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Thoracic Spine, Breathing and You

The thoracic spine/ribcage is the boss when it comes to deciding where the scapula sits. Trainers and coaches find that if an athlete is having trouble with overhead movements, thoracic extension and the muscles involved must be mobilized.

Some lifters don’t respond well to traditional t-spine exercises like thoracic extensions or back-to-wall slides, no matter how many times they're performed.  For these individuals those particular drills and mobilizations don't help because they're already stuck in extension. The goal is to try and move them into a more neutral position where the diaphgram and pelvic floor face each other. This allows for the upper back to move into extension thus allowing better movement and less strain on secondary breathing muscles. 

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Improving your squat requires reps, so too does your breathing. By fully drawing in air and exhaling, you'll improve your rib and thoracic mobility. By correcting this it will free up a majority of shoulder impingements at the top of pressing movements. I have had countless clients attempt to breathe deeply only to be able to take in air for 2-3 seconds at most.

I would add that these clients often exhibit dysfunctional breathing muscular restrictions like overactive scalene, sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, pec minor and traps. 

I learned this trick from the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI). 

The balloon is an amazing tool to teach you how to better engage the musculature needed to stabilize the trunk, create and release pressure voluntarily.  Really honing this skill has immense carryover to all lifts and movements.  

Try to not pinch off the balloon with your teeth. Stick your tongue to the roof of your mouth in order to maintain pressure.  The arm lift helps to facilitate opening up the chest and the hip lift which encourages posterior tilt where you are trying to engage your hamstrings.


Key Points

  • Begin with an exhale to set rib position.
  • The goal is use a minimal amount of oblique contraction to the ribs down during inhalation
  • Exhale fully through mouth without clamping down on your rectus abdominis (6 pack muscle).
  • Pause 2-3 seconds before inhaling again.
  • Inhales and exhales should be relatively effortless.  Limit straining, keep a relaxed neck.  Expand chest 360 degrees.
  • Chest should expand not rise towards the shoulders. 

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Exercise Breakdown: Plank to Side Plank Rotations

I got this variation from the LA Lakers S&C coach Tim DiFrancesco

I believe most people would benefit from performing more side plank variations as it will increase lateral stabilization and often times fix most internal hip rotation restrictions. 

A side plank targets muscles like the Quadratus Lumborum, Lats, Obliques, and the Rectus Adomonis. The best part of this movement is that as you rotate in and out of the plank variations you'll have to get tight throughout the body and resist both extension and lateral rotation forces on the body. 


How To:

  • Begin in a prone plank position with your arms at 90 degrees, one in front of the other. 
  • Brace into a plank position, deep exhale as to set the ribcage in the proper position and to achieve a strong core brace.
  • Rotate onto one side while simultaneously rotating the feet to help facilitate a proper side plank position. Careful to not lose proper "shoulder stacking", meaning you should not feel ALOT of pressure in the front of your shoulder while doing this. 
  • Rotate back to the prone plank and then repeat on the other side. 
  • Perform 8-12 passes total near the end of a workout. 

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Exercise breakdown: Single Leg RDL

Single leg exercises are fantastic for many reasons one of which is shoring up any strength discrepancies from the left and right sides. 

One of the better hip dominant movements is the single leg Romanian deadlift. 


How To

  • Pick up one foot and have a slight bend in the down leg.
  • Push the hips back making sure to hinge at the hips.
  • Focus on making sure the hips don't swivel as you push your butt back. A great way to help facilitate this is by kicking your leg straight as you hinge over. 
  • Hinge back and squeeze the glute in the down leg.
  • Perform 5-10reps and repeat on the other side. I would include this in the middle of a leg workout as an accessory movment

Here I've loaded the movement with a kettle bell, shown is the easier way to hold onto the weight by hugging it against your chest to decrease the lever of the body aka: makes it easier than holding it in your hands. 

Buyer Beware: The Expert Trainer Who Can Help You With EVERYTHING

I LOVE using this photo

I LOVE using this photo

Piggybacking off a post during the final weeks of December about deciding to be great at one maybe two things and punting all else; I'd like to elaborate around the context of Personal Training. 

As a consumer one should be weary of hiring a coach who claims they're an expert at all things fitness and health. No one coach is THE BEST at building muscle, losing weight, sports performance, rehabilitative exercise, and nutrition.

Lets take Mike Reinold of Champion Physical Therapy based in Boston, Mass who is an extremely talented Strength and Conditioning coach and PT (Physical Therapist). Does one think he is not capable of working with physique competitors? While he's most likely well versed in the process, his main business is working with athletes and post rehab patients. He wouldn't be setting himself or his client up for the best chance at succeeding.

On the other end of the spectrum lets take Bret Contreras who runs the Glute Lab based out of Phoenix, AZ. As a PhD researcher he's one of the leaders in glute hypertrophy (muscle building) and if someone came to him with a SLAP tear of the shoulder, Bret would have an idea of what to do but this type of client would be better suited to someone like Mike because that's his area of expertise. 

Each coach is great at what they do and would most likely know what to do with their respective clients. If they however were able to swap people, they would have even better chances at success.  Great coaches are well versed at all aspects of training but they know what one or two things they're actually "experts" in. 

I am a former professional cook and Precision Nutrition level 1 coach, I feel confident in cooking healthy tasty meal prep for my clients. In addition to that, I am a well versed strength coach who uses strength to aide in weight loss and rehab. 

I know how to put muscle on, as well as improving sport performance, but if I received a client whom I thought a colleague would better suited at aiding the client, they'd be on their way with a referral.

In my opinion, looking for a coach who can succinctly state what they're GREAT at is one of the things I would look for in a coach or personal trainer.

Jack of all trades, master of none

Exercise Breakdown: One Arm KB Racked Carry

The one arm kettle bell racked carry is a favorite of mine for a few reasons. As is with all loaded carries, they're a core endurance exercise you can't cheat on. This version also helps to lock in the proper core position: THINK: Neutral, Brace, and Breathe. 

HOW TO:

1. Choose a kb and lift it up to the rack position at a shoulder. 

2. Positioning should be:

  • Elbow packed down by the body
  • Kettle bell resting into your body
  • Wrist neutral
  • Thumb into your collarbone

3. Walk down in a controlled manner focusing on not swaying or leaning. Don't forget to switch sides. 

NOTES

  • The unilateral loading like in a suitcase carry will force you to stabilize the body and not allow it to lean away. 
  • Don't stick your arm straight out to your side, it defeats the purpose of the exercise by helping to "balance" yourself out. 
  • Instead make a fist and simply keep your arm down by your side. 
  • This is a great go-to move for anyone with rotator cuff issues as it is a huge isometric loaded move. You feel all the muscles in the shoulder working without having to move your arm anywhere.
  • Work up alternating between simple one way trips and lightening up the load and performing one side for multiple trips or even for timed sets building up endurance in the shoulder.