The Best Exercise You’re Not Doing (For Your Shoulders) Part 2

In our last post on the Armbar Kathy Dixon of Action Potential Physical Therapy took me (Coach Joe of Fit EDU) through the set up of the unloaded Armbar. Now it’s time to take the next step, but first a follow up to “my shoulder story”. I am still working my way back to 100%  and regularly perform the Armbar months after completing PT. Here’s why I mention my progress… I feel much more stable/packed in all loaded upperbody push/pull work because I am “in touch” with my shoulder stabilizers… particularly immediately after performing the Armbar in my prep work.  I am better able to get and keep the stabilizers active and know this will improve performance and prevent injury long term.

Now back to why you clicked…

Now that you have a basic understanding of what the Armbar is, when/why to implement this exercise, appropriate body position, and how to get into position it’s time to introduce load (from part 1 of this series). Please note it is critical to be conservative with the weight load and to follow each step in this process. Additionally, a kettlebell (not a dumbbell) is our preferred method of loading for a variety of reasons.

When making the transition from unloaded to loaded with the Armbar (assuming correct position) you will immediately feel the stabilizers (posterior cuff and serratus anterior just to name a few) turn on. When watching the video below you will notice quite a bit of shaking when Kathy loads me with just a 12kg kettlebell (55 seconds in). This isn’t a bad thing and is a great opportunity to help your students/patients/clients feel their shoulder stabilizers turn. This has become my “go to” exercise to teach shoulder packing even before loaded carries.

Here Kathy coaches and explains how to perform and coach the loaded Kettlebell Armbar with Shoulder Internal/External Rotation.

Important coaching points to remember:

  1. Ensure proper alignment of the spine, scapula, and arm before introducing load… position is everything
  2. Watch and palpate the scapula, pecs, traps, and lats to minimize compensation
  3. Develop cues that work for you as it relates to describing ideal shoulder blade position (I like “slide your shoulder blade into your back pocket”) and muscle activation
  4. Master the static loaded hold in this position before introducing internal/external rotation

Here’s a recap of the step by step process of the Loaded Kettlebell Armbar:

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  1. Assume a supine position (pic 1)
  2. Grasp a kettlebell with the hand on the “working side” and bend the “working side’s” knee
  3. Placed the other hand behind the head and keep the other leg straight (pic 2)
  4. DSC_0008DSC_0009 Establishing posterior cuff activation {be sure the ribs are down (not splayed) and the spine is neutral} and then press the kettlebell up to the position in pic 2-notice how I closed the gap between the scapula and the ground in the above pics
  5. Ensure proper alignment of the arm and shoulder blade on the working side and centrate the joint (pic 2)
  6. From this position roll the body as one unit onto the “non-working” side while maintaining shoulder joint centration and scapular position (pic 3)
  7. Connect the working side’s knee to the ground (pic 3)
  8. Now that you’re finally in position ensure proper alignment of the spine  and working arm (fist is directly above the shoulder joint) (pic 3)
  9. Activate the posterior cuff and Serratus Anterior in order maintain a depressed and retracted scapula
  10. Slowly perform internal/external rotation of the shoulder joint with an increased emphasis on maximal external rotation (pics 4 and 5)

If it’s already obvious to you, this is an exercise you must practice on your own before implementing into your performance or rehab programs. If you are working alone we recommend videoing from a posterior view and reviewing positioning. However, your best bet is to perform with a colleague present so you can practice performance and coaching. Once again thank you Kathy Dixon of Action Potential Specialized Physical Therapy for great information.

Want to learn more about this or other fitness related topics? Then visit us at www.fit-edu.com for tips on kettlebell and barbell exercises, breathing and postural control, and metabolic conditioning just to name a few topics. We also just so happen to offer 5 (soon to be 6)  live, full-day seminars on a variety of fitness topics.

The Kettlebell Coaching Series: The Turkish Get-Up Part 2

In our last installment of the Kettlebell Coaching Series we addressed teaching and coaching The Half Get-Up.  We discussed how to set up, the initial steps, and some coaching fixes to correct common errors in the initial phases. In this piece, we will thoroughly cover how to make it all the way to standing and the steps to come back down.

