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Saturday, June 18th @10:30am : Evolution Fitness, 5252 E. Speedway Blvd
This is a great way to set a baseline in your training.
Why do it?
This 2000m race will allow you to gauge your training on the rower. This isn’t a competition with others, it is a way for you to set your own personal record! You will be able to get a deeper understanding of where your split times should be and how to pace yourself on the rower. This will also give you some awesome insight on your conditioning level! One of my favorite things about the rower is that you can train with a purpose on it. There is always a goal to achieve and ways to improve. There are lots of conditioning tools out there, but there aren’t many that compare to rowing in terms of developing a skill and having very quantifiable training goals and out comes. If you are looking for your next challenge please join us for this event. It will start at 10:30am and we will run flights about every 15minutes. Depending on the number of attendees we have will dictate the length of the event. We assume it should be done by Noon or sooner. Please RSVP online. It is free to attend. Our friends from Bion Crossfit will be joining us as well. This event is open to non-members, but it will be capped so please RSVP.
I have had lots of thoughts going through my head of late, especially with all the noise out there in the “fitness” world. I recently had a potential member come to our facility to inquire about our training and it inspired me to write about the following.
This woman had been training at another facility that is into the whole HIIT(High Intensity Interval Training) thing. As we were getting into our initial consultation, she said that she hated squats and that she didn’t want to do them. I asked her why and she said she hated squats because she had lots of difficulty doing them. She said her current trainer would have her just do them anyway because she “needed to squat”. After I looked at her technique it was clear to me why she hated squats so much: they looked painful, and were mechanically a mess. As my friend Dan John would say, “Squatting isn’t causing that pain, whatever you’re doing is causing that pain.” Meaning she wasn’t squatting, she was moving up and down with disregard for proper movement. This statement is not a judgement on this woman, she was just doing what her trainer told her. My issue is that I see this kind of thing happen all the time. She kept using the word ‘scale’, as in her trainer would ‘scale’ the squats for her and have her do different variations of the movement so she could complete the workout with a modified squat. Though squatting to a high box caused less pain, squatting was doing nothing to improve her life. It was just a repetitive motion that increased her heart rate. If increased heart rate is the goal that’s fine, but there are a ton of other things she could be doing to have that same effect without pain. Why was nothing being done to fix her squat? I see this more and more with different gyms lately. They program fun and interesting workouts that change every day, but there is no instruction, no push towards moving better and feeling better while moving. The term ‘functional training’ is pushed around a lot, but the actual movements being done are far from functional.
So what did her squat look like? Kind of like the drawing below: her hips were high, her body was dumped forward, and when she tried to sit back or go deeper she literally stumbled backwards. Again, this is not a judgement on her, because she had not received instruction on how to squat properly.
Upon further analysis, a big reason this position was happening in her body was her extremely tight calves. When I mentioned it to her, the response was, “I don’t think that’s the problem. My calves don’t bother me at all when I squat, just my knees.” At this point I was getting a little frustrated but my calm response was, “Usually the pain is a symptom of something else not moving well and it will cause pain or irritation at a different location.” Many times knee stuff with squatting can be a function of lower leg issues. Sure there are ton of other things to look at but I always start with the most common culprit first. The other clue was she told me she wears high heels every day (I could write a whole blog post on the issues that come from wearing high heels).
After screening her squat, I knew what was going on, but in order to show her, I chose to do a basic screen to highlight one of the most noticeable issues. Insert the ankle mobility screen. This is a quick and easy screen I used to confirm my initial thoughts. I had her drop to one knee and lunge her leading knee forward. The goal is to keep her foot planted on the ground and see if the knee can move forward past her toes. Usually 3-4″ past the toes is considered sufficient ankle mobility. An important part of this screen is to make sure the heel does not come off the ground, the foot does not flatten on the ground (AKA losing the arch), or that the hip does not rotate to compensate. There are a few other things to look for as well, but these are the key components. Below are pictures of this screen in action. The woman had an ankle mobility nearly identical to the screen on the right.
How far away from the symptom is the source?
One of the things we do here at Evolution Fitness is try to build a base of healthy movement first rather than build a ton of fitness on a mess of dysfunction. In the example above, knee issues and poor squat form started in the calf and ankles. Many times though we see a similar scenario with a much different symptom. It isn’t uncommon to see the same locked up calf and ankle causing a symptom such as an aggravated hip or lower back issue. Rarely do I focus on stretching or attacking the symptom, I look instead to determine the cause and work at the source of the problem.
Squatting with correct form takes a good amount of ankle mobility. There is a huge myth that the shins/lower leg should stay straight up and down; that is not accurate or good advice. Unfortunately I hear many experienced trainers and numerous doctors promote this bogus philosophy. The knees can and will move forward and the ankles need to be mobile enough to do so. Without mobile ankles each joint up the chain will have to compensate. If the ankles lack mobility, the knees, which are a very stable joint, will tend to move more than they should which can cause pain and irritation in the knees. The next joint up, the hip many times will become chronically tight or “locked up”. I hear people all the time tell me how they can’t seem to get their hips loose enough no matter how much they stretch them. Vary rarely have they every addressed the calves and ankles. This is why screening movement with tools such as the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) are very important to understand what is going on with each client.
