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  • Writer's pictureBen Schnake


Updated: Oct 11, 2018











These are the patterns your body moves through. They are essential for daily tasks of living and require mobility or active movement (length and tension) of muscles around your joints, core stability (tension or stability of your spine), and strength (force production against resistance). However, as we age, our coordination, strength, and range of motion decreases. As a result, many of these patterns deteriorate. Ever try and reach for a plate in the cupboard and feel your shoulder strain? How about picking up that heavy bag of dog food off the floor? How does it feel to get in and out of that low seat in your car?

Your body is constantly trying to communicate to you what it needs. Don't just accept that with age and injury you can not get back to where your health and fitness used to be. Many movements can be improved from simple increases in mobility and strength. The squat is a great example. Simply creating greater hip range of motion and core strength and this movement gets markedly better. Although I value the advice of physical therapists and doctors alike, don't ever believe them when they tell you that you'll never be able to squat again. Not only are there multiple variations of this primary movement but this is also an exercise that you perform many times a day. How many times do you sit and stand out of a chair? You're going to have to do it. So training it is essential to your program and fitness.

Most people are scared to squat due to the large abundance of rudimentary and absurd things they have heard about it. I still commonly hear people say that they were told that squatting is terrible for their knees or lower back. The majority of these ideas have been communicated by people that have little to no knowledge of or experience with biomechanics, program design, or exercise science. As a matter of fact, the mere fact that a lot of individuals can not squat without knee or lower back pain is then used as confirmation that what they have been told is the truth. Ever heard of confirmation bias?Well my friend must be right cause every time I squat my knees hurt. In reality what should hurt is the truth. That being that most likely you are overweight and lack proper mobility in the ankles and hips and enough core stability to keep your lower spine stable when bending over and standing up. The mind is usually our biggest enemy. Wanting what is has grown accustomed to and comfortable with. A heavy dose of patience, progressive overload, and healthy eating habits is what is needed. And if you do believe that squatting isn't essential in any smart training program then have fun doing it multiple times a day when you get in and out of your car, a chair, or going to the bathroom. Any smart trainer would implement the correct squatting pattern in your program and then progress as necessary.

Exercises performed above the head are considered vertical. The vertical push and pull fall into this category. Although for many people this is not a healthy place to start. Incorporating soft tissue work and active mobility drills to improve shoulder flexion will prepare you for exercises like pulldowns and pull-ups. At the same time working on shoulder and core stability will get you ready for overhead pressing movements.

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. Meaning that it is incredibly mobile. The head of the humerus is the ball and the glenoid fossa is the socket. If it loses its range of motion, things get messy. The rotator cuff includes four stabilizing muscles that originate on the scapula and attach onto the humerus. Their main function is to keep the head of the humerus centered in the glenoid fossa. The glenoid fossa can be likened to a bowl. It is the outermost portion of the shoulder blade and the humeral head should be able to articulate through great ranges of motion around this cavity. However, we tend to lose shoulder flexion (overhead reaching), horizontal abduction (your wingspan at shoulder height), and external rotation as we age. Shoulder external rotation can be defined as rotation of the humerus away from the midline of the body. On top of this, internal rotation and horizontal abduction (bringing the arms together at shoulder height) of the shoulder usually lose range of motion as we age. The result is an anteriorly tilted and internally rotated humeral head that is fighting to stay in the socket. The rotator cuff is in a losing battle to maintain the stability and integrity of the shoulder joint. We need to regain some ground in this arena before challenging strength with overhead pressing and pulling movements.

