Isn’t it always a paradox when you hear someone say, “Just relax” as if it’s a conscious decision the person is making to be tensed and keyed up. Like “yeah the thing I want most in the world is to be stressing out right now”.
Read on to understand a connection between our perceptions, stress, and movement and how you can get first dibs on my fully-downloadable audio course: Movement Meditations.
Hello! It's been awhile since I've posted on the blog but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy. Read on to discover:
The Nervous System and Performance: My Webcast Episode with Dr. Dave Tilley of The Hybrid Perspective
Dr. Dave Tilley, DPT and I spoke recently as part of a webcast series on his excellent website HybridPerspective.com. The talk is broken up into two chunks secondary to technical difficulties as I think our highlighter yellow shirts broke the internet for a minute.
In it we discuss topics including but not limited to:
I really enjoyed and appreciate being a part of this webcast series as Dave is on point while making a name for himself in the physical therapy and gymnastics world. Enjoy!
And how about that fantastic face I'm making in the opening, pretty great right?
I've had a number of questions regarding the correct performance of the box squat such that I wanted to address it here. The main theme being "When performing box squats, should one sit on the box (apply all the weight to the box) before coming back up?"
I love box squats and coach them often in my clients. We should probably be doing some form of box squatting every 7-10 days to reinforce mechanics. It's an excellent tactile cue and external focus for the posterior chain allowing one to sit deeper into the squat and teaches the athlete how to maintain vertical tibias. I also find it as a useful progression of the hip hinge pattern, as well as a way to standardize depth of squatting for training noobs and/or groups.
In theory, the purpose of sitting on the box is to challenge the concentric drive out of the hole by reducing the elastic response (stretch-shortening) of the system during the transition from eccentric to concentric phases at the bottom of a traditional squat.
I understand that and share the goal to increase power out of the squat. But fully sitting on the box with a large external load on the spine is not a good idea:
1) It essentially forces a posterior pelvic tilt (or butt wink) in which the spine goes from a neutral position into a flexed position while the system come off of tension — this is nightmarish for spine and hip integrity. You're essentially relying on the passive structures of the lumbopelvis (IV disks, longitudinal ligaments, SI joints) rather than neuromuscular control — not exactly the goal of squatting.
2) In order to reclaim the tension needed to come off of sitting on the box, I have seen far too many generate that stability thru the spine by rocking forward and locking into hyperextension: a stable position, certainly, but not a sustainable one.
3) So we've essentially gone from a braced neutral spine (assuming set-up was correct) to an unbraced and flexed spine to an extended spine over the course of the movement — which is the opposite of the goal of squatting which is to maintain neutral spine while generating wicked force thru the lower extremities. I think we should absolutely challenge all spinal shapes for maximal competency and resiliency, just not during box squats with heavy weights on our backs.
So to correctly and safely perform the box squats, I coach my clients to touch and go.
1) Sit back into the posterior chain (with appropriate load ordering) and pull into the depth until the ischial tuberosities (sit bones) make contact with the box.
2) Once that tactile cue is received, rocket out of the bottom position to generate power out of the hole.
If you want to have the athlete pause for a beat, that's cool, just don't have them sit down. That isometric pause is essentially the ti-phasic training that Cal Dietz promotes, NOT completely coming off tension by sitting down. If you or your athlete is really obsessed with removing the stretch-shortening cycle from the squat (rarely is this sport appropriate, by the way, as even in jumping we dip before we drive to claim an elastic response), set the rack at the bottom depth desired and just have them squat it up from the bottom. This maintains braced neutral without loss of lumbopelvic position in the hole.
Bottomline: we love box squats and do them often — just don't sit on the box, bro.
Thoughts on Motor Control, Dry Needling, and Some Advice from "My Interview with Dr. Seth Oberst, DPT, CSCS"
I am fortunate to have been recently interviewed by the PT website CinemaSays.Wordpress.com. It has gotten quite a bit of traffic so I thought it would be interesting to share my interview here. Check out this website, there are some fantastic interviews with big names in the Physical Therapy profession - I'm thankful for the opportunity.
Interview with Dr. Seth Oberst, DPT, CSCS
If you haven’t been reading Dr. Seth Oberst’s blog, then you’re truly missing out on some quality content. It has become one of my favorite reads lately. I had the opportunity to interview Seth, and it turned into a great introduction to a very curious mind. You can also find Seth on Twitter.
