Archive for Shoulder

Which Squat Variation Should Athletes Use?

Posted in Z.S. Basketball Training, Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2013 by zenithstrength

I remember seeing Mike Boyle at the Perform Better Summit a few years back and he turned a lot of head’s when he stated that he didn’t back squat athletes. He preferred the front squat variation to the back squat. He eventually added the front squat to the list preferring to go with single leg variations instead. A lot of coaches took issue with his view-point which was that the low back was the weakest link in the bilateral squat lift and he could get better results with heavy single leg training.

I agree with his assessment that the low back is a limiting factor and if you have someone lift a lot of weight in a single leg stance it doesn’t necessarily correlate to bilateral lifts. For example if you can get an athlete to lunge with 225lbs it doesn’t mean that he can necessarily squat 450lbs.

As strength coaches, our job is to teach movements and while there are an infinite number of ways to  improve strength, I feel that there is tremendous value in using the squat while training athletes. Ultimately, it comes down to which variation of the squat front or back, limits the amount of risk while still providing a training effect.

In my opinion, the front squat is the safer choice for the majority of athletes and while also improving movement and performance markers implications such as the vertical jump and broad jump.

back-and-front-squat

There is a great series done on Ben Bruno’s blog written by Jim Reeves comparing the front and back squat in-depth.

He analyses joint motion at the hip knee and ankle and compares the two lifts and the data might surprise you.

Joint Motion/Alignment Front Squat Back Squat
Hip Flexion 56.1 43.8
Ankle Dorsiflexion 69.2 70.4
Knee Flexion 63.4 69.0

 

 

  • There is more hip flexion in the front squat vs the back squat while reducing low back shear. Basically the front squat allows for more hip motion while maintaining a relatively safer, more upright low back position vs the back squat.
  • There is more movement in the knee-joint during the back squat than the front squat which might be contrary to what most people think. That’s interesting to take in terms of knee pain and while squatting for some with knee pain won’t be an option it seems that the front squat is the more knee friendly of the two.

Now obviously there can be discrepancies between two people and what their squat looks like but in general the front squat allows you to keep the upper back more upright and its easier on the low back because of the reduced torso angle.

Core Strength

anterior-core

One benefit of the front squat is that it hammers the anterior core and works the obliques and rectus abdominis.  The load shift to the front forces a posterior tuck of the hip to engage the abs and glutes to keep the hip neutral. Most athletes generally are weak in this area so anytime you can shift the load to the front during an exercise you should.

During the back squat, it is much harder to keep a neutral spine and it will force more compression in the low back as you arch our back. Arching the low back disengages the abs and glutes and puts you in a mechanical disadvantage and puts a lot more work in the low back instead of having the glutes and abs help out.

This isn’t to say that back squatting will lead to low back issues but keep in mind that for the majority of athletes who “live” in extension the back squat reinforces the pattern and might not be the best variation for them.

Squats and Shoulder Health

Both the front and back squat can put stress on the shoulders. The front squat can put stress on the A/C joint with the front loaded bar position while the back squat forces the client to externally rotate the humerus which can be an issue for certain training populations.

We don’t back squat our overhead athletes, mainly because of the position it puts the athletes shoulder in. Since most throwers/tennis players need external rotation range of motion and generally have more range on their dominant/throwing side, putting them in that position can cause some instability in the joint and we feel there are “safer”  options such as the front squat.

While the front squat is a great variation for throwers, if they have A/C joint issues or injuries the pressure of the bar can aggravate that. In these cases use the safety squat bar for either front or back squats. We also have harness front squat variations as well.

I’ll put a post up of some different variations we use at Zenith Strength in a future post.

There is a more research needed to fully examine which squat helps improve vertical jump and broad jumps the most. However, if the goal is to minimize risk while improving performance I feel like the front squat is still the safer option.

Conclusion

While I have talked about the benefits of front squatting this isn’t to say that I don’t like back squats. Most athletes need to work on improving movement patterns, and again the goal should be maximizing performance while minimizing risk of injury.

I think it was Charlie Weingroff who said something to the effect of how you train your athletes and how you train yourself should not be the same. Just because you may have a bias towards a particular system or a set of specific exercises doesn’t mean your athletes need to train that way. Be diligent and match exercises appropriately to athletes who can perform them with solid technique.

Minimizing risk includes appropriately pairing the squat variation with the athlete while considering multiple factors. This is why we assess athletes and while we like the front squat there still may be instances where squatting might not be the best option for them. The last thing you want to do as coach is have an athlete tweak or injure something while lifting in the weight room.