The enemy is your poor posture. Put simply. Do not slouch! Ever. This creates tension in muscles like the pectoralis major and minor, latissimus dorsi, and upper trapezius which internally rotate, horizontally adduct, and extend the arm. The upper traps are put under tension elevating the scapula up on the rib cage while the pecs and lats are driving the humerus forward, in, and down. No wonder over 50% of people sustain a shoulder injury by the age of 50! Creating more length in these muscles is the first step towards regaining proper control of this joint. As this will allow for increased flexion and horizontal abduction of the humerus as well as proper control of the scapula on the rib cage. As a matter of fact regaining ideal movement of the shoulder blades is huge for gleno-humeral problems. Remember the rotator cuff muscles originate on the scapula. If we are trying to balance out muscular length/tension relationships fixing where the problem originates will go a long ways. Putting the shoulder blades in more of a neutral position will allow for better synergies between the scapula, humerus, and clavicle. When these 3 bones move fluidly the muscles around them, in turn, have improved length and tension.  Soft tissue and mobility drills here will help a lot. However, we need to groove the patterns with correct movement, quality ranges of motion, and strengthen the muscles that have lost tension. Strengthening muscles that horizontally abduct the humerus and retract the scapula are your answer. This is why I include horizontal pulling at a 2 to 1 ratio to pressing throughout your program. In congruence with this, implementing humeral stability exercises that challenge your rotator cuff with internal/external rotation will help keep that ball in the socket!

Horizontal pulling is essential to improving posture and should always be included in any good training program. Ever hear your mom tell you to stop slouching. Well, she was right. When the muscles of your back get stronger you will naturally be taller and horizontal pulling is vital to this. Exercises like cable, dumbbell, barbell, and TRX rows are examples of horizontal pulling movements. Although not as important, horizontal pressing is a primary movement that you need to be good at. The reason it is not as important as horizontal pulling is the simple fact that our eyes are in the front of our bodies. When you sit at the computer and type you lean in to look at the screen. This in turn creates tension and less length in the muscles in front of our bodies. From the hip flexors through the pecs. My training methodology emphasizes horizontal pulling movements (usually at a minimum of a 2 to 1 ratio) over horizontal and vertical pressing. This will improve your posture and create better length-tension relationships of these muscles.

How often do you have to pick up things? Well, every time you do you are hinging. The hinge can not be underestimated in its value to your biomechanical health. Just to get your hands to the floor requires mobility, strength, and core stability. Synergism really is what it's all about. You can not be strong without good mobility. That being said, you can have incredible flexibility and mobility and your joints are prone to injury because they lack the tension needed to hold them in a stable position. Integrity, in reference to training, means that the body is one unit. It is whole and works through a kinetic chain. 

If I see your lumbar spine round when bending over I know that you lack mobility in the hips and strength through the core. Working progressively and using a multifaceted approach to training will get you the best results that stand the test of time. For example, the hinge pattern starts with getting your hands to the floor. Next we program exercises in a smart manner. What I have found that works best is starting with hanging kettlebell deadlifts, then Romanian Dumbbell, Romanian barbell, trap bar, sumo, and finally conventional. Some people don't make it all the way through these progressions and it should be noted that this is only a handful of the many variations of the hinge patterns we can incorporate. The key is form. Most importantly don't ever allow your lumbar spine to round with load. Period. It should also be noted that these are all bilateral hinge patterns. Meaning that they are performed standing on both legs. The single-leg hinge is fundamental for your training success as well. For this movement challenges balance, posterior chain strength, and core stability. 

Finally, core stability refers to your body's ability to hold your spine in a neutral position against forces trying to extend, flex, and rotate it. Your core includes the area of your body between your two ball and socket joints. Those being your hips and shoulders. Your lower back should be the most stable area of your body. Generally speaking, when it moves, it gets irritated. It is not designed to move. Learning how to activate deep abdominal musculature like your transverse abdominus and internal/external obliques is vitally important to the way your lumbar spine handles external stresses like resistance training and daily tasks of living. Increasing the stabilization strength of your core allows you to resist these forces and keep your back (especially lower) healthy.

My training philosophy follows a few simple rules. First, consistency and quality are far more valuable than intensity. Second, exercise selection is the most important training variable that can be manipulated. You can train with great exercises. But I always ask myself, is this exercise best for this client at this time? Finally, my goal is to get you moving your body through space better and more efficiently. Period. As a result, I train movement patterns. Not muscles. Finally, and most importantly, synergism is the game. Look at the body as one unit and understand that neglecting mobility, core stability, or strength will get you into trouble in the long haul. 


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