stretching such as below.

– Activate glutes during your warm-ups

– Build glute strength in your training session

Chest Dropping Forward – We already talked about the importance of maintaining the natural curve in our lower back to protect the spine. Keeping your chest up will also contribute to maintaining this position. While I say chest up that doesn’t mean you have to be completely upright. Depending on the length of your limbs and torso as well as pelvic alignment will dictate to an extent how much forward lean you will experience. Not to mention the type of squat being performed. Not everyone will look the same.

However just like the knees collapsing in, if you are putting in all the effort in the world to keep the chest up but are still collapsing forward, try these fixes.

– Setup: If you setup under the bar with the chest dropped then it will be impossible to recover during the movement itself. Get under the bar and pull your elbows down and drive the chest up. Then take the bar out of the rack.

– Move your hands closer to the shoulders. This will allow you to utilise the downward movement of the elbows more which helps utilise the lats to drive the chest up.

– Work on upper back strength and thoracic mobility. Foam roller on the lats and thoracic spine as well as the pecs may help you drive the chest up more. Building upper back strength through rows and pull-ups will also contribute to keeping the chest up.

– Address core ‘stiffness’ as mentioned earlier.

– Play around with bar position on your back. Some may find a high bar position will allow you to stay more upright while you address core or back strength issues.

The key thing to remember is if you are experiencing pain or discomfort, stop! What you are doing is either wrong or an imbalance/asymmetry needs addressing. Don’t ignore it, regress the movement to a pain free version and work on the problem. You have plenty of options above to explore.

A Word on Squat Depth

Ideally everyone should be squatting below parallel as this is where you will get the most muscle recruitment from the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) however as mentioned earlier not everyone is designed to squat below parallel or squat at all. Go through the following steps to help solve squat depth issues.

Plank Test

Hold a plank for as long as you can with good form and note which muscle you feel working the most. If it’s your lower back then your core musculature isn’t firing correctly and needs to be trained to work reflexively.

Possible Solution: Dead Bugs, Birddogs and my favourite the Bear Crawl will enable you to activate the core. Alongside this, work on your breathing and bracing techniques mentioned earlier.

Plate Test

Put an empty bar on your back and perform some squats noting how low you can get. Place a 2.5kg plate under each heel so that the balls of the feet are still in contact with the floor and repeat the test. If you can get lower, then your calves or ankles may need some work

Possible Solution: Foam rolling for calves and dynamic ankle mobility

Deep Squat Test

Using a fixed upright grab onto it at around waist height. Perform a squat and aim to get as low as you can. If you passed the plate test and your calves and ankles are fine then you should get below parallel without issues. However if you can’t or struggle to get out of the bottom once down there then your hip flexors may need some work

Possible Solution: Hip Flexor stretches as well as activation work through lunges and split squats.

These are just a few ways to troubleshoot squat depth the list is by no means exhaustive. Core stability can have an impact on a lot of movement restrictions hence why it is top of the list. A lot of people have the mobility required but because the body feels it is in a weak position (lack of stability) it shuts the movement down. All the rolling and stretching in the world won’t help, work on strengthening the weak areas such as the core and upper back.

Assistance Work

When you have become proficient at squatting it is worth noting that you may end up reaching a point where you no longer feel you are getting any stronger with the movement. Depending on your training experience and/or programming this may not happen for while or it may happen relatively quickly. Changing the stimulus of the movement should be your first port of call whether that be utilising pause reps, other resistances such as bands and chains or even playing around with reps schemes and rest periods.

However sometimes you may need to work on strength imbalances or assistance work to aid in getting your stronger at your squat. One of the best assistance exercises you can do for the squat is any single leg variation be it lunges, split squats or step-ups.

 

Additional Information

Lifting Shoes – Olympic weightlifting shoes are utilised by many for squatting and for good reason. As mentioned earlier, your ankles or calves could be restricting your squat depth, which for competitive weightlifting athletes isn’t going to cut it. The lifting shoe utilises a raised heel to allow for more ankle dorsi-flexion when squatting to allow more depth and stability in the bottom position. So while really useful especially for competitors, that’s it that’s all they do, they aren’t a magic shoe to fix your squat and nor should someone ignore the issues that are causing the need for ‘assistance’. You should still be able to squat to depth without the shoe and still feel stable without the shoe, if you don’t or can’t then fix it and use the shoe for those top end weights or in competition.

Belts – Exactly the same principle as the shoes they are really useful. They allow better use of intra-abdominal pressure to support movements such as squats and deadlifts and they also give you a physical cue to show you are bracing correctly. Again though we don’t want to rely on the belt, you should still be able to know how to brace without a physical cue and also be able to support sub-maximal weights without a belt. Utilise it on those really heavy training sets (85%+) or in a competition.