Before we get into the coaching the next steps there are a few more points we need to make about the benefits of performing the Turkish Get-Up:

  1. Shoulder resiliency
    1. If you’re interested in improving shoulder stability in multiple planes the Get-Up should be a go to exercise. Assuming you (or your student) maintains packed shoulders (see the tips we gave here), you will improve shoulder stability in three key positions (anterior, lateral, and overhead). While many other exercises provide an opportunity to do so in one of these positions, none does in all 3.
  2.   Improved body control and awareness
    1. Not sure why? Start doing Get-Ups and you’ll experience it for yourself
  3. “Linkage”
    1. Linkage is becoming a common term used in the fitness industry by trainers and coaches. Linkage refers to the ability to link segments of the body so as to improve movement efficiency on a “global”  level. While this is an “unscientific” term it’s logical that movements/exercises that improve linkage also improve performance. In “Becoming A Supple Leopard” Kelly Starrett discusses linkage and reducing leakage. Leakage being “energy leaks” caused by a lack of linkage resulting in a loss of power production. A simple example would be failing to “pack” the shoulders and stabilize the spine when bench pressing. If your shoulder joints and spine are not in an optimal position you lose leverage and as a result power due to energy leakage.

Now to coaching the Get-Up:

Let’s start with all the steps to get to from the floor to the standing position:

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  1. Roll
  2. Press
  3. Drive to the elbow
  4. Post up onto hand
  5. High bridge
  6. Leg sweep
  7. Half kneeling
  8. Lunge up to standing

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High Bridge and Leg Sweep

If you remember, the Half Get-Up takes us to the high bridge position.  It stops us short of arguably the most challenging step in the Get-Up, the leg sweep.  Easily the most dynamic part of the exercise, the leg sweep changes our body position from prone, to kneeling, and gets our shoulder one step closer to the full overhead position.  What makes the leg sweep tricky for most is that you are reducing your points of contact with the ground from three (hand and both feet) to two (one hand and one foot) while simultaneously moving your center of mass.

It is our belief that a quality high bridge makes this step a bit easier.  Getting the hips higher in the bridge creates more space for the outstretched leg (kickstand leg) to get pulled under.  We also want to avoid dragging that leg on the ground.  If your leg gets caught up dragging on the ground there is a good chance the knee will not be positioned correctly on the floor which will negatively effect in the Half-Kneeling position.  This can make the steps to finish the move more tricky. To initiate the leg sweep, the knee must bend and the lower leg must rotate so that your pinky toe is close to the ground and your big toe is on top.  This will make the lower leg parallel to the ground on the sweep and give all the space needed to make the knee your principle connection to the ground.

Please note: Where the knee gets placed may depend slightly on limb lengths and individual anthropometrics, but generally you want to place that knee directly under the Kettlebell that is being held overhead.

Here’s how to coach from the ground to standing:

Great job! You now have a client standing up with a weight over their head. Looks like its time to get them back down.

Here’s how:

TGU DownAs you can see from the video and picture, getting back to the ground is as simple as retracing the steps you took to get to the top. Once again, it is the transition between half kneeling and high bridge that creates the greatest challenge. We love the cue “use your thigh as a guide” when having the student reach out laterally from the half kneeling position.  As we did on the way up during this transition we once again want to form a straight line of the hand, knee and foot.

One of the things that is great about the Get-Up is that every position is dependent upon the one preceding it.  You must be precise on every step to be successful.  Like most things that are worthwhile doing, it can be as draining mentally as it is physically, especially when learning the exercise.