In this interview, Seth shares his views on Motor Control, Dry Needling, his PT Residency, and more. Enjoy!
First, what did you have for breakfast today?
4 hardboiled eggs, bulletproof coffee, and an apple
What sparked your initial interest in Physical Therapy?
Initially, I went the cliche route where I had some orthopedic injuries and surgeries in high school that necessitated going to a physio. I remember thinking how cool it was to know so much about the human body and being able to fix it (I’m obsessed with fixing stuff). I went to undergrad knowing I wanted to be a physio so I majored in Exercise Science which really aided my progression as a strength & conditioning coach. When I first started my undergraduate, I thought it would also be beneficial for me to get a degree in Athletic Training. However, I really did not enjoy my first athletic rotation within the ATC courses so I decided to stick with Exercise Science in preparation for PT school. I did have a strong dalliance with going to medical school while in undergrad, however ultimately I decided that PT was the best profession for me to impact the whole person with a holistic approach as I thought (and still think) that medicine was much too reactionary, short-sighted, and narrowly-focused.
Why did you take on a Sports Residency? And was it worth it?
I took on a Sports Residency to gain more clinical insight and mentorship. I am intensely, obsessively curious and thought the residency was the next logical step for me to answer some of my questions and help focus my clinical decision-making. I enjoy treating and training athletes so I decided a Sports Residency was the best way to interact with a lot of athletes.
Overall the residency was certainly worth it. I gained some valuable mentorship, was able to see a ton of clients which helped me with pattern-recognition as well as my manual skills, and was able to better manage the overall care of an athlete.
What were you biggest take-aways from the Residency experience?
Improved clinical practice and pattern recognition. I have been better able to quantify and qualify some of my ideas. I also learned that it is critical to take pride in becoming a great generalist prior to specializing, something that is totally lost in our current healthcare environment.
I love your blog. Why did you start it?
I’m glad you enjoy it. I started SethOberst.com because I really enjoy the process of teaching and disseminating information and I thought that starting a website would be a way for me to do so. It gives me a platform to reach more than just those whom I interact face-to-face. And I love the collaboration it has spurred and the learning opportunities it has opened.
You’ve done some work on Motor Control. What aspects of Motor Control should every Physical Therapist consider & apply?
All of them! Motor control is really the end-goal of our interventions as physios (and as S&C coaches) because the target of our training and rehab is ultimately the nervous system. I think a huge part of what makes manual therapy (whether it’s manipulation, soft-tissue, dry-needling) so effective is that it’s a way into the nervous system that ultimately allows better expression of movement. When you really consider why our interventions work, much of it is neurophysiologic with improved function and decreased pain as a result of improving positional competency to positively impact the motor control system. So I think we need to realize that nearly all of our interventions are, and should be, impacting the motor control system. If all we do is expose someone to an input with no thought or appreciation for the expression of movement, I think lots is left on the table.
I guess I digressed there a bit….to answer your question, we MUST consider the nervous system as “orthopedic or sports” PTs. To me, treating and training an athlete is not a whole lot different than treating a neurological-injury (aside from the obvious pathologic differences). I had a fantastic neuro professor in PT school at Ohio University (Dr. Petra Williams), and she continues to influence my thinking in treating/training athletes. Task-oriented training is the best way to treat neurologically-injured people so why are we not using these same paradigms for our orthopedic clients? Put the client in the best position to execute the task, using inputs as necessary to get them in the right position and have the task drive the right motor program. Then we can improve physiologic variables of performance (strength, endurance, etc.) once we have addressed the rate limiters.
Some important pieces of motor control are honestly some of the basics: saliency, joint centration and proximal stability, developmental patterns and the importance of fixed points, crossing midline, distributed practice, external cueing, breathing and its effect on deep stabilization, sensory inputs. Tapping into these fundamental, rate-limiting components can really yield some ruthlessly optimal output. As physios we are uniquely trained to integrate this into our training pieces because ultimately what matters most to people is they can go faster and go longer without the handbrake on.
Which continuing education courses interest you the most (if any)?