Knee Sleeves – Knee sleeves help keep the knee joints warm and lubricated which are great for training in really cold environment or if you’re squatting volume is particularly high. I personally wear sleeves myself and saw some great benefits in getting rid of my ‘creaky’ knees.

 

Breathing, one of the simplest, most natural things we can do. Anyone can breathe and breathe correctly, right? When we think of breathing we think of simply breathing in and out with no consideration for what muscles are being utilised or how it affects our posture, training and stress levels. So let’s take a broader look at breathing and its practical applications.

 

 

–          Breathing can help increase intra-abdominal pressure and thus provide stability of the spine when lifting heavy things.

–          Correct breathing patterns can facilitate faster recovery through correct utilisation of the autonomic nervous system. This can apply to recovery between sets and recovery between workouts.

–          By utilising correct breathing patterns we can aid postural correction which in turn could reduce asymmetries and thus reduce injury risk.

–          Finally breathing can help improve performance!

Now when we refer to breathing techniques within exercise, we are talking about using the core to stabilise the spine. However to truly get the core stability we need, we have to utilise the diaphragm. If we have poor diaphragm function (most do) then we cannot fully contract these muscles and therefore unable to fully utilise lumbar extensor muscles for spinal stability which is where we need it most.  Put simply, if you can’t utilise your diaphragm correctly, you have a higher chance of developing lower back pain.

So what is the diaphragm and how does it work? It’s a dome shaped muscle at the bottom of the rib cage and as we breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and pushes down into the abdominal cavity. This decreases the pressure in the thoracic cavity and the lungs fill with air. When we breathe out the diaphragm relaxes allowing air out. SO what does this look like? When you breathe in the lower part of your abdomen (belly) should rise or expand as the diaphragm pushes down into the abdominal cavity, then the ribs should push down as we exhale to ensure we clear all the air out. What does it actually look like for most? Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly and relax and breathe normally. Which part of your body rises and falls? For most it will be the chest. This means that instead of using the diaphragm fully we are using accessory muscles such as the neck, lats an even hip flexors to help us breathe. As mentioned this could lead to anterior pelvic tilt, increased lumbar lordosis, back pain, neck pain and shoulder issues.

So how can we learn/improve diaphragmatic breathing? We can utilise the following progressions. In all cases the aim is to breathe not just into the belly, but incorporating a 360 expansion of the core. This means that when you breathe in correctly, your belly should expand as well as the lateral (side) and lower back muscles too. This is why we start on the floor so you can feel if your lower back is expanding as it will push into the floor. This is where most people struggle so own these progressions before moving on.

Crocodile breathing poses more of a challenge as people will try to exclusively push their belly into the floor. Remember we want 360 degree expansion of the core so lower back and lateral muscles should expand as well making you look like a crocodile. Get someone to check if unsure. If you can master these drills, you are on the right track!!

So in terms of core stability ensuring the diaphragm moves down into the abdominal cavity correctly will mean that the pelvic floor and then the abdominal wall will contract and thus forcing the lumbar extensor muscles to contract. This means that when you breathe correctly you will feel a 360 degree expansion of tension and true spinal stability. This brings us nicely into its practical applications through abdominal bracing.

Once we’ve nailed down our breathing techniques we want to be able to apply that to core stability and abdominal bracing to move heavy things. From here we’ve done the hardest part of getting our entire core to expand when we breathe and now we just need to maintain that position/tension through bracing. Think of bracing as trying to deflect a punch to the stomach, you have that 360 expansion, but now its solid to touch, that’s bracing. However we should still be able to breathe while holding that position so if the diaphragm is working correctly you should have a solid core all the way to the bottom of the abdomen and still be able to breathe. That is true core stability!

A great way to practice this is through the use of a lifting belt or resistance band tied around the waist. The belt or band provides feedback in terms of that 360 degree brace, then you can practice breathing while still maintaining that tension against the belt or band. Remember though you really need to focus on that full expansion and not just pushing your belly into the floor as again you’ll compensate somewhere else along the body.

What next? Well once you have mastered the breathing and the bracing, you want to add more challenge by utilising these techniques with movement. Having good breathing techniques and bracing ability is useless if you can’t maintain it while moving as that is the main reason you are using it! So we can begin to practice through unloaded exercises such as the Dead Bug, Bird Dog or even as simple as single leg lowering!

