Tag: form

Back to the Basics

Sometimes more is better. Sometimes flare is good. Sometimes getting nuts is totally the thing to do. But sometimes none of those things are the answers. When is that the case? When you stop and ask yourself, “Am I getting any stronger, faster, healthier, fitter, am I making progress?” When you answer no to any and all of those questions then it’s time to dial back and get back to basics.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about, first, moving up in weights. If you haven’t been able to add that extra 10lbs to your squat and press weight the answer may lye more in technique than it does in actual strength. It’s time to break down that complex movement and focus on better full range of motion squats (weighted or just plain old air squats), and then practice your shoulder press form. Breaking down complex lifts so that you can put more energy into each piece so that when you put them back together you are stronger in both aspects of the lift is the best way to be more efficient in your movements as well as increase strength.

Same rules can apply to less complex lifts; take the bench press for example. If you feel like you are really struggling to improve your bench press and even more so really struggling to get the bar to your chest at the bottom (lets be real, it’s not a bench press if you aren’t doing the full range of motion) then perhaps adding more weight or doing more reps is not your answer. The best way to improve your strength, especially in the full range of motion of the bottom position is to do the old basic push-up. Teaching your body the path of motion and touching your chest to the floor in your push-ups (let’s be real, it’s not a push-up until you touch your chest to the floor) will increase your joint strength and flexibility 200% more than a heavy bench press to 90 degrees.

Maybe you don’t care about how much weight you can lift, maybe you care about how well you do during the swimming leg of your next triathlon. You’ve been doing all these super cool exercises with a band, you started adding in some crazy new bag full of sand, or you decided using the strength ropes during every workout for 30 minutes was going to get you faster and stronger. You know what makes you a better swimmer…swimming. Will more strength help you? Sure, but unless you are an efficient swimmer with great technique you can only get so far creating stronger muscle fibers.

Sometimes my clients ask me, “How do I get strong enough to do a pull-up? What kind of exercises should I do to improve my pull-up strength?” Easiest answer ever…do some pull-ups. If you are looking to improve your running, run. I don’t think rowing and bicep curls are going to do anything for your 5K time.
Sometimes we get sucked into the new craze, the new in thing. There’s been Abs of Steel, Tiabo, standing on exercise balls, standing on Bosu Balls, Kettlebells, Strength ropes, and the list goes on and on. But when all of these fads come and go or at least stop being the “cool new thing” what keeps you ahead of the rest and improving? Knowing the basics. If you can swing a 50lb sandbag around like it’s your job but you can’t do a proper full range of motion squat you are going to have trouble doing much else besides swinging a sandbag around. To be a good athlete, a well rounded athlete, a strong, flexible, powerful, healthy, uninjured athlete you need to start from the ground up. Good training has nothing to do with how hard you sweat, what kind of crazy equipment you use, what kind of protein shake you ingest; good training comes from good movement and good smart progression.

As the saying goes, you have to learn to walk before you can run. Learn the basics, if you’ve learned them but let some things slide in order to move up in weight, do more reps, sweat more, etc. maybe it’s time you take a step back and get back to basics.

To Squat or Not to Squat… That is Half the Question

Many people are afraid of performing a squat; saying it is bad on the knees, back and hips. Everyone has heard a horror story about someone hurting themselves doing a barbell squat. Well accidents do happen (usually from incorrect form), but with correct coaching the back squat rivals the deadlift as one of the best exercises for your body.

There are many benefits from doing squats, from correcting hips issues, back problems, strengthening joints and connective tissue, burning a ton of calories and many more. You can perform squats by using many pieces of equipment, like a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, your own body weight, cables, and resistance bands. Even within a squat there are two types, a front squat and back squat.

So let’s discuss the front squat, this is where the load (weight) is positioned toward the front of your center of gravity, usually on the front of your shoulders. By placing the weight more forward your body works more of the knee complex and quads during the movement, and creates move of an emphasis on your core (mid to lower back). This exercise is great for those people who need to try and strengthen their core (forcing an upright posture) more as well as strengthening ones knees (less forces on the knees for people with osteoarthritis, ligament or meniscus damage) and wrists (from holding the weight at the shoulders).

When we transfer the weight to the back of our center of gravity, the load (weight) usually rests on our back or is held by our hips (as with dumbbells). By placing the weight more backward your body works more of the hip complex and glutes during the movement, and creates move of an emphasis on how to engage your butt (one reason our backs have issues is that most of us doing know how to fire our glutes during a movement). This is a great exercise for people who need to learn how to strengthen their legs and use their hips for athletic endeavors, as well as open up their chest and create better posture (with holding the bar on your back).

As far squats being bad on the knees, a study by Escamilla (2001) looked at the biomechanics of squatting exercises on the legs and found that back squats activated more hamstrings and had higher compressive forces on the knees while front squats had more quadriceps muscle activation and lower compressive forces on the knees. They found that either squat would be good for people with ACL issues as for the low posterior shear forces. While another study from Andrews et al (1984) found that machine squats had a 30-40% higher shear force on the knees that barbell squats.

After all that what is the take home message? With correct coaching and form, you can gain a lot from squats including:

  • increased bone density
  • increased knee mobility and stability
  • stronger legs, hips and core
  • burn a lot of calories
  • it releases that muscle building hormone testosterone
  • one of the most functional exercises for every person
  • increase sports performance and overall fully body strength & coordination

If these benefits seam like something that interest you and you would like to be taught by one of the Seattle Athletic Club’s highly educated fitness staff please contact Fitness Director Jacob Galloway.