I just took both courses of dry needling thru James Dunning’s AAMT which I thought were fantastic. I also have done some PRI courses and want to do more. I also find the DNS school of thought right up my alley.
Now that you’ve had some Dry Needling course-work and experience, tell us what you think of this modality and how it fits your paradigm of treatment.
I think it’s a powerful input into the nervous system to reset the system and promote improved neuromuscular output. Like any other manual intervention it needs to be used appropriately, with the end goal to improve movement at the forefront of the decision-making process. My appreciation for pain referral patterns has certainly grown after my training in needling as well as how quickly someone can improve when we target the nervous system to facilitate or inhibit motor patterns. But the needling can’t be perceived as a threat; as Charlie Weingroff states so well if the client’s breathing pattern markedly changes during the needling they are likely not integrating the dry needling (or any other intervention for that matter) and full change is unlikely. Overall, it’s a game-changer that can get my clients back to training much more quickly and precisely than some other modalities.
Favorite books & authors (PT & non-PT)?
I seriously love to read as reading has literally opened so many doors for me.
What are your Professional aspirations and how do you plan on accomplishing them?
Positively impact and empower as many humans as I possibly can to take charge of their own movement and performance. For me that happens by growing a fee-for-service clinical practice in the human performance realm with a foot in PT and S&C as well as collaborating and educating with the best minds in disparate fields. All of which are very much a work in progress for me.
Since you have a strong exercise science background, this might be an interesting case scenario question. While many look to lose weight in today’s world, there are those who would love to gain healthy weight. My friend Genghis is one of them. He’d love to pack on some muscle mass, but has the toughest time gaining weight. He’s one of those guys who can eat whatever he wants without any weight-gain. What advice would you give poor Genghis?
Poor Genghis. Your friend needs to focus on at least some version of the main lifts that promote a big stimulus for growth: pulls, presses, squats, and carries. Isolation exercises just aren’t going to be a great stimulus, rather full body movements exploring large ranges of motions are best here. Also, calories need to be high with avoidance of inflammatory foods (gluten and the like) to promote a positive adaption for mass gain. Also sleep is huge, growth hormone release is predicated on appropriate and adequate sleep patterns.
If you could change Two things about the profession of Physical Therapy today, then what would they be?
One would be that a PT should know their value and that it’s not just the value of a co-pay. We need to move away from dependence on 3rd party payers and referrals as we are letting that dictate how physios operate. Fee-for-service and direct access are great for the profession as they make us more accountable. Stop providing a KIA and asking to get paid for a BMW. We need to take the banner of movement experts and the tremendous opportunity that comes with truly understanding and treating movement dysfunctions (NOT pathoanatomy) and run with it, own it before someone else does
The second would be that in order to seize this opportunity we have to truly understand movement and start intervening on the cause of dysfunction, not the symptoms which often present as pathology. It seems that in most cases pathoanatomy is the symptom with cause being a movement dysfunction. We’ve become really great at treating symptoms which is completely reactionary. Even in post-operative patients, too many physios are just treating post-operative symptoms rather than pre-operative causes. I think we need a holistic approach by empowering and educating the client and to take it upon ourselves to go after resolving and improving human movement not just isolating muscles and using bouncy balls and rubber bands. Understanding human movement is a noble cause and one we need to take much more seriously.
Next question I borrowed from Tracy Sher, MPT, CSCS:
What would you say to your 7-year old if you could go back?
Don’t be so mouthy to your parents and be warned that braces and headgear are in your future, bro!
Are you an APTA Member? Why or why not?
Yes I am an APTA member. I think it’s important because while I don’t agree with everything the APTA says/does, it gives us a professional voice and a seat at the table. It’s like paying for college: it’s expensive and you don’t love every class but you know it’s the best thing for you.
What advice do you have for today’s DPT Students?
Having a reason for everything that we do as physios. Having a paradigm for progression/regression as well as using a test-retest model that exposes the client to the intervention based on your hypothesis and then gauges their response is crucial! It’s what separates the zeros from the heroes. The key is to recognize patterns and that means a lot of deliberate practice. Experience itself does not equate to expertise; deliberate, thoughtful experience while being driven by what we don’t know yields expertise.
