Chalk Talk #15 – RDL

Be sure to check out “The RDL“.

This is a bit of a longer Chalk Talk, but it comprehensively covers the why, how, coaching cues, and programming of the RDL. Between the video and the linked article above, you’ll be a poster chain master.

Chalk Talk #9 – One Arm Farmer’s Walk

Remember when we did soft tissue work on the QL to relieve tension on the pelvis and sacrum? Well, now we’re going to do an incredibly useful and necessary exercise to strengthen the quadratus lumborum, and it’s a one arm farmer’s walk. This is a must-do exercise for all populations as it can significantly improve back health and prevent injury.

Regular farmer’s walks are a simple two-handed carry exercise to work on grip strength and loading the entire body. The one arm variation will function differently. Whereas regular farmer’s are to be done heavy, the one arm sort should be light to moderate. The goal isn’t to move the most weight, the goal is to maintain a stable, neutral trunk position (with the chest up and lower abs contracted) without slouching the shoulders. Putting an emphasis on not leaning over in the trunk or hips forces the QL to maintain leverage of the trunk, hence our reason for executing this exercise.

The first time I did this exercise, I just used a 24kg kettlebell (~53 pounds) and could not only feel my QL during the movement, but had a healthy soreness the next day or two. Strengthening the QL along with regular soft tissue work will likely reduce tweaks or strains and improve how your lower back, pelvis, and S/I area feel.

Throw these in at the end of your training session every week, but don’t do them if you’re gonna go heavy in the next session. You don’t want your stabilizing muscles to be sore or fatigued when trying to lift heavy. They would work well in the last session of the week with adequate rest after until you are accustomed to them. Remember, weight isn’t the key; good trunk position and QL activation is.

Chalk Talk #6 – Waiter’s Walks for Shoulders

Waiter’s walks are an exercise where a load is held in a one arm overhead position while walking. They have a variety of benefits, including:

– Working all of the muscles around the shoulder, including the smaller, stabilizing rotator cuff muscles, to hold the head of the humerus in position.
– The body is loaded asymetrically, so it will work on proper trunk alignment and the endurance of those muscles. The walking will also add some variation to the loading.
– It focuses on upward rotation of the scapula to build stability in the overhead position.

When doing these, focus on a keeping the trunk engaged and neutral without slouching to one side or the other. Put some light external rotation on the shoulder and actively push into the bell to achieve the upward scapula rotation.

During these assymetrical carry exercises I put an emphasis on good mechanics overall from the head to feet. Also short and stable steps are better than flowing steps in order to optimally keep the trunk tight.

Read more about a slightly different type of waiter’s walk on Eric Cressey’s site.

Lessons From McGill

Dr. McGill also has an admirable mustache

Dr. McGill also has an admirable mustache

Dr. Stuart McGill is a professor of spine biomechanics in the kinesiology department at the University of Waterloo and is renown as being an expert on back health. According to his academic profile, his department is concerned with (my paraphrasing) a) understand how the low back functions, b) understand how it gets injured, and c) create prehab and rehab methods based on their findings.

McGill is an expert with a variety of textbooks used in academia as well as folks in the fitness or strength and conditioning fields. This .pdf titled “Designing Back Exercise: from Rehabilitation to Enhancing Performance” from his website provides a collection of useful information. Points of emphasis in the article include:

– A proper history taking of a client
– Analyzing a client’s movement and determining faults (pg 4-5)
– A sequence of events for rehab (pg 6)
– The “big 3” stabilization exercises (pg 7)
– And developing athletic ability (pg 9)

McGill’s work is logical, easy, and effective. It has made me consider the importance of proper spinal function and positioning in lifting and athletics, and I’ve implemented them in my coaching in barbell mechanics. You’ve probably seen recent videos where I keep referring to a “strong, stable trunk” with an emphasis on “contracting the lower abs”, and I now teach it as a fundamental concept for barbell training.

Proper spinal mechanics in all movements is vital in order to prevent unnecessary injuries. I pay close attention to how trainees and athletes move, sit, stand, and lift, but in the past I have not put as much of a focus on “active spinal awareness”, which is basically making a concerted effort to align the trunk properly.

What does this mean for lifters? CrossFitters? Strength and conditioning athletes? It means that by utilizing contraction in the lower abs during lifts, we can maintain a neutral relationship between the trunk and the pelvis. If that relationship changes via too much lumbar extension or flexion, anterior or posterior pelvic tilt, or other instability, then it can at best not transmit force effectively and at worst result in an injury. It also means using spinal stabilization exercises in order to create endurance and habit for good spinal position.

Dr. McGill’s “big three” exercises can train help train this endurance and habit. In this video, he talks about four total exercises — the curl up variation, the bird dog, the side plank, and a moving plank on a ball. I know what you’re thinking: it looks like silly conventional fitness crap. These exercises aren’t supposed to build back strength, but instead they increase endurance in the back’s postural muscles so they can maintain a good, neutral position. The key to these movements is proper position, then endurance. They also teach the “skill”, or motor program, of what a correct spinal position is. Most people are in a perpetual state of instability with their spine; sitting in flexion or standing in hyperlordosis, for example. Ideally the trainee would work on their posture throughout the day in congruence with these prehab/rehab exercises, and they would improve their spine’s default position.

A for effort, but this spinal position is problematic.

A for effort, but this spinal position is problematic.

Given the increasing participants we have in lifting, CrossFit, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and other related activities, there will always be injuries, particularly in the lower back and sacral area. Usually these injuries can be prevented with better awareness, coaching, and physical preparedness. By using the “big three” exercises in a warm-up and/or cool-down in training, trainees can be taught what is “correct” and self-diagnose what is “wrong”. Compliment it with improved coaching of the barbell lifts and it’s possible to prevent injuries, or at least the severity.

Give these movements a try in your training. Don’t expect them to have immediate impact, but look for long-term improvement. Start being self aware of what your trunk and pelvis are doing throughout the day, especially when lifting.

PR Friday — 18 OCT

Quick Tip #1
Lots of ideas and little time means you will get a quick tip with each PR Friday post.

Consider adding an agility work into your program, especially if you aren’t signed up for any competitions or meets. Since you aren’t locked into peaking for an event, you can afford to add training to develop non-strength physical attributes.

In FIT we define fitness as strength, mobility, and endurance (this is also the foundation for performance). Navigating your body through space is an element of mobility, and it shouldn’t be ignored. The easiest way to throw it in is part of your warm-up. Add some tuck jumps, carioca, side shuffles, and power skips into your warm-up and you’ll get a little dose of explosiveness and lateral movement. Will it turn you into an athlete? No. Will it help make you a bit more athletic if you’re a goon? Yeah. More importantly it will let your joints and structures in the legs adapt to some non-lifting and non-linear activity. Joints that are able to withstand explosive forces are less prone to injury, something that will be a key in longevity (more on this next week). The basic movements above are not invasive, easy to do, and don’t take a lot of time if you do a few sets of each. If you don’t have great joint mobility (range of motion), then use movement prep instead of agility work to help rehab your body.

Ladder work is another great agility tool.

Discuss your training week and highlight your weekly Personal Records in the comments.