Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tales from the front - The Good, the Bad, and the Dirty, Part 2

Hey gang,

Last we left off, I was discussing why machines, particularly those found in Health clubs, are not getting you fitter. Below is the following example as to why.

All to often, endurance athletes, be they single or multisport, tend to shy away from certain strength movements, citing "a fear of getting bulky". The 2 main areas named are shoulders and legs, however what athletes miss, is the tremendous benefit that strength and mobility in these 2 muscle groups can provide. When properly engaged. 

Since the debate on legs has been talked to death, I prefer to discuss shoulders. When looking at your average marathon runner, what happens at mile 16? Shoulders collapsing forward, hindering arm movement, not to mention, impede breathing. Triathletes and cyclists are no different - rounded shoulders as a race or training goes on, difficulty staying aero, low back pain or shoulder pain being cited as the reason for fatigue. So how do we triage these athletes who fear "getting big" but clearly need to open shoulders? I call it, Shoulder stacking. 

Shoulder stacking involves some pretty simple movements, as well as very little equipment. All movements are body weight, but will require the individual to get in touch with their shoulders, as well as their midline. To begin, an athlete should be introduced to wall walks, starting position is feet against a wall, laying face down, then "walking" up the wall moving hands and feet simultaneously so that you end up in a handstand position, facing the wall. This does 2 things - 1. Force the athlete to see how strong/weak their shoulders are, and 2. How mobile are their shoulders. If an athlete is struggling to get up the wall, a box, or elevated platform can be used. Feet are placed on the platform, then the athlete walks their hands out, as if in a plank. Then, the athlete begins to walk their hands back towards the platform so they can get the same benefit as the wall walk, but with a bit less range of motion. 

The most immediate sensation the athlete will feel is almost complete body weight "stacked" on the shoulders. This will initially seem a bit uncomfortable, however the coach can determine the time/amount of reps the athlete needs to perform to get more comfortable in this position. In between sets of this, encourage the athlete to perform moderate level midline stability work. This forces the midline to engage, and eases the pressure off the shoulders. The tighter the core - the more open the shoulders, the longer the athlete can stay in a handstand. As a test, I used shoulder stacking to obtain a more aero position on the bike for longer periods of time, as well as opening my shoulders more on the run to maintain POSE running position. By removing 1 run and 1 bike a week, for 6 weeks, and replacing it with shoulder and midline work, I was able to gain speed in both modalities, without fatigue - first in racing, and in training over the past week. When racing Sunday, my 40K time was 59:03. Today, while completing a 40K TT, I rode 57 flat, noticing my shoulders were more relaxed, even after a significant amount of work at oxygen debt, while utilizing shoulders, less than 16 hours prior. Why? My breathing was controlled, not impeded by shoulder strain, and when I shifted forward on my saddle, my shoulders didn't tire, rather they accepted the load of my body and allowed me to dose effort more carefully. No unnecessary leaking of energy. Again, numbers don't lie.

In addition to this, something occurred to me last night while taking class - the necessity of mastering a ring dip for endurance athletes. Ring dips tax arms in a way that standard dips don't - the athlete must steady the rings with shoulders and arms, utilizing more body parts to make the movement happen. The arms MUST be tight to the body to do a ring dip, much like in running, particularly at higher speeds, a more compact runner hits less wind, creates less drag, uses less energy. Using modifications to get to the ring dip is fine, but the end goal must be the ring dip - the ability to create stability in an unstable plane. Cyclists do this without thinking - they avoid bad road, jump over barriers, etc, as a part of what they do. However, a more upright cyclist is in a bigger need to master the ring dip, as it teaches shoulders to relax in order to properly complete the movement. When looking at people who excel at ring dips - see gymnasts - their shoulders remain still, and relaxed, not scrunched up by the ears. That position is just as critical for a cyclist, who, especially when climbing, is prone to letting shoulders creep up, causing more tension, making the body seem "heavier", essentially, the leaking of energy in those moments is much more like a torrid river running. 

Let's take this one step further. If the midline, and the shoulders are stable, when you look at an athlete in a handstand, what would that look like, in terms of a lift, if the athlete were on their feet? The overhead squat. One's ability to overhead squat well is directly related to one's ability to do a handstand. Need proof? The 2014 Games. The athletes who were able to overhead squat the most weight, were also the same athletes who covered the most distance in the handstand walk. Why? Tight midline, and shoulder stacking. 

The solution - strength and compound classes with us at INTENT. With coaches that understand the "why" behind the mobility and strength of the shoulders and midline, attending classes will address those issues, and get you moving better, faster. Because of the level of care, experience and research that has been done by the team at INTENT, you will learn how your body is supposed to move and more importantly, why. We are there to give critical feedback, to watch your movement patterns, to make the adjustments, correct them, and re-test. Its not cured overnight. And we don't bs you into thinking that's the case. It takes work, real work, to get it done. But once you have mastered the movement under our guidance, you will perform better, not just in training and racing, but in every day tasks in life. 

Which brings me to the BAD - 

Trying to do it solo or at a health club full of machines that do the work for you won't give you the proper feedback on whether or not you are moving correctly. Fancy cable machines, most often seen in health clubs, "fake" your range of motion - meaning, they allow you to think you are more flexible and stronger than you actually are. Also, they allow you to be sloppy in your movement, as the cables, or pulley systems take the majority of the person's flexibility out of the equation.

You will see this often on a lat pull down machine, someone will stack the weights on, thinking they are pulling 200 lbs down to their lats, with bent arms, minimal range of motion, relying more on arms, and a jerking motion to get momentum and really not much work being done by the individual. The machine is taking the brunt of the work. So the person gets off the machine after his/her 1 rep lat pull down - which is a pretty useless lift, even if done correctly, and start high fiving everyone near by as if they were the next Hercules. That's not only misleading, its most likely shortening the muscles in the biceps, and not really working the back at all. Its more arms than anything. The back muscles, which were supposed to be the targeted area, really haven't engaged at all. The individual learns nothing about how to strengthen the back, how to gain mobility and flexibility through the shoulders, and is performing an exercise that has zero real world application. I don't know anyone, with the exception of Atlas, who would need to pull weight down to their shoulders everyday. But these antiquated machines are updated to look different and useful - look how they shine! - and still give the user no real feedback as to how the body should be moving. No understanding how your core should be engaged, no understanding how to gain flexibility and strength simultaneously. Worse yet, the health club industry knows this, and they don't care. 

This leads me to part 3 - The Dirty. Part 3 drops next week - stay tuned.

Stay strong,