Expose yourself to other ideas outside of physio. Yoga, massage therapy, kettlebells, Oly lifting, anything. We try to own these little silos of information without considering other, often very effective, schools of thought. Way too many PTs have no clue about training methods and movements which is rather ridiculous. If you yourself cannot pull, push, press, and squat how the hell can you expect to have face validity when calling yourself a sports physio or trying to coach a patient (and yes everyone should be able to perform those movements in some capacity). Because ultimately PTs are movement coaches so take pride in owning movement.
Which blogs do you read the most?
I love Kelly Starrett’s mobilitywod.com, he has been a big inspiration for me. Charlie Weingroffalways has a ton of insight when he posts. Mike Reinold, Eric Cressey, Jarod Carter. Seth Godin’s blog. And obviously….CinemaSays.wordpress.com, your piece on “Evidence-Based” Practice was spot on.
Life is an adventure. Let’s close by you sharing one of your life’s best adventures so far.
Well, I thought about getting all philosophical here but I think I’ve done enough of that already in this interview. So instead I’ll keep it real: I did some rafting with friends on a bunch of class V rapids on the Upper Gauley in West Virginia last year and it was quite an adventure.
Thank you for the incredibly thoughtful questions, this has been a pleasure.
For this week's post I wanted to feature an article written by my friend Dr. Dan Pope of FitnessPainFree.com. This guy has some great ideas on functional assessments and correctives and this piece on the deadlift pattern is one of them. Dan has some of the best information out there on improving performance, optimizing programming, and increasing training longevity. Not to mention he's a beast of a CrossFit athlete himself.
We all know how important it is to keep a neutral spine while deadlifting. For most, just cueing to keep your back flat is enough to square things away and get the spine in a neutral position. For others it’s not so easy. If you’ve coached people in Olympic lifts or deadlifting for long enough you’ve probably encountered this.
For some athletes as they reach the bottom of the deadlift, their lumbar spine starts to round. It’s even worse with a snatch grip or deficit deadlift. Your first intuition is to tell the athlete to keep their back flat. Then their snatch or deadlift ends up looking like this:
So your next logical cue is to keep the knees back so the bar travels up in a straight line and doesn’t grind your patient’s knee caps off. So now the lift looks like this again:
The lumbar spine starts to round again. Despite all of the cueing you give your athlete, you can’t clean things up. If you’re looking for a more in depth explanation of why this happens and why it’s important to correct this, then read my article HERE.
This is where a bit of corrective exercise is going to be needed. However, the first thing that is needed is an assessment or screening tool to determine if there is a problem. If you’ve got an athlete like the one I just described above then you can bet that you’ve got some issues that need to be addressed. A major assessment I like to go through with my patients is whether they can keep a neutral spine on their way through a snatch grip deadlift. Here’s the test:
What you’re looking for is whether your athlete can keep a neutral spine while keeping a straight bar path throughout the lift:
If you have someone who fails the test then it would be wise to avoid any loaded deadlifting patterns that expose this fault. In the meantime, you can modify the patterns by deadlifting from an elevated position or performing your olympic lifts from a hang position.
Then it’s time to hammer away at this issue with some correctives. Here are my favorite corrective exercises to address this issue:
These exercises can be performed as often as you’d like (I tell my patients to perform them twice per day for best results with the exception of the eccentrics). Make sure you test your snatch grip deadlift before and after to ensure you’re making a change with the exercises.
Seth's thoughts: I love the systematic assessment and correctives laid out here by Dan. As he says, it is crucial to maintain a neutral spine throughout in order to optimize position and ensure efficient mechanics. Those who are able to maintain neutral spine under load are those who can lift more weight and maintain longevity, period. Loss of neutrality is a dead giveaway for performance loss and injury risk.
For more from Dr. Dan Pope check out his most excellent website at FitnessPainFree.com
P.S. My last post on grip training and hacking the nervous system was extremely popular - thanks for the readership fellow performance junkies! Expect more on how to hack the nervous system and optimize adaptation in future posts.
The following post was featured by my friend and Endurance coach/beast Jeff Ford of Conviction Training Facility on his site FireCoachingConsulting.com (I was stoked to talk ideas with their coaches and athletes a few weeks back).