If you can apply the principles above whilst carrying out these movements then it’s time to apply those techniques under load. Get squatting, deadlifting and pressing and see how these new techniques change the way the movement feels. Now please don’t mistake this article as some sort of Holy Grail, yes these techniques can improve efficiency and therefore performance and they can definitely help improve posture and minimise injury risk. However once you learn to breathe and brace correctly you won’t suddenly put 50lbs on your lifts, this application is for the long term health, performance and recovery of your body. You have still got to put in the work, perform correct technique and follow a structured programme. This is just another tool to help on the journey to greatness and with so many people reporting the benefits of improving breathing technique, it’s one that can’t be ignored.

Warm-ups are one of THE most overlooked elements of training. Even those that know they should warm-up either do some random arm swings and stretches or skip it all together. Not only have you increased your injury risk by 1000% (ok, maybe not quite that much), you are also doing yourself a huge dis-service. Your performance won’t be anywhere near the level it should be if the muscles aren’t primed, the nervous system readied and ROM prepped. So even if you scoff at the thought of warming up to protect you from injury, what about its implications in making you a better athlete? Let’s take a look at the benefits of a warm-up.

–          A warm-up can increase the speed in which muscles contract and relax, this means more efficient performance.

–          A warm-up can reduce muscle stiffness through dynamic exercises thus increasing ROM and reducing injury risk.

–          It can facilitate nerve transmission and muscle metabolism therefore increasing motor unit recruitment. Put simply the more motor units recruited, the more force generated, the more force generated, the more weight you can move!

–          Warming up improves blood circulation and prioritises this circulation to the working muscles which means they receive more oxygen assisting with all of the above.

–          It’s also a good opportunity to develop any mobility, postural or activation deficits. Again reducing injury risk and improving performance.

–          Finally a warm-up can help you focus mentally on the task at hand and lead to a better workout.

So the warm-up has a whole host of benefits and implications and should be just as much a focus as the training session itself. However where do we start when planning a warm-up? I think the easiest way to start is ensuring the activities meet one or more of these criteria.

Focused – A warm-up routine should have a specific focus, whether it be addressing a specific mobility/stability issue, grooving a relevant movement pattern or preparing you for your main session in terms of the most challenging movement(s). This also means the warm-up should be structured into sets and reps which feed nicely into the next criteria.

Efficient – By having a focused approach and having sets and reps determined beforehand means that you get a quality warm-up without spending 20 minutes rolling your left quad. A warm-up should be completed within 10-15 mins max.

Relevant – To ensure our sessions are efficient we should only use movements that are relevant to the task at hand which you have already identified with your warm-up focus. So let’s say you have good thoracic mobility, using side lying windmills would still be a good warm-up exercise to prep thoracic spine for many movements but if you have good range, do you really need it in there? Will mobilising your ankle joints be relevant for shoulder press? If you have poor ankle range then maybe you’ve decided to address that until it’s improved so even though it’s not concentrated towards pressing it’s still relevant to your task of getting better ankle mobility. Take the time to think your warm-up through and stick with what is relevant for that session or overall mobility/stability goals.

So once you have an idea of what your warm-up should achieve through the 3 above criteria, we then need to start compiling the movements contained within it. Eric Cressey lays out some fantastic principles to help develop your structure and selection of movements, which I’ve outlined below.

Self-Myofascial Release – This involves foam rolling the soft tissue around the body. It’s a great tool for improving ROM and raising muscle temperature. Again if time is short focus on relevant muscle groups for that session.

Start with the largest base of support before placing more and more demand on balance and stability – This means start with ground based movements first such as quadruped rotations or bridges. This will gradually prep you nervous system and motor unit recruitment.

Start with single joint movements and then progress onto multi joint ones – This means we can address specific mobility/stability at a joint or muscle before incorporating it all into one system through full body exercises such as lunges w/overhead reach.

Address hips, ankles and thoracic spine – Due to todays technology rich lifestyle and sitting for long periods of time, these 3 areas take the brunt of bad positioning. Obviously if you are mobile and stable in these areas then they don’t need as much focus, use the 3 criteria and some basic ROM/stability tests to see where you are at.

There you have it, some basic principles and criteria to help you structure your warm-ups. Obviously these can be adapted over time when you start to improve in certain areas and one exercise may work well for one person and not so much for another. This is why there is no list on here of the best warm-up exercises as one doesn’t exist.

Finally have a look at the videos below for some inspiration and an idea of what my warm-ups look like. Again its simple an example, not gospel. Some trial and error may be required in the beginning as whatever movements you do use you should see immediate change when using them. So test and re-test, if there’s no change look for another movement.

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