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Athletic Bodies in Balance

February 1, 2010

I just got back from a tourney with a bunch of college kids, and came across this “61-Year-Old Stays Young Playing Ultimate at UNCG” YouTube vid via the twitter account:

“Chasing at 61 [year-old] when they’re 20 becomes very hard… that’s why I mainly play offense” =)

I don’t know about you but I’d love to play some kind of frisbee up past my sixties (without back pain kthxpls)–my greatgrandma kept on cooking & walkin’ past 104 or so, and joint replacement surgery might be somewhat viable when I hit 90, who knows ^_^.

Dara medaled in the Olympics at 41 and Angela Ruggiero at 30 is training hard for “another shot at gold in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics”, which makes me hopeful that college-level Ultimate athletes can keep on playing if they train hard and train smart. Plus it makes me said when I hear about elite college players retiring after just a few years, or learning to hit up NSAIDs (ibu pill-poppers) as their main way of staying afloat.

That said, I’m just going to cite Dan John who mentions “ten different movements you should do as a human”

  • Vertical Push / Vertical Pull
  • Horizontal Push / Horizontal Pull
  • The Squatting Motion
  • The Posterior Chain (I call these deadlifts)
  • The Anterior Chain (sit-ups, leg raises)
  • The Twist or Torque Moves
  • The Total-body Explosive Exercises (If you’re limited by time, these are the ones to do.)

(p. 240, Never Let Go)

The more I try out different training methodologies, programs, and systems, the more I come back to this notion of the Athletic Body (hopefully) being in Balance. If you push, do you pull [as much]? If you work your frontside, do you work your backside?

I for one have made many mistakes here–I didn’t do much squatting in 2008 (mostly deadlifts), in 2009 I was missing some anterior chain strength, and more recently in 2010 I realized I pushed wayy more than I pulled. And each time I moved (played myself) into pain and then took days / weeks / longer to sort out the details.

You’ll note that Dan mentions “The Squatting Motion”, probably because he later talks about how just doing goblet squats might be “all the squatting most people need” (p. 300).

I’ve been experimenting with having my team incorporate goblet squats with 175g Ultrastars into their training–on the field or in the gym for semi-private group training (one strength coach and a few athletes at a time for a nice balance of attention, efficiency, and effectiveness)–and I think that’s going well so far. In the gym, I alternate with assisted single-leg squats to a bench, on the field in a circuit with K’bell swings and/or sprints.

Many women cannot do strict-style push-ups or chins, so doing wall push-ups / pulls progressing to table / bench / empty-Oly-bar-on-a-rack pulls and presses has seemed to work well so far. For posterior chain I’ve been doing bodyweight progressions to a back bridge, starting with both-legs-grounded glute-activating bridge ups to Cook hip lifts to marching glute bridges, to “straight bridges“.

I’ve also started programming chop & lift, either with a cable in the gym or partner-resisted on the field, with the girls I train–way too many of them have decent front planks but struggle with side planks (oh you obliques). I found that one girl in my training group was overusing her back extensors doing push-ups and after we did more oblique work (side bridges / chop&lift), her push-ups and back pain got quite a bit better. They have also grown a lot in terms of their deep throws, and I hope that more anti-rotation oblique-heavy anterior/lateral chain work like the chop&lift will help them learn how to connect their notable lower body strength to their upper bodies, for maximum pulling / putting power (a lot of women I see pull/put-deep mostly with their upper body, men too, except that college-aged men get away with it cuz they can bulk up a lot more quickly..).

As for Twist / Torque, both Dan John and Coach Boyle have done more twist / torque in the past but don’t seem to be programming it much these days, since they didn’t really find it to be effective even for throwing athletes. I also experimented recently with pulling both forehand and backhand, for example, to balance things out in case that leads to too much thoracic spine or gleno-humeral internal/external rotation deficit (noting that baseball players nowadays sometimes throw backhands to balance out their internal rotational-heavy pitching arms), and got a tip from Kenneth Jay that Kettlebell cleans can be useful by themselves in rehabilitating shoulder-joint rotation deficits in swimmers. (In my own training, my nervous system really seems to like the 20kg K’bell cleans I do.)