Look, my purpose here has always been to blend and coordinate the languages of strength and conditioning, rehab, and performance as it truly is, and should be, a continuum. Rather than guarding information in different fields, perhaps we should promote the sharing of it with the ultimate goal of building more resilient, adaptable, and efficient humans in sport and function. The physio who's also an S&C coach is often able to blend these principles for a powerful perspective on human movement and performance. Physio-coaches like Charlie Weingroff, Kelly Starrett, Danny Matta, Dan Pope, (and myself) are doing some awesome stuff - and it's just the start. Thanks to Jeff for this kick-ass primer.
This past weekend, CTF (Conviction Training Facility) had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Seth Oberst, DPT, CSCS and Movement Specialist extraordinaire. With no specific topic planned for the session, we quickly realized that Seth could drop knowledge bombs with anything we asked and even suggest techniques to try. In the United States (and anywhere for that matter) Physical Therapy is a competitive field. Only the best of the best get selected into schools and given how people are moving these days, professionals in this field couldn’t be more important. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics this field will grow by 30% from 2008 to 2018.
Coaching is one thing, but being a highly trained DPT is a whole other ball game. Physical therapists must receive a graduate degree from an accredited program before (if they can get in) and then sit for a national licensure exam. Physical therapists have the most specialized education to help people restore and improve human movement. That means their goal is to help clients avoid surgeries and the need for long-term prescriptions. It’s this idea of fixing the actual problem causing the issue.
As Coaches we set up the initial program and have the ability to evaluate how a person moves with our knowledge in functional movements and experience. The best coaches know how to scale movements and provide reasonable substitutes that hit the intended muscle group or promote a similar metabolic response in the event an athlete cannot execute a movement safely. Every great program should scale up or down. We’re even pretty solid at providing sound suggestions on mobility or self-myofascial release techniques to target where a person may be lacking range or motion or experiencing pain. With guys like Kelly Starrett and Seth Oberst, we have an increased number of experts to learn from and grow our coaching knowledge. Along these same lines, great coaches should have the knowledge to implement mobility techniques before and after workouts. At CTF, mobility happens before our warm ups and after our conditioning in order to prep our athlete’s for the days positions and promote proper recovery. Sounds like we got a pretty good handle on everything huh?
Let me ask you this though, what happens if even after you start moving more and implementing all these techniques you still can get a handle on your motor control or mobility issues? Maybe your strength plateaus or you’re simply just unable to perform certain exercises? I think you know where I’m headed. A coach’s scope of practice only runs so deep.
Here’s what you need to know about Physical Therapists (other than that they’re awesome):
1) Get to them before they get to you – If you’re experiencing pain or not functioning in a certain area anymore its already too late. What if we all started with a mobility screen before beginning exercise programs? Coaches know how to program and the best ones know the purpose behind their program with the ability to target it to the general population or an individual. The beauty of working closely with a DPT is that they can tell you the exact needs of the individual including the movements that can be executed safely as well as areas to target in between sessions. Whenever we get a nagging injury it has to go back to the movement pattern. We have to remember to fix the actual problem. DPTs come in to provide and correct movements that can get someone back to normal much quicker. Their knowledge runs quite a bit deeper than a coach and they have a greater tool box in this department. It takes years of schooling, experience and practice of mobility techniques to be a reputable DPT. Above all, these professionals attempt to get in front of the lagging indicators with their clients. I know this is Seth Oberst’s mission and a good one!
Lagging Indicators “It’s already too late”
Leading Indicators Movement
2) Not all are equal – DPTs know their stuff, but you have to find a good one with a reputable track record who fully understands human movement. This is an evidence-based, evolving field and the best DPTs stay up with the times and the research of various techniques. In any field, professionals can get complacent. Who wants a car from the 1980s? Great DPTs will adjust when an application isn’t working. They’ll do their best to try different techniques while going thru a mastered step process. What’s incredible is this can happen all in their heads. Recovery time can vary depending on the situation, but the top DPTs like Seth have quick recovery times with their clients. Improving movement and fixing the actual problem can take a ton of time, but the sooner one of these “great” guys or gals gets in front of you, it will surely pay off.