For the sake of being crystal clear… here are the steps to go from standing to the ground

  1. Lunge to half kneeling
  2. Hand reach/windshield wiper of base leg
  3. High Bridge
  4. Lower to butt
  5. Lower to elbow
  6. Lower to back
  7. Lower the kettlebell and grasp with two hands
  8. Roll

So… shameless plug time. At Fit EDU, we pride ourselves on makes better fitness coaches. We do so by improving YOUR movement first, then developing your coach’s eye, and finally filling your coach’s toolbox with countless coaching fixes and corrective exercises. If you’re serious about helping your clients we want to work with you! Our Certified Kettlebell Instructor Seminars provide you with both a certification AND 8 CEUs for ACE, ISSA, NASM, NSCA, and 6.5 for AFAA.

West Chester University of Pennsylvania
ACAC (ACAC Staff only)
West Chester, PA
Saturday, 10/17/15 8:00am-5:00pm (please note this date is tentative)

McKenna’s Gym
Fawn Grove, PA

The Kettlebell Coaching Series: The Turkish Get Up Part 1

The Turkish Get-Up is awesome and is the best exercise your are not doing. Legend claims It’s at least 200 years old and is thought to have been created for soldiers fighting with shields and swords as a means to get from their back to a standing position when an enemy was on top of them. While its history is impressive, its training impact on training and performance is even more significant. One of the most respected professionals in our industry, Gray Cook, said “The Turkish Get-Up is the perfect example of training primitive movement patterns-from rolling over, to kneeling, to standing and reaching. The Get-Up promotes the shoulders’ stability and mobility. It improves one’s strength in many patterns by teaching the importance of linkage while eliminating strength leakage.” We can’t forget, it also provides the opportunity to functionally evaluate the right and left sides.

While it is amazing one exercise can do all the above (and more), performing and coaching this exercise can be extremely challenging. As a result, many fitness professionals either pretend it doesn’t exist or do some bastardized version they think is just as good. This 2-part series will put you in a position to understand how to perform the Get-Up AND the intricacies of coaching it.

DSC_0971An ideal place to start is with your sneaker. Yes, that’s right… your sneaker. In lieu of a kettlebell, we recommend you begin this process by balancing a sneaker on your fist. We also recommend mastering the Half Get-Up before moving the to “full” Get-Up.

The Half Get-Up is separated into 5 steps:

1: Roll

2: Press

3: Drive up to the elbow

4: Post up onto your hand

5: High bridge

Here are step-by-step instruction on teaching the half get-up:

Now it’s inevitable you will come across some issues along the way. Two very common issues to watch for are the knee on the kettlebell side going valgus at the initiation of the high bridge and shoulder packing.

Here’s one strategy to fix a valgus knee on the kettlebell side:

Here’s a great drill to use to help with shoulder packing on the kettlebell side:

Additional key item to address:

I. What to do with your head and eyes:

It’s important to look at the kettlebell through the entire half get up. However, you should begin to teach this when practicing with a sneaker. If you think about it… there is a heavy piece of iron over your head. Given the fact that you are actively moving your body beneath it, it is a really good idea to keep your focus on the kettlebell. Safety is a real concern here, especially when venturing towards “heavy” kettlebells. We’ll go over spotting in our next post.

II. Setting up after the press

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Get very, very familiar with this position if you are going to perform and/or coach get ups. Setting up correctly after the press sets the stage for the rest of the get up. If your limbs aren’t correctly aligned you might not have the leverage you’ll need to successfully perform a Get-Up. This could mean a failed attempt OR losing the kettlebell and ending up with a serious injury to your cranium.

Notice these key points:

  1. The arm on the kettlebell side is straight (elbow and wrist), the shoulder is packed, and the fist is directly above the shoulder joint.
  2. The leg on the kettlebell side is bent at the knee and the foot is just outside the width of the hip
  3. The arm on the non-kettlebell side is at a 45 degree angle relative to the torso
  4. The leg on the non-kettlebell side is straight

III. Connection with the ground:

There are two key connections to the ground that you want to move as little as possible through the get-up.

  1. The foot on the kettlebell side
    1. This foot SHOULD NOT move once you have pressed the kettlebell while on your back and set up your limbs for the drive to the elbow. Anchor it down and keep it there. This is where much of your stability will come from.
  2. The hand on the non-kettlebell side
    1. You will often see people moving this hand around before going into the high bridge. While you must externally rotate your shoulder and as a result point your fingers away from your body, DO NOT move the location of this hand in relation to your body. If you set up correctly it’s already in the best place to provide adequate stability and leverage.