 

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3 Things I Learned in 2012

Posted in Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , on February 15, 2013 by zenithstrength

2012 was a big year in terms of continuing my education and having an understanding of how the body works and how different segments of the body can affect each other. Below are 3 aha moments that I learned in 2012 and how they are related to each other.
1. Extension is the new flexion. Anterior tilt 2

I remember reading a post from Eric Cressey (although I can’t recall which one), and he talked about this training baseball athletes and how they were seeing more extension patterns vs flexion patterns. Although the light bulb didn’t fully go off until I attended the Postural restoration seminar, given that we work with a ton of athletes, I was noticing a similar pattern  and came to the conclusion that essentially, the majority of athletes are going to come in with some sort of extension type issue. It is important to address this especially if they are involved with overhead/ throwing movements, as the inability to control extension can also affect how the scapula is positioned on the ribcage which will affect shoulder stability.. If they are involved in jumping sports like basketball, this can lead to anterior knee pain and hip impingement, even groin/sports hernia issues.
The goal isn’t to make wholesale changes to athletes but moving them towards a more neutral hip position by strengthening weak links, which can help alleviate a ton of extension related symptoms.
So, with the increase in athletes who exhibit these features you start to appreciate how things are connected with regards to movement. You will find that an extension athlete will have rib flairs and extend in the T/L junction so it is important to cue them to keep the ribs down and engage their anterior abdominals and obliques. Inchworms are a great exercise to work on bringing the ribs down.
There is also a correlation between how someone breathes and their hip and scapula position which brings up point number two.

2. Breathing is really important.

Breathing has been talked about by quite a few coaches I highly respect. And it wasn’t until I spent more time with a PRI trained therapist that I fully understood the relationship between how you breathe and how it affects everything from core stability to shoulder stability and range of motion. The inner core has been discussed comprehensively, and breathing properly sets the diaphragm in position to stabilize the spine when lifting heavy stuff. How you breathe can also affect your state of mind and how you deal with stress. Here are a couple of great articles that talk about this. Mike talks about stress and breathing here and Sean talks about the importance of breathing.


A few things to assess are whether someone inhales mainly through chest, or do the lungs expand with the belly. Also, look to see if they can depress their ribs during the exhale and engage the diaphragm.

3. Upward rotation for shoulder health.

Again this is a topic that has been discussed extensively by Eric Cressey and a few other coaches. Most overhead athletes will have poor upward movement of their scapula and if they are stuck in the extension posture we talked about, they will probably have their scapula locked in depression and  downward rotation using the lats. To mimic this position, exaggerate sticking your chest out and feel what it does to your upper back, scapulae and lower back.

Adding Y’s can help to some degree but we prefer seated wall slide variations and the 135 wall slide.

These are great variations  but to make them even better I would add an exhale before going into shoulder flexion to keep the ribs down and prevent them from flaring up.

Here’s a video from Mike Robertson demoing the forearm wall slide 135

And Eric Cressey demonstrating the half kneeling landmine press.

We have also started integrating Landmine presses to allow the scapula to move freely into upward rotation.

 

The name of the game is to keep getting better and continuing to learn so we can help athletes achieve higher levels of performance while limiting injuries as much as we can.

Hopefully these tips will help with your training and coaching.

Shyam

Wall Slide Variation with Bands

Posted in Z.S. Tennis, Z.S. Training with tags , , , , , , , on July 17, 2012 by zenithstrength

Wall slides are a great “bang for your buck” exercise to keep the shoulders healthy especially if you’re an athlete involved in overhead sports or are coming off a shoulder injury.

Here are a few reasons why I like using wall slides so much.

1. Improving shoulder external range of motion.

I remember first learning about the effectiveness of wallslides from the Optimal Shoulder Performance Dvd by Eric Cressey and Mike Reinold. Wallslides  gently  improve shoulder external range of motion without excessive stretching  for those who may have limitations  caused by sitting in a chair for hours on end.

2. Improving upward and downward rotation of the shoulder by strengthening the lower traps, serratus and activating the upper traps.

Eric Cressey has talked extensively about the importance of shoulder upward rotation in this post and mentions the research as to why upward rotation is important not only for baseball pitchers but for athletes involved with overhead sports.

3. Improving thoracic spine extension and shoulder flexion range of motion.

In addition to improving shoulder external rotation, wall slides also improve shoulder flexion and mid back extension which are two areas that we usually could use  more mobility with . Unfortunately, these two motions have a synergistic relationship in that a limitation in upper back extension mobility will generally affect your ability to reach your arms overhead.  Furthermore, soft tissue restrictions in the lats and pecs can also limit shoulder flexion.

While you can perform wall slides seated or standing, I prefer to do them seated with the head, shoulder blades, and low back touching the wall. This will ensure that the athlete does not substitute shoulder flexion,(raising the arms overhead), for lumbar extension(excessively arching the low back). Make sure to keep the ribs down so they don’t flair out while raising the arms overhead.

I like to cue our athletes to take a nice deep breath in, expand the rib cage and  then exhale performing a rep while the ribcage is depressed. You don’t have to perform them like this but integrating breathing will help teach what it feels like to keep the rib cage down.

Once you get really comfortable with these you can progress and add some band resistance which really lights up your lower traps and also challenges T spine extension since the bands are pulling you forward.

For more goodies on the T-spine check out Dean Somerset’s fantastic write-up on that subject here.

Give these a try at the end of your upper body workouts and let me know how you like them.

Shyam