3) Find one working closely with a well known Strength and Conditioning Facility and your life will change forever. At CTF, we understand the importance of movement and technique focused coaching. We implement mobility before and after sessions and by what visitors tell us more so than most CrossFit Facilities. Having a resource such as Seth Oberst to simply shoot a line to is quite incredible. Imagine the opportunity to see someone like that on a regular basis? After you learn what’s causing the issue and receive treatment from DPTs the work won’t ever stop there. Changing movement is just like changing a nasty nutrition habit or bitting your nails. You’ll have to remain conscious of your movement, normalize a mobility pattern and strength the muscles surrounding the issue. This is where the strength and conditioning side of things comes into play. Check out Evolution Sports or San Francisco CrossFit these guys have squads of incredible professionals and have established themselves as one stop shop facilities, pretty cool. No matter your goals it will take a number of professionals and supportive people around you to get you there. No one can be truly great without the push from a collective team of people who care and understand human movement. It’s a pretty powerful thing.
Thanks to Jeff for this awesome post - look for more from the guys at CTF in the future!
Olympic lifts and their derivatives are complex, powerful, and pretty awesome movements. We feel that a graded approach is necessary in coaching these movements in order to maximize performance and efficiency as well as prevent injury. Here's a guest post from my friend and performance beast Steven “Keith” Scruggs, CSCS, USAW, USATF-2. Keith is a Sport Performance Coach and a PhD Candidate at The University of South Carolina (get at him at email@example.com):
From Joe’s to Pro’s it seems as if every fitness enthusiast is fascinated by the power clean and the snatch. We have Crossfitters that want to perform high volume. Sport-specific athletes are focused getting a new “max”. Lastly, we have competitive Olympic lifters that focus on technique, form, and attempt to improve their art.
Regardless of your mindset, goal, or sport the clean and snatch movements are some of the most complex resistance training exercises in our arsenal. In my experience I’ve witnessed youth athletes to weekend warriors wanting to impress me Day 1 in the weightroom with their bastardized versions of what they call “weightlifting”.
Some common errors I see:
* Noodle Back - inability to remain taut from initial pull due to weak mid-section (abs & back)
* Muscle Man Syndrome - inability to differentiate between a deadlift & a clean pull (no Double Knee Bend aka stretch reflex)
* “Short-Strokers” - inability to achieve triple extension (ankles, knees, and hips)
* Reverse Curlers - inability to control center of mass and/or lack of elbow/shoulder flexibility
Generally, I see a combination of 2 or more of these common errors because every component of the movement series sets up the next movement. We need to develop a strong fundamental base of movements in order to get strong skill transfer and ultimately improve athletic performance.
I have developed a “Tier System” (shoutout to Joe Kenn - Carolina Panthers) that I use prior to implementation of full weightlifting movements. Though I am all about implementing scientific & sound programming, there’s not a whole lot of information out there on progressive development of the Clean & Snatch. Be patient though...one of my key mentors, Dr. Brad DeWeese, is in the process of publishing some information through the NSCA on proper progressive implementation of weightlifting movement derivatives (see suggested readings below).
Prior to advancing into more complex training for any athlete (competitive or weekend warrior) I want to ensure that they can at least perform basic fundamental weightlifting movements. For a competitive athlete I would prefer to plan long-term & perfect each segment with progressive overloads prior to advancing complexity and load. Remember folks...SAFETY FIRST & excellence/best performance don’t just appear under your pillow from the Weightlifting Fairy! Below you’ll find a graph & descriptions of each movement along with a brief video description.
All of these exercises demonstrate crucial movements within the Power Clean. I prefer to take a “short-to-long approach” (see Charlie Francis reference below) with teaching weightlifting movements. We should focus on building foundational components of the weightlifting movements prior to trying to be the best at it. Let us not disregard the fact the WEIGHTLIFTING IS AN OLYMPIC SPORT! Some of these guys & gals eat, breath, sleep, & demonstrate weightlifting technique like the majority of us WISH we could.
Bottom-line: Treat weightlifting with respect...and it will repay the favor. Take it slow... learn what makes it flow, tick, click, and giggle. Take the time to learn the in’s & out’s of the movements so that they’ll be as smooth & as flawless as we all wish for them to be. A Maserati was made to be driven for power & with precision speed…just as the bar was made for strength, power, & speed lifts. An inexperienced driver may not (in most cases...WILL NOT) be able to handle the power, torque, and handling of the Maserati, at first. Just as a skilled driver becomes one with their car before taking it to an advanced road course we must become one with weightlifting derivatives before progressing into full movements. WEIGHTLIFTING ZEN!