IV. Shoulder Packing:

Getting your shoulder packed and staying there throughout the get up is no easy feat, but it’s critically important for your shoulder health. You have to go over the concept of shoulder packing before touching the Get-Up. Cover this concept in other exercises (deadlifts, push ups, any/all upper body pulls, etc.) before performing get ups. This is yet another reason to master the Half Get-Up before moving the to Full Get-Up. Packing your shoulders gets progressively harder the “higher’ (further into shoulder flexion) the arm. In other words, it easiest to pack your shoulders with your arms at your sides (farmer’s carry). It the hardest to pack your shoulders when you are at or near 180 degrees of shoulder flexion (waiter’s walk, pull ups, pressing, etc.).

V. Speed bumps

Treat each step in the get-up individually. In other words, think about your next step, perform the action, and then pause. Many refer to these pauses between each step as speed bumps. We reference these speed bumps in the screwdriver video. While the get-up is intended to be a beautiful and graceful set of movements it is also intended to be approached methodically and with focus. Do not blend any of the individual steps into one. You’ll get sloppy and likely increase the chances of a mistake… and remember you still have the big piece of iron over your head so mistakes can be costly.

Please recognize there are many more items to address in the get up. While many of these will be covered in our next post, we won’t address everything as there are simply too many subtle points to address when coaching this exercise. The best way to learn EVERYTHING is to attend a live seminar. If you’re interested visit our homepage to learn more about our CKI-1 Seminar at West Chester University of Pennsylvania this October. www.fit-edu.com

Hungry for more information right now? Check out the below step-by-step half get up pictures in sequential order.

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Building Myelin, Layering Skills, and Transference

Over the past few months, we have focused our posts/attention on one exercise, the two-handed kettlebell swing. Through a series of 4 posts we discussed how to load the posterior chain, increase the chances of gluteal engagement, scapular stability, and finally, proper sequencing. (just scroll down to check them out). While we have received positive feedback about these pieces being helpful for fitness professionals, they weren’t designed to “stand on their own”. It’s time we bring them together.  Much of the source material from this piece is from “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle.

Building Myelin

Before we get deep into the discussion of myelin, practice and how they’re related lets define myelin.

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Myelin: an electrically insulating material that forms a layer (myelin sheath,) around the axon of a neuron. The presence of myelin is essential for proper functioning of the nervous system. The main purpose of a myelin layer is to increase the speed at which impulses travel along the myelinated fiber.

Myelination: the process of forming a myelin sheath around a nerve to allow nerve impulses to move more quickly.

Circuits: A grouping of nerve fibers that work simultaneously and/or in series to complete a particular movement or task

Now that we have gotten that out of the way lets talk about the relationship between practice and myelination.  New research has revealed that myelin, once considered an inert form of insulation for brain cells, may be the holy grail of acquiring skill. Daniel Coyle has described this new information as a revolution that will forever change the way we view talent and practice. Here’s an excerpt:

“The revolution is built on three simple facts. (1) Every human movement, thought, or feeling is a precisely timed electric signal traveling through a chain of neurons—a circuit of nerve fibers. (2) Myelin is the insulation that wraps these nerve fibers and increases signal strength, speed, and accuracy. (3) The more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become.”

UnknownWhen we take part in “deep” (quality, mistake focused) practice of a skill where quality learning occurs (anything from playing the piano to deadlifting) we build myelin. The more deep practice the better and the more mistakes you make (and learn from) the better. The phrase practice makes perfect has been thrown around for generations and while logical, we didn’t have any scientific basis to back this up. What has been discovered is that it’s really deep practice that makes perfect. Myelin grows in direct response to deep (mistake focus practiced).  For instance, once a mistake is made, it is more beneficial to stop, evaluate what went wrong, and try to immediately fix it on the next attempt than to plow through and disregard your errors.  Twenty minutes of deep practice can easily trump an hour of mindless practice. Daniel Coyle described this process as follows:

“Deep practice feels a bit like exploring a dark and unfamiliar room. You start slowly, you bump into furniture, stop, think, and start again. Slowly, and a little painfully, you explore the space over and over, attending to errors, extending your reach into the room a bit farther each time, building a mental map until you can move through it quickly and intuitively.