Scaling vs. Correctives
I am all for scaling training sessions for those that need to have modified training, but in situations like the one I described above, I would prefer that clients actually work on the issue that is causing the problem rather than squatting to a box like the woman from my consultation. This time would be better used doing self-myofascial release of the lower leg and ankle mobility drills. By focusing on this kind of work we can help improve function. With all of the buzz on functional training nowadays rarely do I see function being addressed by the newest fad-gyms popping up on every corner. If someone can’t squat correctly, having them squat incorrectly for hundreds of reps isn’t functional, it is just over-priced mindless exercise. The answer lies in focusing on correcting the movement so it can be trained optimally.
Looking for a smarter way to train?
If you are looking for a smarter approach to training I recommend learning what movement issues you need to address first before beginning to build a base of strength and conditioning. If you are interested in a movement screen to help you identify possible imbalances, or just want to hear more about what we do, feel free to give us a call and at 520-445-6800 or email us! If you are looking for mindless and random exercise I am sure you can find that on every corner.
By Aris Demarco
The deadlift is perhaps the best way to demonstrate pure full body strength. Like a big squat, a big deadlift is generally representative of a strong lifter overall. Also like the squat, the deadlift involves almost all the major muscle groups of the body—the entire torso, including the stomach and upper and lower back; the entire posterior chain; the legs, and the grip. As such it is a phenomenal developmental exercise especially when we take into consideration all of its variants: conventional, sumo, snatch grip, one arm or one leg, pulling from varying heights or with different bars or implements, and more interesting ways of lifting a barbell from the floor like zercher or Jefferson lifts. Finally, the first way the deadlift is taught and for many, the only way the deadlift will ever be done is in the hinge pattern—one of the more important basic movements that a human body can perform.
Despite the massive potential for variation in deadlift form, there are a few basic rules that should always be followed to make the lift both safe and mechanically efficient. And… guess what… plenty of people don’t know about them or ignore them completely. We try to instill these general guidelines as soon as possible in all of our clients; but when I venture outside the most common mistakes I see are as follows:
- Starting the lift with the hips too low
- Starting the lift with the bar too far away from the shins
- Loss of torso integrity
Starting with the hips too low is probably the most common. This basically means that at the start, the setup will look more like a squat with the lifter’s butt down and back:
This makes sense because reflexively many people try to ‘squat’ anything heavy they pick up off the floor. A lot of this is probably due to the form that’s instilled in us first world dwellers from a very young age: lift with your legs, not your back, try to squat heavy objects instead of bending over. If the object in question is directly between your legs this can make sense but a barbell is a bit different. To get the bar as close as possible to you your hips should be high, like so:
This is the hinge pattern, minimal knee flexion with more drastic hip flexion. This is actually the safest and most efficient way to lift something off the ground; and if it looks familiar that’s because it is also the basic athletic stance in a lot of sports. From here the hips and lower body can generate a lot of power (efficiency) and the weight is very close to the lifter’s center of gravity (safety). How high should the hips be? Well that varies depending on individual leverages and limb lengths but that is a subject for another article. Suffice to say that above the knees but below the shoulders is a great place to start experimenting if you can’t get quality coaching.
Starting with the bar too far away from the shins goes hand in hand with squatting the weight up—if the knees and shins are forward the bar will be pushed further away. Check out where the bar is here:
We want the bar over the center of the foot or sometimes even closer to the heel, which generally means right up against the shin or very close to it:
This like hip position is also very individual and depends on the style of the deadlift and which strengths the lifter wants to emphasize. But either way, that bar should be over the middle of the foot or slightly further back toward the shins to keep it close and under control. Let the bar swing too far away from your shins, especially while lowering the weight back down to the floor and you might be in for a really bad time.
Finally and perhaps the most elusive mistake to fix is simple loss of torso integrity. While moving the weight the lifter’s torso should be a solid cylinder with everything locked in place. Some people overextend the back which results in the abs being stretched out and prevented from stabilizing the torso properly:
Some people round their back over forward which usually means the lats are relaxing and the low back muscles are lengthening, not a great scenario either:
I should note that rounding your back will get the bar even closer to your center of gravity which is one reason why it sometimes happens automatically and is hard to stop. But keeping proper tension while in a position of spinal flexion is definitely a higher end skill for more advanced lifters to try and get a bit more weight on their lifts, it’s not for everyone. For most people both the safest and strongest position will be closer to the middle with a neutral or maybe slightly lordotic spine.
Fixing this one is very difficult—finding that strongest position might take some time and of course plenty of coordination to maintain under a super heavy load. The two quickest tips I can offer here: first, do some high tension planks or hollow position ab work to test out where you can engage your core and lats the best. Then, if you’ve been lifting with a belt try without for a while. Lots of people wear thick, too-tight lifting belts to hold themselves straight. This is one way to make up for a weak core, but a belt works much better once you’re strong enough to lift heavy without it and learn how to use it properly. Ditch the belt for a while! Beltless deadlifting and squatting is a great test of general strength and a good way to build it properly too.
We hope you enjoyed this article. Come learn from us in person on July 9th from 9:30am to 11:30am. We are having a deadlift workshop that will cover all of this in great detail and more, including not just basic form and quick fixes for common errors but also customized lift setups, strength training programming/workout design and more. Don’t miss it!