Clark, J. (2005). From the beginning: A developmental perspective on movement and mobility. QUEST,57, 37-45.
Comfort , P., Fletcher, C., & McMahon, J. (2012). Determination of optimal loading during the power clean, in collegiate athletes. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(11), 2970-2974.
DeWeese, B., & Scruggs, S. (2012). The countermovement shrug . Strength & Conditioning Journal, 34(5), 20-
DeWeese, B., Serrano, A., Scruggs, S., & Sams, M. (2012). The clean pull and snatch pull: Proper technique for weightlifting movement derivatives.Strength & Conditioning Journal, 34(6), 82-86.
DeWeese, B., Serrano, A., Scruggs, S., & Burton, J. (2013). The midthigh pull: Proper application and progressions of a weightlifting movement derivative.Strength & Conditioning Journal, 35(6), 54-58.
DeWeese, B., Serrano, A., Scruggs, S., & Sams, M. (2012). The pull to knee—proper biomechanics for a weightlifting movement derivative. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 34(4), 73-75.
Garhammer, J. Power clean kinesiological evaluation. Strength Cond J 40: 61-63, 1984.
Garhammer J. A review of power output studies of Olympic and powerlifting: Methodology, performance prediction, and evaluation tests. J Strength Cond Res 7(2): 76-89, 1993.
Hori N, Newton RU, Andrews WA, Kawamori N, and McGuigan MR. Does performance of hang power clean differentiate performance of jumping, sprinting, and change of direction? J Strength Cond Res 22(2): 412-418, 2008.
Stone MH, Stone MH, and Sands WA. Principles and practice of resistance training. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics, 3-4. 2007.
Suchomel, T., Beckham, G., & Wright, G. (2013). Lower body kinetics during the jump shrug: Impact of load.Journal of Trainology, 2, 19-22.
What is the definition of a good athlete? Is it the pitcher who throws a great curveball? Or the elite 100m sprinter? How about the 3-point artist on the basketball team? How about the individual that does all of them well and easily picks up new skills - the one kid in high school who didn’t play basketball until his senior season and was easily the best player.
Perhaps the definition of an athlete ought to be someone who can easily adopt new motor skills and excels at being strong in weak and novel positions. Unfortunately, sport specialization at an early age yields kids who may be quite proficient at one particular movement but helpless when those movements become variable and unpredictable.
Multiple studies support the notion that children who play multiple sports are less likely to experience burnout or blow out an elbow or knee before finishing puberty. Injury rates in our youth are skyrocketing with a higher incidence of injuries such as fractures and sprains in those who specialize in one sport early in development. In my mind there is no acceptable reason for a 12 year old to present to my clinic with elbow pain due to repetitive throwing or for an ACL rupture (rates of which have gone up nearly 400% in the past 10 years according to some studies). Cutting physical education classes and sticking children in desks for 8 hours at school only serves to exacerbate children’s lack of skilled, variable movement.
So what do we do? The best way to drive athleticism and virtuosity of movement is to expose children to a variety of skills through free-play at an early age - expanding their motor skill repertoire. Waiting until adulthood to explore new movements (while still an excellent pursuit and a reason CrossFit is so powerful) will not suffice in driving athleticism and preventing injury in our youth. When a child is consistently moving poorly AND repetitively, the threshold for injury is much lower because they are out of movement options. Any extra perturbation, increase in load, increase in volume, or increase in stress and that poor position becomes an untenable one. Poor adaptability and less variability of movement are huge markers for injury and performance loss. The fewer weak or novel positions the child has, the less likely it is that injury occurs and performance suffers. The margin for error is greater. And by the way, the average Olympic athlete played two or more sports during childhood - so sport specialization at an early age will not likely even help a child become great at one sport anyway. And kids who specialize early in one sport are more likely to become physically inactive later in life.