And as for “Total-body Explosive Exercises”? I tried teaching novices to do 1 Arm Dumbbell Snatches and while it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t extremely ugly either. K’bell swings are a lot easier to teach than any overhead lift, it would seem, even though I’m still learning how to coach groups out of the squat-style (butt that sinks down) rather than moving-deadlift-style (butt that moves back, as if you don’t want to get kicked in the nads/VJJ) KB swing.

And actually, someone sent me a college men’s off-season lifting program that seemed pretty good and approachable, involving RFESS (rear-foot elevated split squats) aka Bulgarian split squats and some bodyweight push/pull and so on, but it did lack this “Total-body Explosive Exercise”. In a sense it was quite similar to this home workout also courtesy of Dan John (p. 198),

1. RL RFESS (right-leg bulgarian split squat w/ DB in suitcase position)
2. LL RFESS (left-leg…)
3. Goblet Squats
4. Deep Push-ups, chest to floor, with push-up handles
5. Doorway Chin-ups or Pull-ups
6. Ab Wheel

10 reps each, done in a circuit. In retrospect, this was probably would have been a good start for a winter-break off-season program, with some bridging / sprinting / trunk anti-rotation / ankle or shoulder prehab thrown in there.

To wrap things up, beyond keeping muscle groups and movements in balance, it’s also good to remember/shoot for some balance of work/play, body/mind, tension/relaxation. Harder said than done, of course, this from someone who trained for some 24hr / 8dy the other week (had two K’bell workshops two weekends in a row, sandwiched in between two two-day tournaments), and then had to take time off to heal before this last tourney… sometimes more is not better, even though more is fun (sometimes).

In retrospect, I also realize that I’ve become unbalanced again the other way re: mind/body, as I haven’t really written / learned as much about the mental game (training for or enacting) as the physical game, on the field or on this blog, and that’s something I’d like to address. I also struggle sometimes to figure out how to coach other athletes re: their tension/relaxation curves, some gals hold too much body tension and burn out quickly in a blaze of getting-injured-omg-suck glory, some other girls tense up too much in the head, and rarely let go of their own anxieties. But how does one train the quick tension/relaxation flip in both mind and/or body? Do tell, time, time will tell. Aye, there’s more coaching / learning to be done.

The centre may not hold, but we’re gonna damn well try to find our centers, so stay centered, centering, stay strong, and strengthening =)

9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2010 6:02 pm

    Anything you can say about the anterior chain work you did to get that bit balanced? I think mine is a bit weak.

  2. Leslie Wu permalink
    February 1, 2010 6:32 pm

    Good question.

    Simpler answers:

    Start with front planks until you get to at least 30-40s, and have someone check your form once or twice — it should look like you are standing, your butt should neither be sagging or flagging. Have them also give you a nice slap in the abs and obliques, and fwap your glutes with an Ultrastar to make sure they are on/engaged/tight during the entire plank. Keep the feet together to make this harder (and/or lift one leg or arm, then both opposing arm / leg for added challenge).

    After that, Stability Ball rollouts.

    See this article by Coach Boyle for the details:

    Another idea is to work up to a proper hanging leg raise with an appropriate progression, just for a random picture link.

    It’s probably easier to progress with the hands/torso moving (ab wheel / valside progression) compared to the leg raise progression since the general movement stays the same, but you could argue that it’s more natural to pull your legs to your torso in an athletic situation rather than vice versa.

    Eric Cressey has other ideas here:

    (part 17: specifically the Prone Bridge Sequence vid, and for the more advanced either the Pallof press isometric hold, which looks like a good bodyweight drill if you have good body awareness, or the split-stance cable lift if you have access to a gym.)

    I’m not that good at the Swiss ball rollout, so I would probably more generally suggest a Prone Plank progression, then make sure your Side Planks are up to snuff, and finally do some sort of anti-extension or anti-rotation movement like the Cable Lift (see video in the Eric Cressey article).

    You’ll probably find that the lift is harder than the chop of the chop&lift sequence, but it’s a nice, functional drill for developing useful anterior core strength as long as you make sure your shoulders and hips do *not* move/rotate very much.