As it relates to fitness and high skill work like a kettlebell swing, clean, snatch etc. it’s critical the student takes part in deep practice early on. Being mindful of your position in different parts of a movement and more importantly developing and understanding of what good positioning is… is essential for building myelin.

Layering Skills

Another aspect of building myelin is quality coaching.  A master coach, pinpoints flaws and knows how to address each one and in the right order to optimize performance.  A quality coach needs to have an abundance of knowledge about their given subject (coaches need to build myelin just like their students).  What a quality coach does is recognize exactly what makes their student improve, take them slighlty out of their comfort zone and guide them to the next level.  Every student needs to be handled differently because they all respond to different motivations.  If you have a vast supply of tools in your coaching toolbox (interpersonally and skill specific) you will be a more effective coach.

DSC_1151Bringing this back to the kettlebell swing, if you notice your student is not able to grasp the idea of hinging, put the kettlebell down and do a drill that will help them to feel the movement and positions you want them to achieve.  For a beginner with little movement skills, this is often all it takes to get them out of their comfort zone.  Hinge drills with a piece of PVC pipe and high tension front planks will do much more for this person than swinging a kettlebell. Once they master the hinge and high tension plank have them perform swings to apply this new skill. The coach must then begin to layer in additional skills as needed. Staying with the example of the kettlebell swing these additional skills should include “core firing” / “tightness” at the top of the swing, shoulder packing, DSC_1157and then sequencing.

Here’s the order we use when layering skills in the kettlebell swing:

  1. Hinge
  2. Core Firing / Tightness
  3. Shoulder Packing
  4. Sequence

**Please note: Our last 4 Kettlebell Coaching Series Posts addressed how to coach each of these ** View the coaching videos here 

Transference

If you want to develop complex skills, the drills used to improve them must have a direct transference to your goals.

Another practice that helps to build myelin, and was briefly mentioned above, is slowing a skill down to a snail’s pace. The above section referenced the hip hinge drill as a tool to help teach the kettlebell swing. This is drill is purposefully performed SLOWLY.  It’s important to feel the top and bottom positions in the swing before actually performing the exercise due to the speed of movement.  The swing is essentially a hip hinge on steroids. No race car driver begins their career driving at 200 mph!  He or she probably started with a bike, than a go-cart or 4-wheeler, then maybe some small dirt track races.  They most likely spend at least a decade racing at lower speeds before safely and effectively driving at 200 mph with other cars only inches away.  Now you might say, I’ve had my drivers license for 20 years does that mean I can drive a car 200 mph?  The obvious answer is no, but the reason why may be cloudy.  Driving to work and back has no transference to racing.  By law, you are allowed to drive 65 mph  on some highways in our area.  Therefore, your circuits are only myelinated for driving up to 65 mph.  And what happens when someone gets too close to us?  We beep our horn at them!  We are used to a nice cushion around us.  Driving a race car requires much deeper  and more specific practice than driving our sedans to a grocery store provides.

As you can tell we are fans of the “Talent Code” and highly recommend all coaches read it. We also feel if you are training others with kettlebells it’s critical to your development as a coach and to the safety of your students you get a coaching focused kettlebell certification. When it comes to teaching bells it’s all about having a systematic well thought out approach.

In our Level 1 Certified Kettlebell Instructor (CKI-1) you will learn:

  1. Our system for teaching each of the Kettlebell Big 3 (Swing, Goblet Squat, Turkish Get Up)
  2. How to developing your coach’s eye
  3. Corrective exercises and coaching drills to “fix”movement flaws,
  4. Simple yet effective programming strategies.