From a motor learning perspective, our brains are designed to move us through, and interact with, the surrounding environment. Using our body helps us learn more quickly. The more sensory inputs that children experience through free-play, the better they understand this interaction. Kids who move well and move often throughout development have accelerated cognitive abilities and improved academic performance - it’s no wonder that children who suffer from autism do much better when performing motor tasks and altering sensory inputs. The beauty of safely exposing children to various motor tasks is they can understand what a new position feels like and inherently develop a way to adapt quickly and appropriately. And these movements don’t need to be (nor should they be) extraordinarily complex and skilled. Free-play and performing common variable movements - such as those in gym class, group exercise, and multiple sports - is all they need. Kids who delay sport specialization until at least age 12 are more coordinated and physically fit because they’re subjected to a variety of environments, inputs, and outputs.
Too often I see young adults who clearly have not yet mastered even the basics of human movement and it is not surprising to hear they did not play sports or only specialized in one and then burned out and/or were injured. We can do better - encourage kids to participate in recess, free-play, and multiple sports.
I know this piece will sting some deeply as I have found that those who do love ellipticals seem to really love ellipticals. But the fact of the matter is, ellipticals are pretty awful and if you respect yourself as an athlete - don't use them. Many of you already have given up this evil machine (there's a reason we don't have any ellipticals in CrossFit boxes). But if you are serious about performing optimally as a human, you will avoid this scourge of the modern athlete and think of ellipticals only as barriers in your path to the barbell area of the gym.
Here's the problem:
1) Reinforces poor motor programs. The arc of motion available on the elliptical causes you to heel-strike (if there is such a thing as strike on these things) too far in front of the center of mass which only serves to teach you to over-stride when you go to run. We already know heel-striking is costly and injurious. I also think it drives the femur forward in the hip socket repetitively via the iliopsoas and we never get to triple extension (full extension of the hip, knee, and ankle = maximal force). Furthermore, instead of falling thru the ankles as with proper running form - you smash into them while grinding and pulling each step.
Essentially, the entire arc of movement occurs in front of the body. Many clients I've ended up seeing report hip pain with symptoms of impingement when on an elliptical - not a surprise after they sit all day driving their femurs forward then reinforce that for 40 minutes on the elliptical while watching television. *If you can watch television while exercising, please don't call it training*
2) You can't feel the ground. Proprioception (joint position in space) is seriously limited on these things. When we can't feel the ground, we adapt thru maladaptive co-contraction (like walking on ice) in the leg musculature reducing movement efficiency for when it matters most - like doing actual athletic or sport movements, even walking. The timing of muscular onset and activity is crucial to movement efficiency and performance but on an elliptical you're just grinding through muscles that stay on way too long. And if you can't feel the ground, you can't generate force which is necessary in all athletic movements.
Don't believe me? How do you feel as soon as you get off the elliptical? You're gait is jerky, almost ataxic, and it feels like you're still floating. The knees stay bent throughout the gait cycle and you're looking for a foam roll as soon as possible - it's a nightmare.
*And why have injured athletes use this, especially as a warm-up? We just end up spending the rest of the training session undoing all of these faulty mechanics incurred on the elliptical.
3) "Low Impact". Ellipticals are marketed as low-impact. However, all the aforementioned co-contraction around the joints causes a lot of compressive forces - especially to the knee. The running literature supports this too, showing increased joint forces when running in cushioned shoes (which are supposed to lower the impact) vs. barefoot - the exact opposite of "low impact". Besides, ground-reaction forces are necessary to build bone mass. Essentially, we're getting all the negative joint forces from improper muscle activity without the benefits of skeletal loading.
4) Broken midline position (over-extended or over-flexed). The set-up of the elliptical really makes it difficult to maintain neutral spine, instead causing you to look like either a bent-over tree or a broken pole-vaulter. Glutes are under-used and hamstrings are over-used on the elliptical altering lumbopelvic control and contributing to the chronic hamstring and/or back irritation I've seen in clients who love the elliptical. No wonder gait mechanics are jacked up.
From CrossFit Endurance coach Jeff Ford:
If the goal is inefficient movement patterns, tight ankles, and trashed hips and low back by all means keep plowing away. But if you are serious about performance - whether it's becoming a better athlete or more efficient human - avoid the elliptical. If you require "low impact" activities due to injury (which is way over-prescribed anyways), consider that faulty mechanics are causing this injury. Simply improving those mechanics and reducing volume is the way to go rather than reinforcing them even more by jumping on the heinous elliptical.