    I’ve been doing both cable and bodyweight chop&lift and my athletes definitely tend to rotate too much at first, and at times overuse the quads rather than their abs/obliques (+glutes?) to avoid rotation. Getting into a split-stance tries to take the legs out of the equation, plus it’s pretty close to how forward lunge backhand hucks w/o a mark might look.

  3. James permalink
    February 9, 2010 6:38 am

    Do you happen to have any tests of anterior vs. posterior chain? Obviously if you’re deadlifting 650 and can’t do a 45 second plank you’ve got some issues, but have there been any studies into what sorts of measurable strength ratios lend themselves to general athletic performance? Or Ultimate-style sports in particular?

    • February 9, 2010 3:50 pm

      Hm, good question, I don’t have any quick answers off the bat.

      One answer more on the movement side would be to do the FMS (functional movement screen) and use that set of movements to look for L/R or A/P asymmetries.

      In general, I’ve seen more research looking at the risk of L/R asymmetry, and anecdotally lots of people talk about A/P chain balance, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a specific test or measurable strength ratios. I think most athletes will tend to be visibly quad-dominant or perhaps less commonly glute/hamm dominant, which you could probably tell by the way they perform various movements–deep squat, single leg squat, single leg deadlift.

      I’m thinking of attending the next FMS seminar in LA later this month–perhaps I’ll ask folks there about that or poke around online later.

    • February 10, 2010 6:09 am

      I thought about this for a bit today and I guess one “test” would be to see which of the “big 6” movements mentioned in _Convict Conditioning_ one is lacking in, and use this as the balance screen/test rather than focusing on numbers of a lift.

      It’s possible to cheat lifts or to use improper form or muscle through with different muscle groups (quads rather than glutes & hamms for example), but fundamentally as a bodyweight + 175g athlete, one needs to have anterior/posterior balance on a single leg.

      Of CC’s “big 6”, if we drill down into the more lower-body dominant movements, we have the 3 movement types: squat, bridges, and leg raises.

      The FMS deep squat + ASLR (active straight leg raise) will show you a lot about movement asymmetry, particularly L/R and joint by joint, but if you’re worried about strength, have the athlete try:

      1) Single-leg (deep) squat, Russian pistol style — heel on ground, hamms to calf, no bouncing and under control all the way down & up

      2) Hanging straight leg raises — hanging from a bar as if to do a pull-up, bring both legs up under control as in

      3) Stand-to-stand bridges — standing to a full back bridge (like so and then returning from a back bridge into standing position

      It’s likely that most athletes will not be able to do all three of these strength movements perfectly, and will give you some idea of where one needs added flexibility / mobility / strength / motor patterns / rehab / etc.

      Past a certain point, planks and deadlifts can only translate so much to bodyweight / functional strength on a single leg, so I might argue that it’s better to screen / test /assess how the athlete moves to uncover A/P asymmetries. A little bit of an art plus knowledge of good movement form needed, but nobody said it’d be easy =)

      If you are testing / screening yourself, I think once you are strong to DL / squat 2x your bodyweight one would hope you also have enough bodysense to have some intuition about where one is weak, either in lifting or in game situations (i.e. where are you sore after tournaments? the trick here is that sometimes you are sore where you aren’t strong enough, and sometimes you are sore because you are weak elsewhere–lower-back soreness because you aren’t using your glutes or compensating for weak abs/obliques with back extensors).

      Does that help?

      • James permalink
        February 11, 2010 4:26 am

        Thanks Leslie, that definitely helps. I’ll have to try some of those, and play with my workouts after some of the early season fun tournaments. Though telling between muscle soreness and throbbing hangover from those can be tough.

        Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but it does seem worth mentioning that I’ve had some good muscle balance/problem identification help from a good friend who occasionally doubles as my masseuse. Once she was familiar with my general build, she was able to give some very helpful warnings about trigger points and undue tension before I was even aware of it.

  4. March 2, 2010 9:18 pm

    Here’s a nice NYTimes video on anterior/lateral core training via McGill:


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