Visit our homepage to see our upcoming seminar schedule. www.fit-edu.com

Posture, Scapular Stability, and Kettlbells

Poor Posture and Kettlebell Training

To put it simply, mixing poor posture and kettlebell training (especially swings and snatches) is a really bad idea. Unfortunately, our lifestyles (sitting at desks, in cars, and slouching on couches for extended periods of time) promote poor posture. Here you are with all this kettlebell knowledge and a willing client, but should they swing a kettlebell? This article is dedicated to help you identify who is qualified and disqualified to work with kettlebells.

Upper Crossed Syndrome

Upper-Crossed Syndrome (UCS) is tightness of the Upper “Traps” and “Levators” crossed with tightness of the Pectoralis Major and Minor. Additionally, there is weakness of the cervical flexors crossed with weakness of the middle and lower trapezius. These patterns of imbalances create significant dysfunction in the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and shoulder joint. The result of these imbalances can be seen in postural changes including forward head posture, elevated and protracted shoulders, and an exaggeration of the natural curves in the Cervical and Thoracic Spine (increased Cervical Lordosis and thoracic kyphosis). These postural changes result in significantly decreased shoulder stability. To put this in another way, UCS can (and often does) result in scapular instability).

Now that UCS has been defined the next step is being able to identify it. While it is obvious in extreme cases, not all cases are so easy to identify. Here’s a simple way of evaluating a client. Have your client stand next to a wall with a straight vertical line (you can a draw line, put up tape, use a door frame, etc.) with their left shoulder just an inch away from this wall. From this position evaluation the position of their head, shoulders, and upper back. If your client’s posture is way outside the “norm” (i.e. head jetting forward, shoulders significantly rounded and/or elevated) significant corrective work must be done before you consider having them touch a kettlebell. If there are only minor deviations then you might be able to acutely “fix” their posture with the right corrective exercises and train with kettlebells that very day.

Now let’s say you respectfully disagree with our (Fit EDU’s) opinion as it relates to the client with significant Scapular Instability (has UCS) and that client being disqualified from performing kettlebell swings. You have decided that today is the day to teach the swing to your client and they will perform around 100 swings as an “introduction”. Will there be any real repercussion? Well here’s your answer…

When an individual has UCS and/or Scapular Instability their shoulders are protracted and elevated. In this position, anterior muscles such as the Pectoralis Major and Minor are overactive while many of the muscles in your upper back (Middle Trapezius, Rhomboid Major, etc.) are inhibited. Even more significantly contracting your Latisimus Dorsi (Lat) and keeping it contacted is very difficult. If you don’t already know … Glutes are the king of the kettlebell swing and Lats are the queen so… we have a real problem here. The Lat attaches to the spine all the way from T7 down to L5. When it is Isometrically contracted that entire segment of your spine is stabilized. In other words, no engagement of your Lats means little to no rigidity in that portion of your spine. Therefore, you are likely to flex and/or rotation that portion of your spine when swinging, snatching, etc.

Here are some more common issues with poor upper body posture and kettlebell swings:

  • An inability to keep the head and upper back in a neutral position throughout the movement
    • This will put significant stress on the Cervical and Thoracic spine
  • An inability to maintain depressed and retracted shoulders
    • This will put significant stress on the “shoulder (Glenohumeral) joint” and increase the chances of suffering a variety of injuries

Now that you buy into the premise of poor posture disqualifying a client from doing kettlebell swings (and a variety of other exercises for that matter) here are some drills/exercises that with the right coaching will help improve posture and postural control.

  1. Breathing Drills
  2. Bracing Sequence
  3. Farmer’s Carry (progressing to Waiter’s Carry)
  4. High Tension Plank
  5. Any and all kneeling, half kneeling, or standing anti-rotation band exercises

Still looking for more information on how to identify and fix this issue? Attend Fit EDU’s Level 1 Certified Kettlebell Instructor (CKI) to learn more on how posture, breathing, and basic movement quality affect a client’s ability to perform swings, goblet squats, cleans, and press.